The Clare Spark Blog

August 8, 2009

Hitler, switches, modern art, and more, much more

Wilhelm Trubner, 1877: Combat of the Titans

Here are three pages from my unpublished manuscript that criticizes existing psychoanalytic/social psychological explanations of Hitler’s psyche, using Hitler’s own words about himself as a primary source. I am posting this on the Yankee Doodle Society website as an enticement to read more from this chapter, as the footnotes are lengthy and survey the literature existing at the time I wrote it, in the late 1980s-early 1990s. If viewers here want to see the entire 32 page excerpt from my larger manuscript (tentatively titled Eros and the Middle Manager), please write to me at or see the last three blogs here:  If you have been reading prior blogs here, you will recognize the themes I have tried to develop on the Yankee Doodle Society website, overall an attempt to rescue the radical Enlightenment from the “moderate men” who have co-opted “the Enlightenment” and turned it against “the lower orders.” The sample follows below, and Hitler’s words were taken from his Table Talk (1973) with introductory essay by H. R. Trevor-Roper, and translated by Norman Cameron and R.H. Stevens. I challenge the widespread notion that Hitler is best understood as a failed artist. In my view, Hitler views the skeptical, switching, restless Jewish mind with panic, but his fears are also class fears of the squeezed petit bourgeois.

I should add that this and the rest of the ms. was read by Robert Brenner, Frederick Crews(this section only), and the late Roy Porter. I was encouraged by their responses to press on.

[From my manuscript:]

[Hitler, Feb. 3-4, 1942; Hitler identifies with heretics; Jews have instigated the “collective madness” of witch hunts carried out by organized Christianity:] A Jew was discovered to whom it occurred that if one presented abstruse ideas to non-Jews, the more abstruse these ideas were, the more the non-Jews would rack their brains to try to understand them. The fact of having their attention fixed on what does not exist must make them blind to what exists. An excellent calculation on the Jew’s part. So the Jew smacks his thighs to see how his diabolic strategem has succeeded. He bears in mind that if his victims suddenly became aware of these things, all Jews would be exterminated. But, this time, the Jews will disappear from Europe. The world will breathe freely and recover its sense of joy, when this weight is no longer crushing its shoulders (288).

[Hitler, June 13, 1943:] I cannot make up my mind to buy a picture by a French painter, because I am not sure of the dividing line between what I understand and what I do not understand. I have the same feeling when I look at paintings by Corinth and Trübner–to mention only two of our German artists. These men started by painting pictures of great merit, and then, urged on by pride, they started to produce the most startling and extraordinary works. [THE SWITCH] In literature the Jew has already blazed the same pernicious trail, and artists like Corinth and Trübner have followed them. The result is the frightful daubs with which they now inflict us (703-704).

Less is more. Like many critical theorists, George L. Mosse has placed Nazi excess in the tradition of mass politics and youth revolt, i.e., Jacobin democracy and terror. But Hitler’s own writings place him securely in the ranks of the reactionary romantic anticapitalists; he was a typically vulnerable petit-bourgeois, railing against fluctuating money markets, terrified of status loss, and choking off the intellectual curiosity and expression that will cast him into the abyss reserved for lapsed conservative Christians and blue-collars. He wants an enduring structure, a familiar terrain. How many of those who have attempted to analyze him and/or the appeal of national socialism pay attention to his panic in the face of naturalistic romantic art and poetry? As with other neoclassicists, the consequence for Hitler is a deficient vocabulary; he cannot define his situation in concrete, descriptively precise language—words, tones, and gestures that chart the rise and fall of feelings, their switches, subtle interpenetrations and metamorphoses. How might the scientistic social critic (his vocabulary similarly limited insofar as he turns away from the living world to his non-interactive models, ideal types and abstractions) react with phobic intensity to the finely differentiated emotions of everyday life, emotions that he cannot grasp without the words and detail that match the distinctive qualities, nuances and motions of each? Might his own person become the loathsome, super-demanding, ever elusive creature that Hitler disowned as Jewish, the muddling (female) body that even after repeated exterminations inevitably returned to terrorize him again? Might the tasteful planner or architect taken with structural models that may be encompassed at a single glance feel the same? Are there not escapist, mystical, and submissive longings , underneath such “aesthetic” preferences; postures or dreamy states that quiet the rage of seeing, mop up the blood on the floor?
The blurred formulations of Nazi ideology crowding the field of cultural anthropology and cultural history sharply contrast with the clear view of the enemy available in the straightforward writing of Hitler and other National Socialists. They explicitly and plainly oppose independent labor unions, the rootless cosmopolitanism associated with “international finance capital,” liberalism and international socialism, and the universalist ethics and the too-attractive no-holds-barred intellectual procedures associated with science and democracy, all products of the radical Enlightenment and identified with “the International Jew.” Because the idealist social theorists described above are corporatist liberals wedded to the calming closures of Christian eschatology (and unconditional surrender?) their explanations for Nazi antisemitism are marred by the abstractness and vagueness of ideal types and antitheses.

Above all they must carve a clear channel between Hitler and themselves as supporters of FDR and other self-sacrificing good fathers; as bureaucratic collectivists supposed to be different from fascists they necessarily construct Hitler as a creative figure, the failed, unbalanced romantic artist concocting an original, eclectic, incoherent ideology that may not be construed as another case of corporatist liberalism. .

[Harvard social psychologist, Dr. Henry A. Murray to FDR, 1943:] [Hitler] was a compound, say, of Lord Byron and Al Capone (143)…It was not Germany as it was or had been that Hitler represented but rather the ideal social pattern which he wished to impose on the country. Not only during his days of rumination in Vienna but later it was necessary for him to construct an ideology from diverse sources in terms of which he could preach to the people. None of the elements were original with him but some inventiveness was required in developing the precise combination of principles that became the creed of the Nazi Party. Besides this, he was continually preoccupied with inventing means to his goals, which involved a considerable amount of creative thought; thus, to a certain extent, he functioned as a creative artist and certainly conceived of himself as such (178-179).

The only switch visible to the moderate men is the metamorphosis of extreme nationalism to antisemitism and xenophobia, a change that “moderate” nationalism resists after social psychologists have cooled it out. In the mass media that have interpreted the Third Reich to millions, the outsider Hitler’s own voice has been presented, perhaps invariably, as a rant in the German language, shadowed by domineering Jewish blood, lapped up by cheering fresh-scrubbed German Aryan women. [end of excerpt from Eros and the Middle Manager]

Lovis Corinth, 1905: Die Jugend des Zeus


  1. […] Index to Hitler’s encounter with “Jewish” minds Filed under: Uncategorized — clarespark @ 8:13 pm Tags: Adolf Hitler, antisemitism, German Social Democracy, Hitler and mixed-messages, scholarship on Nazi culture, the big lie […]

    Pingback by Index to Hitler’s encounter with “Jewish” minds « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — August 14, 2010 @ 8:14 pm | Reply

  2. […] Index to blogs on Hitler’s encounters with the “Jewish” mind Filed under: Uncategorized — clarespark @ 7:56 pm Tags: "the Jews", Adolf Hitler, German Social Democracy, the big lie […]

    Pingback by Index to blogs on Hitler’s encounters with the “Jewish” mind « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — August 14, 2010 @ 7:56 pm | Reply

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