Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf is soon to be reissued in Germany for the first time since the end of World War II. Postwar Germany has never allowed the reprinting till now. But there is nothing it can do about it at this stage.
The reprint will be 2,000 pages, which will include Hitler’s text and be rich in commentary and criticism. The attempt will be to provide historical education of the sort that informs but doesn’t inflame.
It’s not hard to understand the caution surrounding all of this. But as has been pointed out over and over, it’s less about the book and what it says than about who said it. George Orwell’s 1940 review of an English edition of the book suggested that Hitler was able put his “monstrous vision across” because of the inescapable fact that “there is something deeply appealing about him.”
Hitler, Orwell wrote, “knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene… they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty-parades.”
Fascism, he said, is “psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life … Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people “I offer you a good time,” Hitler has said to them, “I offer you struggle, danger, and death,” and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet … We ought not to underrate its emotional appeal’.”
Sound familiar? ISIL? Graeme Wood’s controversial piece in The Atlantic appears to think so. But he’s not the first or the only one.