Saturday, June 08, 2013

A Post-Christian culture will be a slave culture...

...according to Mark Shea, because slavery is the normal state of fallen man.

Here is Exhibit "A."

As always, please give me a "helpful" vote at this link.

Hitler's Charisma: Leading Millions into the Abyss
Hitler's Charisma: Leading Millions into the Abyss
by Laurence Rees
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.01
52 used & new from $15.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Hitler and the charisma of a "weird hero."June 7, 2013
This is a very readable and interesting book that follows the arc of Hitler's political life in terms of his relationship with those who followed, assisted or were complicit in his remarkable rise to power. The idea of the book was to follow Hitler's life through the eyes of those who came within the sphere of his political influence, and while the book does follow that plan, it is actually more interested in the life of Hitler and therefore reads as a biography with occasional reflections on the issue of Hitler's "charisma." The information that the author, Laurence Rees, supplies is well-organized and insightful and often surprising.

One interesting point is Hitler's political orientation may not have fully crystalized until after his military service. Notwithstanding the myth, Hitler was not a front line fighter. While he faced danger in running messages at the front, he slept in relative comfort behind the lines. During this period, he was considered odd and not very compelling. Hitler had a tendency to monologue on subjects - a trait he retained throughout his career. Hitler found something to criticize in everything he saw. After the collapse of the war effort, Hitler was at loose ends; he was described by one of his officers, Capt. Karl Mayr, as a "stray dog...looking for a master." Mayr also wrote at the time that "At this time, Hitler was ready to throw in his lot with anyone who would show him kindness." (p. 17.) (So, a plausible alternative history story might involve a Bolshevik Hitler.) In fact, Hitler remained in the Bavarian army during Communist take-over of Munich, rather than joining a right wing Freikorps to fight the Communists. Rees notes that many future Nazis - Himmler, Strausser and Rohm, for example - joined Freikorps, but Hitler was not one of them. (Interestingly, Rees also observes that "Fuhrer" was a term used in Freikorps to designate the leader of individual Freikorps.)

Nonetheless, after the defeat of the Communists in Bavaria, Hitler was given a week-long political training course and was assigned to speak to soldiers about the dangers of Communism. Apparently, Hitler's ability to connect with other soldiers in long speeches appeared at this point. Hitler then visited the nascent Nazi party and gave an impromptu presentation, which was well received. Hitler thereby found an audience for the first time in his life. It was after this moment - by September of 1919 - that Hitler's virulent anti-Semitism makes its first documented appearance in Hitler's life as he spoke about the Jewish influence in the Bavarian Communist Revolution. Rees points out that this was not original with Hitler, but was a common trope among the right-wing movements.

Rees organizes his analysis of Hitler's "charisma" through the observations of Max Weber. Weber observes that charisma is tied to a belief in a person's heroism. This belief in heroism is reinforced by factors including a distance between the follower and the "hero," and the "hero's" commitment, the "hero's" prophetic stance, and, of course, the life story of the "hero." In these factors, Hitler's weird personality actually helped him assume and maintain a heroic role. In other words, his inability to relate to other people apart from monologues, his lack of close friends, and his odd personality led to Hitler maintaining a physical and social distance from those who would follow him. Hitler also had a heroic life story in his military service and his receipt of the Iron Cross (which at that point in the war was being given out more liberally than previously in the war). Hitler's history, his weirdly dysfunctional personality, his egotistical belief in himself and his public speaking ability - fostered by his practice of monologuing to other people - all conspired to imbue him with a "charisma" for many people. These people were generally those people who (a) were looking for "savior" and (b) saw a "hero" in Hitler and (b) heard confirmation in Hitler's explanation for the ills of the world what they already believed. In post-war Germany, there were many who met all three criteria.

There were also those who claim they never fell under the sway of Hitler's "charisma." Many of these people were from the older aristocracy, who didn't see in Hitler a heroic figure. On the other hand, as Rees points out, various individuals who claim not to have fallen under the spell of Hitler also acted or wrote as if they were jealous of the attention they weren't getting from the Fuhrer. Obviously, success and power, and a reputation for charisma carry their own "charisma." Rees points out the example of Fridolin von Spaun who paid no attention to the "small figure" in the "shabby coat" in the early 1920s, but who was spell-bound by Hitler in the 1930s. (p. 88.)

My interest in Hitler and the Nazis was sparked by Christopher Hitchens' claim that "Hitler was a Catholic" and that the "Nazis were Catholic." At this point, my reading of reputable, objective historians has led me to the conclusion that this claim is absolute nonsense. (See The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919-1945 and Resisting the Third Reich: The Catholic Clergy in Hitler's Berlin.) I'm going to add this book to the list of books that confirm that outside the fever swamp of new atheism, objective historians with no axe to grind put no stock in the "Hitler was a Christian" meme - Hitler was no believer in the Christian God:

>>"What's missing from Mein Kampf - and this is a fact which has not received the acknowledgment it should - is any emphasis on Christianity. Germany had been a Christian society for more than a thousand years, and the belief in a Christian God and Christian redemption after death had been central to millions of German lives. But Hitler offers little of this comfort in Mein Kampf. He was later to alter his rhetoric about religion according to the time and situation, but his core belief is expressed here. And whilst he does say in just one sentence in Mein Kampf that a "religion in the Aryan sense cannot be imagined which lacks the conviction of a survival after death in some form" the thrust of the work is one of bleak nihilism. Hitler never elaborates on what possible "form" any life after death might take - nor whether he as an individual believes in it. As a consequence, the most coherent reading of Mein Kampf is that whilst Hitler was prepared to believe in an initial creator God, he did not accept the conventional Christian vision of heaven and hell, nor the survival of the individual "soul" - an analysis that, as we shall see, is borne out by many of his later private statements on the subject. For Hitler, there is little for the individual personality beyond the experience of here and now. We are animals and we face the choice of destroying or being destroyed."<< (p. 45.)

Hitler's approach to religion was "opportunistic" and premised on his need to maintain his political viability. Hitler's personal distance from Christianity was clearly evidenced throughout his life:

>>"There is no evidence that Hitler himself, in his personal life, ever expressed any individual belief in the basic tenets of the Christian church. He once said to Albert Speer, "You see, it's been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Why didn't we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the Fatherland as the highest good? The Mohammedan religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness."<< (p. 101.)

Rees offers a "theological understanding" of Hitler's charisma. Hitler increasingly played a "quasi-religions role" in the Nazi state. (p. 101.)George Orwell noted that Hitler had an appeal premised on his seeming to be a man of suffering. (p. 99.) Hitler offered redemption to his followers, who had the embarrassment and shame of German defeat on their conscience. Hitler was venerated and children were taught that he was "sent from God." Hitler shifted the emphasis he placed on traditional notions of Christianity to a less precise idea of "Providence" (p. 101.):

>>"Just who or what did Hitler think was this "Providence" who had "assigned" him his "path"? Almost certainly not the Christian God. As Hitler said to a group of Nazi leaders in 1937, "there is no universal agreement as to the specific nature of God" but "belief in God is one of the most ingenious and noblest presumptions of man which lifts us above the animals." So, most likely, Hitler was using what he saw as the ingenious device of a supernatural being in order to justify his own actions. If he was following "Providence," then his actions could only be questioned by that "Providence" - certainly not by mere mortals. And since he was the only route to this "Providence" then he could do whatever he liked and claim divine support. Moreover, the increasing ambiguity in Hitler's public speeches about whether or not his ideas of "Providence" bore any relationship to Christianity prevented any Catholic or Protestant clergy claiming that they had any special ability to interpret his claim of a direct link to a supernatural being."<< (p. 102.)

In order to prevent his religious views from undermining his popularity, Hitler mingled two justifications for his authority - religion and scientific. On the one hand, Hitler claimed legitimacy from "Providence" and on the other he claimed that the fundamental laws of nature supported his beliefs. (p. 103.) These observations seem to tie directly into views outlined in Hitler's Theology: A Study in Political Religion (Continuum Resources in Religion and Political Culture).

Rees says that Hitler developed a "bleak and violent vision" from various sources: Social Darwinism offered the idea that the essence of life was struggle, Arthur de Gobineau provided racism and the notion of the superiority of Germany came from Germany's spectacular success against the Russians during World War I. (Lees interestingly suggests that Hitler's attack on Russia was not necessarily as insane that we see it to be in retrospect; Germany had been spectacularly successful in its war against Russia during World War I and Stalin had decimated the German military with his purges.) Atheists and the contemporary mind tend to forget that the Nazis made extravagant claim for their regime on the basis of science.

In Mein Kampf, Hitler actually outlined his "bleak and violent vision" and disclosed that this plan included eliminating Jews from Germany and fighting a war against Russia. Why didn't the German people listen to Hitler himself? Rees observes that the German people did not as a whole, or generally, as a majority, support either of these ends, even at the start of World War II. Rees points out that Hitler expressed his goals in sufficiently vague terms such that it permitted the German people to fill the broad goals with their own understanding of those goals, which often made Hitler's goals in their minds into metaphors rather than "action projects." The German people may not have knowingly signed on to either of Hitler's monstrous projects. An American might compare the German people's predicament with their having voted for "hope and change" and discovering that they had actually voted for the government to take over American health care.

Rees does a wonderful job of explaining the personalities and machinations that led to the Nazis being handed power. I found it interesting to read about how General Ludwig Beck runs the gamut from initially supporting Hitler, and thereby giving Hitler a green light in his seizure of power, to being caused to resign, to, finally, committing suicide after his participation in the failed attempt in 1943 to assassinate Hitler.

Hitler's personality and "weirdness" made his successes possible, but, as Rees points out, his personality and weirdness also made his defeat a reality. Rees does a terrific job of describing the end of the war, the loss of faith in Hitler's charisma and the end of his monstrous and barbaric regime.

This book is very readable and very interesting. It provided some real insights into Hitler's personality and rise to power and sketches a general answer to the mystery of why Germany gave him the power to perform his evil deeds. Beyond that, Rees's book provides some fruitful material for reflecting on modern times and the pitfalls that modern democracies might have with modern charismatic leaders.

No comments:

Who links to me?