Encyclopedia of the Literature of Empire - Mary Ellen Snodgrass 2010
Mein Kampf (Adolf Hitler)
Mein Kampf (Adolf Hitler) (1925-1926)
A prelude to the formation of the Nazi empire, Adolf Hitler's two-volume Mein Kampf (My Struggle), a combination of autobiography and political manifesto, preceded his accession to power by seven years. Dedicating himself to the “resurrection” of the German motherland following the humiliation of World War I, at age 34, he began dictating an emotional, self-glorifying text. Influenced by the determinism of NICCOLO MACHIAVELLI'S The Prince (1514), a Renaissance manual of statecraft, Hitler's work occupied his time after his arrest and imprisonment for treason committed during the Beer Hall Putsch of November 8-9, 1923. The failure of his brown shirt battalion to overthrow the Bavarian government earned him a cell at Landsberg am Lech, a fortress prison west of Munich, from April to December 1924. Despite the restrictions of incarceration, his dreams of power for Germany continued to draw disciples to his cause. He completed the first volume, Die Abrechnung (The settlement of accounts) in mid-July 1925 and the follow-up, Die Nationalsozialistische Bewegung (The National Socialist Movement), in December 1926. The Nazis gained political power in 1933. During Hitler's rule from then until 1945, he issued the combined autobiography in impressive editions. Readership increased dramatically in 1938, when the Nazi party adopted the work as a polemical guide to German national socialism.
Hitler's apologia begins with reflections on his peasant lineage and his education at the Realschule in Vienna, Austria, before setting out his views on propaganda, war, revolt, labor, foreign policy, and anti-Semitism. In the opening paragraphs, he introduces the pride of the self-made man, a prophetic concept that shapes his plans for the nation's future. His narcissism surfaces in repeated references to fate, immutable decisions, and firm resolve and in the qualifying of statements with the adverbs entirely, certainly, firmly, never, and absolutely. His loathing of the petty bourgeois and contempt for the manual worker reveal an even more disturbing arrogance. In a tirade of anti-Semitism in chapter 2, he loses rhetorical control in his image of lancing an abscess: “You found, like a maggot in a rotting body, often dazzled by the sudden light—a kike!” (Hitler 1939, 57). The chapter's text spews virulent diction—pestilence, infected, garbage, filth, poison, germcarriers, vice, and gutter. Hitler's subjectivity rapidly degenerates into a display of mental and emotional derangement by one of the world's most despised despots. At a height of self-delusion, he vindicates his hate mongering as “the work of the Lord” (65).
In chapter 8 of volume 2, Hitler's dream of world conquest derives from his perspective on inferior or “parasite” people—Gypsies and Jews—and himself as the Ubermensch (superman) or genius of the superior Aryan race, an idea borrowed from the German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche's Also Sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spake Zarathustra, 1883-85), an anti-Judaeo-Christian treatise on willpower and self-mastery written during the Austro-Hungarian Empire. For Hitler, the notion of the dictator justifies his dismissal of democracy and elections and his respect for oratory as a means of swaying the gullible. He pictures himself in the grandiose role of rescuer: “Through a happy decree of Destiny, a man arises who is capable of liberating his people from some great oppression, or of wiping out some bitter distress, or of calming the national soul” (419). To claim control of the volkish (populist) right, he declares himself a genius by virtue of his ability to overcome humble beginnings and adversity. His conclusion sanctifies war as the purpose of human life. In closing comments, he defines diplomatic compromise as necessary to the advance of Germany to “lord of the earth” (281). Euphemistically, he dismisses his greed for land as a need for lebensraum (living space). A review by the British journalist and satirist GEORGE ORWELL in a March 1940 edition of the New English Weekly ridiculed Hitler's expansionism as “a horrible brainless empire in which, essentially, nothing ever happens except the training of young men for war and the endless breeding of fresh cannon-fodder,” a PROPHECY of World War II (Orwell 2000, 13).
In an untitled, unpublished sequel, completed in early July 1928, Hitler repeated his initial rationalizations but exhibited increasing megalomania. Rediscovery of the manuscript in 1958 and publication of the Zweites Buch (Second book, 1961) gave a new generation of readers a glimpse of a monster bent on GENOCIDE and global conquest. According to a critique by Jeremy Noakes of the Times Literary Supplement on June 7, 1996, the one-man discourse discloses more psychoses. To stem “the deGermanization, niggerization, and Judaization of our people” (Hitler 2006, 383), the author glorifies mass murder and aggression. He demands a suppression of “bastardization” of the Nordic races as the only way for a pan-Germanic Europe to thrive. To exonerate his heinous method, he ridicules statecraft and applauds the ancient Spartan devotion to militarism from infancy as the only strategy to develop national vigor. For an efficient imperialism, he envisions the colonization of Europe and a universal conscription of soldiers to the Reichswehr (state army). At the culmination of his epic delusion lay a short-term subjugation of “negroized” France, isolation of Poles, and an all-out confrontation against England and America for world power. Combating Hitler's paranoia and glory hunting, Danish-Norwegian author SIGRID UNDSET, a resistance volunteer and refugee, refuted the manifesto with Return to the Future (1942), which dismissed Nazi empire builders as lawless thugs.
Hitler, Adolf. Hitler’s Second Book. Translated by Krista Smith. Minneapolis, Minn.: Consortium books, 2006.
----- . Mein Kampf. Translated by Edgar Dugdale. London: Hurst and Blackett, 1939.
Kershaw, Ian. Hitler: 1889-1936: Hubris. New York: W. W. Norton, 2000.
Orwell, George. My Country Right or Left 1940-1943: The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell. Edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus. Boston: David R. Godine, 2000.