Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What does it mean to own Mein Kampf?

So one of the things that's been interesting is to hear reactions to Loughner's reading list, particularly the Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf duo. There have been some interesting reactions ranging from "those two don't make sense together" to "of course they do - they're all socialism so he's a left-winger".

I own the Communist Manifesto, all three volumes of Capital, and several other Marx and Engels volumes, as well as one old philosophical volume by Lenin that I picked up at a library book sale. Marxist books, for some reason, are pretty easy to own and buy, and nobody would see Marx on my shelf and assume I'm a communist (those who would assume that probably already thought I was a communist when they saw Keynes on my shelf... I keep my Keynes much more accessible and within arms reach than my Marx).

But Mein Kampf is different. People don't just have Mein Kampf lying around, you know? But that introduces a very interesting question - what would or should one think if they saw Mein Kampf sitting on someone's shelf? I think it would be somewhat surprising and something of a novelty, but I don't think most people would assume you're a closet neo-Nazi. There's kind of a weird taboo about that one, although it's never completely beyond the pale. And yet when we see it on Loughner's list, the assumption is he had it because he agreed with it. Is that true at all? Who knows. It's doubtful anyone will forcefully probe the issue.

I, for one, have been interested in buying Mein Kampf before from the bookstore, but I couldn't quite bring myself to getting it. I was especially interested in picking it up after reading Adam Tooze's book on the Nazi economy, but I never managed to get it to the checkout line. There's something weird about buying that book. And yet it offers a window into the mind of one of the most destructive and important figures of the twentieth century. It should be a book that people want to objectively devour, just like non-communists will familiarize themselves with Capital. I'm not sure there's anything else to say about the matter except that "Nazis are different".

Do any readers own Mein Kampf? Has anyone read any substantial portion of it? What about the Zweites Buch? How did you acquire it? Did you just waltz into the Barnes and Noble and unflinchingly bring it to the check-out?



  2. I get the Che point, but I'm not so sure about Mao being lionized - Stalin either.

    Part of the appeal, I think, is the revolution. People aren't celebrating Che for the violence, they're using him as a symbol of revolution. It's more about the revolution than it is about the man Che Guevera. That face, I think, has become a symbol as much as anything else.

    Why would they treat Hitler differently? Well the communists at least ostensibly stood up for the oppressed - they just butchered their way through at all. Hitler stood up for what? The Aryan race? I think people who embrace Che (1.) like the idea of the revolution, and (2.) don't see anyone else on the horizon that they consider to stand up for oppressed classes. Regardless of whether that justifies anything, I think it's pretty clear that that's why communists are treated differently, and is being obtuse if it doesn't understand that.

    Communism also has theorists with relatively clean hands. You can claim Marx without claiming Stalin or Mao. That's perfectly feasible. Liberals fought side-by-side with Marx in '48. You don't really have that option with fascism.

    Do you own Mein Kampf? Have you read any of it?

  3. Hitler also claimed that he stood up for the oppressed.

    Actually what supporters of Che, etc. are is
    "useful idiots." They're the obtuse ones in other words.

    Marx also does not have clean hands; he wrote extensively on the use of violence as a means to his ends after all. Not to mention of course that as an individual he was an abysmal human being.

  4. If this were the 1930s, then reading Mein Kampf means that you just picked up the latest bestseller biography that happened to appear on the bookshelves by an aspiring politician.

    Sort of like a person today going to the bookstore and buying Sarah Palin's new book or Tony Blair's new memoirs.

    Now, if tommorow, it turned out that Tony Blair had personally ordered British citizens suspected as terrorists to be captured and tortured, had ordered many brutal assassinations, and had broken various international laws in his wartime decisions, then it would feel a little dirtier to own a Blair biography.

    Now, I haven't even ever read or owned this book by Hitler, but the ones, that I know who do, have been history enthusiasts, and they have often used it to cite as evidence about Nazi intentions during WW2 in internet debates.

  5. The left, modern liberals, etc. basically have a double-standard when it comes to mass-murderers; as long as they are "leftist" mass murderers they get a pass. This in part explains the absolute dearth of material out of Hollywood concerning the Soviet purges, dekulakization, gulags, etc. as well as the absolute hard on so many on the left have for Castro's regime.

  6. Xenophon -
    That's precisely why I said "relatively" clean hands. Marx's violence was revolutionary violence. I turn up my nose at that as well, but on the other hand I embrace Washington. The violence Marx preached was not the violence of genocide or purge (perhaps he promoted some purge? I'm not aware - I know he was frustrated with socialists he considered inadequate, but I'm not aware if he ever embraced killing them). Would Marx have embraced the genocide or purge that occured elsewhere? Maybe, maybe not - but there's no obvious reason to suggest he would. In other words, in the mid-twentieth century would Marx have been a Stalin or an Orwell? We just don't know - but that's what I meant, not that he was a pacifist, and not that his hands were completely clean.

    This: "The left, modern liberals, etc. basically have a double-standard when it comes to mass-murderers; as long as they are "leftist" mass murderers they get a pass" is too absurd to merit much comment. While there are hypocritical and disconcerting cases like the case of Che, there's nothing like a trend that could possibly justify this claim. Stalin? Mao? You think these guys are given a pass?

  7. And let's be clear on Che even - he's not some sort of icon of liberals even to the extent that he is embraced. He is two things:

    1. An icon to self-styled revolutionaries, and
    2. An icon for certain Latino groups that see him as a "Latino vs. the West" figure.

    The former cares less about his biography than about him as a symbol of revolution.

    The latter probably cares less about his ideology than about him as a symbol of pride.

    Beyond those groups and of course the odd brain-dead hipster it's not exactly a rallying point for modern liberals.

  8. Actually, Marx was clear in the sort of violence he supported - the sort found in the European colonies was appropriate in his eyes because it was for a cause that was "just." Lenin made similar remarks. State terrorism was not something they were squeamish about.

    Yes, Stalin and Mao are given a pass - and the case is even more so with Lenin.

  9. "Hitler also claimed that he stood up for the oppressed."

    Not the Jewish or black or Slav oppressed, though!

  10. "Marx's violence was revolutionary violence."

    And, in fact, when Marx and Engels wrote "revolution," there was no *necessary* implication of violence -- revolutions could be peaceful and democratic.

  11. Gene - you've corrected me before on Marx and overproductionism. What is your relation to Marxism - I know you're not one, but have you spent a lot of time looking into it?

    And out of curiosity in the spirit of the post - do you own or have you ever read any of Mein Kampf?

  12. Whilst Xenophon is overplaying the mainstream left's sympathy for dictators many lefties do have have a weirdly politicised attitude towards dictatorship. If you were to ask liberals to rank the dictators in order of their villainy you'd most likely find Pinochet in a ridiculously high ranking(cerainly way above Castro) and this solely because of the right wing economic policy he imposed under his rule. It is just strange, and quite creepy, to view monetarism as a 'crime' worthy of vilifying a historical figure more than others whose hands were so much bloodier and jails so much fuller.


All anonymous comments will be deleted. Consistent pseudonyms are fine.