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Literarily Hitler

Paul O’Mahoney

On Hitler’s Mein Kampf: The Poetics of National Socialism, by Albrecht Koschorke, MIT Press, 78 pp, €11, ISBN: 978-0262533331

The extreme brevity of this essay perhaps reflects its author’s sensitivity to the difficulty of saying anything at length which is both new and worthwhile about Mein Kampf, its author, the regime over which he presided or the global conflagration that regime provoked. Still more difficult, perhaps, is to say anything new and interesting which is not of merely historical but also moral import – which imparts some grander lesson about peoples or political demagoguery, never mind the nature of history or humankind.

It cannot be said that up to the present time the appropriate lessons have not been learned from the disastrous Nazi experiment, especially among the people which birthed and which paid for its outrages: Germany’s longstanding effort and policy of Vergangenheitsbewältigung – of openly reckoning with, acknowledging and not shying away from the disgrace of perpetrating a war which it should not have expected to survive as a viable political entity – remains central to the German national consciousness; and no subsequent political or diplomatic action of global consequence has entirely escaped the shadow cast by the Second World War.

To draw general moral lessons from the Nazis, meanwhile, seems now almost superfluous; and to derive specific moral lessons applicable to a concrete situation would imply some situation plausibly comparable to the rise or flourishing of the Third Reich. Here, instances of misapplied comparison are legion, giving rise to “Godwin’s Law”, the law of online interactions which states that the longer a thread or discussion goes on in any online forum, the greater the likelihood that Hitler or the Nazis will be invoked; or as Godwin phrased it: “as a discussion grows, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1”. Partly in light of the reliability of Godwin’s law, it is difficult to identify a political situation in advanced Western democracies which would so approximate the rise of Nazism as to warrant some non-hyperbolic comparison. “You are literally Hitler” is the tongue-in-cheek formula which parodies and disparages the merchant of outrage.

And yet, it is hardly conceivable that one could approach the subject of Hitler in theory or art hoping entirely to avoid drawing conclusions or shaping fictional exemplars of continued moral or political relevance. To succeed in providing such is still possible: Timur Vermes’s novel Er ist Wieder Da (Look Who’s Back), and even more so its marvellous realisation in David Wnendt’s 2015 film (complete with unscripted “walkaround” footage), manages thoroughly to discomfit as its comic action yields gradually to an absorbing darkness. Koschorke, a literary critic based at the University of Konstanz, submits here that understanding the confluence of circumstances that legitimated national socialism in Germany is “more urgent in our own times of mounting radicalization”. He accepts that the dissemination of Mein Kampf played an important role in the rise of Nazism (despite its dreadful prose and its author’s evident preference for spoken performance), and examines not only its literary and rhetorical techniques but also the specific conditions under which the ideas it contains could, even though commonly dismissed as shop-worn and scarcely coherent, or while outraging many (or few, considering the relative paucity of readers), meet with success.

The analysis of Mein Kampf can be considered an exemplificatory study supplementing Koschorke’s earlier, co-edited volume Despoten Dichten, which focused on the phenomenon of dictators given to authorship and the common “bibliocentric” character of despotic regimes, where, despite an embrace of technology and the use of more modern media for propaganda, there remains an almost archaising cult of the book. The most recent example is the bizarre, two-volume Ruhnama, or Book of the Soul by quondam Turkmen dictator Saparmurat Niyazov. Such books assume something like the role of sacred writings in religion, and the first programmatic dictatorial book of the twentieth century was Mein Kampf.

One could hardly do better, in describing the tenor and content of Mein Kampf, than to yield the floor to Daniel Binchy, the eminent scholar of Old Irish who in 1933 wrote a fascinating profile of Hitler (who had just become chancellor) for the Irish quarterly Studies. Binchy had been Irish ambassador to Germany in the (and in his) early thirties (1929-32), a position he had been deemed suitable for in part because he had studied in the University of Munich as a young man. While in Munich in 1921, Binchy had seen Hitler speak at a beer hall – following an invitation by a Bavarian fellow-student to come along and see what the Bavarian described as “the new freak party” – and had seen him again in 1930 at the Sportpalast in Berlin. Invited to profile Hitler for an Irish readership presumed to be interested in political affairs, he comes shortly to an account of the recently elected chancellor’s book; and he judges:

[Mein Kampf] certainly has given more ammunition to Hitler’s enemies than to his friends, and any unprejudiced outsider who has the patience to finish the work is bound to conclude that its author is a self-educated man of very limited intelligence. Written in a maddeningly wooden style, in which hackneyed clichés alternate with windy rhetoric, full of rambling digressions and hysterical denunciations, it affords no insight whatever into Hitler’s own life and development. Anything he tells us about himself is merely introduced, as a peg on which to hang some political or ethnological dissertation. Commonplaces of history, politics and sociology are paraded as new and epoch-making discoveries; long-discarded theories are rescued from the lumber rooms of science and enunciated with all the pompous omniscience of a village schoolmaster. At times one is almost disarmed by the author’s naiveté; occasionally, too, one meets a gem of entirely unconscious humour. But for the most part the book makes sad reading, and anyone who has even attempted the task will readily understand why Hitler exalts the spoken over the written word.

Koschorke’s study makes clear that this kind of reaction is typical: “academic readers ‑ if they bother to subject themselves to what Hitler cooked up ‑ uniformly note how boring, unoriginal, jargon-laden, stylistically butchered, embarrassingly rabid, and altogether ludicrous they find the text”. Such reaction “already occurred in the 1920s; fatefully, it inspired confidence that the author had no future in politics”. (Hitler may have shared these doubts: it is alleged that he confessed to Hans Frank, the Nazi governor of Poland, that had he had any idea in 1924 that he would be Reichskanzler less than ten years later, he would never have published Mein Kampf.)

Academics, naturally, were never Hitler’s constituency. Mein Kampf is a river of invective utterly bereft of nuance or grace. Apart from its tawdry contents, the rabid tone of the book will inevitably repel finer or more reasonable minds. The disdain for accuracy or nuance, however, is a clue to the book’s power. First of all, it allows Hitler to occupy the terrain of his opponents, the Social Democrats, without the need accurately to present their activities or record as a party, and to denounce populist, Marxist-inspired workers’ movements and trade unions while promoting his political vision as a form of socialism. Any reader who carries with them to Mein Kampf a vague notion of historical Marxism as the chief bogeyman of the bourgeoisie and repository of the hopes of workers will be surprised at Hitler’s sponsoring the cause of workers and heaping scorn on “the bourgeois parties” in the same breath as denouncing Marxism (for the essence of its message, as well as for being an alleged Jewish conspiracy). The Jewish conspiracy, Koschorke claims, was the crucial supplement by which Hitler radicalised his own position to distinguish it from the ideas of those whose clothes he had stolen: “Mein Kampf is constructed in such a way that confrontation with the Social Democrats and discussion of the ‘Jewish question’ relate to each other as problem and solution.”

The Jews and Social Democrats are his opponents; but what is Hitler’s envisaged readership? To whom does he wish to speak in Mein Kampf? It was not academics, but neither was it the scarcely literate or the lower orders of his society. Hitler speaks early in the book of the need to protect the masses of people, and of the Volk as the soul and future of Germany. The poses he strikes appear to mark the masses as his targeted readership, as they were the targets of his oratory. There is a strategy at work in Mein Kampf, however, that reflects an awareness of, even a wagering on, the fact that few people, especially those who read little anyway, would have the patience to persevere with the book. In contrast to the early, positive reflections on the mass of people: “Five hundred pages later, in the second volume, [Hitler] bluntly declares that ‘the mass of people is lazy,’ never reads books, and has only a brief attention span, anyway. Any readers who have stuck with him until this point may therefore consider themselves to number among the initiated ‑ whose understanding comes at the expense of others.” The allure of Mein Kampf is partly that of initiation into a closed circle, almost a secret society, with all the privileges that go with initiation. It is in the light of this strategy that we understand why Hitler in Mein Kampf so openly lays bare the techniques of power, of manipulation of the masses, and speaks with such casual derision of the consumers of his propaganda.

Allied to this sense of initiation, of winnowing of outsiders as the circles get smaller, was the presentation in Mein Kampf not only of the techniques but of the brutal and intoxicating nature of power, especially power that disdains engagement with opponents. “Hitler did not invite his inner circle to share in blind fanaticism so much as to enjoy language that wields force ‑ performative empowerment on both rhetorical and political registers that … derived its hiddenmost and deepest joy in the fortified groundlessness of its own speech.” This idea of the groundless enunciation and its power becomes a theme in Koschorke’s analysis: “A menacing vacuum emanates from Mein Kampf ‑ a license for adherents to react with a ‘Just you wait’ that bristles with lustful sadism. Such power to reinforce group belonging functions on an entirely different level than ideological obedience in the narrower sense.” The national socialist regime did not entirely flout the norms of legitimate government, of course; those points at which Nazi interests and methods coincided with or at least could bear sufferance of democratic norms were harnessed by the regime to insist on its legitimacy, and Mein Kampf is presented as the manifesto of a socialist and democratic movement. Yet: “All the while … Mein Kampf communicates another desire (and pleasure) too, one that savors the power of empty words that make an impact ‑ that fascination of power deriving strictly from its own ascent.”

The disregard of academic readers is not incidental to Mein Kampf but of its essence, and essential to Nazism from its inception. The tortured, romantic reflections of the protagonist in Goebbels’s novella Michael echo Hitler’s own account of his life and development, where “academic failure becomes part of a self-image that no longer pays heed to objections voiced by scholars and scientists”. The position is one in which, for an individual or a movement, the depth of conviction behind a decision or a belief, and not its truth, is the ultimate criterion of its worth. “Verification of facts, nuance, decorum … all the guiding values of cultivated, bourgeois-academic discourse … are deemed irrelevant, consigned to a self-satisfied world apart, and subjected to ridicule. This anti-academic tone … hands the ‘scientifically trained intelligentsia’ over to open contempt.” This, says Koschorke, was nothing original; Hitler shared this aggressive contempt for decency, restraint, cultured decorum or respect for truth and instinctual rejection of fabrications with quite a parade of “populist sectarians” who had emerged at the turn of the century, all of whom “forged an autodidactic and megalomaniacal counterworld to the sphere of professional academics” and “held that conventional scientific or scholarly accuracy does not matter. With that, they made the intellectual edifice they tinkered together impervious to objections from academic experts.”

This refusal rationally to engage with opponents or critics is not the blindness of fanaticism (fanaticism, in fact, is not blind). It is a strategy, by which a movement attracts those who are drawn to the spectacle of power exercised as its own end, grounded and legitimated by itself, and quite prepared to do violence to those who would question or check its rise. It is a strategy which leverages the fact that impotence in the face of greater force always risks appearing pathetic, embarrassing or deserving of ridicule, and knows that force and the uncompromising stance can turn even more collected heads. “The ‘kick’ that Mein Kampf offers to cooler and calmer readers does not concern a specific conviction wrested from competing opinions but the absolute refusal to engage in dialogue.” Among such readers, it is

wholly immaterial whether one believes what Hitler says in his rants. It is even possible ‑ as was the case for some of the more intellectual figures in Nazi elites ‑ to make fun of his pseudoscientific racial doctrine, to cover one’s mouth and smirk at his forced speaking style, but still to experience the reflexive impulse to persecute any disrespectful comment made by third parties.

The draw of power, the opportunity to wield or to share in it, or simply to give oneself over to its magnetism, all the more because it is horrific and uncompromising, sufficiently explains why a certain class of people too sophisticated fully to believe in national socialism comes to accommodate, even to welcome it. The rejections of dialogue, of scientific inquiry, of standards of intellectual judgement, also attract another class, from a liminal milieu: the half-educated and the failed or faltering, self-professed intellectual type also sees (and seizes) the opportunities given him by radicalism, and “radical political movements feed on an intellectual precariat of bohemians and academic dropouts”.

This account of Mein Kampf takes up the second of the study’s three parts. In the first, Koschorke notes how earlier theorists of populist movements, such as Gustave Le Bon on the crowd, commonly emphasised how ideas first formulated among upper classes and intelligentsia tend to be embraced in debased or simplified form by those of lower social station, before returning in a refracted or bastardised form to spheres of greater social influence. This is often the effect of intermediary literary agitators. Such agitators belong to a group which “typically includes freelance journalists, writers, artists, bohemians, intellectuals who are unemployed or work irregularly, and dropouts from the universities or other state institutions”, a group summed up by the word precariat. Koschorke draws here on the work of Robert Darnton, whose work has laid out the generational conflict which contributed to and in a sense was played out within if not resolved by the French Revolution. Flocking to Paris in the 1770s was a generation of young men who could find no outlet for their talents or “livelihood even approximately commensurate with their worth”, and which was forced into making a living scribbling mercenary screeds, churning out pornography or even spying for the police. This existence “filled them with a twofold resentment ‑ against the regime, which had no use for them, and against the literary-philosophical establishment, where they desired a position”. These disenfranchised but ambitious men provided much of the Revolution’s necessary and preparatory intellectual ferment: “Torn between the cynicism of the disadvantaged and moralizing outrage, between despair and megalomania, they made the liberal and egalitarian principles of Jean-Jacques Rousseau their own ‑ except that, in contrast to the older generation of the Enlightenment, they lacked the security of a state pension.”

A “key role” tends to fall in the spread of ideas which truly move societies to “an intellectual precariat which takes up these ideas ‑ initially through subcultural channels ‑ disseminates them and thereby, under the pressure of its own beggary, radicalizes them”. Such classes of people find their “upward ambitions are blocked by predecessors whom they perceive as self-satisfied and corrupt”. This role in radicalising and disseminating ideas which are both inflammatory and potentially ennobling tends to emerge in an almost exemplary way in the shaping of national or ethnic mythology, especially in the genesis of such but also in its perpetuation. The (often opportunistic) agitating middleman acts in such cases not so much as an intellectual in any more reputable sense but, in a phrase borrowed from Jacques Sémelin, an “identity entrepreneur”. These “triggering figures” are, further, typically characterised by what Victor Turner called liminality: and as Koschorke notes, the shadowy demimonde produces or fosters not only the frustrated literary aspirant but also the political: “Tellingly, most modern dictators have come from the conspiratorial milieu where bohemia, criminality, and ideological radicalism fuse into an impenetrable amalgam; at any rate, they tend to have entertained contacts with it in early years.”

These are quite striking considerations, and perhaps do give some clue as to how so many ultimately could be swayed not only by Hitler’s spectacular and stage-managed oratorical performances, but also by a wretchedly written book which, quite apart from its hate-filled and unhinged fantasies of revenge and destruction, is larded through with dubious reasoning and stupefying banalities. (Not even the book’s title, admittedly resonant – once Hitler had been persuaded to shorten it – manages originality: the pacifist and academic Friedrich Wilhelm Foerster had published his own Mein Kampf in 1920, ironically documenting his vain struggle against German militarism.) Why, anyone confronted with the phenomenon of national socialism must ask, did decent and educated people not succeed in derailing the rise of the extreme right – especially as it was so intellectually disreputable? Few scholars support extreme analyses like Daniel Goldhagen’s notorious thesis that a virulent strain of “eliminationist anti-Semitism” was traditional in Germany, embedded and widespread enough always potentially to be marshalled or manipulated to the point where ordinary citizens became (in Goldhagen’s phrase) “Hitler’s willing executioners”. But it was of course not the educated or secure to whom Hitler primarily addressed himself; not those who would never have countenanced national socialism’s intellectual fraudulence, its contempt for science, or its politicisation and control – through loyalty oaths in universities or proscription of “degenerate” art or of Jewish composers and writers – of all artistic, scholarly and scientific endeavour.

Mein Kampf does provide evidence, consonant with Koschorke’s reflections, that Hitler’s instinct was to speak to and to reach scribblers and middlemen (Goebbels, prior to becoming Nazism’s chief propagandist, had after all achieved some popular success with Michael, his clumsy, earnest, partly autobiographical bildungsroman published in 1929); that a disaffected, half-educated mass whose resentment could be weaponised (but which could respond to an author’s having pet quotations from Schiller, or an enthusiasm for Wagner’s operas) offered the most fertile ground for at least the literary seeds of national socialism. The narrative in the first two chapters of Mein Kampf resembles a bildungsroman (complete with the Lehrjahre period in Linz and the struggling, impoverished Wanderjahre in Vienna), while some narrative episodes seem to aspire to accomplishment of Stimmung, the carefully wrought sense of mood permeating the story that was the signature of the Novelle genre. It would of course be absurd to imagine Hitler as a writer understanding and harnessing these traditions; he rather feels his way blindly, as a po-faced dilettante of fixed purpose, to such effects.

As Koschorke characterises this intellectual precariat, it finds itself falling in the world, perhaps seeking manual or other menial labour which it was never raised or trained to expect to have to perform. Hitler entirely invented his time working on building sites for Mein Kampf, and perhaps this was precisely to reach out not only to labourers but also to those who, like himself, had formerly imagined themselves fulfilling destinies in the literary or artistic sphere. If we hold to this line, we are reminded that these types accustomed to failure also end up flirting with a bohemian demimonde, where the temptations and opportunities of criminality present themselves. Hitler’s instinct for reaching these downwardly mobile young men emerges in occasional stylistic choices. When, late in the book (Vol. II Chapter 9), he describes the state’s forceful disbanding of the now-distrusted “Combat Leagues” (Wehrverbände, a phenomenon of the 1920s and early 1930s), and the arrest of particularly bold leaders of these defence associations who were “put behind Swedish curtains” (hinter schwedische Gardinen gesteckt) – that is, behind prison bars – one is struck by the sudden recourse to thieves’ slang. This is no doubt to remind the reader that the author has served his time in prison – though not as a thief or common criminal, with whom he would not countenance comparison, but as a political prisoner. Such use of slang has the quality of a shibboleth, by which the author reaches out to a particular class, and it is not to a devotedly criminal class (under totalitarian regimes, crime tends to be viewed as treasonous, the betrayal of a grand project in which the whole nation is implicated). Rather it is calculated to impress the precariat, that insecure fringe who drift toward liminal regions as a result of their failures. Hitler seeks to indicate here that, though not of them, he understands the lower orders (and “can mix it with them”), especially those who by their own estimate are unjustly brought low by Fortune’s wheel. There is the oblique promise that national socialism can redeem the criminal, if his criminality is traceable to the desperation of his situation, by improving social conditions – but the larger context in which the phrase occurs, Hitler’s insistence that any movement must be prepared to perpetrate violence to protect or to spread its credo, indicates also that the inveterate criminal will fare poorly under its regime.

This surplus of adrift litterateurs, journalists and eternal student types without gainful employment, with no outlet for energy or talent, and utterly without power or influence, is ripe for persuasion that their society is irremediably corrupt. It is thus also that to such semi- and self-educated “carriers” can profitably be sold a dubious narrative of the Jews as agents of internationalist subversion of the nation-state, culpable for the state’s vulnerability and society’s degeneration. Many Jews in interwar Germany did of course occupy positions of prominence in banking, business and the press. It is perhaps only starting from such ordinary facts that one could successfully construct a paranoiac denunciation of their influence. The formula is simple enough, and indeed depends for its persuasiveness on the acceptance of or at least openness (perhaps feigned and strategic openness) to certain liberal commonplaces. If the pillars of a free society are regulated free enterprise and freedom of speech, the latter emblematised in freedom of the press, to “discover” that large businesses and the most influential organs of the press benefit Jews and promote Jewish interests is to uncover the most audacious and pernicious of conspiracies. It is also to indict the foundations of liberal order, by demonstrating that they beget unintended and nefarious consequences, or can be susceptible to unnoticed subversion or exploitation by unscrupulous parties. Anti-Semitic feeling was inexorably sharpened in the early 1920s, when the Nazi party got its start, by a spiral of currency inflation which ordinary Germans did not understand, which destroyed their faith in existing economic and political orders or authorities, and which made parties known for their intimacy with money especially suspect. As Elias Canetti has emphasised, when agitators were casting about for a scapegoat in this climate, the Jewish community inevitably presented itself as a candidate:

They seemed made for it: their long-standing connection with money, their traditional understanding of its movements and fluctuations, their skill in speculation, the way they flocked together in money markets, where their behaviour contrasted strikingly with the soldierly conduct which was the German ideal—all this, in a time of doubt, instability and hostility to money, could not but make them appear dubious and hostile.

To persuade the partisans of a liberal society that the ideals they cherish are being subverted by a cohort banking on those ideals’ very efficacy – turning the toleration and openness of a liberal society against it – is to recommend authoritarian measures, or at least a variety of that despotic remedy for civic degeneracy which Oswald Spengler called Caesarism. But of course, anyone who so easily swallows any such encompassing reason for society’s being corrupt must above all want to be persuaded that it is so.

This brings one to the lessons of the final, shortest part of Koschorke’s essay, where he insists that analysis must begin “with the opportunities radicalization creates”. Tempering any confidence that might derive from the recognition of and reckoning with the horror of the Nazi regime mentioned in the opening paragraph above, Koschorke insists that the contemporary political landscape “is becoming polarized in a way that recalls the interwar period (even if this does not mean that a new era of totalitarianism is imminent)” and that this “does raise the question of how comprehensive and enduring the learning process that occurred after the Second World War really was”. That polarisation is all too evident on the internet, where agitators spin conspiratorial visions, savage opponents and indulge a fantasy of being powerful and influential, often by denigrating or threatening others, celebrating the downfall or humiliation of prominent public figures (perhaps imagining they contributed importantly to it) or violently denouncing the views or actions of private individuals. What Mein Kampf and Hitler’s early career offer us are certain important lessons on “the dynamics of fanaticization”. Most importantly, perhaps, that “fanaticism is not blind”. It must rather be recognised as the seizing of an opportunity. “Fanaticization does not necessarily arise from genuine conviction. As the example of Hitler illustrates, its beginnings often lie in a chance identification, in relative terms, of the options afforded by the market of opinion.” It is common among those who do wield power, including those who come to power on the crest of a wave of discontent, promising change, to moderate their programme when in power in order to make elements of it achievable without dismantling the system within which government must work. Such people, such “speakers” (prophets, in the root sense) – even those disposed toward demagoguery – invariably seek compromise with other political actors, and make concessions to the middle ground to deliver on some of their pledges. To say this is what usually happens, however, is to describe what happens under relatively destabilised but still fundamentally normal conditions.

But in periods of sustained social tension, such an approach does not promise the greatest success. Then, driven by encouragement from parties that he himself has indoctrinated, the speaker will test out the viability of further radicalisation. Here, radicalism and strategy, fanaticism and political opportunism, work in concert. As a matter of calculation, even drifting off into seeming absurdity may prove advisable insofar as the “base” puts a premium on flights of enthusiasm, which signal initiation to insiders and confirm that the consensus of others does not matter … the leader need not believe all that he says. Nor does his audience have to either. All that is necessary is for both sides to come to an understanding that they will base their community on ostentatious adherence to extreme pronouncements, embrace the transports of self-intoxication, and trouble outsiders with their triumphal displays.

The strategy of fanatical movements “does not concern the factual elimination of economic or political ills so much as mobilising emotions that play a key role when unfavorable conditions prevail ‑ feelings of injustice, humiliation and dishonor”. Their attraction is, for some, the spectacle of power and the chance to share in it, even from a distance; for others, to attain to a position of prominence which under normal conditions would have been barred to them, and which their limited talents could never truly merit; for yet others, it is simply the promise of the opportunity to share in upending a system which has no use or need for them. This last class relishes the chance to thumb its collective nose at more secure, accomplished, self-confident or magnanimous persons, and is eager to portray and condemn them as beneficiaries of corruption (in Nazi propaganda, as the props for or dupes of a Jewish conspiracy).

These lessons ought to remind us that polarisation proceeds almost inevitably from the politicisation of everyday life, a situation which reaches its apogee under totalitarian regimes but to which every society in every age is susceptible. To politicise life is not to elevate it but to reduce it to one dimension; the politicisation of life is invariably, almost inevitably, its vulgarisation. It sharpens partisanship and induces people to lower their standards in moral, professional and social life if this is seen to advance the political agenda, party or figure to which they have committed support. The vices of the Nazi elite, even prior to its (quite in accord with the programme announced in Mein Kampf) turning murderous – pettiness, humourlessness, vanity, vulgarity, hypocrisy and mendacity – were those of the dictatorial party or leader, whose success depends on the spiritual and moral impoverishment of a society. The politicisation of everyday life is not a signal that such a dictatorial regime is imminent; but it is a warning that a great part of a society has abjured the pursuit of genuine excellence, and preferred to repose its hopes for advancement in the advancement of vulgar and exclusionary, ideologically-inflected means and ends.

Koschorke does not seek or claim to explain the phenomenon of national socialism tout court (from the innumerable studies on which, one could profitably begin with Richard J Evans’s trilogy on the rise, flourishing and twilight of the regime). His focus is on the specific character of Mein Kampf, and the general conditions in which radicalisation thrives; in the elegant and fluid translation of Erik Butler, the essay successfully condenses large subjects into its brief compass, and indeed manages to provide an original approach to this most raked-over of material.


Paul O'Mahoney lives and works in Dublin