Hitler is often depicted as the prototypical totalitarian—a man who believed in the superiority of the German state, a German nationalist to the extreme. But according to Snyder, this depiction is deeply flawed. Rather, Hitler was a “racial anarchist”—a man for whom states were transitory, laws meaningless, ethics a facade. “There is in fact no way of thinking about the world, says Hitler, which allows us to see human beings as human beings. Any idea which allows us to see each other as human beings … come[s] from Jews,” Snyder told me in an interview. As Snyder sees it, Hitler believed the only way for the world to revert to its natural order—that of brutal racial competition—was to eradicate the Jews.
Apparently, ideas about the universality of the human condition are an insidious jewish plot to distract us from racism. Who knew?
Something about the book totally trips my bullshitometer. That thesis doesn’t sound right to me. Hitler’s antisemitism was never unique or synthetic. It was born out of the time and place in which he lived. Turning Hitler into a Hobbesian is almost giving him far too much credit. It’s also not a theory or idea unique to Hitler even if true (without specific regard to the more antisemitic parts.)
It’s an interesting thesis, to be sure. He is placing the rise of racial thinking, at least in Hitler’s mind, ahead of nationalist thinking, but I have to agree with @ActionAbe that it’s still not unique to Hitler or his view on the Jews. Nancy Maclean wrote a book years ago on the rise of the second KKK (interwar period), and linked that to fascisms around the world, especially those fascisms that had race as an important component of their ideologies. But assuming Hitler was somehow the progenitor of this sort of thinking does give him far too much credit. I also don’t think Hitler was much of a “brilliant tactician”… What were they thinking about invading the Soviet Union? How is that brilliant… it was clear overreaching and shows an utter lack of historical knowledge on their part.
If nothing else, it’s an interesting idea, that race, not nationalism is the driving factor, which is something I’d be interested in thinking about some more. Race still seems to be the problem of the 21st century, as much as it was the problem of the 20th.
[ETA] Also, I wrote this sentence in an article I’m working on, so make of that what you will: “Race
as a modern construct fed nationalism, which created violence against those who were deemed foreign, be they black or Jewish.”
Reading the article, I’m having trouble not constantly seeing the parallel between this and modern extreme right-wing libertarianism and it’s obsession with “Cultural Marxism.” The opening describing Hitler’ fantasies that wide open lands to conquer and start fresh without all the cruft of the state and society smack of the offshore libertarian utopias. The idea that all humanist ideas spring from a single conspiracy, enacted and upheld by the state, that is weakening and undermining the innate, raw strength of humanity just sounds like, well, every fucking thing written by internet trolls from GamerGate to Republican campaign sites…
Well, but Germany, as we think of it, only existed from about 1870 or so, and that doesn’t even include all the german speaking lands… You can trace racialist thinking, as a concept dressed up with science to slightly ahead of that. But does it drive nationalisms, might be a better relevant question?
Yes, and because of our Anglo angle (get it?), I’d look to the Crusades for histories on that topic. Were they in any way driven by racialist/nationalist tendencies? Everything I’ve read about them has them as the “prototype” for the rise of Colonialism. Which was decidedly nationalistic. And to dig deeper, how racial was it to pit the British navy against, say the Spanish? How racial were the interactions at colonial frontiers, with other european colonists and natives?
My feeling is that this is an impossible-to-parse chicken/egg line of reasoning. So I would posit that Nationalism, as it developed, is indistinguishable from Racialism.
Racialist thinking is very old (an innate part of human nature traceable back to the earliest tribal groupings no doubt), but prior to the Enlightenment it was setup more along ethno-linguistic boundaries, rather than a handful of global racial categories. The latter started to emerge in the Enlightenment, and the German philosophers were big drivers of it (Kant in particular), though there were elements of it present with the British as well.
Once German Romanticism got going it really took off in Germany though, whereas it never really developed much further in Britain bar a few outliers. All of that existed in the bedrock of German society, and then along came socialism and nationalism and the combination of all three created the Nazis. I don’t think Hitler really had much to do with the genesis of Nazi ideology though, he was just a good figurehead, and the kind of anti-statist thinking the author of this piece is trying to give Hitler here doesn’t apply at all to Nazism in general, which was still fundamentally very socialist (especially when compared to Italian fascism).