The Corner

Mein Kampf, Again

Since a few folks on Twitter and in my email, keep insisting that I think Mein Kampf was a “liberal” book, I figure I’ll respond once here.

Beyond what I already said the other day about its incredible tediousness and unreliability as a serious guide to Nazi ideology, there are some other things to add.

The first is that I never claimed Mein Kampf to be a “liberal” book, certainly not in the European sense and not  in the American sense either. If in the American context we are to distinguish liberalism from, say, leftism or radicalism, then Mein Kampf cannot be considered a liberal book. But it is deeply radical,  not reactionary nor conservative as so many glibly claim. If you even skimmed the book, you’d learn that Hitler does not seek to restore the monarchy (something a reactionary might want to do) and he reviles classical or Manchester liberalism as well as democracy.  Oh, and he despises the bourgeoisie (who, by the way,  according to Marxists are supposed to be the enablers of Fascism). He attacks big business and bankers frequently.  He says he is a nationalist but not a patriot. His nationalism is decidedly anti-Bolshevik (because that is foreign and, more importantly, Russian and Jewish, in his mind), but he is not anti-Socialist (as folks keep saying). If he was, he probably would have led a party other than the National Socialists.  It is also not, as you sometimes hear, a remotely Christian book. Hitler celebrates the “much freer” pre-Christian pagan world.

So, depending on your lexicon, you could say Mein Kampf is right-wing because it is very nationalistic, but certainly not conservative in either the European or American understanding of conservatism.  Also,  unless you are both a dedicated and very specific kind of Marxist, you’re going to have a very hard time defending the claim that nationalism is, of itself, “right-wing.” If it is then Castro, Mao, Pol Pot, Stalin,  and Hugo Chavez, to name a few, are all right-wingers (and vast numbers of libertarian heroes on the American right are not right-wingers).

I could go on about this all day. But I’ll make three more, hopefully quick, points. 

First, other than the clear warning Hitler was giving the world about his genocidal anti-Semitism, the important takeaway from Mein Kampf isn’t its ideological coherence, but its author’s obsession with revolutionary change. (Depending on your translation) The word “fascist”  appears twice in Mein Kampf,  and “Fascism” only once, while “revolution,” “rebellion,” “overthrowing,” and the like festoon nearly every page. His chief obsession (other than the Jews) is with the revolutionary “idea,” the notion that the masses can be galvanized and commanded through a radical new way of thinking. “The appearance of a new and great idea was the secret of success in the French Revolution. The Russian Revolution owes its triumph to an idea. And it was only the idea that enabled [Italian] Fascism triumphantly to subject a whole nation to a process of complete renovation.”

Which brings me to the second point. Mein Kampf is not in any serious way the opposite or parallel “right-wing” work to the “left-wing” Communist Manifesto. The two works are very different in style, intent, audience and, yes, ideology etc., but they do share a commitment to revolutionary change. All of these people insisting that it is some grand contradiction to admire both books don’t know much about one or the other. And to the extent Loughner read these books (which, again, I doubt), it is entirely plausible that he would like both of them. This is a kid who thought the entire metaphysical system was a con job in need of being torn down (David Brooks was very good on this point the other day, by the way). On that sort of thing, Hitler and Marx saw eye to eye. What shouldn’t need to be said is that neither Mein Kampf nor the Communist Manifesto are prominent Tea Party tracts.

Finally, about the relevance of Liberal Fascism. I don’t think any of what I have to say about Nazism or Communism has any bearing on any of this, for the simple reason that I don’t think either Mein Kampf or the Communist Manifesto played any significant role in Loughner’s actions (and some of those who do might explain why they want to stifle political speech but not books). But here is the relevance. The chief point of the book is to question the locked-in left’s locked-in narrative about America, conservatism and of course fascism. From the casting of Father Coughlin as a right-winger to the claims that Barry Goldwater was a fascist and the denial that Lee Harvey Oswald was a leftist, there is a fraudulent story of America told by the Left and the liberal establishment every day (don’t believe me? Watch Chris Matthews for five minutes). What we saw for the first 72 hours after this shooting, was a desperate, malicious and ignorant attempt to cram this horrible tragedy into that deceitful narrative. But conservatives opposed that effort. If my book helped even slightly in the resistance, I’m delighted.


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