Sunday, July 24, 2016

Hitler’s World by Timothy Snyder

NB: All over the world, there is a rising tide of hatred and animosity, with a yearning for violent solutions, and leadership by 'strong men' as a replacement for thought. Ideologies of revenge are rampant in the form of  'Trumpism', racism, Islamo-fascism, Hindutva, anti-Semitism and ultra-nationalism of all types. We are shouted at relentlessly, told to turn against weak and vulnerable people, taught to hate the nearest defenceless person as a scapegoat for all the troubles we face. Do we need any reminders that patriarchy, militarism and fascism are deeply implicated in these scary developments?

Instead of solidarity, in every corner of the planet we asked to believe that this or that 'community' is responsible, that what we need are not empathy, compassion, peace and justice; but more weapons, armaments and vigilantism. If we choose to succumb to this mindless destructiveness, we will have ourselves to blame for its consequences. Much more may be said, but this essay on Hitler's view of politics and the world is a reminder of what our preceding generations confronted and defeated, at a terrible price; and what we face today. This must not happen again. The global democratic solidarity of the human race is imperative to defeat the nihilist forces of totalitarianism and fascism. DS

Here are some citations to think about:
The permanent militarisation of society requires a permanent enemy: 
Hoodbhoy & Nayyar in Islam, Politics and the State: the Pakistan Experience (1986)

Politics is the plastic art of the state, just as painting is the plastic art of colour. This is why politics without the people or even against the people, is sheer nonsense. To form a People out of the masses, and state out of the People, this has always been the deepest sense of a true politics' Joseph Goebbels in his novel Michael (1929)

In the centre of the counter revolution stood the judiciary. Unlike administrative acts, which rest on considerations of convenience and expediency, judicial decisions rest on law, that is on right and wrong, and they always enjoy the limelight of publicity. Law is perhaps the most pernicious of all weapons in political struggles, precisely because of the halo that surrounds the concepts of right and justice.. Franz Neumann, Behemoth (1936)

‘totalitarian solutions may well survive the fall of totalitarian regimes in the form of strong temptations which will come up whenever it seems impossible to alleviate political, social, or economic misery in a manner worthy of man…It may even be that the true predicaments of our time will assume their authentic form – though not necessarily the cruellest – only when totalitarianism has become a thing of the past. Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1948) 
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In Hitler’s world, the law of the jungle was the only law. People were to suppress any inclination to be merciful and were to be as rapacious as they could. Hitler thus broke with the traditions of political thought that presented human beings as distinct from nature in their capacity to imagine and create new forms of association. Beginning from that assumption, political thinkers tried to describe not only the possible but the most just forms of society. For Hitler, however, nature was the singular, brutal, and overwhelming truth, and the whole history of attempting to think otherwise was an illusion. Carl Schmitt, a leading Nazi legal theorist, explained that politics arose not from history or concepts but from our sense of enmity. Our racial enemies were chosen by nature, and our task was to struggle and kill and die.

Hitler’s World by Timothy Snyder
Nothing can be known about the future, thought Hitler, except the limits of our planet: “the surface area of a precisely measured space.” Ecology was scarcity, and existence meant a struggle for land. The immutable structure of life was the division of animals into species, condemned to “inner seclusion” and an endless fight to the death. Human races, Hitler was convinced, were like species. The highest races were still evolving from the lower, which meant that interbreeding was possible but sinful. Races should behave like species, like mating with like and seeking to kill unlike. This for Hitler was a law, the law of racial struggle, as certain as the law of gravity. The struggle could never end, and it had no certain outcome. A race could triumph and flourish and could also be starved and extinguished.

In Hitler’s world, the law of the jungle was the only law. People were to suppress any inclination to be merciful and were to be as rapacious as they could. Hitler thus broke with the traditions of political thought that presented human beings as distinct from nature in their capacity to imagine and create new forms of association. Beginning from that assumption, political thinkers tried to describe not only the possible but the most just forms of society. For Hitler, however, nature was the singular, brutal, and overwhelming truth, and the whole history of attempting to think otherwise was an illusion. Carl Schmitt, a leading Nazi legal theorist, explained that politics arose not from history or concepts but from our sense of enmity. Our racial enemies were chosen by nature, and our task was to struggle and kill and die.

“Nature,” wrote Hitler, “knows no political boundaries. She places life forms on this globe and then sets them free in a play for power.” Since politics was nature, and nature was struggle, no political thought was possible. This conclusion was an extreme articulation of the nineteenth-century commonplace that human activities could be understood as biology. In the 1880s and 1890s, serious thinkers and popularizers influenced by Charles Darwin’s idea of natural selection proposed that the ancient questions of political thought had been resolved by this breakthrough in zoology. When Hitler was young, an interpretation of Darwin in which competition was identified as a social good influenced all major forms of politics.

For Herbert Spencer, the British defender of capitalism, a market was like an ecosphere where the strongest and best survived. The utility brought by unhindered competition justified its immediate evils. The opponents of capitalism, the socialists of the Second International, also embraced biological analogies. They came to see the class struggle as “scientific,” and man as one animal among many, instead of a specially creative being with a specifically human essence. Karl Kautsky, the leading Marxist theorist of the day, insisted pedantically that people were animals.

Yet these liberals and socialists were constrained, whether they realized it or not, by attachments to custom and institution; mental habits that grew from social experience hindered them from reaching the most radical of conclusions. They were ethically committed to goods such as economic growth or social justice, and found it appealing or convenient to imagine that natural competition would deliver these goods. Hitler entitled his book Mein Kampf - My Struggle. From those two words through two long volumes and two decades of political life, he was endlessly narcissistic, pitilessly consistent, and exuberantly nihilistic where others were not. The ceaseless strife of races was not an element of life, but its essence.

To say so was not to build a theory but to observe the universe as it was. Struggle was life, not a means to some other end. It was not justified by the prosperity (capitalism) or justice (socialism) that it supposedly brought. Hitler’s point was not at all that the desirable end justified the bloody means. There was no end, only meanness. Race was real, whereas individuals and classes were fleeting and erroneous constructions. Struggle was not a metaphor or an analogy, but a tangible and total truth. The weak were to be dominated by the strong, since “the world is not there for the cowardly peoples.” And that was all that there was to be known and believed.

Hitler’s worldview dismissed religious and secular traditions, and yet relied upon both. Though he was not an original thinker, he brought a certain resolution to a crisis of both thought and faith. Like many before him he sought to bring the two together. What he meant to engineer, however, was not an elevating synthesis that would rescue both soul and mind but a seductive collision that destroyed both. Hitler’s racial struggle was supposedly sanctioned by science, but he called its object “daily bread.” With these words, he was summoning one of the best-known Christian texts, while profoundly altering its meaning. “Give us this day,” ask those who recite the Lord’s Prayer, “our daily bread.” In the universe the prayer describes, there is a metaphysics, an order beyond this planet, notions of good that proceed from one sphere to another. Those saying the Lord’s Prayer ask that God “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” 

In Hitler’s “struggle for the riches of nature,” it was a sin not to seize everything possible, and a crime to allow others to survive. Mercy violated the order of things because it allowed the weak to propagate. Rejecting the biblical Commandments, said Hitler, was what human beings must do. “If I can accept a divine Commandment,” he declared, “it’s this one: ‘Thou shalt preserve the species.’”

Hitler exploited images and tropes that were familiar to Christians: God, prayers, original sin, commandments, prophets, chosen people, messiahs—even the familiar Christian tripartite structure of time: first paradise, then exodus, and finally redemption. We live in filth, and we must strain to purify ourselves and the world so that we might return to paradise. To see paradise as the battle of the species rather than the concord of creation was to unite Christian longing with the apparent realism of biology. The war of all against all was not terrifyingly purposeless, but instead the only purpose to be had in the universe. Nature’s bounty was for man, as in Genesis, but only for the men who follow nature’s law and fight for nature. As in Genesis, so in My Struggle, nature was a resource for man: but not for all people, only for triumphant races. Eden was not a garden but a trench... read more:
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2015/09/24/hitlers-world/

see also