Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sources for Hitler's racial theories in Mein Kampf

A new critical edition of Hitler's Mein Kampf has been published this month in Germany. It's the first edition allowed to be published legally there after the expiration of the postwar ban on its publication. (Alison Smale, Scholars Unveil New Edition of Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ New York Times 12/01/2015; "Mein Kampf". Hitlers Buch wird neu aufgelegt Focus Online 04.01.2016)

This has occasioned new research into the book and its significance. One example is Roman Töppel's
"„Volk und Rasse“. Hitlers Quellen auf der Spur" Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte 64:1 (2016). Töppel investigates the likely sources of the racial ideas elaborated in the "Volk und Rasse" chapter of Mein Kampf. And he gives every evidence of having approached the task with stereotypical German thoroughness.

In the process, he finds that the following are the most likely influences on the racial ideas in the "Volk und Rasse" chapter.
  • Paul Bang (1879–1945), author of Judas Schuldbuch. Eine deutsche Abrechnung (1919)
  • Erwin Baur (1875–1933)
  • Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1855–1927), one of the better-known anti-Semitic racial ideologues, author of The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century (1911)
  • Heinrich Claß (1868–1953), author of Wenn ich der Kaiser wär(1912)
  • Dietrich Eckart (1868–1923), who was an ideological mentor for Hitler in Munich, an early editor of the Völkischen Beobachter and author of Der Bolschewismus von Moses bis Lenin (published 1927)
  • Hans F. K. Günther (1891–1968), author of Ritter, Tod und Teufel (1920)
  • Eugen Fischer (1874–1967)
  • Theodor Fritsch (1852-1933), author of Handbuch der Judenfrage (1907)
  • Otto Hauser (1876–1944), author of Geschichte des Judentums (1921)
  • Julius Langbehn (1851–1907), author of Rembrandt als Erzieher (1906)
  • Fritz Lenz (1887–1976)
  • Alfred Rosenberg (1893-1946), longtime editor of the Nazi Party newspaper Völkischer Beobachter
  • Richard Wagner (1813-1833), the brilliant but notoriously anti-Semitic composer, author of "Das Judenthum in der Musik“ ("Judaism in Music") (1850)
Yes, it's a real rogues' gallery.

Baur, Fischer and Lenz were all three geneticists, who published a 1923 study called, "Grundriß der menschlichen Erblichkeitslehre und Rassenhygiene“ ("Outline of human hereditary tenets and racial hygiene"). They promoted such ideas as the notion that the less valuable races breed more prolifically than the more valuable ones, a notion that White Power politicians like Pat Buchanan still promote. They also advocated the idea that "true genius" was inherited and never the result of upbringing and education. That concept will be all too familiar to anyone who has listened to the tedious "heredity vs. upbringing" assertions typically of white racists in America. I learned long ago that when someone poses the rhetorical question "What's more important, inheritance or upbringing?" that you're about two sentences away from a lesson on how "us white folks sure are smarter than them blacks."

Dietrick Eckart (1868-1923), one of the nasty characters who influenced Hitler's racial propaganda in Mein Kampf

That's part of the reason I have to admire someone who can wade through this gutter literature and then write about it coherently and professionally. Because that's mostly what Hitler scooped up into his writing and speeches. There's no doubt that Hitler was shrewd and extremely talented as a politician. But his literary talents were not marked by brilliance. What he provided in Mein Kampf was a propagandist recycling of the anti-Semitic and radical right nationalist idea that he absorbed particularly in prewar Vienna and postwar Munich.

And as Töppel emphasizes repeatedly, it's not easy to track exactly which influences were most important for Hitler at the time he wrote Mein Kampf. Hitler's own claims are unreliable. He claimed, for instance, that all during his service in the German Army during the First World War, he carried around the five volume of Arthur Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Idea in his backpack. But Töppel explains that there is little evidence that Hitler had much if any direct acquaintance with the 19th-century philosopher's work. And that he probably learned much of what he did know of him before writing Mein Kampf was through Dietrich Eckart.

Töppel argues that the scholarship on Hitler's racial ideology has tended to overestimate the influence of several mostly unsavory characters: "geopolitical" theorist Karl Haushofer (1869-1946),; the American segregationist Madison Grant (1865-1937), at least not for the "Volk und Rasse" chapter; French anthropologist Georges Vacher de Lapouge (1854–1936); Joseph Adolf Lanz, aka, Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels (1874-1954), leader of a small Austrian esoteric racist religious sect he called the New Templar Order; and, Viennese occultist Guido von List (1848-1919). The groups of Lanz von Lebenfels and of List used the swastika as a favorite symbol; the swastika was adopted more widely by German-nationalist groups in Austria in the years before the First World War. As Brigitte Hamann notes in Hitlers Wien. Lehrjahre eines Ditators (1996), there is some evidence that Hitler may have been particularly impressed by List's valuation of the swastika as a Germanic symbol.

Töppel also rejects the idea that the novelist Karl May, who wrote cowboy-and-Indian stories set in the American Old West, was any significant influence on Hitler's racial ideology. Hitler's own claim to have read many Karl May novels as a child is totally credible. Because Karl May was incredibly popular among young German and Austria readers. To this day, any German or Austrian under 50 or so probably grew up reading Karl May stories. And those younger are familiar with him through the TV and movies based on his tales, like those of his American Indian character Winnetou.

Töppel stresses that Hitler was highly selective in the ideas he drew from his sources. He took the ones that fit the framework of his notion of the superior "Aryan" race whose most important enemy was the Jewish race. Töppel cites several instances in which sources important for him on some points explicitly rejected other ideas on which Hitler's racial narrative depended. And Hitler didn't care whether there was any actual scientific basis for the ideas on which he relied. He was doing hate propaganda, not scholarly work.

Töppel also notes, "„Mein Kampf“ enthält im Vergleich zu Hitlers Reden und zu völkischen Schriften des späten 19. und frühen 20. Jahrhunderts weder überraschend Neues noch viel Originäres." ("In comparison to Hitler's speeches and to völkish writings of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Mein Kampf contains neither anything surprisingly new nor much original.")

Hitler's racial propaganda was particularly focused on making "the Jews" the scapegoat for all resentments:

So entwickelten sich „Jude“ und „jüdisch“ letztendlich zu Chiffren für alles, was die Nationalsozialisten bekämpften. Laut einer Aufzeichnung des Unternehmers Eduard August Scharrer (1880–1932) sagte Hitler bereits im Dezember 1922: „Kampf gegen das Judentum ist eines der Hauptmomente in der Orientierung der Massen der nationalsozialistischen Partei. Dieses Schlagwort kann nicht aufgegeben werden, denn dadurch wird erreicht, daß die Massen in jedem Gegner, der aufgezeigt wird, ihren Todfeind sehen und sich danach einstellen.“

[So "Jew" and "Jewish" developed in the end to code words for everything that the National Socialists were fighting against. According to a record of the businessman Eduard August Scharrer (1880–1932) said that Hitler as early as December 1922 said: "Fighting against Judaism is one of the chief moments in the orientation of the masses of the National Socialist Party. This slogan cannot be given up, because through it will be achieved that the masses will see their mortal enemy {the Jews} in every opponent that is designated {for them} and then direct their fire at them.]

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