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The_Rhetoric_of_Hitler's_Battle

The_Rhetoric_of_Hitler's_Battle - Burke Kenneth “The...

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Unformatted text preview: Burke, Kenneth. “The Rhetoric of Hitler’s ‘Battle.’” In On Symbols and Society. Edited and with an Introduction by Joseph R. Gusfield. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989. pp.211—231. The presence of fascistic thinking in America was of great concern to Burke, as Was evidenced in his famous “The Rhetoric of Hitler's ‘Battle,”’ which was deiivered at the Third Congress in June, 1939. The speech was a scaled back version of the essay Burke had already had accepted by The Southern Review and that would appear a month later in July, 1939. This essay also appears in The Philosophy of Literary Form, 1941, rpt. Berkeiey: U of California 1’, 1973. In “The Rhetoric of Hitler’s ‘Battle,”’ Burke describes his purpose as follows: “Let us try also to discover what kind of ‘medicine’ this medicine-man [Hitler] has concocted, that we may know, with greater accuracy,, exactly what to guard against, if we are to forestall the concocting of similar medicine in America.” 210 Rhetorical Action of course, if the myth had-been interpreted as figuring a motive beyond the reach of ideology, the motive of the myth would be felt to lie be— yond the motivational order treated in the competing ideologies. Its motive would be “ultimate,” as the motives of the ideologies were not. True: the fact is that the myths in their heyday are taken literally, with« out the preparatory discipline of Socratic criticismw—and to this extent they do lend themselves to admonitory analysis as ideologies. But only a “philosophy of the myth” (and the Platonist dialectic might be called that) could reveal their true nature, in figuring a motive beyond socio» logical knowledge, a movement from and toward a real and ultimate universal ground. 13 {Rhetorical Analysis The Rhetoric of Hitler’s “Battle” The appearance of Mein Kampf in unexpurgated translation has called forth far too many vandalistic comments. There are other ways of burning books than on the pyre—w—and the favorite method of the hasty reviewer is to deprive himself and his readersby inattention. I maintain that it is thoroughly vandalistic for the reviewer to content himself with the mere. inflicting of a few symbolic wounds upon this book and its author, ofan intensity varying with the resources of the revieWer and the time at his disposal. Hitler’s “Battle” is exasperating, even nauseating; yet the fact remains: If the reviewer but knocks off a few adverse attitudinizings and calls it a day, with. a guaranty in ad— vance that his article will have a favorable reception among the decent members of our population, he is contributing more to our gratificm tion than to our enlightenment. 7 Here is the testament of a man who swung at great people into his wake. Let us watch it carefully; and let us watch it, not merely to discover some grounds for prophesying what political move is to fol— low Munich, and what move to follow that move, etc.; let us try also to discover what kind of “medicine” thismedicine man has concocted, that we may know, with greater accuracy, exactly what to guard against, if we are to forestall the concocting of similar medicine in America. ‘ , Already, in many quarters of our country, we are “beyond” the stage where we are being saved from Nazism by our virtues. And fas— cist integration is being staved off, rather, by the conflicts among our vices. Our vices cannot get together in a grand united front of preju~ dices; and the result of this frustration, if 'or until they succeed in surmounting it, speaks, as the Bible might say, “in the name of” de— mocracy. Hitler found a panacea, a “cure for what ails you,” a “snake— oil,” that made such sinister unifying possible within his own nation. From “The Rhetoric of Hitler’s ‘Battle,’ ” in The Philosophy of Literary Form, pp. 1'91m220. Reprinted by permission of The University of California Press. © 1973 by The Regents of the University of California. 211 i . 1 212 . Rhetorical Action And he was helpful enough to put his cards face up on the table, that we might examine his hands. Let us, then, for God’s sake, examine them. This book is the well ofNazi magic; crude magic, but effective. A people trained in pragmatism should want to inspect this magic. '1 Every movement that would recruit its followers from among many discordant and divergent bands must have some spot toward which all roadslead. Each man may get there in his own way, but it must be the one unifying center of referencefor all. Hitler considered this mat— ter carefully, and decided that this center must be not merely a cen~ tralizing hub of ideas, but a mecca geographically located, toward which all eyes'could turn at the appointed hours of prayer (or, in this case, the appointed hours of prayer—in—reverse, the hours of vitupera~ tion). So he selected Munich, as the materialization of his unifying panacea. As he puts it: The geo—political importance of a center of a movement cannot be over— rated. Only the presence of such a center and of a place, bathed in the magic of a Mecca or 3 Rome, can at length give a movement that force which is rootedin the inner unity and in the recognition of a hand that repreSents this unity. If a movement must have its Rome, it must also have its devil. For as Russell pointed out years ago, an important ingredient of unity in the Middle Ages (an ingredient that long did its unifying work despite the many factOrs driving toward disunity) was the symbol of a com— mon enemy, the Prince of Evil himself. Men who can unite on nothing else can unite on the basis of a foe shared by all. Hitler himself states the case very succinctly: As a whole, and at all times, the efficiency of the truly national leader consists primarily in preventing the division of the attention of a people, and always in concentrating it on a single enemy. The more uniformly the ' fighting will of a people is put into action, the greater will be the magnetic force of the movement and the more powerful the impetus of the blow. It is partof the genius of a great leader to make adversaries of different fields appear as always belOnging to one category only, because to weak and unstable characters the knowledge that there are various enemies will lead only too easily to incipient doubts as to their own cause As soon as the wavering masses find themselves confronted with too many enemies, objectivity at once steps in, and the question is raised , ' policy was exemplified in hi ' an “international” devil, the “international Jew” ternational, universal, “catholic” pattern is, -I think, one terrifi n had a powerful the scene. Religion osperity of poverty,” upon the use of ways for ngs and handicapsinto a goodmbut capitalism enemy long before org ' is based upon the “pr converting our sufferi its own way that it c an’t sell its gadgets even after it h to feel that human as trained people dignity, the “higher standard of living,” could be . So, we have, as unifying step number 0 materialized, in the visihl e, point—to~able form of people with a certain ’ kind of “blood,” a burles que of contemporary neopositivism’s ideal of meaning, which insists upon a material reference. Once Hitler has thus essentialized his enemy, all “ forth is automatic. _ )ut the enormous amount of evidence to show that the jewish worker 1 “international Jew stock exchange capitalist,” Hitler replies with one hundred percent regularity: Th ' ' ' ' ' u - - ‘ g with which the oint to “Aryans” A as his conspir ' ' ' that the “Aryan” l 138 been “seduced” The sexual symbolism that runs he, the international devil proof” hence» The masses are “ dOminating male. This I nale, as orator, woos theinwand, when he has won them, he comma nds them. The rival male, t ' i | mun—mm...“ " 2 i 4 Rhetorical Action would on the contrary “seduce” them. If he succeeds, he poisons their blood by interiningling with them. Whereupon, by purely associative connections of ideas, we are moved into attacks upon syphilis, pros« titution, incest, and other similar misfortunes, which are introduced as a kind of “musical” argument when he is on the subject of “hlood«~ poisoning” by intermarriage or, in its “spiritual” equivalent, by the infection of “Jewish” ideas, such as democracy.1 The “medicinal” appeal of the Jew as scapegoat operates from an~ other angle. The middle class contains, within the mind of each men}; ber, a duality: its members simultaneously have a cult of money and a detestation of this cult. When capitalism is going well, this conflict is left more or less in abeyance. But when capitalism is balked, it comes to the fore. Hence, there is “medicine” for the “Aryan” mem- bers of the middle class in the projective device‘of the scapegoat, whereby the “bad” features can be allocated to the “devil,” and one can “respect himself” by a distinction between “good” capitalism and “bad” capitalism, with those of a different lodge being the vessels of the “bad” capitalism. It is doubtless the “relief” of this solution that spared Hitler the necessity of explaining just how the “Jewish plot” was to work out. Nowhere does this book, which is so full of war plans, make the slightest attempt to explain the steps whereby the triumph of “Jewish Bolshevism,” which destroys all finance, will be the triumph of “ ewisb” finance. Hitler well knows the point at which _ his “elucidations” should rely upon the lurid alone. The question arises, in those trying to gauge Hitler: Was his selec» tion of the Jew, as his unifying devil~function, a purely calculating act? Despite the quotation I have already given, I- believe that it was not. The vigor with which he utilized it, I think, derives from a much more complex state of affairs. It seems that, when Hitler went to Vienna, in a state close to total poverty, he genuinely suffered. He lived among the impoverished; and he describes his misery at the spectacle. He was sensitive to it; and his way of manifesting this sensitiveness impresses me that he is, at this point, wholly genuine, as with his wincing at the broken family relationships caused by alcoholism, which he in turn relates to impoverishment. During this time he began his attempts at political theorizing; and his disturbance was considerably increased by the skill with which Marxists tied him into knots. One passage in particular gives you reason, reading between the lines, to believe that 1. Hitler also strongly insists upon the total identification between leader and people. Thus, in wooing the people, he would in a roundabout way be wooing himself. The thought might suggest how the Fiihrer, dominating the feminine masses by his diction, would have an incentive to remain unmarried. . . . awn-megawa- :v Rhetorical Analysis 2 1 5 the dialecticians of! the class struggle, in their skill at blasting his mud— dled Speculations, put him into a state of uncertaintythat was finally “solved” by rage: The more I argued with theta, the more I got ’to know their-dialectics. First they counted on the ignorance of their adversary; then, when there was no way out, they themselves pretended stupidity. If all this was of no avail, they refused to understand or they changed the subject when driven into a corner; they brought up truisms, but they immediately transferred ' their acceptance to quite different subjects, and, if attacked again, they gave way and pretended" to know nothing exactly. 'Wherevet one attacked one of these prophets, one’s hands seized slimy jelly; it slippedthrough one’s fingers only to collect again in the next moment. If one smote one of them so thoroughly that, with the bystanders watching, he could but agree, _ and if one thus thought he had advanced at least one step, one was greatly astonished the following day. The Jew did not in the least remember the day before, he continued to talk in the same old strain as if nothing had happened, and if indignantly confronted, he pretended to be astonished and could not remember anything except that his assertions had already been proved true the day before. Often [was stunned. _ One did not know what to admire more: their giibness of tongue or their skill in lying. I gradually began to hate them. At this point, I think, he is tracing the spontaneous rise of his anti~ Semitism. He tells how, once he had discovered the “cause” of the misery about him, he could confront it. Wherehe had had to avert his eyes, he could now positively welcome the scene. Here his drastic structure of acceptance Was being formed. He tells of the “internal happiness” that descended upon him. This was the time in which the greatest change I was ever to experience took piace in me. From a feeble cosmopolite I turned into a fanatical anti~Semite, and thence we move, by one of those associational tricks which he brings forth at all strategic moments, into a vision of the end of the world—wont of which in turn he emerges with his slogan: “I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator: By warding ofijcws I am fig/9b mg for the Lord’s wor ” (italics his). He talks of this transition as a period of “double life,” a struggle of “reason” and “reality” against his “heart.”2 It was as “bitter” as it . 2. Other aspects of the career symbolism: Hitier’s book begins: “Today I consider it my good fortune that Fate designated Braunau on the Inn as the place of my birth. For :5 l i l .i 216 Rhetorical Action was “blissful.” And finally, it was “reason” that won! Which prompts us to note that those who attack Hitlerism as a cult of the irrational should emend their statements to this extent: irrational it is, but it is carried on under the slogan of “Reason.” Similarly, his cult of war is developed “in the name of” humility, love, and peace. Judged on a quantitative basis, Hitler’s book certainly falls under the classification of hate. Its venom is everywhere, its charity is sparse. But the ration— alized family tree for this hate situates it in “Aryan love.” Some deep- probing German poets, whose work adumbrated the Nazi movement, did gravitate toward thinking in the name of war, irrationality, and _ hate. But Hitler was not among them. Afterall, when it is so easy to draw a doctrine of war out of a doctrine of peace, why should the astute politician do otherwise, particularly when Hitler has slung to gether his doctrines, without the slightest effort at logical symmetry? Furthermore, Church thinking always got to its wars in Hitler’s “sounder” manner; and the patterns of Hitler’s thought are a bastard~ ized or caricatured version of religious thought. I spoke of Hitler’s fury at the dialectics of those who opposed him when his structure was in the stage of scaffolding. From this we may move to another tremendously important aspect of this theory: his this small town is situated on the border between those two German States, the reunion of which seems, at least to us of the younger generation, a task to be furthered with every means our lives long,” an indication of his “transitional” mind, what Wordsworth might have called the “horderer.” He neglects to give the date of his birth, 1889, which is supplied by the editors. Again there is a certain “correctness” here, as Hitler was not “‘born” until many years later—but he does give the exact date of his war wounds, which were indeed formative. During his early years in Vienna and Munich, he foregoes protest, on the grounds that he is “nameless.” And when his party is finally organized and effective, he stresses the fact that his “nameless” period is over (i.e., he has shaped himself an identity). When reading in an earlier passage of his book some generaliza~ tions to the effect that one should not crystallize his political views until he is thirty, I made a note: “See what Hitler does at thirty.” I felt sure that, though such generaliza~ tious may be dubious as applied to people as a whole, they must, given the Hitler type of mind (with his complete identification between himself and his followers), be valid statements about himself- One should do what he did. ’lhe hunch was verified: about the age of thirty Hitler, in a group of seven, began working with the party that was to conquer Germany. I trace these steps particularly because l believe that the oratorwho has a strong sense of his oWn “rebirth” has this to draw upon when persuading his audiences that his is offering them the way to a “new life.” However, I see no categorical objection to this attitude; its menace derives solely from the values in which it is exemv plified. They may be wholesome or unwholesome. If they are unwholesome, but backed by conviction, the basic sincerity of the conviction acts as a sound virtue to reinforce a vicewand this combination is the most disastrous one that a people can encounter in a demagogue. Rhetorical Analysis 2 '1 7 attack upon the parliamentary. For it is again, 1 submit, an important aspect of his medicine, in its function as medicine for him personally and as medicine for those who were later to identify themselves with him. _ There is a “problem” in the parliamentb—and nowhere was this problem more acutely in evidence than in the pre—war Vienna that was to serve as Hitler’s political schooling. For the parliament, at its best, is a “babel” of voices. There is the wrangle of men representing inter‘ ests lying awkwardly on the bias across one another, sometimes op~ posing, sometimes vaguely divergent. Morton Prince’s psychiatric study of “Miss Beauchamp,” the case of a woman split into several subpersonalities at odds with one another, variously combining under hypnosis, and frequently in turmoil, is the allegory of a democracy fallen upon evil days. The parliament of the Habsburg Empire just priorto itscollapse was an especially drastic instance of such disrup- tion, such vocal diaspora, with movements that would reduce one to a disintegrated mass of fragments if he attempted to encompass the totality of its discordancies. So Hitler, suffering under the alienation of poverty and confusion, yearning for some integrative core, came to take this parliament as the basic symbol of all that he would move away from. He damned the tottering Habsburg Empire as a “State of Nationalities.” The many conflicting voices of the spokesmen of the many political blocs arose from the fact that various separationist movements of a nationalistic sort had arisen within a Catholic impe~ rial structure formed prior to the nationalistic emphasis and slowly breaking apart under its development. 80, you had this Babel of voices; and, by the method of associative mergers, using ideas as im— agery, it became tied up, in the Hitler rhetoric, with “Babylon,” Via enna as the city of poverty, prostitution, immorality, coalitions, half— measures, incest, democracy (i.e., majority rule leading to “lack of personal responsibility”), death, inter-nationalism, seduction, and any» thing else of thumbs—down sort the associative enterprise car-ed to add on this side of the balance. Hitler’s way of treating the parliamentary babel, I am sorry to say, was at one important point not much different from that of the cus— tomary editorial in our own newspapers. Every conflict among the parliamentary spokesmen represents a corresponding conflict among the material interests of the groups for whom they are speaking. But Hitler did not discuss the babel from this angle. He discussed it on a purely symptomatic basis. The strategy of our orthodox press, in thus. ridiculing the cacophonous verbal output of Congress, is obvious: by thus centering attack upon the symptoms of business conflict, as they 2 I 8 Rhetorical Action reveal themselves on the dial of political wrangling, and leaving the underlying cause, the business conflicts themselves, out of the case, they can gratify the very public they would otherwise alienate: namely, the businessmen who are the activating members of their reading pub— lic. Hitler, however, went them one better. For not only did he stress the purely symptomatic attack here. He proceeded to search for the “cause.” ...
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