Arnon Grunberg



On a taming process – Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker:

‘So the historian Timothy W. Ryback’s choice to make his new book, “Takeover: Hitler’s Final Rise to Power” (Knopf), an aggressively specific chronicle of a single year, 1932, seems a wise, even an inspired one. Ryback details, week by week, day by day, and sometimes hour by hour, how a country with a functional, if flawed, democratic machinery handed absolute power over to someone who could never claim a majority in an actual election and whom the entire conservative political class regarded as a chaotic clown with a violent following. Ryback shows how major players thought they could find some ulterior advantage in managing him. Each was sure that, after the passing of a brief storm cloud, so obviously overloaded that it had to expend itself, they would emerge in possession of power. The corporate bosses thought that, if you looked past the strutting and the performative antisemitism, you had someone who would protect your money. Communist ideologues thought that, if you peered deeply enough into the strutting and the performative antisemitism, you could spy the pattern of a popular revolution. The decent right thought that he was too obviously deranged to remain in power long, and the decent left, tempered by earlier fights against different enemies, thought that, if they forcibly stuck to the rule of law, then the law would somehow by itself entrap a lawless leader. In a now familiar paradox, the rational forces stuck to magical thinking, while the irrational ones were more logical, parsing the brute equations of power. And so the storm never passed. In a way, it still has not.’


‘What was once called the petite bourgeoisie, then, was key to his support—not people feeling the brunt of economic precarity but people feeling the possibility of it. Having nothing to fear but fear itself is having something significant to fear.’


‘Ryback spends most of his time with two pillars of respectable conservative Germany, General Kurt von Schleicher and the right-wing media magnate Alfred Hugenberg. Utterly contemptuous of Hitler as a lazy buffoon—he didn’t wake up until eleven most mornings and spent much of his time watching and talking about movies—the two men still hated the Communists and even the center-left Social Democrats more than they did anyone on the right, and they spent most of 1932 and 1933 scheming to use Hitler as a stalking horse for their own ambitions.
Schleicher is perhaps first among Ryback’s too-clever-for-their-own-good villains, and the book presents a piercingly novelistic picture of him. Though in some ways a classic Prussian militarist, Schleicher, like so many of the German upper classes, was also a cultivated and cosmopolitan bon vivant, whom the well-connected journalist and diarist Bella Fromm called “a man of almost irresistible charm.” He was a character out of a Jean Renoir film, the regretful Junker caught in modern times. He had no illusions about Hitler (“What am I to do with that psychopath?” he said after hearing about his behavior), but, infinitely ambitious, he thought that Hitler’s call for strongman rule might awaken the German people to the need for a real strongman, i.e., Schleicher. Ryback tells us that Schleicher had a strategy he dubbed the Zähmungsprozess, or “taming process,” which was meant to sideline the radicals of the Nazi Party and bring the movement into mainstream politics.’


‘What strengthened the Nazis throughout the conspiratorial maneuverings of the period was certainly not any great display of discipline. The Nazi movement was a chaotic mess of struggling in-groups who feared and despised one another. Hitler rightly mistrusted the loyalty even of his chief lieutenant, Gregor Strasser, who fell on the “socialist” side of the National Socialists label. The members of the S.A., the Storm Troopers, meanwhile, were loyal mainly to their own leader, Ernst Röhm, and embarrassed Hitler with their run of sexual scandals. The N.S.D.A.P. was a hive of internal antipathies that could resolve only in violence—a condition that would endure to the last weeks of the war, when, standing amid the ruins of Germany, Hitler was enraged to discover that Heinrich Himmler was trying to negotiate a separate peace with the Western Allies.
The strength of the Nazis lay, rather, in the curiously enclosed and benumbed character of their leader. Hitler was impossible to discourage, not because he ran an efficient machine but because he was immune to the normal human impediments to absolute power: shame, calculation, or even a desire to see a particular political program put in place. Hindenburg, knowing of Hitler’s genuinely courageous military service in the Great War, appealed in their meetings to his patriotism, his love of the Fatherland. But Hitler, an Austrian who did not receive German citizenship until shortly before the 1932 election, did not love the Fatherland. He ran on the hydrogen fuel of pure hatred. He did not want power in order to implement a program; he wanted power in order to realize his pain. A fascinating and once classified document, prepared for the precursor of the C.I.A., the O.S.S., by the psychoanalyst Walter Langer, used first-person accounts to gauge the scale of Hitler’s narcissism: “It may be of interest to note at this time that of all the titles that Hitler might have chosen for himself he is content with the simple one of ‘Fuehrer.’ To him this title is the greatest of them all. He has spent his life searching for a person worthy of the role but was unable to find one until he discovered himself.” Or, as the acute Hungarian American historian John Lukacs, who spent a lifetime studying Hitler’s psychology, observed, “His hatred for his opponents was both stronger and less abstract than was his love for his people. That was (and remains) a distinguishing mark of the mind of every extreme nationalist.”’


‘The ultimate fates of Ryback’s players are varied, and instructive. Schleicher, the conservative who saw right through Hitler’s weakness—who had found a way to entrap him, and then use him against the left—was killed by the S.A. during the Night of the Long Knives, in 1934, when Hitler consolidated his hold over his own movement by murdering his less loyal lieutenants. Strasser and Röhm were murdered then, too. Hitler and Goebbels, of course, died by their own hands in defeat, having left tens of millions of Europeans dead and their country in ruins. But Hugenberg, sidelined during the Third Reich, was exonerated by a denazification court in the years after the war. And Papen, who had ushered Hitler directly into power, was acquitted at Nuremberg; in the nineteen-fifties, he was awarded the highest honorary order of the Catholic Church.’


‘In history, it’s true, the same thing never happens twice. But the same things do.’

Read the article here.

The same mistakes are made over and over, if for no other reason because people’s weaknesses and ambitions remain largely the same.

The illiberal revolution might happen again, in the US, in the Netherlands, in Germany, in France, but there we have no First World War in our recent past.

The political Messiah who is better at hating than at loving is alive and kicking, the enablers are as naïve and power-driven as they were back then but the institutions, especially in Germany, might be a bit stronger then they were back then.

History is not a moral lesson; it can make people a bit more aware and slightly more prudent, at best.

If not, we should start packing our suitcases, the question: where should we go to?

Hope is also convenient.

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