Saturday, December 06, 2008

Was Hitler a racist?

"John Ray has now gone too far. Pointing out that Nazism was simply an extreme version of prewar Leftism was fine but denying that Hitler was a racist is right off the planet". That is the sort of reaction I expect to the above heading. But as Eddington said, the universe is not only stranger than you imagine but it is stranger than you can imagine. And the truth is that Hitler's ideas about race were pretty similar to the thinking of Leftists today. We all know that Hitler used the Jews as a scapegoat but what have you ever read about what his conception of race was? You may be surprised.

Although in his speeches he undoubtedly appealed to the nationalism of the German people, Locke (2001) makes a strong case that Hitler was not in fact a very good nationalist in that he always emphasized that his primary loyalty was to what he called the Aryan race -- and Germany was only one part of that race. Locke then goes on to point out that Hitler was not even a very consistent racist in that the Dutch, the Danes etc. were clearly Aryan even by Hitler's own eccentric definition yet he attacked them whilst at the same time allying himself with the very non-Aryan Japanese. And the Russians and the Poles (whom Hitler also attacked) are rather more frequently blonde and blue-eyed (Hitler's ideal) than the Germans themselves are! So what DID Hitler believe in?

In his book Der Fuehrer, prewar Leftist writer Konrad Heiden corrects the now almost universal assumption that Hitler's idea of race was biologically-based. The Nazi conception of race traces, as is well-known, to the work of Houston Stewart Chamberlain. But what did Chamberlain say about race? It should not by now be surprising that he said something that sounds thoroughly Leftist. Anthropologist Robert Gayre summarizes Chamberlain's ideas as follows:
"On the contrary he taught (like many "progressives" today) that racial mixture was desirable, for, according to him, it was only out of racial mixture that the gifted could be created. He considered that the evidence of this was provided by the Prussian, whom he saw as the superman, resulting from a cross between the German (or Anglo-Saxon "German") and the Slav. From this Chamberlain went on to argue that the sum of all these talented people would then form a "race," not of blood but of "affinity."

So the Nazi idea of race rejected biology just as thoroughly as modern Leftist ideas about race do! If that seems all too jarring to believe, Gayre goes on to discuss the matter at length.

So although Hitler made powerful USE of German nationalism, we see from both the considerations put forward by Locke and the intellectual history discussed by Gayre, that Hitler was not in fact much motivated by racial loyalty as we would normally conceive it. So what was he motivated by?

Locke suggests that Hitler's actions are best explained by saying that he simply had a love of war but offers no explanation of WHY Hitler would love war. Hitler's extreme Leftism does explain this however. Hitler shared with other Leftists a love of constant change and excitement --- and what could offer more of that than war (or, in the case of other Leftists, the civil war of "revolution")?

The idea that Nazism was motivated primarily by a typically Leftist hunger for change and excitement and hatred of the status quo is reinforced by the now famous account of life in Nazi Germany given by a young "Aryan" who lived through it. Originally written before World War II, Haffner's (2002) account of why Hitler rose to power stresses the boring nature of ordinary German life and observes that the appeal of the Nazis lay in their offering of relief from that:
"The great danger of life in Germany has always been emptiness and boredom ... The menace of monotony hangs, as it has always hung, over the great plains of northern and eastern Germany, with their colorless towns and their all too industrious, efficient, and conscientious business and organizations. With it comes a horror vacui and the yearning for 'salvation': through alcohol, through superstition, or, best of all, through a vast, overpowering, cheap mass intoxication."

So he too saw the primary appeal of Nazism as its offering of change, novelty and excitement. And how about another direct quote from Hitler himself?
"We are socialists, we are enemies of today's capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are all determined to destroy this system under all conditions"

(Speech of May 1, 1927. Quoted by Toland, 1976, p. 306)

So Hitler WAS a racist -- but a very mixed-up one -- just as modern-day Leftists are -- who support racial preferences (affirmative action) but still say they are anti-racist! The big failure for both Hitler and the modern-day Left is an inability to treat people as individuals. They cannot even think about others except by lumping them into huge and simplistic categories.

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