“Adolf Hitler was clearly the man of the 20th century, whose shadow grows taller as the sun of the West sinks ever lower. Sadly, though, there is no biography worthy of Hitler.
If great men are those who leave their stamp on history, then Hitler was a great man. But great men present great problems for biographers. Great men are not necessarily good men, and even good men, when they hold political power, often find it necessary to kill innocent people. Evil men do not find this difficult, but good men do. Thus a good man, if he is to be a great man, must also be a hard man. But it is difficult for biographers, who are ordinary men, to sympathize with great men, especially men who are unusually bad or hard.
But biographers must at least try to enter imaginatively into the minds of their subjects. They must feel their feelings and think their thoughts. They must feel sympathy or empathy for their subjects. Such sympathy is not a violation of objectivity but a tool of it. It is a necessary counter-weight to the antipathy and ressentiment that hardness, cruelty, and greatness often inspire. Sympathy is necessary so a biographer can discover and articulate the virtues of intellect and character necessary to achieve anything great in this world, for good or ill.
Of course, one’s ability to sympathize with great men depends in large part on one’s moral principles. A Nietzschean or Social Darwinist would, for instance, find it easier to sympathize with a human beast of prey than would a Christian or a liberal democrat. Even so, it has been possible for Christians and liberals to write biographies of such great conquerors as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Mohammed, Genghis Khan, and Napoleon without whipping themselves into thousand-page paroxysms of self-righteous moralistic denigration.
Hitler, of course, provides even greater problems for biographers, because his demonization is a prop of contemporary Jewish hegemony, and there are consequences for any writer who challenges that consensus.
R. H. S. Stolfi’s Hitler: Beyond Evil and Tyranny is one of my favorite books on Hitler. It is not a biography of Hitler, although it is organized chronologically. It is, rather, a kind of “meta-biography,” an essay on the interpretation of Hitler’s life. Stolfi’s project has both positive and negative aspects: Stolfi critiques the existing interpretations of Hitler’s life as a whole and of specific episodes in Hitler’s life, and Stolfi sets forth his own interpretations.
Stolfi’s criticism of Hitler biographies focuses on the work of those he calls the four “great biographers”: John Toland (Adolf Hitler: The Definitive Biography), Alan Bullock (Hitler: A Study in Tyranny), Joachim Fest (Hitler), and Ian Kershaw (Hitler: 1889-1936, Hubris and Hitler: 1936-1945, Nemesis). In Stolfi’s words, “the penchant of [Hitler’s] biographers for gratuitous sarcasm, strained skepticism, and writing from preconceived heights of antipathy has left the world with a dangerously inaccurate portrait of Hitler” (p. 54). (Judging from the reception of David Irving’s Hitler’s War and The War Path, the existing establishment regards an accurate portrait of Hitler more dangerous than an inaccurate one.) Four examples of this bias will sufficice [snip] ….
Politician or Prophet?
Adolf Hitler was a formidable political organizer who took over a minuscule Bavarian debating club and turned it into the largest political party in Germany. After being imprisoned for an abortive Putsch, Hitler decided to attain power legally, through electoral politics. To that end, he virtually created the modern political campaign, traveling tirelessly by automobile and airplane and masterfully employing the mass media of his time. When he became Chancellor, Hitler proved a formidable statesman, transforming Germany with a virtually bloodless revolution and recovering German lands and pride through a series of deft foreign policy triumphs until the British and French started a World War to stop him.
Yet for all that, Stolfi argues that Hitler’s personality, goals, and grand strategy were more like those of a religious prophet, specifically an armed prophet like Mohammed.
Politicians presuppose a common political system and climate of opinion. They generally avoid contesting fundamental principles and instead deal with essentially quantitative differences within the same political and ideological continuum, hence their ability to compromise and their susceptibility to corruption. Stolfi points out again and again that Hitler refused to behave like a politician.
Hitler never compromised on basic principles. He took dangerously unpopular stands (p. 225). He refused to soften the party’s message to appeal to squeamish and lukewarm people. He was no demagogue: “A demagogue tells his audience what it wants to hear. A messiah tells his audience what he wants it to hear” (p. 248). Hitler never worried that his radical views would “discredit” him in the eyes of the public, whose minds were mostly in the grip of his enemies anyway. Instead, Hitler was supremely confident of his ability to lend credit to his ideas through reason and rhetoric. He wanted to elevatepublic opinion toward truth rather than condescend to pander to ignorance and folly.
Hitler also refused to enter common fronts with enemy parties, especially the Social Democrats, even when they took patriotic stands.
Hitler was, moreover, utterly incorruptible. He refused to make special promises to businessmen and other interest groups. He just handed them the party’s platform. In the end, he was offered the Chancellorship simply because his opponents knew he could not be bought off with anything less.
Revolutionaries deal with fundamental issues of principle, which is why they seek to overthrow existing systems and begin anew. Hitler was, of course, a political revolutionary. But he was something more. He saw himself as the exponent of a whole philosophy of life, not just a political philosophy. He placed politics in a larger biological and historical perspective: the struggle of Aryan man against Jewry and its extended phenotypes Communism and Anglo-Saxon capitalism. He believed the stakes were global: nothing less than the survival of all life on Earth was in peril. And having miraculously survived four years of slaughter and two serious wounds in the trenches of World War I — including an experience that can only be described as supernatural (p. 95) — Hitler believed that he enjoyed the special protection of Providence. ” (continues)
This review is a fascinating and informative read, in and of itself! ( 2 pages . 5,340 words) Please continue reading here
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Hitler: Beyond Evil and Tyranny
By R. H. S. Stolfi
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“Countless books, including five major biographies, have been devoted to the subject of Adolf Hitler. Yet, despite the mass of tantalizing detail uncovered over six decades, the man at the center of so much historical, psychological, and political analysis remains elusive. For some, he was evil personified, a diabolical tyrant driven by a lust for power; for others, he was a banal demagogue, an opportunist with a talent for propaganda and oration but little more than an empty vessel embodying the disappointments of a defeated Germany. Though we know many facts about Hitler, no coherent picture of his character or personality emerges. Instead, we are left with a cardboard cutout of an evil dictator whose life, in the end, no one can really explain. This fascinating and richly detailed new biography of Hitler reinterprets the known facts about the Nazi Fuehrer to construct a convincing, realistic portrait of the man. In place of the hollow shell others have made into an icon of evil, the author sees a complex, nuanced personality. Without in any way glorifying its subject, this unique revision of the historical Hitler brings us closer to understanding a pivotal personality of the twentieth century.”