Saturday, December 2, 2023

Ullrich's Hitler


Ullrich’s Hitler

Peter Schultz


            Volker Ullrich, in his book Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939, likes an analysis of Hitler written by Theodore Heuss in 1932, Hitler’s Way. The focus of Heuss’s analysis is what he labeled “the dual nature of the Nazi movement” and of Hitler himself.


            The movement was dual in that “Rationalistic power calculations coexist[ed] … with unbridled emotions.” Seems persuasive, but isn’t this what all political movements do essentially? Political movements appeal to popular or elite emotions while calculating how to get, maintain, or fortify their power. In fact, it might even be said that politics in general is characterized by an emotional rationality, and that this is in fact the nitroglycerin that leads to political explosions of the kind created by the Nazis. This is not Nazi politics; it is politics simply.  


            Regarding Hitler, Heuss claims he was a master manipulator of the people’s emotions, a mastery based on “psychological techniques” inspired by Hitler’s own “passion(s).”  But, again, isn’t this merely the same “chemical combo,” the same nitroglycerin that Heuss found lying at the heart of Nazi movement? It would seem so.


            Heuss also said, along with his emotional mastery, Hitler was merely “a politician who want[ed] power.” Of course he did, just like every other politician ever. If a person doesn’t want power, s/he doesn’t enter the political arena. And if s/he does want power, s/he enters the political arena. Seems almost self-evident, no?


            But Heuss goes on to say that Hitler’s respect for the law was merely “tactical.” Well, of course it was because law itself a merely a tactic that serves an existing order. In democracies, the laws serve democracy and democrats; in oligarchies, the laws serve oligarchy and the oligarchs; and in monarchies, the laws serve the monarchy and the monarchs. As is clear from campaigns for “law and order,” laws are tactics for maintaining an existing order. Hence, any politician who opposes the existing order, as Hitler did, will not, cannot unequivocally embrace the law(s). This is, again, just politics.


            Similarly, Heuss claimed that Hitler’s moderation was also merely tactical. Again, I must say that of course it was because, like law, moderation is merely a tactic, one that serves to maintain or fortify an existing order. Any politician, like Hitler himself, who opposes an existing order will not, cannot unequivocally embrace moderation. This is just politics.


Why is Heuss’s analysis worth deconstructing, as it were? Because when deconstructed, his analysis reveals one reason why political life so often moves toward extremism. In fact, Heuss’s analysis points us toward the conclusion that political life itself, that is, in all its forms, is essentially, congenitally extremist. And insofar as that’s the case, then the political task becomes taming political life, not affirming it in hopes of ameliorating the human condition.

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