The Curmudgeon


Monday, August 10, 2009

Mein Kampf: An Appreciation

As we approach the anniversary, on 3 September, of the Real Start of World War Two (Czechoslovakia being a price worth paying, Manchuria an encouraging sign of dawning Japanese enlightenment, and Dachau and Kristallnacht little more than useful post facto excuses), the Central Council of Jews in Germany has taken the sensible step of recommending the re-publication of Mein Kampf. Originally titled, with its author's characteristic restraint and self-effacement, Four and a Half Years of Struggle Against Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice: Account Settled, it was, according to the Independent's Berlin correspondent, written by Hitler while serving a four-year prison term. In fact, thanks to the general level of enthusiasm for the Weimar constitution which the Allies had imposed in 1919, Hitler had been allowed to turn the treason trial for his attempted coup in November 1923 into a political grandstand, and what he served of his sentence (about thirteen months) was served under much the sort of unoppressive conditions which our present-day tabloid stormtroopers like to fantasise for asylum seekers and paedophiles. Also Hitler, who preferred oratory to writing, did not exactly write Mein Kampf, but mostly ranted it at his poodle Rudolf Hess, who took down his master's words for posterity. Hence the book's near-total disorganisation: the numbered lists of points that don't stay in sequence, the hundreds of solecisms painstakingly counted by some stout-hearted Teutonic grammarian, and above all the utter lack of anything approaching a cogent argument or a coherent programme. The only part which crawls out of the rhetorical murk is, significantly, a few pages devoted to the methods and techniques of propaganda. Here Hitler is talking about what he knows, rather than what he wants people to think he knows, and his observations are lucid, systematic and concise. For the rest, Mein Kampf is a supremely interesting read for anyone who wants to understand Hitler, but probably rather hard going for those who are looking for moral or political shock value or, worse yet, the light of revelation. As I discovered during my struggle to get through Ralph Manheim's translation some years ago, the book is pompous, windy, half-baked, petty-minded, mean-spirited and crude. Hence, not only should it be in print; it should be taught in the schools. Children should be given exercises to pick out the grammatical errors, count up the lists that go nowhere, point to the evasions and illogicalities and falsehoods, and thereby acquire some sense of the character and personality of its ridiculous little author and, wondering whether to laugh or throw up, compare it with the reputation he has gained through the awe-inspiring crimes of the régime he led. Tout comprendre, c'est tout moquer. To show a man ludicrous is to cure many a potential emulator for life.


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