THE DYNAMICS OF POLITICAL DISRUPTION
Any student of humanities can only marvel at Germany’s contributions to modern civilization. From Goethe, to Beethoven, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Schopenhauer, Spengler, Einstein, Von Braun, Diesel, just to name a few, the greatest and most significant post-Renaissance achievements in the fields of philosophy, music, literature and the arts, and in science and technology, are in no small measure the brainchild of some German thinker.
It was during this stage, too, that the idea of fascism developed and found its most fervent adherents in that country, foremost of whom was Adolf Hitler who, inspired by the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche, rose from obscurity to prominence and was able to establish the Third German Reich by advocating the fascistic idea of National Socialism (Nazism), the blueprint for which he laid out in his book, “Mein Kampf”, and by which he goose-stepped the Germans down the road to perdition.
How, then, can one possibly explain why the German people, from whose ranks came many of the most brilliant intellectuals in the world, allowed themselves to fall prey to the totalitarian tenets of that ideology that fomented one of the most, if not the most, despicable atrocities ever committed in modern human history?
Even though Hitler was unquestionably a gifted orator and writer, his success at selling his ideas to his people, across social classes, was certainly due to more than just the application of those talents. What effectively accounted for it, rather, was his ability to read the spirit of the times (zeitgeist), identify the social problems and the weaknesses of the political system, and exploit them to push his agenda by offering himself to the people as THE solution to those problems and inadequacies in a way that the people would consider him as the one who could see and understand their situation and articulate their thoughts and aspirations. He painted himself as the leader capable of hauling them out of the rut and into a “promised land”, through his eloquent and enticing words and promises that, coupled with forceful but devious actions, made him appear a demigod in the eyes of his emotionally charged listeners and followers.
In other words, Hitler knew he had to be able to speak to his people’s emotions instead of simply trying to convince their intellect. In communicating his messages, he had to go beyond their intellectual elements and focus more on their emotional contents in order to reach and capture the people’s imagination and their individual and collective psyche. He had to whip up their fears, biases, disenchantments, and sinking feeling of hopelessness, because these emotions generate the conditioned response of strong but irrational feelings that disrupt logical thinking and, therefore, produce the kind of hysteria that makes them open and susceptible to accepting and following his ideas and proposals, unquestioningly and unreservedly – a condition that his idol Nietzsche referred to and described as “Herd Mentality”.
Accordingly, Hitler was able to sell to his people his ideas without them being able to examine and uncover the nefarious agenda behind them, in spite of the fact that the Germans concededly possess exceptional intellectuality. He played on their post-WWI economic woes by ascribing them not on the worldwide recession of the 1930s but by playing on the anti-Semitic and anti-Marxist biases and phobia that were prevalent across the Atlantic at the time. No wonder, then, that when he ordered his cabal of Stormtroopers (the Brown Shirts) to sow and spread disorder and violence against these groups, and to destroy and confiscate their properties; and, later on, instructed his SS to gas and incinerate them, his blind followers more than willingly complied.
He also exploited the seething anger of the Germans over their humiliation by the victorious Allies though the Treaty of Versailles that officially ended WWI, under which Germany was not only assessed heavy war reparations that crippled its economy all the more but was also forced to give up its imperial colonies including the Alsace-Lorraine Territory which it was able to recover from France as a result of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.
As a consequence, Hitler was readily able to captivate and sway the emotion-stirred Germans to give him their unmitigated and unconditional trust and obedience (führerprinzip), for his and their own desire to redress those wrongs, get the economy back to its feet, recapture the grandeur of the lost German Empire, and buttress the idea of the supremacy of the German race. Hence, when he turned the government and society upside down to remodel them according to his plans, and then finally launched his scheme for German hegemony (“lebensraum”) by unleashing his armies against neighboring countries, the German people lined the streets of his victory parades, shouting “Heil Hitler” and proudly raising their arms in stiff Nazi salute.
Because of their blind adulation for their “god-sent and invincible” Führer, only a small segment of the German society saw and realized his hollow rhetoric and the implausibility of his plans and promises. Those who had the intellectual and moral courage to question him, for whom Hitler had nothing but scorn, were silenced or otherwise sent to hard-labor camps. The vast majority of the people whom he had gathered into a herd willingly gave up their mind and soul to his totalitarian leadership in exchange for his boastful promise to build them a Reich that shall “last a thousand years”, only to see it, and with it their lives, crumbled and literally reduced to rubbles in just a dozen years from its pompous investiture.
As we will see in the next part of this article, the dynamics of political disruption was at play in our own national experience, four decades later, when Ferdinand Marcos Sr. assumed totalitarian powers in pursuit of a “New Society”.