Inside the Mind of a Madman
The word “infamous” is often misused in everyday conversation. It is confused with the word “famous,” when in reality the words have one very significant difference: famous has a positive meaning, and infamous has a negative one.
The most infamous historical figure of the recent era is Adolf Hitler, the leader of the Third Reich of Germany. Hitler’s rise to power, expansion of German territory, and implementation of the Holocaust give him this status; his control of Germany fascinates the average studier of history. But in reality, Hitler did not convince all Germans of his corrupt ideology and convert them all to the Nazi Party. He simply emerged as a politician from nowhere and, before anyone knew what was going on, He and the Nazi Party, a powerful political minority, seized control of the Reichstag and entire German government. And once Hitler had his army, there was no stopping him. Also, the members of the Nazi Party were not all corrupt, twisted individuals who agreed with everything Hitler said.
Many were simply self-interested individuals looking to make money, or pay back a debt, or gain power. Most were simply players in the game, and very few really knew the gravity of their actions. The odd piece of this historical puzzle is that in 1925, while in prison for his Beer Hall Putsch (his first attempt as seizing the German government), Hitler dictated an entire biography and manifesto, outlining every single crazy idea and twisted plan he later implemented – and no one stopped him from implementing this plan. Mein Kampf’s popularity became somewhat similar to that of the bible: by the onset of the war, every good German owned a copy of Mein Kampf, but very few had actually read it cover to cover. Unfortunately, those who did probably did not see Hitler as the madman we see him today; although disorganized, rambling, and abrupt, Hitler can make a very convincing point when he needs to, using two main persuasive strategies. He uses emotional appeals to create sympathy and anger in the first section of Mein Kampf, and uses logical appeals in the second part to walk through and persuade readers of the legitimacy his manifesto.
To read Mein Kampf is to truly enter the mind of a very lucid, intelligent madman, and to analyze his persuasion techniques is to analyze his justification to not only the German people, but also to himself. For the first part of the book, Hitler discusses topics in the chronological context of his life. He discusses his difficult home life, his struggle to enter art school, and subsequent failure and period of suffering. He is very melodramatic: “While the Goddess of Suffering took me in her arms, often threatening to crush me, my will to resistance grew, and in the end this will was victorious.” During this section, he begins to rant about the development of his political beliefs. Among these are most prominently the beginning of a nationalist feeling for Germany and a hatred for Austria for tainting the Aryan race, and a powerful despise of communists and Jews.
Intermingled with his narration of his life are these small rants about certain populations. When discussing his time in Vienna, he says: “When this for the first time I recognized the Jew as the cold-hearted, shameless, and calculating director of this revolting vice traffic in the scum of the big city, a cold shudder ran down my back.” He equates Jews with everything he perceives to be immoral: prostitution, slave trafficking, propaganda, and Marxism. At the end of this short chapter discussing his time in Vienna, he summarizes his change in thought: “I had ceased to be a weak-kneed cosmopolitan and became an anti-Semite.” The strategy of this section is to use the emotional appeal of his personal experiences to make readers more open to his political ideas. He then goes on to discuss his time in the German army during World War I, affinity toward politics afterward, and introduction into the National Socialist German Worker’s Party.
When he discusses World War I, his tone is bitter and quietly furious: “the romance of battle had been replaced by horror. The enthusiasm gradually cooled and the exuberant joy was stifled by mortal fear. The time came when every man had to struggle between the instinct of self-preservation and the admonitions of duty.” He then goes on to describe the aftermath of the war in Germany: “..
.there was dire misery everywhere. The big city was suffering from hunger. Discontent was great.” All of these descriptions, about both the war itself and the disastrous aftermath for Germany, would have been very relatable to most of Hitler’s readers. These common experiences which Hitler emphasizes establish a connection and trust toward Hitler that helps him justify his horrible views in the second part of the book.
Because this section of Mein Kampf is about Hitler’s personal life, it contains more emotional appeals than logical appeals. He clearly wanted readers to identify with his problems such as family disputes, unemployment, and the World War. His idea is well thought out – first he discusses problems and his emotions to make him seem more personable and human.Hitler discusses the hardship of the war and the outcome of the Treaty of Versailles because almost all Germans can relate to it and are enraged by it. At the time Mein Kampf was published, this held a lot of emotional weight for the German people because their country and economy had been destroyed by the war and the treaty.
Specifically pertaining to the Jewish people, he argues that the Jews have caused crime, bad economies, and have cheated the Aryan population out of money. These are attempts to enrage Aryan readers and make them, in their passion, more readily accept his destructive views. It is the classic trick of politicians: ensnare the reader with topics on which they can find common ground, then, once trusted, logically outline one’s radical agenda. The second part of Mein Kampf, entitled “The National Socialist Movement,” is Hitler’s radical manifesto. He outlines every aspect of his ideal society, from the government to the military to the citizens.
It is very disorganized, however, and Hitler randomly rants about certain topics several times, especially communism and Jews. He tries to logically explain why Jews are bad in the context of history: “Was there any form of filth or profligacy, particularly in cultural life, without at least one Jew involved in it? If you cut even cautiously into such an abscess, you found, like a maggot in a rotting body, often dazzled by the sudden light – a kike!” Hitler links Jews to prostitution, money schemes, government corruption, and all things immoral. Throughout the entire book, he reiterates the idea that Jews are inferior and Aryans are superior, and advocates Social Darwinism, essentially survival of the fittest race: “Nature . . . puts living creatures on this globe and watches the free play of forces.
She then confers the master’s right on her favorite child, the strongest in courage and industry . . . The stronger must dominate and not blend with the weaker, thus sacrificing his own greatness. Only the born weakling can view this as cruel.” He speaks of race as blood, and in this states that blood cannot ever be changed: Since nationality or rather race does not happen to lie in language but in the blood, we would only be justified in speaking of a Germanization if by such a process we succeeded in transforming the blood of the subjected people.
But this is impossible. Unless blood mixture brings about a change, which, however, means the lowering of the level of the higher race. The final result of such a process would consequently be the destruction of precisely those qualities which had formerly made the conquering people capable of victory. Hitler’s ruthless approach toward the Jewish people is survival of the fittest; once one accepts that the Aryan race is superior and the Jews are inferior, Hitler’s arguments are somewhat logical. He believes that the superior race should dominate and not intermarry with the inferior race, because this would result in the weakening of the human race as a whole. He is then able to justify eliminating the inferior races as simply doing what he has to for the progress of the human race.
This deadly and cruel approach to life is not right ethically, not right emotionally, but makes some sense logically. Through long rants that logically walk through his views, Hitler is able to justify unthinkable actions, and, with the right audience, convince people of his ideas. Hitler’s persuasion strategies in Mein Kampf strive to establish sympathy and connection with readers, then walk them slowly through his train of thought so that his logically stated arguments seem legitimate. To us today, these arguments do not seem legitimate at all; we look at this with hindisght and with a different cultural background. But to an Aryan reader who had struggled with poverty while seeing the rich Jewish people live in comfort, lived in an anti-Semitic society his entire life, fought in World War I and experienced the humiliation and financial disaster from the Treaty of Versailles — Hitler’s ideas might seem justified. This was the audience to which Hitler catered, which is why he chose to use the persuasive strategies he did.
But the most fascinating aspect of Mein Kampf is not how it could have convinced other people to agree with Hitler; Mein Kampf reveals a little bit of how Hitler could have possibly developed his cruel views. In his young adult years, he was exposed to anti-Semitism. As Hitler struggled, Jews were rich, and this strengthened the hatred. Then came World War I and its aftermath, when he developed an extreme patriotism and an injured pride, and a firm belief in the superiority of the Aryan race. After the Treaty of Versailles, he believed that everyone was out to hurt the Germans and that anyone not of Aryan descent could not be trusted. He felt the need to purify the world and make Germany powerful again, and believed he was the man to do it.
While no one will ever truly understand Hitler’s mind, his book gives us a good glimpse into it. Hitler’s persuasive strategies in Mein Kampf, while directed toward a specific historical audience, reveal to readers today how Hitler developed and convinced others of his unthinkably cruel ideology. Hopefully this understanding will allow us to recognize similar justifications of cruel behavior in our world today and prevent anything like the Holocaust from ever happening again.