YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

August 27, 2009

Hitler and the “Jewish” Mind, Part Three

Werner Sombart, Neo-Nazi idol

[This is the last of three entries on Hitler's encounter with the restless, skeptical, switching "Jewish" mind. It should be read along with my earlier blog on Hitler and modern art ("Hitler, Switches, Modern Art and more....") as introduction to the three recent entries. Also see the materials from my book chapters two and nine that document the actions of social psychologists on behalf of 'civilian morale,' or preventive politics, also posted this month.]

[Concluding entry to Hitler and the "Jewish" mind:]  How can we synthesize the separate facets of Hitler’s situation? First, he is self-identified with a defeated power (Germany, the victim of treachery whose victory was stolen) and with rural producers, the declining class whose interests are opposed to industrial workers and their bosses as well as to bankers. (Peasants and landowners need cheap industrial goods but want maximum prices for their foodstuffs, while workers and industrialists depend on cheap farm prices to keep the costs of labor down and the buying power of wages up.)  Hitler’s affinity group is organized politically as the agrarian interest, the backbone of conservative nationalism and German imperialism: Prussian Junker landowners and small farmers wanting tariffs and autarky to protect their prices from international competition. Hitler can revitalize the ruined pastoral if both hidebound reactionaries and wandering workers will only see his light: his solution will protect and restore everyone, rich and poor, parents and children. Crucially, peasants and workers are no longer at odds, but the stable foundation of the rectified neo-feudal order; national, not international unions, may be brought into the system without tearing it apart as long as “the Jews” go away.

Personal history has energized his politics; Hitler may have believed that his civil servant father Alois, dying suddenly of apoplexy, was felled by his own internal contradictions between cosmopolitanism and extreme nationalism and Hitler’s angry insistence (at age 12) in maintaining his difference as an artist and stubbornly rejecting his father’s occupation; he is simultaneously angry that he has been betrayed, abandoned and impoverished: if father was so cosmopolitan, why couldn’t Hitler be an artist? That is, he read the double-bind and father died, a dependent’s worst nightmare: truth leads to destitution. Now political expediency and personal predilection combine: Like other romantic anticapitalists, Hitler chooses the viewpoint of the declining aristocracy glad to pay agitators for the defeat of capitalism-becoming-socialism, a process impelled, the more prescient members of this patrician class believe, by their stubborn brethren who won’t make humane concessions and interventions, but madly press their selfish interests.

Like other agrarians (English Tories, ex-Southern slaveholders in the U.S.) Hitler sees the Jew as undermining the capacity for uncluttered communitarian thinking and social relations through the institutions that “the Jewish character” has brought. The Jewish spirit (as Werner Sombart called it) is the source of real class divisions that Hitler longs to erase. Specifically “Jewish” institutions–money, the Stock Exchange with its absentee ownership, international capitalism, the press, and the intellectual disciplines and attitudes associated with modernity like the study of political economy–literally divide master and man and have inserted themselves between the good consistent parent and the grateful child.

Secondly and crucially, like the good parent turned bad, “the Jew,” a personification of any thoughtful materialist class analysis, confuses the child by unanticipated and frightening switches. As a commentator on group life, “the Jew” asserts the natural rights of individuals and the fallaciousness of blood-and-soil doctrines of identity that ignore the uniqueness and free will of the individual. However, as a commentator on voluntarism and the power of the will, s/he points out structures of determination and the difficulties in decisively separating agency from structural imperative! As a commentator on sexual repression, s/he points out the joys of sex and emotional expressiveness. But as a commentator on bohemian libertinism s/he points out human interdependence and the obligations of the individual to suffering humanity, the noble renunciation of selfish “sensual” gratification (like promiscuity, a cheap fame and popularity) on behalf of higher, finally more satisfying moral principles: the protection of intimate relationships and the pursuit of universal truths and uplift of the poor, relationships and processes whose complexities are still under investigation and are by no means fully comprehended.

[footnote:] Geoffrey Gorer’s presentation of de Sade’s delightful Constructive Sadism (1934) suggests that promiscuity is not the exciting self-indulgence of happy lovers, but a flight from sex, sensibility and experience, i.e., a refusal of intimacy, individuality, and compassion; that romantic love is tied to the senses that report continued domination in collectivist, “egalitarian” societies. (See Hunting Captain Ahab for key quotations.) For Werner Sombart, romantic love was a threat to tradition; along with the heroic entrepreneur and the stranger unbound by local ties, here were the ingredients of “the breakthrough” and monomania.  See Samuel Z. Klausner, Introduction, The Jews and Modern Capitalism, op.cit., xxxii, lxxi.  The rehabilitation of de Sade began in the early 1930s when Gorer was allied with Stalinists; the incriminating passages were deleted from the revised edition of 1953.  “The breakthrough” was a concept Thomas Mann thought was responsible for the rise of fascism, see Doctor Faustus.  Lukács believed the concept of romantic love was one of three sources of Marxism; he supported Goethe’s confidence in apprehending the natural world against Kant’s medievalist insistence on the “unknowableness” of nature and of radical evil in human nature, see Goethe and His Age (London: Merlin, 1968): 200-201. [end footnote]

Hitler is not the only one who has felt anxiety when confronted with the boundary between what he does and does not understand, but nevertheless is called upon to judge and act in the face of ambiguity and uncertainty.   Such intellectual and emotional mobility is the bewildering accompaniment to decisive and wise social action; here I believe is the combined satisfaction and burden of Jewish chosen-ness subtly expressed by Freud in Moses and Monotheism (1939) (I may be misreading Freud here). Here and elsewhere Freud opposed the primitivist acting-out and nihilism often associated with his name. In accounting for the murder of the Jews of Europe, he implicitly linked himself and the Jews (specifically their intellectual and ethical achievements) to the social idealism of the radical puritans. All in all, “the bad Jew” is quite the ideal of balanced, well-proportioned Greek classicism cut to the human scale, quite the moderate man.

[footnote:] On the “deplorable quarrelsomeness of the Greeks”see C. Bradford Welles, “The Hellenistic Orient,” The Idea of History in the Ancient Near East (New Haven: Yale U.P., 1955): 159.  “They were little ready to let go any advantage to another, although this may have been only a consequence and an extension of the qualities which made them unique as a people–their restless and aggressive curiosity, their impatience of authority, and their reluctance to acknowledge a superior.”  This volume links the historical imagination to science, democracy, technology, and optimism; it is of course contradicted by helplessness and other-worldliness.  Cf. Mosse’s claim that the young Greek ideal lay at the heart of Nazi ideology; i.e., Nazism was a romantic youth revolt, see George L. Mosse, “Introduction: A General Theory of Fascism,” 12. [end footnote]

[Hitler, Oct. 24, 1941:] The present system of teaching in schools permits the following absurdity: at 10 a.m. the pupils attend a lesson in the catechism, at which the creation of the world is presented to them in accordance with the teachings of the Bible; and at 11 a.m. they attend a lesson in natural science, at which they are taught the theory of evolution. Yet the two doctrines are in complete contradiction. As a child, I suffered from this contradiction, and ran my head against a wall. Often I complained to one or another of my teachers against what I had been taught an hour before–and I remember that I drove them to despair…When science finds out that it has to revise one or another notion that it had believed to be definitive, at once religion gloats and declares: “We told you so!” To say that is to forget that it’s in the nature of science to behave itself thus. For if it decided to assume a dogmatic air, it would itself become a church.

[Hitler, Jan. 22-23, 1942:] …A fly began buzzing. Foxl [Hitler’s terrier at the front during the First World War] was stretched out at my side, with his muzzle between his paws. The fly came close to him. He quivered, with his eyes as if hypnotized. His face wrinkled up and acquired an old man’s expression. Suddenly he leapt forward, barked and became agitated. I used to watch him as if he’d been a man–the progressive stages of his anger, of the bile that took possession of him. He was a fine creature…To think they stole him from me!…On my return [to the trenches] he hurled himself on me in frenzy (232-233).

[Hitler, Jan. 23, 1942:] A good three hundred or four hundred years will go by before the Jews set foot again in Europe. They’ll return first of all as commercial travellers, then gradually they’ll become emboldened to settle here–the better to exploit us. In the next stage, they become philanthropists, they endow foundations. When a Jew does that, the thing is particularly noticed–for it’s known that they’re dirty dogs. As a rule, it’s the most rascally of them who do that sort of thing. And then you’ll hear those Aryan boobies telling you: “You see, there are good Jews.”
Let’s suppose that one day National Socialism will undergo a change, and become used by a caste of privileged persons who exploit the people and cultivate money. One must hope that in that case a new reformer will arise and clean up the stables (236).

[Hitler, Feb. 19, 1942:]…I could live very well in a city like Weimar or Bayreuth. A big city is very ungrateful. Its inhabitants are like children. They hurl themselves frantically upon everything new, and they lose interest in things with the same facility. A man who wants to make a real career as a singer certainly gets more satisfaction in the provinces.

[Hitler, Sept. 1, 1942:]…The relations between master and man in old Vienna were charming in the mutual loyalty and affection which characterized them. There is only one town in Germany, Munich, in which social differences were so little marked. I can blame no Viennese for looking back with sad longing to the Vienna of old; my younger sister is filled with this nostalgia (680).

Contrast with American reactionaries.     Hitler wants the same aristo-democracy lauded by American reactionaries: Lothrop Stoddard, William McDougall, the Southern Agrarians, and “new historicist” admirers of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound—some of whom are nativist radicals acceptable to the anti-Stalinist Left. It is they, like the German Romanticists before them, who have furthered hyphenated Americanism to dilute the power and appeal of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Enlightenment, turning the word “bourgeois’ into an all-purpose insult connoting only tyranny and decadence. It is the aristodemocrats who pretend to have “decoded” antidemocratic propaganda since World War II, in their inversion of slavery and freedom, vitiating public life and the humanities. It was not the rootless cosmopolitans who invented the discourse of scientific racism.

Surely, Hitler was not alone in backing off from the intellectual and emotional inconsistencies of modernity that he affixes to Jews as others have done with radical Protestants, puritans, romantics, and modern women, yearning for a stable image of the good authority figure who would never turn on the child or drive the child to turn on him. That Hitler chose such extreme and obsessive (sadomasochistic) methods to purify himself and the world of bilious “dirty dogs” is perhaps explicable (but only partly) through analysis of a brutal childhood which he never described in the first person, the death of his father, and an antidemocratic cultural inheritance. And of course, Hitler’s obsession may have been tolerated owing to the similar ambivalence with which “the West” has embraced a modernity neither internalized, nor fully actualized, nor entirely understood.

Obviously, an alternative approach to Nazi “irrationality” would have to examine the fragility and novelty of the radical Enlightenment, then the ongoing class project in which organic conservatives masked themselves as “progressives,” attempting to divert the titanic energies of science and democracy into “gradual” change apparently in “the public interest” but often advantageous only to their class. I suspect that such efforts could not persuade the powerless were children not punished for evil thoughts and speculation, as if fantasy and reality were merged, as if thinking angry thoughts made their acting out more acceptable. Even Darwin held these views and observed the insane to study untrammeled emotions. [footnote:] See G.T. Bettany, The Life of Charles Darwin, London, 1887.

After all, ordinary people, in the bourgeois democracies at least, can use public libraries and reflect upon and deepen their own experience, can avail themselves of the good counsels of past emancipators from illegitimate authority. The defining attribute of the conservative Enlightenment, of pseudo-modernism, then, is the triumphant circumscription or shutting down of rival wandering imaginations: here is the highest achievement of “character,” the proof of “sanity.”

Masochism builds character. To put it another way, I have been describing repressive tolerance, the conditions under which “radical” Enlightenment ideas may be incorporated or co-opted by established institutions. The scientific analysis of social institutions advanced by seventeenth-century empiricism is apparently absorbed, but in practice turned against the mountaineering lower orders uplifted by natural rights, popular sovereignty, mass education, and the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Shockingly, the Left has abandoned the education of ordinary people: While promoting “tolerance” and empiricism (multiculturalism, “identity politics”, the “new historicism”) the “anti-racists” switch the very concept of the dissenting, goal-oriented individual capable of standing outside “the system” or “the body” to observe its processes, thus to produce universally valid abstract knowledge, a description of reality independent of bodies or class position and intended to facilitate accountability and rational amelioration. In the thought of Werner Sombart (1911), after 1933 an enthused Nazi, that detached (disillusioned?) observer was essentially the profit-seeking Jew, a kill-joy mountaineer who both repulsed and attracted him:

[Sombart:] [We see “the teleological view”] in all those Jews who, with a soul-weariness within them and a faint smile on their countenances, understanding and forgiving everything, stand and gaze at life from their own heights, far above this world…Jewish poets are unable simply to enjoy the phenomena of this world, whether it be human fate or Nature’s vagaries; they must needs cogitate upon it and turn it about and about. Nowhere is the air scented with the primrose and the violet; nowhere gleams the spray of the rivulet in the wood. But to make up for the lack of these they possess the wonderful aroma of old wine and the magic charm of a pair of beautiful eyes gazing sadly in the distance…Goethe said that the essence of the Jewish character was energy and the pursuit of direct ends.”

[footnote:] Werner Sombart, The Jews and Modern Capitalism (Transaction Press, 1982): 266-267.  Do the beautiful sad eyes belong to depressed, disappointed, martyred mother?  For a Marxist interpretation of European antisemitism derived solely from economic forces and class position, see Abram Leon, The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation (N.Y.: Pathfinder Press).  The writer was leader of the Belgian Trotskyists and an anti-Zionist, executed at Auschwitz, 1944 at age 26.  For Leon, the Jews (whose numbers had dramatically increased in the twentieth century) were caught between decaying feudalism (when they lost their social-economic function to Christians) and decaying capitalism (economic crisis squeezed their petit-bourgeois rivals); hence for Leon, the Jewish question cannot be solved without socialist transformation. [end footnote]

By drawing a hard line between Hitler and the corporatist liberals/the New Left, by refusing to examine the analogous confusing confrontations between tradition and modernity in our political and intellectual life, we obscure one important dimension of mass death, not only in “the Holocaust,” but in our timid responses to threats ranging from a weakened First Amendment to ecocide. In my view, only an ever more energetic redeployment of the Enlightenment critical methods and objectives disdained or scuttled by the (pseudo) moderate men will save us from newer and even bigger catastrophes: outcomes which cannot switch from bad to good.

[Note: these entries on Hitler's view of the "Jewish" mind were read by Roy Porter, Robert Brenner, and my teacher of the German language, Lewis Jillian in the early 1990s. At the time of writing I was writing from the Left. I had not yet read von Mises or Hayek, hence did not consider the argument that class divisions are erased by the self-regulating free market. Still, much of this essay remains valid, for instance, the conflict between the interests of peasants and workers that Stalinists tried so hard to erase through the planning state, with horrible consequences.]

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9 Comments »

  1. I entered the “understanding Hitler” ranks with an assist from the early psychoanalyst Karen Horney and her theory that an extreme “search for glory” can produce an arrogant-vindictive identity that has the force of the most primitive drives. My study appeared in the journal Mentalities/Mentalities under the title “Destruction Artist” and its claim is that the failure of Hitler to gain recognition as an artist so embittered him that he found outlet, through his oratory, as a political performance artist. Hitler’s arrogant-vindictive typology, marked by an idealized self-image with unlimited power and exalted faculties, led to seeking triumph over perceived enemies in a way that leaves them mercilessly ground in the dust. In the study,, a match is found between Horney’s observations of individuals with such an elemental “search for glory” and the known facts of Hitler’s life. I found support for my thesis in the work of Frederic Spots and his scrupulously researched book “Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics.” He argued that artistic impulses were the key to understanding Hitler’s intentions, writing “Hitler first and foremost viewed himself as an artist and he and his close associates viewed their mission as a transformative cultural mission.”

    In any event, I couldn’t resist using the Hitler and the “search for glory” theme as a basis of a crime novel., “The Murder Artist, which was well received and awarded honorable mention by Writer’s Digest magazine. In the novel, an investigative reporter and a female detective give chase to a Hitler-worshiping killer of prominent Jews connected to the at world because, of course, he too was a rejected artist.

    Comment by Marcus Wiesner — August 7, 2014 @ 11:52 pm | Reply

    • After the war, Hitler was frequently represented as a failed artist. My own take is that the turning point in his psyche was the confrontation with his father, who died shortly after his son stood up to him. As I wrote in my prior blog to the one you read, Hitler read the double bind his father delivered (as both nationalist and cosmopolitan), then felt guilty all his life for causing his father’s death, which also declassed him.

      Comment by clarelspark — August 8, 2014 @ 12:00 am | Reply

  2. [...] While watching a recent PBS documentary on the achievements of Oscar Hammerstein II, it occurred to me that his oeuvre as a whole pointed back to a period of imagined rural or small-town neighborliness, to a time before his mother died when the lyricist was only twelve. That “neighborliness” (a soothing social bond represented in the mother-child dyad) was then translated to his idealized anti-racist international community, as then propose by the United World Federalists (also a pet project of Harvard’s social psychologist Henry A. Murray). Although Hammerstein was a noted liberal anticommunist, his attempt to unite what were groups with clashing political and economic interests, reminded me of Hitler’s agrarian base, and also the Soviet attempt to merge peasants and workers, notwithstanding that peasants and worker had different material interests, as explained in this blog. http://clarespark.com/2009/08/27/hitler-and-the-jewish-mind-part-three/. [...]

    Pingback by Wilsonian internationalism as Our Town « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — March 21, 2012 @ 7:27 pm | Reply

  3. [...] Links to Hitler and the “Jewish” mind Filed under: 1 — clarespark @ 1:32 am Tags: Adolf Hitler, Hitler on modern art, Hitler on social democracy, Hitler's father, the big lie http://clarespark.com/2009/08/27/hitler-and-the-jewish-mind-part-three/ [...]

    Pingback by Links to Hitler and the “Jewish” mind « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — April 18, 2010 @ 1:33 am | Reply


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