October 7, 2012

Mein Kampf and the Illusion of the Omnipotent and Invisible Enemy

Though it didn’t appear to be one of the more popular readings (and given the nature of the source material I can see why), I actually took an interest in Burke’s paper on the underlying rhetoric of Mein Kampf. Hitler’s book and the history that followed in its wake serve as a chilling testament to the power of rhetoric and the influence of the written word. It would be a waste of time for me to denounce the Nazi ideology as morally bankrupt as I doubt there is anyone in this class who needs to be convinced otherwise. Though from a modern perspective its racist and anti-Semitic overtones are exasperating, Mein Kampf masterfully weaves ideology and lived experience to give the impression that the two are merely components of a complete whole, “reality,” or the world of “reason” as Hitler construes it.

Hitler constructs his conspiracy theory piecemeal as a series of unjustified assumptions, each one drawing upon the previous one until an entirely circular self-justifying ideology has been constructed from it. Taking the foundational tenets of Hitler’s ideology and arranging them in a way that appears at all convincing to an impartial reader is actually a very challenging feat. He has to argue that Aryans are inherently superior and it is their destiny to be masters of the human race while also arguing that other races are covertly ruling Germany. He also has to argue that Jews are self-interested opportunists while also being consistent with his assertion that they are conspiring with other groups Hitler deemed unfavorable.

Hitler has to both glorify and villainize Individualism in the same way as he does both to Collectivism. Though us English majors probably won’t be very convinced by Mein Kampf, I nonetheless found it incredibly interesting to reflect upon what must have gone into constructing a text from such conflicting premises. Hitler also constructs his narrative to coincide with the overall themes and structures of uniquely German stories such as Das Nibelungenleid, the famous culture-myth of the establishment of a German identity (The ending of Inglourious Basterds is also a subversion of this story!). The rhetorical underpinnings of Hitler’s text contain some parallels today with contemporary American political discourse. Though there are few contemporary politicians on the US quite on the same level as Hitler, we can see that some figures utilize similar methods in order to construct social enemies.  

I’m honestly not trying to be crass with this example, but the book Treason: Liberal Treachery from The Cold War to Terrorism by Ann Coulter is similar to Mein Kampf both thematically and stylistically although somewhat ironically I would say that Hitler’s book is actually the more elegant work, or at least as much as a work of this nature can be.


Stephen Craun said...

I admire the analysis that you've given Burke's analysis of the rhetoric in Hitler's "Mein Kampf", and i do believe that you're correct in determining the correlations between the methods used by Hitler and those used within the more contemporary rhetoric centered around the U.S. "war on terror"
I believe that there are several indesputable links between the development of the anti-sematic rhetoric which came to dominate popular german society in the years preceeding world war 2, and the "islamophobia" which has been cultivated within the socio-political atmosphere of the U.S. following September 11th, 2001. Although i'd like to provide a lengthy analysis and comparison of the two social stigmas which prevade our respective social structures, i shall spare the audience any unnesessary intellectual jargon and proceed to provide an outline of the forms of rhetoric and how they correlate. In both Hitler's "Mein Kampf" and contemporary political rhetoric regarding the "war on terror", the "common enemy" has been constructed as a means to unify and polarize the popluace against a single unified international enemy. This universal enemy is seen as being the opposing force to everything which the society persecuting it stand for, and these constructed differences are almost entirely moralistic or religously oriented. Through the means of constucting a common enemy, the state(either U.S.or nazi germany) is allowed to superficially attribute all of the pains and struggle within its own society to that of an foreign element, such as the "jew" or the "terrorist". There is also evident in both methods of rhetoric the use of religous attribution as a means of association, to at once encourage unity within a society and to justify its actions under the pretext of religous ideology, and to construct a religously oriented deviant to serve as the scapegoat for misplaced aggression. In Hitler's case, it was the appeal to the traditional christian values of which framed the moralistic codes of europe for centuries and subsequently the historical scapegoat of the Jew came into focus as the character to be demonized. In the case of contemporary American society, the Muslim has become the scapegoat for the religously laced rhetoric of U.S. politicans seeking to promote their foreign agenda through the selection of an international "devil" of which the American public sees as "foreign" to their belief structures or ways of life.

Zach van Dijk said...

Extremely well said, I most definitely agree with your description of Nazi "circular self-justifying ideology." I feel as though, in order to demand the adherence he received, Hitler needed to formulate his own system of justification, one that operates outside the sphere of traditional morality and logic. From a psychological standpoint, Hitler truly did engage a variety of psychological phenomena to enact his vision: groupthink, deferment, multiplicity vs. singularity, etc.
Ultimately, I agree that some of his rhetoric is present today, but in a drastically reduced scope. Where Hitler created an entire system of justification to support himself, I feel that modern politicians only alter/ignore our existing state of morality (rather than creating their own).

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.