Saturday, January 23, 2016

Classic Quotable: George Orwell’s review of Mein Kampf -- “struggle, danger, and death” (1940)

Friday, January 22nd 2016
A number of authors cited in these “Quotables,” asking what motivates the ISIS fighter, are drilling down and taking another look at human nature.  A number of them have cited George Orwell’s review of Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf in the March, 1940, issue ofNew English Review.  Many websites quote the review in part, but Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Press and A.M. Heath granted permission to republish it in full in the January-February, 2016, issue of Military Review.  (Scroll to page 119.)  Coalition programs to reconstruct Iraq and Afghanistan and counterterrorism initiatives that focus on jobs and development – to give two examples -- rested on the concept that human goals are primarily economic.  Here are a few quotes from Orwell that challenged this economic determinism.

  • [Hitler] has grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life. Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all “progressive” thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security and avoidance of pain. In such a view of life there is no room, for instance, for patriotism and the military virtues. The Socialist who finds his children playing with soldiers is usually upset, but he is never able to think of a substitute for the tin soldiers; tin pacifists somehow won’t do. Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty-parades.

  • All three of the great dictators [Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin] have enhanced their power by imposing intolerable burdens on their peoples. Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people “I offer you a good time,” Hitler has said to them “I offer you struggle, danger and death,” and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet. Perhaps later on they will get sick of it and change their minds, as at the end of the last war. After a few years of slaughter and starvation “Greatest happiness of the greatest number” is a good slogan, but at this moment “Better an end with horror than a horror without end” is a winner. Now that we are fighting against the man who coined it, we ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.

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