As soon as we establish, however tentatively, our “right” to read Mein Kampf, we are called upon to answer questions without end pertaining to our motivations and intent. Why do we want to read Mein Kampf and what do we hope to get out of it? We might respond to this with some questions of our own: “Who wants to know? What makes you ask? Why do we have to justify ourselves?”
Noticeably, it is not the neo-Nazis who keep us from the book, interested though they would be in protecting Hitler’s word from the distortions of graceless outsiders. Au contraire, our interrogator is the self-declared mortal enemy of all things fascistic, racist, and totalitarian—literary censorship notwithstanding, maybe. This alleged angel of pacifism guards the library doors and observes our every move, lest we hurt someone with one of the books.
All right, enough of the euphemisms. The people who want to stop you from reading Mein Kampf are social justice warriors. Now, in pursuit of objectivity, let’s examine this issue from their point of view. They want to halt the spread of fascism, yes? If that’s the case, and if Mein Kampf is one big instruction manual for aspiring fascists, then does it make sense to them to halt the spread of that book, too?
It doesn’t make sense to Abraham Foxman, the scholar who wrote the introduction to the Houghton Mifflin edition of Mein Kampf. While I strongly disagree with his cheerful belief that “our societies have taken promising steps” to acknowledge political evil since the Second World War, I applaud his conclusion that it is “our responsibility”, the responsibility of those who take the time to study books like Mein Kampf, “to ensure the continuing progress of that civilizing trend”. How can you understand that which you are unwilling to learn? How can you achieve enlightenment and clarity when you are trapped before the blinding light of fear?
You can’t, of course, which is why censorship inevitably fails: to ignore a problem is not to solve it, yet the social justice warriors claim to be the only people able to solve the problem of modern fascism. They compare Trump to Hitler, sometimes unfavorably, but deny themselves the greatest chance to furnish proof of their charge—if such proof exists. And in their ignorance, they forfeit any claim to credibility: no one would expect to be cured of a disease by a doctor who refused to learn about it. At the very least, the SJWs make themselves vulnerable to spurious interpretations of the book—by their enemies and allies alike.
Consider the enduring controversy over Trump’s declaration, “I’m a nationalist.” It’s the first thing we think of, we living in the year 2019, when we read Hitler’s words, printed on the tenth page of Mein Kampf: “First, I became a nationalist.” This information, so valuable to the SJWs, would be unknown to them if we hadn’t read the book for them—but even so, the context remains far beyond their reach. As Houghton Mifflin’s annotations explain, Hitler’s nationalism reflected his wish for Germany and Austria to be reunited, and unless Trump aspires to place America under British rule again, there is no coherent comparison to make. Eventually, Hitler turned to another “nationalism”, one which sought “German world domination”, but anyone who compares Hitler’s imperialism to Trump’s will have to ignore more than a century of American history, as the United States became a global empire long before Trump ran for office.
Then again, this latter concern is never raised in the corporate media. Instead, the mouthpieces and figureheads conflate Trump’s nebulous “nationalism” with white nationalism, which is an entirely separate ideology, and then, based on this purposeful redefinition, compare Trump to Hitler. Even if we assume that Trump shares Hitler’s bigotry, it has nothing to do with Trump’s use of the word nationalism. It’s very strange how the president’s fiercest critics cannot overcome their obsession with this term, even when stronger evidence of his bigotry can be found elsewhere. Maybe this is part of the political war on language, an attempt to restrict our linguistic understanding in order to hinder our intellectual creativity.
If you have the time and patience, then you ought to watch MSNBC’s presentation on the definition of nationalism. Although neither of the pundits in the video connects Trump with Hitler directly, the viewer is reminded of historical figures of evil who embraced the concept of nationalism. The only problem is, we still have no idea what Trump means when he calls himself a nationalist, and I’m beginning to suspect that Trump doesn’t know, either. None of this stops the commentators at MSNBC from presenting their arbitrary definitions of nationalism as the only legitimate meanings, and through this controlling frame of the material, the viewer has no choice but to submit to this untrustworthy intellectual authority. It’s skillful propaganda, one to which the American people are now hopelessly accustomed.
What is missing, then, is the material that MSNBC omits. This material is historical, political, and linguistic, and the only way we can discover it for ourselves is by diving into the literature of years gone by. Hitler observes that to learn history is “to seek and find the forces which are the causes leading to those effects which we subsequently perceive as historical events”. Our error, then, is to assume that MSNBC is the historical authority, the infallible chronicler of cause and effect. This mistake isn’t exclusive to the networker’s admirers, either: all too often in media criticism, we see MSNBC as a self-contained problem and neglect to consider the historical precedents of corporate agitprop. Obviously, we can’t provide a comprehensive account every time, but just as we have to remind our neoliberal neighbors that America’s problems didn’t start in 2016, sometimes we need our own reminders that the corporate media had tanked long before 2016, too.
Last summer, I decided to read as much political literature as I could, but I refused to read anything written in the last ten years. So many people who want to learn about the decline of the American Empire make the mistake of reading recent literature, literature that addresses this issue explicitly; while there may be some quality literature written in the last few years, I suspect that everyone has been struggling to make sense of all of this intellectual chaos, and I wonder if we might someday look back on the last few years, or even today, as an intellectual dark age. Pursuant to this concern, I believe it is best to read older political literature only, not just because it may be more trustworthy, but because it allows us to contextualize what is happening today by taking us out of it—and don’t we all deserve a break from the paranoia of the Trumpish Age?
I could derail this entire essay with examples of the great historical correlations I discovered in my reading. If you want to find a precedent for the permanent separation of families at the border, then read about the slave auctions in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. If you want a model for how the Democratic Party will commit political suicide against a vulnerable Republican president, then read about the tragic inevitability in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. And if you want to read about a man who exploited cultural tensions at a time of uncertain transition, then read about how Hitler responded to the fragmentation of Austrian society in Mein Kampf. While most people appear to find these parallel conditions unsettling, I actually find them to be rather reassuring: if history is repeating itself, more or less, then history has provided us with a blueprint for how to solve these problems in the present.
Just as Trump preached to the disenfranchised and the unemployed, Hitler wrote convincingly on the subject of national poverty, as well as the many psychological disorders that develop in a state of endless indigence. We have discovered a commonality; our next task is to identify the methods whereby Hitler appealed to the poor, the better to recognize them when Trump adopts them, too. The point of all of this is not to equate Trump to Hitler, especially on a moral spectrum, but to see the propaganda as propaganda—for in our understanding, we will be resistant to it. Trump has an advantage over us because he has some knowledge, probably more intuitive than formal, of the mechanisms of the media and how to process propaganda through it.
Ah, but we are losing our way, and we are exceeding the boundaries of this essay. I will close with a quote of Hitler’s, written in praise of one of his teachers: “[He] knew how to illuminate the past by examples from the present, and how from the past to draw inferences for the present. As a result he had more understanding than anyone else for all the daily problems which then held us breathless.” Abraham Foxman doesn’t believe Hitler was familiar with classical literature, including political and philosophical theory, but this quote suggests that, if he had, then he would have known how to put to use—to his own destructive use, that is. Therefore, it is our responsibility to put his book to our productive, salubrious use.