The Atlantic just published an interview with the author of the new book, Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. In that article and in that book is an idea new to me about Hitler’s reasoning and motivation for many of the heinous crimes he planned, authorized, and enacted.
The basic premise is that Hitler was ultimately and primarily a racial anarchist. For him, this had the following implications:
- The natural way of the world is a brutal and barbaric struggle between races.
- The Jews spread the idea humanity and abstract thought and all sorts of imposed order which are inherently unnatural. This ideology is standing in the way of how things are supposed to be, thus the only way to bring the world into right again is to eradicate everything related to those ideas, including the people behind them.
- Killing Jews inside the borders of nation-states was too difficult logistically whereas it was much more practical to do the executions in the “backwoods,” (my term) or the chaotic void left behind when a nation collapses.
- Therefore, the only way Hitler could restore the natural world order was to somehow get the German people to start a war whose goal was the elimination of other nations in order to make way for the Final Solution and thus eradicate the world of the Jews’ unnatural ways and ideas.
Pretty much any analysis of Hitler’s life and works is going to be terrifying, but there are a few things in this article that stood out:
- Hitler didn’t ultimately care about the German or Aryan race. He masqueraded his intentions behind German nationalism in order to win popular support so that he could acquire the mean to start his campaign against all statehood and order.
- He didn’t just think that Jews were a problem (because, let’s face it, almost all of Europe considered them a problem at the time), but he considered them the problem that held back the natural order of the world and with it all things that are right and good.
- His twisted worldview provided a framework within which he could mastermind his well-executed plans rationally, all the while being completely irrational to the rest of the world.
- It’s conceivable that this combination of factors could reemerge in a new flavor somewhere today in the world and recreate the same horrors of those dark times.
The twist that separated Hitler from some of his terrible peers was that non-negotiable non-rational worldview that isolated him from reality. The author makes a brief connection with a refusal to acknowledge the state of Israel today by its geo-neighbors on the sentiment that Jews could never form a functioning state. It just makes sense,” in other words, “why recognize an entity that any moment will collapse on itself and no longer exist?”
Though not calling out as if from the watch-tower, the book’s author stages Hitler’s ideology as a warning to us today, especially those of us dealing with policies and foreign powers who have heinously racist or inflammatory rhetoric
There’s a key in there, he suggests: rational leaders know their limits and are on the look out for their own people; the crazy ones are those who are more focussed on conforming reality to their own malformed worldview’s than taking care of their own. This can separate the madman who cries for the elimination on an entire demographic but won’t ever actually do it from the one who will.
Summary and my takeaway
I think that a teaching-point here is to bring a particularly strong level of skepticism to policy arguments that we hear when they would hurt or sever the relationships between people: by malice, physical separation, class distinction, prejudice, preference, etc…
Many times we are fed ideas that just sound right and the discussion are closed to outside parties – locked away from inspection from unbiased observers. Maybe they even cater to our fancies and we get caught up in the enthusiasm of their implications. Nevertheless, they not only don’t have the best interest of the out-group in mind, but they ultimately don’t have the best interest of the in-group either, and these things are obvious from the outside.
There’s so many ways this discussion to pan out and there are so many places it applies today, but I think the only good place I can end this post is relate it to one very important piece of humanity: dignity.
Most prejudice ultimately strips away the dignity of its targets. They aren’t human, so they aren’t worth protecting, loving, and honoring like human are. Life is beautiful even in its messes and if we care about life and consider one another first and foremost as living, human, breathing, thinking, creative, worthwhile people, then that is probably the best way we can guard ourselves and our world from reinventing the atrocities of the past.