Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Preparation for Hitler by Max Picard

[From Max Picard's book Hitler in uns selbst]

During a trip to Germany in 1932, I received a visit from the chairman of a major German political party, who asked me how it was possible that Hitler had become so well known, that he had acquired so many supporters. I pointed to an illustrated newspaper that was lying on the table and asked him to thumb through it. The first page had a picture of an almost naked female dancer. On the second page a battalion of soldiers were doing exercises with machine guns, and underneath was shown some scientist in a laboratory. The third page had a chart chronicling the development of the bicycle from the mid-19th century to the present day, next to which a Chinese poem was printed. The next page had photos of workers from some factory performing calisthenics during their free time, and underneath were the knotscripts of an Indian Tribe in South America. On the opposite page stood some lawmaker, sunning himself on a bright summer’s day.

“This is how,” I said, “a person today perceives the things of the outer world. People today approach all things in an incoherent jumble. This shows that their inner world is also an incoherent jumble. People today no longer confront the stable givenness of things, and the things no longer come to a person as they are for themselves. The person does not approach an individual thing by a particular act. Rather, an incoherent jumble of the external world comes to him, whose inner world is an incoherent jumble. Whatever may hap upon him is not examined. He is simply content that something happens at all, and in this incoherent jumble anything and anyone can sneak in—even Adolf Hitler. He is then in the inner world of the person without anyone noticing how he got there. It no longer depends upon one’s self but upon the agility of Adolf Hitler whether he merely passes through the person’s inner world or establishes a nest there.”

The incoherence of an illustrated periodical is in comparison to the radio almost old-fashioned, still nearly artisanal. The radio has taken over the automatic operation of incoherence. 6 A.M.: Morning exercises, 6:10 A.M.: Record Concert, 7 A.M.: News, 8 A.M.: How to do Morse Code, 9 A.M.: Morning Sermon, 9:30 A.M.: Live from Pfahlbauendorf!, 10 A.M.: Beethoven’s sonata for flute and piano, 10:30 A.M.: Lecture on Agronomics, 10:45 A.M.: World Chronicle, 11 A.M.: Overture to Rienzi,—and so on and so forth until evening 10:10 P.M.: Spanish Course, 10:30 P.M. For the Jazz Lover.

The world of radio is not only incoherent, it produces the incoherence as well, it produces things such that at the outset they do not cohere and therefore will be forgotten one after another, even before they vanish. They appear a priori in a cloud of forgetting. This external world pre-supposes that the inner world of the person is incapable of apprehending the world in a coherent narrative—i.e. as they are, as they remain, and as they relate to each other according to their nature. The discontinuity constitutes the basis of its operation, which in turn assumes the incoherence of the human being. This is how the radio works.

There is no longer any external world which can be recognized. It is a confusion. There is no longer an inner life which can be clearly acknowledged because the inner world is a confusion as well. Therefore, the human being no longer approaches objects by an act of the will. He no longer chooses the objects. He no longer examines them. The world is dissolved. The objects float incoherently on by past incoherent human beings. What comes along does not matter. What matters is that something comes along. In this succession of things everything can smuggle itself in, even Adolf Hitler, and one would rather have Adolf Hitler appear at least than nothing at all. “Heil” to him, who not only floats by but also ensures that the floating jumble does not cease—Hitler, who knows better that anybody how to operate the assembly line of events!

The big city is the expression for the incoherence in itself. Here incoherence has become stone, nay, cement. The lines of houses are constantly broken up by automobiles, trolleys, and trains, which function like machines that hack everything up. The form of man is dissolved into black dots, thrown back and forth between the houses and the streets like tokens in an evil game. Here the sky appears farther from the earth than normal, and even the sky no longer coheres with itself. It’s cut in two by the abrasive airplanes.


In this exterior jumble it was easy for Hitler to sneak into the interior jumble. He could in this incoherence show himself next to everything. He seemed to complement everything. As thus he was, he complemented every incoherence.

And because he kept popping up again and again in this incoherence, he was more visible than the other incoherences. You got used to him and accepted him as you accept a brand of toothpaste that keeps popping up in the newspaper ads. Soon he appeared as the only thing that’s real in a world in which every thing else appears only for the sake of immediately disappearing again.

Sorel is of the opinion that it is possible today for a handful of men to usurp the mechanisms of power in a democracy and set up a dictatorship. He’s right. But that’s possible only because everything slides into everything else. And so someone slides even into the power mechanisms of the state. Sometime he lands there without even noticing that he has, much less that other people notice. He need not put himself out that much. He need not fight for the mechanisms of power. They will be seized as everything else is seized in the jumble, upon which everyone slides. That plays itself out only by chance in the matter of politics. In this world of the ephemeral and the unconnected something else instead of politics and dictatorship could be seized. There is thus no history of the seizing of power, no theory and doctrine thereof. There is only the theory and doctrine of the jumble.

Hitler did not need to conquer. Everything had already been conquered by the structure of discontinuity and the general incoherence. This had the effect of a dictator’s doing an unnecessary “struggle” for power after he seized power. He struggles now that he has power to scream himself silly with all the gestures of power to demonstrate by violence and murder that he achieved the dictatorship by his own action and not by the happenstance of the jumble.

Only in a world of total discontinuity could such a nothing as Hitler become F├╝hrer for in a society where everything lacks coherence, no one is used to making comparisons anymore. You simply had the nothing Hitler before you. In this world where everything changes in a blink of an eye, you were happy that at least it was certain that the nothing Hitler stood before you. In a hierarchically ordered world the nothing Hitler would have automatically been placed into nothingness. Utterly nothing could have been seen. Hitler was the excretion of a demonic world and would have been shoved aside by the order of the real world.

In this world of incoherence it’s already happened long before Hitler that a nothing, a low-life, or a mediocrity has been elevated to the level of an absolute, and this absolutizing was talked about, written about, photographed as if this were the center of society, around which everyone had to orbit. A movie star would be inflated to the lofty center, then the inventor of a wind-fueled motor, then a university president, then an aviator of the stratosphere, or a bestselling author. And sooner or later, Adolf Hitler.

Of course, the low and the negligible have in all ages been declared to be great and authoritative. But previously, in the world of continuity, one always had the sense that behind the negligible and the low, the great and the meaningful were still there but merely hidden. In the Age of Hitler and its preceding era there seemed to be nothing more there other than the negligible. Above all, it was the negligible that was primarily there. You did not even have the sense that it was an empty spot, from which the great and the meaningful had been banished.

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