Sunday, September 07, 2014

Ronald Lewin. Hitler’s Mistakes (1984)

     Ronald Lewin. Hitler’s Mistakes (1984) Consider how well Hitler worked towards achieving his goals, without considering their moral and ethical dimensions. That’s Lewin’s stance, and he shows that Hitler failed miserably. Hitler’s primary mistake was that he would not or could not understand that governance was more important than vision. His vision of a Thousand Year Reich might have been achieved, if he had studied how previous empires succeeded: by utilising the plodding and unglamourous skills of the bureaucrat and functionary. His secondary mistake was in the vision itself, that of a Herrenvolk lording it over a vast class of serfs. And his third major mistake was setting his underlings and colleagues against each other so that there was no stable structure of government to maintain the state after his death. Even if he had gotten out of the war with his skin and his nation more or less intact, the Thousand Year Reich could not have survived his death.
     In short, he was not only a psychopath, he was a stupid psychopath. Unfortunately, too many Germans followed him despite all their misgivings, despite their realisation that his vision was unsustainable, despite his blatant incompetence. That’s what needs to be explained, because there’s plenty of evidence that the more analytical (and cynical) of Hitler’s compatriots could see through his flim-flam. Why did no one call his bluff?
     His Party comrades, like him, did not look beyond their immediate concerns. Power and self-gratification motivated the ruling Party elites, and those motivations make it difficult if not impossible to think about or imagine anything beyond one’s own life. Corruption of all kinds was endemic. Everyone was trying to secure some power base for the time when Hitler died. Trying to unseat Hitler or cross him would have eliminated any chance of creating the kind of fiefdom that they craved. So they went along, most of them to the bitter end.
     The military caste was conflicted. On the one hand, they had sworn an oath to Hitler, and saw their duty as protecting the State as well as they could. On the other hand, they soon saw through his pretensions to military competence, but the habits of hierarchy prevented them from doing what a looser social structure would have enabled them to do, to mutiny and take power from him.
     The ordinary German was seduced by a vision, by images of German power and influence, by what amounted to a religion of the Volk. Most of them, like most people anywhere, didn’t engage in politics as a method of governance. Politics is either something to be left to other people, or a quasi-religion adopted to validate one’s sense of being an important player on the world stage.
     Hitler was in all respects a pathetic human being.  It’s thoroughly depressing that his charismatic gifts misled so many Germans into following him.
     Lewin makes a good case. He’s a true historian, basing his narrative of primary sources as much as possible. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand the Nazi era better. ***

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