Tuesday, March 10, 2015

It's Not The Necronomicon, But It's Bad Enough

Those of you who are interested in horror fiction and familiar with the works of H. P. Lovecraft know about The Necronomicon, an ancient book of mind-numbing evil that appears in many of Lovecraft’s works, usually accompanied by adjectives like "abhorred," "shunned," and "detested." It was a book so evil that its name often went unspoken and those who owned copies frequently met gruesome ends; most copies known throughout history were said to  have been rounded up and destroyed except for a very few kept under close guard. Not many books have received this much negative attention, but at least one other one has ... Mein Kampf, the political manifesto written by Adolf Hitler in the 1920s. In its way, Mein Kampf is the Necronomicon of politics.

This is why there was a great stir in Germany recently when it was announced that, for the first time since the end of World War II, Mein Kampf* would be published and made available for sale in Germany next year. It has been banned from reprinting in Germany since 1945 because the government of the state of Bavaria, which owns the copyright, has blocked all attempts to reissue the book, which was once the virtual Bible of the Nazi Party and the Third Reich. But the copyright expires in December of this year, and a German historical society plans to issue a heavily-annotated edition of the book, much to the chagrin, if not outright anger, of many in Germany and around the world.

Contrary to what I had earlier understood, the book was never actually banned in postwar Germany; only its reprinting was, and those who wanted to read it were usually able to find a copy in a library or antiquarian bookstore, or to buy one in another country. However, because of its unique role as the formal documentation of Hitler's political and social philosophies, its distribution and reading were officially discouraged, particularly with the recent growth in neo-Nazi skinhead movements in various parts of Germany.

I have read parts** of Mein Kampf in both the original German and in English translation. I can tell you without fear of exaggeration that it's one of the worst books I've ever read***, both because of its ugly content and because of its turgid, often nearly unreadable style. Nevertheless, it remains popular with those who sympathize with the hatreds and political rants of the Nazi era, and is important for that reason alone if no other – a civilized, cultured nation led the world into a horrifying conflict and allowed itself to be virtually destroyed because it followed the deranged philosophy documented in its pages.

A discussion of the pros and cons of reissuing Mein Kampf is timely in view of the ongoing debate in this country about allowable limits on freedom of speech. As I’ve said before, I tend to believe that there should be as few limits as possible on freedom of speech because it’s easier to recognize and contest bad ideas when they are presented in open forum. Forbidding discussion of certain topics and positions simply drives the discussion underground and allows those who hold distasteful ideas to live in their own self-confirming ideological bubble, free of the need to defend their ideas against counterargument. Allowing free and open discussion of ideas doesn’t grant them credence, but it does force people to defend their positions.

Of course, we all know that in today’s supercharged social and political environment, quaint things like facts and logic seldom carry the day. In fact, for many people, they are irrelevant distractions from things they absolutely know to be true. Facts are facts only if they support a previously-held position, and logic is not a method of forcing rational and defensible thought, but a highfalutin’ way of posing gotcha-style questions.

Participatory democracy requires an educated population willing to engage in reasoned debate. This is why sound education, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press are so vital to our survival and prosperity. To the extent that we sacrifice education on the altar of budget cuts and political and religious agendas and treat freedom of speech and the press as less important than the right to bear arms, we undercut the very foundation of our nation. When a book like Mein Kampf is suppressed, it gains an allure that its content does not earn. When we posit that certain ideas cannot be discussed or certain words used because they might offend someone, we lose the ability to drag unpleasant issues into the open where they can be debated and debunked.

So …

Go ahead and read Mein Kampf, if you can get through it, and ask yourself how such a collection of poorly-written, half-baked ideas managed to lead the world to ruin. Sometimes, The Necronomicon can look pretty good in comparison.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* The title translates as "My Struggle." Hitler originally wanted to call it, “Four and  a Half Years of Struggle Against Lies, Stupidity, and Cowardice,” but his publisher suggested the shorter, and presumably more salable, title.

** I couldn't get through the whole thing.

*** Others feel the same way. A review of the book on Amazon.com is typical, noting that “… Beyond the anger, hatred, bigotry, and self-aggrandizing, Mein Kampf is saddled with tortured prose, meandering narrative, and tangled metaphors.”


eViL pOp TaRt said...

A very interesting book review. I thought it might be awful, but thanks for confirming that impression.
H. P. Lovecraft isn't my pot of tea, also. :)

Linda Kay said...

Such and interesting and informative post. I've read neither book, nor do I have any interest in doing so. I thought the review on Amazon that you noted was interesting. Why would anyone get it after reading that? I agree in the freedom of speech. It's the commentary we don't see that gets us into trouble.

Duckbutt said...

I saw that book once in German, with Gothic letters. It looked daunting. Thanks for the review.

Mike said...

Here's your retirement project. Ghost rewrite it making it dumber than it already is and republish.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

If I bought it, I would get dirty looks at the bookstore. An old Alabama saying, "Son't pee in your water hole." I would hate never being able to go back to it.