XX INTRODUCTION Hitler saw himself as the man of centuries, almost (although he himself expressly disclaimed so religious a title) the Messiah. He believed that he alone—or almost alone—both understood the crisis of our time and could correct it. For to him the defeat of Germany in the first World War was not merely a crisis of Germany : it was—as it had been to Oswald Spengler—a crisis of civilisation, the kind of crisis that occurs only at rare moments of history, can only be understood by those who have studied past history in terms of centuries, and can only be remedied by those who are prepared to launch and able to control those cataclysms and convulsions in which historic ages perish or are born. This cataclysmic view of history was an essential part of Hitler's ideas, and it is essential for us to understand it: for it was within this framework that he saw himself and the mission with which he credited himself, against this background that he judged other men, both in the present and in history. One of the clearest expressions of this view was uttered by him not in 1941, when it might easily be ascribed to the intoxication of power, but in 1924-5, when he was apparently finally defeated, and in prison. It is a passage which I have already quoted once; 1 but since Mein Kampf, though a book of fundamental importance, is, in general, both unreadable and unread, I shall make no excuse for quoting it again. "At long intervals of human history", he then wrote, "it may occasionally happen that the practical politician and the political philosopher are one. The more intimate the union, the greater are his political difficulties. Such a man does not labour to satisfy demands that are obvious to every philistine; he reaches forward towards ends that are comprehensible only to the few. Therefore his life is torn between hatred and love. The protest of the present generation, which does not understand him, wrestles with the recognition of posterity, for which he also works." 2 By 1941 Hitler's success had naturally confirmed him in this view that he both understood and could control the course of centuries. More and more his mind ranged over the history of mankind, its crucial stages, and the great men who had been the architects of its change. "A man who has no sense of history", he said, "is like a man 1 The Last Days of Hitler (2nd ed., 1950), p. 46. * Mein Kampf (English translation, London, 1939), p. 183.
THE MIND OF ADOLF HITLER XXI who has no ears or no eyes. He can live, of course, but what is that?" What was Hitler's interpretation of history? It was crude but clear, and—like all his views—buttressed by a vast array of arbitrarily selected facts stored in his astonishing memory and arranged in preconceived patterns by his restless, rigid, systematic mind. Further, although experience added new details and new illustrations to it, it remained, from at least 1923, absolutely clear and consistent. Hitler, like Spengler, saw history as a succession of human ages which could be defined by their "cultures", the totality of their social organisation and ideas. There was the ancient culture of Greece and Rome for which he expressed great enthusiasm—although, as Albert Speer has drily observed, "his conceptions on this subject were not based on any profound historical studies"; there was the "Germanic" Medieval culture which had been eclipsed at the Renaissance by the modern "capitalist" society of Western Europe; and there was that modern society which, again like Spengler, he believed to be in its turn sick unto death. How was it, he asked, that these cultures had so sickened or died? "I often wonder", he said, "why the Ancient World collapsed"; and his mind ranged over a series of possible answers to this perplexing question. Was it a decline of population? or climate? or was the Roman Empire rotted from within by Jewish Christianity? These were not academic questions, for their answers, to him, contained the answer to the great practical problem which he had long ago decided to solve. For just as the Roman Empire had sickened before the German barbarians fell upon it and destroyed it, so the civilisation of the West, he believed, was now sickening and would slowly die. Or would it be allowed to die? Would it not rather, like the Roman Empire, be conquered and absorbed by the new barbarian power which would ultimately replace it? But what would that new barbarian power be? On this topic also Hitler had brooded long, and, following "the iron law of historical development", 1 thought that he had found the answer. First of all, it was clear that the new power, whatever it was, must be a land-power. This was determined by technical fact. 1 Hitler Speaks, p. 47.