Psychologist, journalist and educator; author of “A Short Introduction to the History of Human Stupidity”, “Life Begins at Forty” “The Twilight of the American Mind”, “The Psychology of Achievement”, and other works.
Hitler is the William Jennings Bryan of Germany.
The primary issue in Germany today, only on a vaster and more menacing scale, is political and religious fundamentalism, much as we Americans observed and hooted at it during the Scopes trial in Tennessee.
A magnificent and persuasive orator, Hitler is the foster-father of political fundamentalism in Central Europe. Of Czecho-slovak and Austrian parent-age, he first gained a foothold among the Austrian hill-billies whose ignorance, provincialism, and illiteracy is a painful reminder of our own Kentucky – Tennessee – Arkansas species, which became suddenly vocal, offensive, and mildly menacing several years ago.
Hitler lacks Bryan’s common sense. Furthermore, the Austrians and Germans are in a plight so desperate that the consequences of Hitler’s despotism far outweigh the most far-fetched attempts of the fundamentalist Bryan to dominate American politics and religion.
Why does Hitler dominate Germany today? Just as in the United States the great expansion of industry drew millions of country-folk to the cities in quest of factory jobs, so in Germany. Thus we find in the German factory centers many ardent Hitlerites, most of whom are hillbillies in overalls. And their ignorance is quite as profound as that of our own Arkansas species. (Of course, the travel bureaus won’t tell you this.) Hence they are more readily moved to action by dramatic and oratorical persuasion, especially when the latter support their own ignorance and prejudice, than by careful reading, of which they do none, or analytical thinking, of which they are incapable.
But Hitler is supported not only by the hill-billy from the sticks. A large part of the German middle class stands behind him, but with skeptical enthusiasm. Why? They have been hopelessly ruined, first, by the war, and then by the interminable post-war disasters of German business. These people have reached a state of utter desperation. Their point of view today is pretty much that of certain middle-class business men in the United States who support, every move to give dictatorial powers to our own President on the very simple theory that it is better to get something done in a thorough fashion than to get nothing done after the best constitutional manner.
The move for this point of view is ten times stronger in Germany than in the United States. Doubtless thousands of Germans who detest Hitler are willing to give him a chance to follow through. What Hitler will soon realize, however, is that, if he fails to get results, the hemp will tighten around his neck before the summer wanes. (This is not a threat. It is merely a prediction.)
Above these two classes, we find a very small, highly sophisticated, and political-minded group who realize the futility of fighting Cyclops with fine words. They believe that lower-class fanaticism and the politics of desperation must run their course like a tropical fever.