HITLER  -  Monday September 14th, 2009

“I mean demagoguery, I mean highly-charged oratory, persuasive whipping up, rhetoric. Listen to me, if Hitler had been British would we, under similar circumstances have been moved, charged up, fired up, by his inflammatory speeches, or would we simply have laughed? Er, is English too ironic a language to support Hitlerian styles, would his language simply have rung false in our ears?”

Stephen Fry
(not the one that sold out to

I’m laughing. But then I’m also thinking. Hmm. Ignoring for a moment the larger questions of whether a Hitler (rather than the Hitler) is a conceivably anglophonic creation, I want to follow up Fry and Laurie’s discussion at a tangent.

Nietzsche. He suffered from an unknown and unusual disease: as his literary output increased, so his health degenerated. An introduction to Thus Spake Zarathustra (I forget which publisher, unfortunately) has Georges Batailles arguing that Neitzsche was afflicted with a maladie that caused him to be physically affected by thoughts. In other terms, words could bring him actual pain. Ideas could make him ill.

The argument follows that while he was developing his most radical thoughts he was in fact making himself very sick– for example his theories about the rise of Supermen (Übermensch); the Will to Power (cited as the inspiration for the title of Hitler’s famous propaganda film ‘Triumph of the Will‘) and the distinctions between a ‘Slave Morality’ and a ‘Master Morality’. Fascism (or however close Nietzsche got to it) is therefore posed as a type of insanity. Hitler, the extreme fascist (in case you hadn’t heard) would thus be the most extreme possible madman. Of course there are some obvious holes in the reasoning: Nietzsche was an outspoken anti-antisemite for one (he disowned his publisher, his mother, and his sister for their antisemitism).

All eyes back on Hitler. In this context, Adolf’s madness (which was also his reason for success) was caused by thoughts, and not necesarily by language, so that would allow for a Hitler that was British. But in reality, I think Fry and Laurie are right: the sequential thought patterns and cultural undertones of English are too rigid and sceptical to sustain Hitlerian styles. I don’t think we would have had the chance to laugh, he would have ended up as a mediocre part-time artist with a BA working as felt salesman in Dorset, content to spend his free-time painting sunsets.

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