University examiners loved stating exam questions ‘Compare and contrast….’ At the Alfred for a drug hit – immunotherapy – I was rereading Sebastian Haffner The Meaning of Hitler. I remarked to the nurses – one of them is from Munich – that a lot of it seemed relevant – often alarmingly so – to a contemporary populist disaster. Sometimes the contrast was more illuminating than the compare. See what you think.
Hitler had no friends. He enjoyed sitting for hours on end with subordinate staff – drivers, bodyguards, secretaries – but he alone did all the talking.
There is no development, no maturing in Hitler’s character and personality. His character was fixed at an early age – perhaps a better word would be arrested – and remains astonishingly consistent; nothing was added to it. It was not an attractive character……from the very start [there] was a total lack of capacity for self-criticism. Hitler was all his life exceedingly full of himself and from his earliest to his last days tended to self-conceit. Stalin and Mao used the cult of their personality coolly as a political instrument, without letting it turn their heads. With the Hitler cult, Hitler was not only its object but also the earliest, most persistent and most passionate devotee.
That’s a 10 in the ‘Compare’ column.
When in the twenties, Hitler had at his disposal nothing but his demagogy, his hypnotic oratory, his intoxicating and illusionist skills as a producer of mass spectacles, he hardly ever gained more than five per cent of all Germans as his followers….The next forty per cent were driven into his arms of 1930-3 and the total helpless failure of all other governments and parties in the face of that plight. The remaining decisive fifty per cent, however, he gained after 1933 mainly through his achievements.
This is a 10 on ‘Contrast.’ Hitler had a real achievements – economic, military and foreign miracles – six million unemployed to full employment in three years. Before that: ‘The man does not really exist – he is only the noise he makes.’ After that:
‘Those who are only vigorous destroyers are not great at all,’ says Jacob Burkhardt, and Hitler certainly proved himself a generous wrecker. But beyond any doubt he also proved himself a star achiever of high calibre, and not only in wrecking.
Still very heavy ‘Contrast’.
And he perceived correctly that absolute rule was not possible in an intact state organism but only amidst controlled chaos…A close study of him reveals a trait in him that one might describe as a horror of committing himself, or perhaps even better, as a horror of anything final. It seems as though something in in him caused him to recoil not only from setting limits to his power by way of a state system, but also to his will by way of a firm set of goals.
This may be the most frankly vicious insight of the lot.
The point is that Hitler’s successes were never scored against a strong or even a tough opponent: even the Weimar republic of the late twenties and Britain in 1940 proved too strong for him.
Spot on again for ‘Compare.’
Of course he was no democrat, but he was a populist, a man who based his power on the masses, not on the elite, and in a sense a people’s tribune risen to absolute power. His principal means of rule was demagogy, and his instrument of government was not a structural hierarchy but a chaotic bundle of uncoordinated mass organisations merely held together at the top by his own person. All these are ‘leftist’ rather than ‘rightest’ features….. Clearly in the line of twentieth-century dictators Hitler stands somewhere between Mussolini and Stalin, and upon close examination nearer to Stalin than to Mussolini. Nothing is more misleading than to call Hitler a fascist. Fascism is upper class rule, buttressed by artificially manufactured mass enthusiasm. Certainly Hitler roused masses to enthusiasm, but never in order to buttress an upper class. He was not a class politician and his National Socialism was anything but fascism. (Emphasis added.)
Well that should give you something to chew on –and frighten the hell out of you.
For there is no denying the voluntarist trait in Hitler’s view of the world: he saw the world as he wanted to see it. That the world is imperfect, full of conflict, hardship and suffering…… This is only too true, and it is quite right not to shut one’s eyes to it. So long as he says no more than that, Hitler stands firmly on the ground of truth. Except that he does not state these things with the sad, courageous earnestness with which Luther calmly faced what he called original sin but with that frenzied voice with which Nietzsche, for instance, so often hailed what was deplorable. To Hitler, the emergency was the norm, the state was there in order to wage war.
Compare and contrast – indeed.