As a kind of study into the nature of evil, I’ve been reading Hitler’s Mein Kampf. It’s quite a read–and quite an experience to read, actually. At first I wondered: could I actually be persuaded by any of his arguments? I’ve even felt a mild urge to conceal reading it in public, in case someone were to think I admire this man. (Reading it on a Kindle helps.) Few, I think, would understand reading to see how someone could become so utterly, undeniably evil, and how such a person could rise to completely control a nation.
What I’ve discovered is the ideology of a man who never would have risen to power under ordinary circumstances. This book is the product of a creative, brilliant, highly educated mind utterly in the grip of the most extraordinary weltanschauung imaginable: a kind of industrialized, racialized, hypernationalism rooted in worship of pure will and strength; defined by the venemous hatred of an imagined, insidious enemy upon which all German problems could be blamed; and in which a totalitarian state governing every aspect of existence is the final cause of the German master race. A chilling vision.
The Nazi state Hitler was later to create is described in full detail. It is impossible to read this book without being completely aware of his intent to conquer the world, enslave all non-Aryans and murder every Jew. You’d have to be blind not to see it. The fact that he was elected democratically gives you an idea of how fucked up beyond belief the social fabric of the Weimar republic really was.
As I read, one recurring theme I’m noticing is his professed admiration of the Catholic Church. In developing his revolutionary ideology and effecting the political transformation it calls for, he recognizes the profound importance of “blind faith in the truth of a doctrine.” He says:
Here again the Catholic Church has a lesson to teach us. Though sometimes, and often quite unnecessarily, its dogmatic system is in conflict with… scientific discoveries, it is not disposed to sacrifice a syllable of its teachings. It has rightly recognized that its powers of resistance would be weakened by introducing greater or less doctrinal adaptations to meet the temporary conclusions of science… And thus it holds fast to its fixed and established dogmas which alone can give to the whole system the character of a faith. And that is the reason why it stands firmer today than ever before.
He is completely wrong. Enduring, dogmatic Catholic opposition to the basic truths of the world has put the Church so out of touch with reality that it continues to be abandoned by ever larger numbers. Secular atheism, agnosticism and even religious indifference have never been more prevalent in so-called Catholic countries. The decline was well in progress in his time. “Firmer today than ever before”? No wonder the glorious thousand-year Third Reich lasted hardly a decade.
The beliefs that endure are not the ones most ardently believed. It is not a question of will. The ones that endure are the ones that continue to work for the believer. Had Hitler really understood Peircean pragmatism, rather than a vulgarized form of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche as he seems to have, maybe he would have seen what a pointless, insane struggle he had chosen for himself.