NAIL THE BIG LIE - WAS HITLER A HUMANIST? GM Humanist Newsletter No. 8 March 1995
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it - Santayana
Many Christian commentators slanderously claim that Humanism, if it becomes a majority philosophy, will become Nazi-like in its attitude to any pro-relgious viewpoint. Hitler is often cited as typically irreligious, implying that Humanists aim to relaunch the Final Solution. Harold J. Berry says:
Not only do the humanists fail to acknowledge the weak authority of short span of their own finite views, but they also fail to realise that Nazism under Hitler, to which they refer, was influenced by humanism, not religion. Hitler was a thoroughgoing evolutionist, and social Darwinism took its awful toll under his regime.
What did Hitler believe? Humanism? Christianity? Official records say the family were Catholics. Hitler's father, a senior customs official, often worked away from home. Young Hitler was sent to boarding school. These arrangements left him alienated; distant. He was a poor scholar, doing well only in technical drawing and history. He was rejected twice from the Vienna academy of Fine Arts; the number of other students was large.
Hitler was not a tramp, reduced to squalor. His street sketches of local buildings were done as a source of income, and sold to passers by. Hitler creates the myth of his roots in poverty in Mein Kampf, like much that he claims, it is a lie. Hitler had trouble making friends, and remained very lonely and embittered by failed ambitions. His art work never depicts people, only places, churches, architecture, etc.
From living among other losers, Hitler learned to find scapegoats for his hatred. Austria (1900 -1914) was a divided country, with Slavs, Serbs and Croats all demanding equality and autonomy. The dominant culture remained German. Bismarck's exploits were highly romantic to Hitler, and Austrian history was dominated by Germany’s passage though it to the rest of Europe and the accumulated colonies of the Fatherland. Austrians began increasingly to look to Germany as their saviour; Hitler steeped himself in German history and Wagner-influenced mythology.
Nationalist pride needs opponents. Many German nationalists in Austria regard the Jews as responsible for all that ailed them.
At first Hitler was uninterested in Jews. "At high school there was a Jewish boy, but we didn't give the matter any thought. I even took them [the Jews] for Germans." After a time, the anti-Semitic propaganda had its effect, and Hitler immersed himself in anti-Semitic literature. "Gradually I began to hate them... For me this was the time of the greatest spiritual upheaval I have ever had to go through. I ceased to be a weak-kneed cosmopolitan, and became an anti-Semite." Hitler was developing his own idiosyncratic and increasingly fanatical religious beliefs.
The Great War gave Hitler a sense of being part of history in the making; he fought well, according to many accounts, and used his developing oratorical skills to keep up the morale of his fellow-soldiers. It is surprising that he never rose above Lance Corporal. He was wounded in mustard gas attack at Flanders in 1918 and sent home, where he saw the grim state of the home front. In hospital, he felt that a miracle had saved him. He wrote of voices summoning him to "save Germany".
Many times after this, he spoke of being an agent of Providence - he was a visionary, a man of divine destiny.
Many Germans were disillusioned by the war, a fact largely kept secret from the men at the front. Hitler saw many deserters, the elderly and those excused from fighting. Propaganda made a great deal of Russia's collapse into revolutionary chaos, but the sudden and, for Hitler, unexpected announcement of Germany's surrender made him worry that Germany would turn Communist. Lenin had predicted that Communism would spread from Russia through Europe as soldiers and workers united against Capitalists. 1n Germany this seemed to be happening as predicted. The emergence of the right wing that crippled and later slaughtered Spartacist Communism probably saved Europe from the fulfilment of Lenin's Prophecy.
Hitler was asked by German military intelligence to spy on the growing number of new right wing extremist groups, many masquerading as occult orders and moral debating societies. Hitler started with the fledgling National Socialists, and at some point stopped spying and chose instead to lead. The rest is bloodshed and history.
Germany had been crippled by the Treaty of Versailles, her colonies confiscated and Alsace-Lorraine given back to France. Danzig (Gdansk) had been given to Poland to allow access to the sea. The army was severely reduced - 100,000 men and no artillery or tanks. It was too harsh a punishment, and Hitler made great headway by openly refusing to acknowledge it.
Many people sympathised with his hatreds. Christian Democrats heavily financed Hitler, who later also persecuted many Christians. Hitler's arguments were simplistic, repetitive, and highly derivative. he had no original ideas at all; he drew on many sources out of context, forcing ideas to fit into his vision. Darwin never dreamed of individuals or groups within a species dominating or annihilating other groups. He wrote of survival of a species, not conquest and slaughter within a species.
Christians should not therefore call Hitler an inevitable outcome of Darwin's theories. Nietzsche is also misused by Nazis. Nietzsche's Superman is not a master-race figure, but an individual who separates himself from the beliefs and constraints that control the common herd. Hitler reduced the German people to a common herd, arid would have been threatened by Nietzsche's Superman, an ideal of individual moral expression.
There were warnings, of course, opposition and resistance. The Freethinker, the most widely read of all Humanist Journals, learning of the persecution of the Jews as early as 1936, warned: "Hitler's crime is not fundamentally against Jew or Christian but against humanity." (May 1936). The Freethinker also recognised that Hitler was a religious cult leader, a messiah:
Germany under Hitler has the doubtful honour of embracing a new religion. Like every new religion, it is only a rehash of old ideas in a new form. It is the new religion of the State Supreme, founded to control the destiny of the German people chosen by God, Nature and Hitler to rule the world."
[From Vision and Realism; Jim Herrick, G.W. Foote 1982]
We know of Oskar Schindler's heroism, and many Humanists and humanitarians made some kind of protest. Post-war Humanism's success in Germany was attributed by our guest speaker, Adrian Bailey (December 1994), to memories of the stance Humanists took against Hitler, though we must not claim exclusive rights in this.
The Iron Dream was doomed once war was being fought on three fronts. Hitler did not want another Versailles capitulation so he launched Operation Scorched Earth;, trying to destroy what was left of Germany itself. Houses were burnt, the underground railway was flooded, despite the fact that many Germans were sheltering there from Allied bombs. Germans were reduced to cannon-fodder for their own guns. Failure apparent, Hitler stayed loyal to his all-or-nothing dogma. His suicide was the final expression of his nihilistic inhuman religion.
The world today retains its idiots, its "Inhumanists", the neo-Nazis, awaiting his second coming Christian evangelists like to point the finger at us instead. Some people may believe them Hitler said "When you tell a lie make it a big one and tell it often." The Christian claim that Humanists are closet Nazis is just such a lie. It's time we defended ourselves.
Sources: Harold J. Berry, The Truth Twisters (Back to the Bible 1987); John Toland, Adolf Hitler, Ballantine 1976
© Copyright. Arthur Chappell
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