Travellers in the Third Reich

The Rise of Fascism Through the Eyes of Everyday People

As one of a generation haunted by discovering the then-recent calamity of WW2, now disturbed by the rise in populism across the world, I found this a timely book by Julia Boyd.

It tells the story of the Third Reich through the eyes of people who visited or lived in Germany through the days of Adolf Hitler’s ascent to power, its consolidation, the increasing drumbeats towards war, and the war itself.

What is remarkable is how many people gave the Nazi regime the benefit of the doubt, despite the clear signs, such as the centralisation of all power, rescinding of civil liberties and press freedom, the early concentration camps, the persecution of Jews, the burning of books (all in 1933) through to Kristallnacht (1938) and the subsequent descent into war.

Of course, the desire to avoid another war was a major part of this, and there is the interesting story of Neville Chamberlain’s vain attempt to make peace in Munich in 1938, and Hitler’s dismissive attitude to the whole affair.

The book presents an interesting story, perhaps a bit long-winded at times. It certainly opened my eyes to some things, such as the fact that Germany welcomed English and American tourists throughout the 1930s, and many found the country very efficient and friendly, except where they came face to face with the persecution of Jews and supposed non-aryans.

The stories from the 1920s and early 1930s show that, after making a fair recovery from WW1, Germany was not in a good place after the shock of the great depression. The arduous reparation terms imposed by the Allies at the end of WW1 were a major cause of German suffering and dissatisfaction. It seems that these were major factors in the rise to power of Hitler.

The evident parallel today is the rise of populism following the 2008 financial crash, and the subsequent failure to make due reckoning with its causes. The missing factor today is there is no sense of national persecution similar to that caused in Germany by the WW1 armistice terms.  

In the case of Donald Trump and the US, it is maybe too early to say how far the parallels go – but he clearly came to the presidency by exploiting white male dissatisfaction with the status quo that had come about – economic, racial and misogynistic. On the positive side, the US constitution appears to be much more robust in resisting over-centralization of power than was Germany in the 1930s.


Prisoners of Geography

prisoners of geographyThe book of the above title was on Waterstones’ blockbuster non-fiction table, so I thought I’d give it a go. ‘Ten maps that tell you all about global politics’ seemed a good subtitle. The author is Tim Marshall.

The book actually does do what it says, shows how geography is the major factor in much of global politics, and explains how this works in different areas of the world.

It was interesting to read about the main geographical features and conflicts in each area of the world, although I did get the impression that a lot of today’s political problems are caused not by geography but by the arbitrary lines drawn on maps by dominant Europeans in that brief period of colonial expansion of the 19th century and subsequent decolonisation – such as the borders of Iraq, Syria, lack of Kurdish state, India/Pakistan,…

The relevance of the north European plain for both Western Europe and Russia is quite striking – how easy it is to attack on a wide plain rather than through mountains, as indeed Napoleon and Hitler did at their peril, as supply lines became over-stretched. The importance of a non-aligned Ukraine to Russia is also clearly explained, as is the impeccable logic that led to the recent Russian taking of the Crimea.

And if you want insight into the likely problems in the China Sea and the Arctic Ocean over coming decades, this book gives a fair idea.

I guess the question for humanity is whether we are going to continue to be prisoners of geography, and fight the same battles over and over again, or whether we are going to move beyond that to de-emphasise the national ego in favour of the collective well being that will come increasingly under threat with the changes caused by global warming and pollution. At the end of the day, all these geographies are interconnected, as are all their populations. We are really one humanity living in one world.

Fromm on social narcissism

Following up my earlier post Fromm on Narcissism, I move on to Erich Fromm’s thoughts on social or group narcissism and the role it plays as a source of violence and war.

Any social grouping depends on a sort of group narcissism for its survival and continuation, similar to the narcissism of the individual.

Similarly, we can distinguish benign and malignant forms. The benign form tends to involve some form of achievement outside the group by productive effort, which maintains contact with reality. The malignant form tends to involve concern for the group itself, its splendour and past achievements, and its continuation regardless of its current contribution.Read More »

Fromm on Narcissism

Erich_Fromm
Erich Fromm in 1970

In The Heart of Man, first published in 1964, Erich Fromm examines “the role of narcissim for the understanding of nationalism… and the psychological motivations for destructiveness and war”. It all sounds very relevant today.

Fromm recognises that narcissism fulfils an important biological survival function for everyone, but needs to be at an optimum level modified by the reality of social cooperation. (cf healthy attachment to one’s own children, which needs to be bounded by reality.)Read More »

Biophilia and Necrophilia

Erich_Fromm
Erich Fromm in 1970

In The Heart of Man, first published in 1964, Erich Fromm looks at the problem of good and evil from several interesting perspectives. One is that of the ‘love of life’ versus the ‘love of death’, or biophilia versus necrophilia. We all have within us these opposing tendencies, so there are questions of balance and direction in life.

What is the difference? “Life is characterised by growth in a structured, functional manner, the necrophilous person is driven by all that is mechanical.” Really be in the natural world to know what life is. The opposite is to live in fear, desire control and predictability, demand ‘law and order’.

As a former concentration camp inmate, Fromm was obviously heavily influenced by that experience, and Adolph Hitler provided his supreme example of a necrophilous person, with Stalin not far behind.Read More »