Part 2 of 2
R. H. S. Stolfi
Hitler: Beyond Evil and Tyranny
Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2011
Russell Stolfi deals with a number of episodes in Hitler’s life that are adduced as evidence of evil. Stolfi argues that some of these acts are not evil at all. He others that others were necessary or mitigated evils. And he claims that still others were no more evil than the actions of other great men of history who nevertheless manage to receive respectful treatment from biographers. Finally, Stolfi argues that all of these acts, even the evil ones, do not necessarily make Hitler an evil man, for even good men can commit horrific acts if they believe they are necessary to promote a greater good.
(1) Stolfi argues that Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch and other violations of the laws of the Weimar Republic are somewhat softened by the fact that he believed that the Weimar Republic was an illegitimate and criminal regime. Hitler’s early attempts to defy it and replace it are not, therefore, “evil,” unless all acts of disobedience and revolution against governments as such are evil. In any case, after his release from prison, Hitler adopted a policy of strict legality: he pursued the Chancellorship through electoral politics, and he won.
(2) Stolfi argues that the creation of the Sturm Abteilungen (Storm Troops) was not motivated by a desire to violently intimidate political opponents and seize power. Instead, the SA was formed in self-defense against organized Communist efforts to violently intimidate political opponents and seize power, violence that had effectively suppressed the ability of all Right-wing parties to assemble. The SA did not merely assure the NSDAP’s freedom to assemble and organize, it broke the Red terror and restored political freedom to all parties.
(3) Stolfi argues that the Röhm purge was necessary because there was ample evidence that Röhm himself was plotting a coup, and, true or not, Hindenburg, the leaders of the military, and Hitler’s top lieutenants all believed it to be true. Hindenburg threatened to declare martial law and have the army deal with Röhm if Hitler would not. Hitler had to act, because if he didn’t, he would be effectively deposed: he would be abdicating the sovereign function to decide and act for the good of the people to Hindenburg and the army. Even so, Hitler temporized to the last possible moment.
Stolfi claims that Röhm’s death was a kind of apotheosis for Hitler: “By June 1934, Hitler stood poised to pass beyond friendship with any man into the realm of the lonely, distant Leader. But Hitler could never pass into that realm with Röhm alive and serving as a reminder of Hitler’s own historical mortality. Röhm had to die, and Hitler had to kill him” (p. 306). But this was not, of course, Hitler’s motive for killing him.
Ultimately, Stolfi judges Röhm’s death to be politically necessary and morally excusable. He describes it not as a cool, premeditated murder but as a “crime of passion” of a man faced with the infidelity of a sworn confidant (p. 309). Of course, the Röhm purge was the occasion for settling a number of other old scores, which complicates Stolfi’s moral picture considerably.
(4) Stolfi evidently thinks there was nothing evil at all about Hitler’s assumption of dictatorial powers — through a provision in the Weimar constitution — or his suppression of a political movement as destructive and implacable as Marxism. But he praises the relative bloodlessness of Hitler’s legal revolution.
(5) As for the concentration camps off to which Hitler packed the leaders of the Marxist parties and other subversive groups: in 1935, when the German population stood at 65 million, the concentration camp inmates numbered 3,500, most of them Communists and Social Democrats. The camp system and its mandate were expanded to house people in protective custody for being social nuisances, including beggars, drunks, homosexuals (homosexuality was criminalized under the Second Reich, remained criminalized under Weimar, and was criminalized in the liberal democracies too), gypsies, and habitual criminals — by 1939 there were 10 camps with 25,000 inmates in a country of 80 million people. That doesn’t seem quite as evil as it was cracked up to be. Furthermore, since Himmler and Heydrich certainly did not lack persecuting zeal and organizational skill, we can conclude that the camp system was exactly as big as they thought it should be.
To give some context, according to Wikipedia — where statistics about Soviet atrocities tend to be on the low end due to Marxist policing — in March of 1940, the Soviet Gulag comprised 53 separate camps and 423 labor colonies in which approximately 1.3 million people were interned out of a population of 170 million. Whatever the real size, it was exactly as big as Stalin wanted it to be.
Although I have not been able to find records of similar forms of internment in liberal democracies for political dissidents and social nuisances, these surely did take place. But even in the absence of these numbers, it it seems clear that Hitler’s camps were far more similar to the prisons of liberal democracies than the Soviet Gulag to which they are always likened.
Of course, these were peacetime numbers. Under the exigencies of war, Hitler’s camp system expanded dramatically to house hostile populations, prisoners of war, and conscript laborers, which is another topic.
(6) Hitler’s anti-Semitism is often put forward as evidence of evil. Hitler himself thought that certain forms of anti-Semitism were repugnant if not outright evil: religious anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism based on ressentiment, gutter populist scapegoating, etc. His repugnance for such phenomena prejudiced him against anti-Semitism as such. But his personal experiences in Vienna, combined with serious reading eventually led him to a dispassionate, scientifically based, and historically informed anti-Semitism.
When Hitler took power, Germany had a relatively small Jewish population. His basic policy was to prevent any further German-Jewish genetic admixture, remove Jews from positions of power and influence, and encourage Jews to emigrate. By the outbreak of the Polish war, Germany’s Jewish population had been dramatically reduced. But due to Hitler’s war gains, millions of new Jews fell into his remit. More about this anon. Stolfi is somewhat circumspect in passing judgment about Hitler’s peacetime Jewish policy. But we can safely say that it was no more evil than, say, the British treatment of Boer non-combatants or the American treatment of the Plains Indians.
(7) Regarding Hitler’s foreign policy exploits as Chancellor — including rearmament, pulling out of the League of Nations, remilitarizing the Rhineland, the annexation of the Sudetenland and Austria, the annexation of Bohemia, and the war with Poland — Stolfi writes, “every international crisis that involved Hitler in the 1930s stemmed from an iniquity on the part of the Allies in the Paris Peace Conference of 1919” (p. 316). According to Stolfi, in all of these crises, morality was on Hitler’s side, and he lauds Hitler for conducting them with restraint and relative bloodlessness — at least up until the Polish war.
These were hardly the outrageous, unendurable moral provocations of Allied propaganda that justified Britain and France starting a World War because Hitler, having exhausted diplomatic negotiations, started a war with Poland to recover German lands and peoples subjected to horrific Polish oppression. The British and French simply could not grasp that, in Stolfi’s words, “a world-historical personality had marched, outraged, out of the desert of shattered Flanders fields, and the former Allies had not even superior morality to shield themselves from him” (p. 317).
(8) Stolfi interprets Operation Barbarossa against the USSR as a colonial war of conquest as well as a crusade to rid Europe of the scourge of Bolshevism. From an ethnonationalist perspective, of course, Hitler’s aim to reduce Slavs to colonized peoples was evil. Furthermore, it was more evil than British, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Belgian, American, and Russian imperialism directed at non-European peoples, because it is always worse to mistreat one’s own blood than foreigners. But it was certainly not uniquely evil in the annals of human history. If Genghis Khan and Timur the Lame can be the subjects of objective historical assessments, then Barbarossa does not disqualify Hitler.
Stolfi does not treat Barbarossa as a necessary war to preempt Stalin’s planned invasion of Europe. I wanted to ask Stolfi his thoughts about the thesis defended by Viktor Suvorov and Joachim Hoffmann in an interview, but that was not to be. If they are right, of course, than there was no evil at all in launching Barbarossa, although one can justly criticize the excesses of its execution.
(9) According to Stolfi, Hitler’s darkest deeds are the massacre of 3.1 million Soviet POWs captured in the opening months of Barbarossa and the killing of 4.5 million Jews in what is known as the Holocaust. Stolfi is certainly a Hitler revisionist, but I do not know whether he is a Holocaust revisionist or not, since I am unsure if it is legal for him to think that “only” 4.5 million Jews were killed by the Third Reich. I had not even heard of the 3.1 million Soviet POWs, which Stolfi mentions only a couple of times in passing. But of course I have heard of the Holocaust, to which Stolfi dedicates the last two paragraphs of the book (pp. 461–62). Such a brief treatment may itself constitute revisionism, at least in France, where Jean-Marie Le Pen was fined for saying that the Holocaust was only a footnote to the Second World War. Given that some footnotes are longer than the paragraphs in question, Stolfi might have gotten in trouble in the land of liberté. Stolfi’s treatment, however, is a welcome corrective to the Jewish tendency to treat World War II as merely the backdrop of the Holocaust.
Of course, just as Hitler is our age’s paradigm of an evil man, the Holocaust is the paradigm of an evil event. Stolfi does not dispute that the massacre of 7.6 million people is evil. But he does not think it is uniquely evil in World War II or the annals of history in general. Winston Churchill, for example, was responsible for the starvation of millions of Indians whose food was seized for the war effort. He was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of German non-combatants in strategically unnecessary terror bombings of German cities. He was responsible for the expulsion of 14 million Germans from their homes in Eastern and Central Europe, up to two million of whom died. Was Churchill evil? His apologists, of course, would argue that his actions were necessitated by the exigencies of war and the pursuit of the greater good. But Hitler’s apologists, if there were any, could argue the very same thing and be done with it. If Churchill, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Julius Caesar, and other members of the Million Murder club can receive fair treatment in a biography, then why not Hitler?
Stolfi compares the Holocaust to Julius Caesar’s 10 year conquest of Gaul, in which he killed more than a million armed men and reduced another million to slavery. One million civilian non-combatants were also killed or reduced to slavery. Some particularly troublesome tribes were entirely exterminated because they were “irreconcilable, menacing, and useless either as allies or slaves” (p. 38). Stolfi points out, however, that Caesar’s acts “revealed harshness of almost incredible proportion,” but his acts were “based on realism and prudence in the face of perceived danger — scarcely sadism and cruelty” (p. 38). Likewise, Stolfi argues that “Hitler took the action of pitiless massacre as a last resort in the face of a perceived irreconcilable enemy” and his actions “showed virtually nothing that can be interpreted as sadism, cruelty, or ingrained hate as opposed to temporary fury in the carrying out of the action” (p. 39).
Hitler’s massacres, terrible though they may be, do not prove that he is an evil man, since even good men might resort to such measures in direst extremity. Moreover, even if they were expressions of evil, they were not unique expressions of unique evil but all too common in the annals of history. But, again, only in Hitler’s case are they treated as insuperable objections to serious historical treatment.
In sum, Stolfi argues that Hitler cannot be seen as evil if that means that he was motivated by sadism, psychopathy, hatred, or a neurotic need for power and attention. Instead, Hitler was motivated, first and foremost, by love of his people, beyond which were wider but less pressing concerns with the larger Aryan race, European civilization, and the welfare of the world as a whole. Because Hitler believed that the things he loved were imperiled by Jewry, Bolshevism, and Anglo-Saxon capitalism, he fought them. And when the fight became a world conflagration, he fought them with a remarkable hardness and severity. But his essentially decent character and positive ends remained unchanged. Thus for Stolfi, Hitler is a good man who did some bad things as well as good things — a good man who made many good decisions and some catastrophic mistakes.
A Dark World Historical Personality
But there is a sense in which Stolfi thinks that Hitler is beyond the very categories of good and evil, at least as far as historians should be concerned. Stolfi argues that Hitler was a great man, like such great conquerors as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Mohammed, and Napoleon. (Stolfi makes scant mention of unarmed prophets like the Buddha or Jesus.) According to Stolfi, if one were to freeze Hitler’s life at the end of 1942, he would have to be considered one of history’s greatest statesmen and conquerors. And even if one plays the film all the way to the end, Stolfi argues that the Allies did not win World War II so much as Hitler lost it, which itself underscores his greatness and the relative nullity of his opponents.
Indeed, Stolfi argues that Hitler was more than just a great man but one of Hegel’s “world-historical individuals,” who inaugurates a new stage in human history and cannot be judged or comprehended by the standards of the previous stage. Stolfi, it seems, detaches this concept from Hegel’s overall view that world-historical individuals advance history toward the Providential goal of universal freedom, a goal that Hitler, of course, rejected in favor of particularisms of race and nation. Sadly, though, Hitler may have advanced the universalist agenda in defeat, through no intention of his own.
But, as another prophetic figure once said of World War II, “the war’s not over as far as I’m concerned,” meaning that history is still unfolding, including the consequences of Hitler’s actions. So it remains to be seen whether Hitler will contribute to the victory or defeat of universalism. If racial nationalism — of which Hitler is an inexpungeable part — defeats the drive toward a homogeneous global society, then Hitler would be a world historical figure of an entirely new order: not an agent of “progress,” but of its termination; the man who ended the “end of history” and started the world anew; the man who took the ascending line of progress and inscribed it within a cyclical view of history, whether interpreted in the widely variant Traditionalist or Spenglerian senses.
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Hitler: Beyond Evil and Tyranny is a remarkable book that I recommend to all my readers. It is an audacious project executed with clarity and dry humor. Sometimes Stolfi seems to go a bit too far, perhaps just to test his dialectical skills. For instance, he even defends Hitler as a painter. He does a surprisingly good job, but I will still not budge from my conviction that Winston Churchill was Hitler’s superior in this — and only this — regard.
This book is even more remarkable because it is the work of a mainstream military historian. Let us hope that it clears the way for other genuinely historical studies of Hitler and the Third Reich. This really is an inevitable development as the generations that lived through the war die off. Furthermore, we are now living in a multipolar world with new rising powers — Russia, China, India — that are free of Jewish cultural and political hegemony and hungry for a genuine understanding of Hitler and the Second World War.
White Nationalism would, of course, still be true and good even if Hitler were every bit the monster and tyrant that his enemies claim. But White Nationalists should still welcome Stolfi’s book because reducing the cloud of moral hysteria and denigration that surrounds Hitler somewhat lowers the impediment we have to step over. Stolfi takes some of the sting out of the inevitable accusation that we are “just like Hitler” — which, it turns out, is an undeserved compliment.