WHO was the rabble-rousing, self-obsessed ‘clown’; the self-loving egomaniac and narcissist with a taste for self-dramatisation?
No, not Nigel Farge, nor Mrs Thatcher and – surprise surprise – not even Donald Trump. The answer, obvious with hindsight, is Adolf Hitler.
Chances are, you immediately thought of US presidential contender Trump or the anti-European populist Nigel Farage. British Conservatives would almost automatically have plumped for ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair, Liberal Democrats and Labour voters for Margaret Thatcher. Students of international history might undoubtedly have considered Napoleon or Stalin.
But a New York Times review of the first part of Volker Ullrich’s two-volume biography of Adolf Hitler put to shame my immediate assumption that the reviewer, Michiko Kakutani, intended readers to assimilate her analysis of Ullrich’s work to one of America’s current present presidential options. I was, I assure you, chilled by the comparison to one of the candidates.
It scared me, for sure, so much so that, although I had no intention of writing a column this morning, by lunchtime I had written this epistle.
Ullrich believes that Hitler’s rise was not inevitable: “He benefited from a constellation of crises that he was able to exploit cleverly and unscrupulously”. Also, in addition to economic woes and unemployment, there was an ‘erosion of the political centre’ and a growing resentment of the elites.
The unwillingness of Germany’s political parties to compromise had contributed to a perception of government dysfunction, Mr. Ullrich suggests, and the belief of Hitler supporters that the country needed ‘a man of iron’ who could shake things up.
“Why not give the National Socialists a chance?” a prominent banker said of the Nazis. “They seem pretty gutsy to me.”
Further more, Hitler’s ascension was aided and abetted by the naïveté of domestic adversaries who failed to appreciate his ruthlessness and tenacity, and by foreign statesmen who believed they could control his aggression. Early revulsion at Hitler’s style and appearance, Mr. Ullrich writes, led some critics to underestimate the man and his popularity, while others dismissed him as a celebrity, a repellent but fascinating ‘evening’s entertainment.’
Where have we heard THAT in recent months?
As the eminent philosopher George Santayana wrote in 1905, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”