wiser today

A man should never be ashamed to own that he is wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.

Frederic Spotts

Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics

Hitler's lack of feeling for humans, even for fanatical party members, was already evident at the Nuremberg rallies and other spectacles when his 'architecturalizing' of the participants and his deployment of them in geometrical patterns reduced them to noctambulent creatures. It was most horrifyingly manifested in his wars and extermination camps. 'Really outstanding geniuses,' he believed, 'permit themselves no concern for normal human beings' Their deeper insight, their higher mission justified any cruelty. Compared with them, individuals were mere 'planetary bacilli'.

The mission of the new Germany was to bring about the salvation of the world from the infection of impure blood and subversive ideas through the creation of an Aryan state based on National Socialist concepts and dedicated to high culture. 'A state which in this age of racial poisoning dedicates itself to the care of its best racial elements,' the penultimate sentence of Mein Kampf declared, 'must some day become lord of the earth.' In his speech to the party rally in 1929 he went further and declared, 'If a million children were born annually in Germany and seven to eight hundred thousand of the weakest were eliminated, the end result might even be an increase in strength.' It is the healthy members of a society, he went on to say, who enable a nation to achieve 'heroic deeds' and 'a high human culture'. And if was thus that 'our history will become world history'.

Like Kant's inquisitor, Hitler believed he was acting in obedience to moral duty. And like the inquisitor he believed that his 'mission' allowed him to violate Kant's imperative of treating people as ends not means. He would have agreed with Stalin, that one death could be a tragedy—as Ulrich Roller's—but a million deaths were a mere statistic. It might appear that his brutal social Darwinism—human beings are no different from flies and both are helpless victims of the cruel laws of nature—led him simply to disconnect mass murder from the world of cultural beauty. In fact, the horrors of the war that he had unleashed upon Europe did not trouble him. In a revealing statement that he made on several occasions, he said, 'Wars come and go; cultural achievements alone survive.' War, like genocide, was simply the means to a higher end—a new man, a new Germany and a new world, freed of impure blood, dedicated to beauty in all things, with the arts enthroned at the spiritual apex of the New Order. To adapt Voltaire's epigram about the court of Frederick the Great—Sparta in the morning, Athens in the afternoon—Hitler's Reich was Carthage by day, Florence by night.

Who, then, was this Hitler and what did he want? Who he was remains difficult to answer. Christa Schroeder spoke for others in his inner circle when she stated after the war that she never ceased trying to make sense of the man she thought she knew. In the end she confessed that it was impossible to discover his 'wahre Gesicht', his true face. He had, she realised, too many faces. There was no one Hitler. What he wanted, however, is all too clear. It was a world purified of everyone he regarded as degenerate and corrupting—beginning with Jews, Communists, democrats, liberals, Freemasons, Modernists, Poles, Slavs, cripples, the mentally retarded and extending ever further until finally a cleansed world emerged similar to the one longed for by Hugo von Hofmannsthal's mythological princess, Ariadne:
Es gibt ein Reich, wo alles rein ist:
Es hat auch einen Namen:

There is a land where all is pure:
And it has a name:
Land of the dead.