‘Hitler,’ an Ascent From ‘Dunderhead’ to Demagogue,
A good review of what looks like a fascinating book: In 'Hitler,' an Ascent From 'Dunderhead' to Demagogue,http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/28/books/hitler-ascent-volker-ullrich.html
To be clear, I do NOT think Trump is the next coming of Hitler, as I don't think he has genocidal impulses nor is he likely to imprison or murder his critics. (I think he's more like Silvio Berlusconi, a sexist, slick billionaire businessman "outsider" who Italians elected again and again to shake up their corrupt system – and, instead, he made things much worse and make Italy a laughingstock. The risks to us – and the world – are, of course, far, far greater because of our size, influence, and "soft" and "hard" power (including nukes!).)
But there are enough parallels with Hitler to be REALLY worrisome. Below are excerpts from the book review in the NYT of the latest Hitler biography. Sound familiar?
· [Hitler] specialized in big, theatrical rallies staged with spectacular elements borrowed from the circus. Here, "Hitler adapted the content of his speeches to suit the tastes of his lower-middle-class, nationalist-conservative, ethnic-chauvinist and anti-Semitic listeners," Mr. Ullrich writes. He peppered his speeches with coarse phrases and put-downs of hecklers. Even as he fomented chaos by playing to crowds' fears and resentments, he offered himself as the visionary leader who could restore law and order.
· Hitler increasingly presented himself in messianic terms, promising "to lead Germany to a new era of national greatness," though he was typically vague about his actual plans. He often harked back to a golden age for the country, Mr. Ullrich says, the better "to paint the present day in hues that were all the darker. Everywhere you looked now, there was only decline and decay."
· …Hitler virtually wrote the modern playbook on demagoguery, arguing in "Mein Kampf" that propaganda must appeal to the emotions — not the reasoning powers — of the crowd. Its "purely intellectual level," Hitler said, "will have to be that of the lowest mental common denominator among the public it is desired to reach." Because the understanding of the masses "is feeble," he went on, effective propaganda needed to be boiled down to a few slogans that should be "persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea that has been put forward."
· Hitler's rise was not inevitable, in Mr. Ullrich's opinion. There were numerous points at which his ascent might have been derailed, he contends; even as late as January 1933, "it would have been eminently possible to prevent his nomination as Reich chancellor." He benefited from a "constellation of crises that he was able to exploit cleverly and unscrupulously" — in addition to economic woes and unemployment, there was an "erosion of the political center" and a growing resentment of the elites. The unwillingness of Germany's political parties to compromise had contributed to a perception of government dysfunction, Mr. Ullrich suggests, and the belief of Hitler supporters that the country needed "a man of iron" who could shake things up. "Why not give the National Socialists a chance?" a prominent banker said of the Nazis. "They seem pretty gutsy to me."
· Hitler had a dark, Darwinian view of the world. And he would not only become, in Mr. Ullrich's words, "a mouthpiece of the cultural pessimism" growing in right-wing circles in the Weimar Republic, but also the avatar of what Thomas Mann identified as a turning away from reason and the fundamental principles of a civil society — namely, "liberty, equality, education, optimism and belief in progress."
Thomas Tilson, Ph.D.