the year 1999 was winding down, many people were asking such questions
as "who was the most important person of (a) this passing millennium,
and (b) the 20th century?" I had no hesitation in answering
both questions: (a) was Johannes Gutenberg, whose invention of movable
type was one of the four major contributions to the "information
revolution" through which mankind has long been engaged (the
other three being the creation of language, mathematical analysis,
and computerized technology), while (b) was Adolf Hitler. Gutenberg's
invention was most beneficial to mankind, having facilitated the
decentralization of information and, with it, helping to produce
the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution, and
the Industrial Revolution. Hitler's contributions were of a destructive
and dehumanizing nature but, in terms of social impact, defined
not only the last two-thirds of the 20th century, but are serving
as a model for the 21st as well.
Let me not be misunderstood on this point: that I consider Hitler
to have had the most significant influence on the twentieth century
is not to praise the man, but only to acknowledge
that he, above all other human beings, did more to make the twentieth
century world what it was: a century of seemingly endless wars,
collective mindsets, vicious tyrannies, and genocidal butcheries,
all of which combined to produce the deaths of some 200 million
persons, and make of human society a continuing war of all against
Consider, if you will, these consequences of Adolf Hitler's practices.
Research into the development of nuclear weaponry was undertaken
principally as a response to the fear that Hitler would try to "take
over" the rest of the world. The development of rocketry as
an intercontinental weapons system came about as a desperate effort
by Hitler to overcome the insufficiency of his more conventional
weapons. We can now thank this man for introducing into our world
ICBMs and the threat of nuclear annihilation!
Because of his barbaric treatment of Jews, the state of Israel came
into existence, the consequence of which continues to find violent
expression throughout the Middle East, and is related to the current
"war against terrorism." Had Hitler's regime refrained
from persecuting Jews, there would probably have been less of a
felt need for a Jewish homeland.
The unanticipated results of Nazism reach even more deeply into
the fabric of our present world. The Nuremburg principles, along
with an increased demand for some kind of "world government"
to prosecute "war criminals," have their origins in Hitler's
practices. Another result of Nazi oppression is found, I believe,
in the post-World War II "civil rights" movement. Because
people had seen, in Hitler's policies, what can happen when state
power confronts racial/ethnic/religious/sexual orientation groupings,
civil rights groups found a willingness on the part of many people
to forcibly exorcise from society any tendencies to discriminate
on such grounds. Even such modern phenomena as "political correctness,"
"affirmative action" programs, "racial quotas,"
"hate crimes" legislation, as well as the fragmentation
of modern society into politicized group identities, all trace their
origins to Hitler. Because of our proper hostility to Hitler's bigotry,
we now find ourselves in a culture obsessed with the racial/ethnic/religious/sexual
orientation characteristics of people.
Other social and political issues can be traced back to der Fuhrer.
A dedicated nonsmoker and public health advocate, he supported government
eugenics and cancer research (although opposing the use of animals
in such research); restrictions on the use of asbestos, pesticides,
radiation, and tobacco; government established occupational health
and safety standards; environmental and conservationist programs,
as well as the promotion of whole-grain foods and soybeans. He also
put into effect one of the most pervasive gun-control programs.
Does this mean that one who favors any programs such as these is
a Nazi, an apologist for the horrors for which this man was responsible?
Of course not. What it does mean, however, is that his programs
emerged from a mindset quite similar to one that has been prevalent
in modern society for many decades: a desire to cleanse the
world of any and all imperfections and undesirable elements.
In modern obsessions with health – wherein any condition
or practice that renders the world less than one hundred percent
hygienic must be forcefully eradicated – we find the same mania
for sterilization that drove Hitler. Such an attitude was well-expressed
by the late Alan Watts who spoke of people who want "to scrub
We are told that if we can just get rid of tobacco, and guns, and
people who "hate," and red meat, and research on animals,
and pornography, and polluters, and lumber companies, and feminists,
and nuclear power plants, and people with religious convictions,
and drug use, and homosexuality, and (the list is endless), all
of our social problems will be resolved. If we can just purify
our world, to make it perfectly safe, healthy, moral, and clean,
we can then get on with living.
What we fail to see in all of this – just as the German people failed
to see in Hitler's programs – was that making the world "healthy"
invariably came down to ridding it of "disease," and that
undesirable people were all too easily defined as
diseases to be quarantined (such as in concentration camps)
for the protection of others. Such "undesirables" can
take the form of homosexuals in Hitler's Germany, or the modern-day
drug users whose bodies have contributed to making the United States
the world's leader in the percentage of its population in prisons!
Nor should we overlook the parallels between 1930s eugenicists – trying to isolate hereditary factors that would impede the development
of a "master race" – and modern scientists who, through
DNA research, work to identify and eradicate "defective genes,"
to the end that humanity may be improved.
What Adolf Hitler provided, if only we had taken the opportunity
of observing it closely, was a playing out of the "dark side"
of the "collective unconscious" that we share with all
our fellow humans. Each of us has the capacity, should we fail to
keep our conscious minds sufficiently energized, to slip into the
kinds of "mass-minded" practices so well elucidated by
Carl Jung, in his insightful book, The
Undiscovered Self, and to begin projecting onto "scapegoats"
those darker qualities we fear within ourselves. While Hitler did
not invent scapegoating, nor monopolize the practice during
the last century, he certainly demonstrated (a) how easily the "dark
side" could be mobilized into mass-thinking, and (b) the vicious
and dehumanizing consequences to which such practices could lead.
How does any of this relate to the immediate events of the "war
on terrorism?" If you have been paying close attention these
past weeks, the comparisons to the metastasizing of state power
in Germany are quite chilling.
the benefit of those whose sense of history begins with the Beatles
or the Vietnam War, let me briefly inform you of how, in 1933, Hitler
took advantage of the burning of the Reichstag – an act that would
have been equivalent to the burning of the U.S. Capitol building – to impose upon the German people the kinds of Draconian restrictions
on individual liberty that have since come to define a "police
state." Police enjoyed the exercise of unrestrained powers
that were accompanied by expectations of unquestioning obedience
on the part of the German people. Intrusions into the home, the
beating and torturing of suspects, and the omnipresence of state
authority over virtually every detail of daily life, became the
norm. The idea that there was a realm of privacy that was immune
from the whims of gestapo agents was looked upon as utopian. People
were expected to display their "identity cards" upon demand
by government officials, and it was implicitly understood that there
were no transcendent principles to which one could have recourse
against the most arbitrary of state brutalities.
Through it all, most of the German people maintained the illusion
that they were "free." (In this connection, one should
read Milton Mayer's book, They
Thought They Were Free. Mayer lived with a number of ordinary
Germans, immediately after World War II, to find out their responses
to having lived under Hitler. The book's title tells you what he
learned.) The phrase "work shall make you free" that hung
above the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp, illustrates
the depravity of a system that tried to persuade its victims that
obedience to the will of their rulers was the essence of being "free!"
Does any of this begin to have a ring of familiarity to you as you
listen to government officials, the military leaders who now seem
to be running the country, and the media lickspittles (whose jobs,
like those of the German propagandists, was to translate the will
of political leaders to the public)? In the suppression of dissent,
the suggestion that criticism of the war be punished as treason,
the public castigation of anyone who dares to voice even a shadow
of concern over some detail of President Bush's course of action,
and the FBI proposal that torture be available for use against "suspects,"
one begins to get a feel for the ease with which otherwise civil
and decent men and women can become ardent supporters of the most
inhumane and oppressive practices.
It is not my purpose to impugn the motives or purposes of any of
the people who are involving themselves in any of these statist
programs. I suspect that most of the men and women who are pouring
their energies into these vicious and oppressive programs have truly
convinced themselves that they are doing "good" things
for their country. I further suspect that their inner sense of being
would be offended by the suggestion that their efforts are taking
America in the same dehumanizing direction that Hitler took Germany.
But, then, I would also imagine that Hitler looked upon himself
as someone trying to do "good" things for his country.
The older I get, the more I realize that motives are less
of a contributor to the problems of the world than is the failure
to understand what is implicit
in our actions. Anatole France observed that
"those who have given themselves the most concern about the
happiness of peoples have made their neighbours very miserable,"
an insight that should remind us of the disruptive nature of unintended
At a time when the warmongers and power-brokers are busily whooping
the public into frenzied demands for military attacks against anyone
who might be made a plausible enemy, it is necessary that we heed
the warnings of Jung. We might begin by viewing some of Adolf Hitler's
incendiary speeches to realize how easily demagogues can mobilize
our "dark side." In doing so, we may become aware of how
deeply involved our nation has been in projecting onto others
the disquieting characteristics and purposes of our own
behavior. The continual finger-pointing at the Hitlers, Stalins,
Husseins, and Khadafis, as people who want to "take over the
world," has clouded our view of the world-dominating ambitions
of those who seek to impose their New World Order. Nor can
we fail to see the parallels between the kinds of terror inflicted
upon innocent victims by American bombers, and those inflicted by
those who hijack airliners and crash them into buildings. We need
to plumb the depths of our humanity, to call upon the life-force
within each of us, and withdraw our energies from the mass-mindedness
that produces such horrors.
Can we effect such a change in our thinking in time to save not
only ours and our children's' lives, but civilization itself? In
the short-term there is little reason for optimism, as we continue
to see played out the Orwellian processes through which tyranny
is extruded from the twisting of words into their opposite meanings.
Nazi allusions to freedom in concentration camps find their counterpart
in the words of modern politicians who tell us that both war and
the increasing presence of police in our lives will become "permanent";
measures that are an integral part of a program packaged as "enduring
Adolf Hitler dominated the 20th century. It looks as
though he is staking his claim to the 21st century as
him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School