Sunday, February 16, 2014

Alan Bullock. Hitler: A Study of Tyranny (1962)

     Alan Bullock. Hitler: A Study of Tyranny (1962) This is the second, revised edition, in which Bullock has taken advantage of documents that weren’t available for the first edition, published in 1952. The story of Hitler’s life and career is fascinating, as a train wreck is fascinating. In the 1920s some entertainment entrepreneurs staged locomotive collisions. That’s what Hitler’s career looks like: the locomotives accelerate, they reach top speed, and then they collide. Hitler’s career accelerated, he got everything he wanted, and then he crashed, taking about 50,000,000 humans beings with him.
     I won’t summarise Bullock’s story. It does clarify a number of things that I had a muddled knowledge of, such as the sequence of events that led up to the destruction of Czechoslovakia. There’s no question that Hitler understood and exploited other people’s weaknesses; he was a master at probing the pressure points that would enable him to manipulate people into doing what he wanted. Then, when he achieved all his political goals (all outlined in Mein Kampf), he began to follow his fantasies. For a man who claimed to have read and understood history, he was remarkably ignorant of actual structures of governance. Bullock several times reminds us that Hitler disliked the work of governing; this no doubt explains his weird ideas about the power of the English King, and especially of his bete noir, “the Jews”. He himself expected things to happen simply because he wanted them to. “Will” was his Leitmotif. I don’t think he ever understood how his program was in fact implemented, how much organisational and logistic work was needed to realise the results of political maneuvering, still less what had to be done to make his political campaigns possible. This was, I think, the main reason he never understood how impossible his military plans were. Compare him to Churchill, who had had practical experience at precisely that level of organising the logistics of war during his time at the Admiralty in the first World War
     My impression of Hitler is that he was a psychopath in the grip of a fantasy. “Psychopath” is a word Bullock doesn’t use; it wasn’t in wide circulation when he wrote his book, nor was the concept. The research that firmed up the concept was really just beginning to gain respectability. But Bullock’s portrait of the man shows us all the traits of psychopathology. Narcissism, egomania, inability to empathise, tendency to erupt in fury when crossed, use of other people as instruments for ego-gratification, blaming others, etc. He was also fundamentally lazy.
     A good book, albeit a profoundly depressing one. ***

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