Skip to main content | Skip to navigation

 

September 1, 1996 -- Vol.1, no.2

Autocracy
A Lecture in St. Petersburg
by Alan Jacobs

This public lecture was presented in St. Petersburg, Russia, in February 1995.

Good Evening, I am glad to see all of you here. Dostoyevsky said in "Notes from the Underground" that "Petersburg [was] the most theoretical and intentional town on the whole terrestrial globe". So I am here tonight to share my theory about how men control one another and thereby limit each others freedom. And my intention and hope is to get you to figure out how to apply what I have said, that is, that this talk will give you some tools you can use to get, and keep your freedom.

The American humorist Mark Twain, once said: "It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either" (Following the Equator, Chapter 20. Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar). And the English writer George Orwell once said: "Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows. So, permit me share my equation with you tonight.

The questions are: "Why do people join political, religious, professional, or social movements, of whatever size, and surrender so completely, giving up, in the extreme, everything; their fortunes, their, critical thinking, their political freedom, their friends, families, even their own lives? What causes people to create a system or perhaps merely follow a system that creates Auschwitz, the Lubianka, the killing fields of Cambodia or that conjures a constricted and stilted art described by one of your great writers: Andrei Sinyavsky, in his essay "On Socialist Realism". As Milosz said in his introduction to the re-published version: "That anyone who opposes this system of aesthetics is committing a political offense might appear fantastic. But unfortunately, socrealism is not merely a question of taste. It is a philosophy too, and the cornerstone of official doctrine worked out in Stalin's days. Socrealism is responsible for the deaths of millions of men and women, for it is based in the glorification of the state by the writer and the artist, whose task it is to portray the state as the greatest good, and to scorn the sufferings of the individual." And Sinyavsky himself asks: "Can there be a socialist, capitalist, Christian, or Mohammedan realism?" And my answer is, yes, of course. It is a human effort at control and control of that type comes from what is common to all of us, fear. It transcends all boundaries, nationalities, religions and cultures. So my first answer to the question "why do people join these types of movements" is fear. We are all human and we are, all of us, afraid of something.

Autocracy is derived in fear. Autocracies use this in order to impose their view of reality, their particular version of the Truth, with a capital T. The object is control over more and more followers; ultimately, control over everyone. Either one follows or one is eliminated. They swallow large numbers of people, if their ambitions are realized, in proselytizing campaigns designed to play on these common fears. And they claim to be able to rescue people from their fear, to make them feel safe and secure. They claim to know of what people are afraid of, and to know what to do about it.

Polarization and overzealous fundamentalisms, whether religious, political, social, right, left, radical or reactionary, psychoanalytic or humanistic, scientific or spiritual, have gripped us with a particular intensity. Today we are faced with serious challenges to what Jacob Bronowski called "The Ascent of Man": "Knowledge is not a loose-leaf notebook of facts. Above all it is a responsibility for the integrity of what we are, primarily of what we are as ethical creatures. You cannot possibly maintain that informed integrity if you let other people run the world for you while you yourself continue to live out of a rag-bag of morals that come from past beliefs".

How do leaders and followers form a movement that eventually oppresses others and what is the relationship between them? The concept of existential life positions is helpful here. All of us relate inside ourselves and outside ourselves, that is, ourselves and others or, I and you. We decide, sometimes fairly early in life, what we think of ourselves and what we think of others. This reveals four possibilities. Either I like myself and I don't like you (+, -), or I don't like myself and I don't like you (-, -), or I like both of us (+, +), or I don't like myself and I like you (-, +). One position tends to become fixed and in times of stress we revert to it. Being locked into relating in ways other than the (+, +) is a symbiosis, or limiting mutualism, that restricts possibilities of action physically, socially or psychologically. So that two people might relate to each other from opposite positions (+,-) and (-,+). Each from his own position needs the other to relate in this specific way. This establishes the basis for expression, and confirms, one's own position, thus limiting the scope of the relationship and the means of expression. These ways of relating tend to become repetitive and prescribed.

(+, -) and (-, +) are defined as defensive existential positions, as my colleague Fanita English, so nicely puts it. That is, she thinks both of these positions are arrived at to ward off total feelings of despair (-,-). This despair gets forgotten but tends to resurface at critical times in life. "At those times we confront the feeling of "having fallen from grace". We develop the defensive existential positions to protect us from existential despair. Rousseau thought that everyone emerged out of childhood either with a slave or a tyrant mentality. A modification of these terms may be applied to the extremes of the two defensive existential positions, Master, Follower. Together they combine to enslave people therefore slave is an inaccurate term for "true believers", that is, people who need to find a marvelous parent who will take away all one's fears, define reality without questions and create the illusion of safety. Masters develop a (+,-) existential position and Followers develop a (-,+) existential position. The Master Follower relationship is a kind of psychological symbiosis formed from mutually complementary defensive existential positions.

The Master is oversure to the Followers complementary undersure. The Master is helpful to the Followers helpless. This usually is transformed into a secondary position for each: Bossy for the Master to rebellious for the Follower. The Master seeks people who will relate to them from a compliant child position and the Follower seeks powerful parents. They stroke each other in ways which are not really fulfilling. Both the giving and the receiving are artificially induced and therefore are like eating de-vitaminized food. This exacerbates the hunger even more, like drug addiction, which falsely seems to energize while inducing starvation. So seeds of mutually killing each other off, like what happened in Jonestown, are there from the beginning of the symbiotic relationship, even though both parties are mutually satisfied by the complementary stroking. Some masters are like locusts that devour everything in their wake, making a meal of everything.

From the `Grand Inquisitor" in Karamazov we have a definitive understanding of the mentality of the Follower: "So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship... Man is tormented by no greater desire than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over the gift of freedom with which he is born... Man prefers peace and even death to freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil".

This reminds me of a time after the Viet Nam War protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968. We had all been in the tear-gas a few times and were tired and a bit discouraged. We were watching a documentary about the annual migration of the wildebeests on the Serengeti Plain in East Africa. There were risks: Lions, Hyenas, river crossings etc. and someone asked why they were so free and we, with all our socialization, brain power and tool-using were not. No one had the answer. This bothered me for several days. It kept popping up in conversation. But no one had an answer. At the time I was working as an art therapist in an intensive care unit at a large psychiatric hospital. One day I asked one of the nurses the question and one of the patients overheard. I remember him as very disturbed, psychotic. He had a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Quick as anything he said: "Oh, that's easy. Freedom isn't safe".

Next one wonders about the social medium in which the Master/Follower is allowed to flourish. What of all those outside the core relationship; all those who don't join but are witnesses? There are usually many more of them than there are in the autocratic structure growing in their midst.This reveals a third type in the Autocratic system: the Bystander. Of the three types, they are the largest group. Many of them become followers for pragmatic reasons, manifesting no "true belief". They opportunistically join the movement for personal advancement.; they are often in the (+,-) life position although they do not qualify as Masters. Others succumb to pressure and join the Followers from a (-,+) position. They are afraid and allow themselves to be seduced by an illusion of safety experiencing inclusion as love.

The largest group of Bystanders are passive and give their tacit permission by saying and doing nothing. It seems all that can be done at the time. They continue to remain outside, knowing somehow that becoming a Follower is not right, or good. But they do not become Resisters for a good reason, terror. They avoid being noticed even when Masters are overthrown, often facilitating the rise of still another Master.They are motivated by the fear of death or imprisonment. Sometimes they are simply indifferent. A river needs a bed in which to flow. Bystanders are like rocks in the river, small by comparison to it and, more importantly, separated. They are strewn all over the riverbed and are not united in a grouping large enough to dam the river.

One is reminded of the case of Kitty Genovese, a famous incident in the United States. You may have heard of it. A young woman was being raped outside a large New York City apartment complex. She was screaming for help. It was the middle of the summer and many people had their windows open. No one did anything. No one came to her aid. Each in their own apartment. No one even called the police. She was murdered right there in the street in front of hundreds of witnesses and no one did anything. I wonder what would have happened if they had all been together in a large group.

Actually Bystanders have more power than they realize. For example, public protest was so strong in Germany in 1939 that Hitler was forced to close the Euthanasia program, the secret pre-war project to gas German citizens who were determined to be "defective". An important aspect of the silence of the Bystander is the selective use of terror. It neutralizes most people. The great Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski described it in his masterful book about the Shah of Iran. He records an interview with one Mahmud Azari, who was walking home down a deserted street one evening. He heard someone following and walked a bit faster. Suddenly he realized there were two or three people following and so walked even faster. But to his dismay there were even more, a group was after him. He started to run, realizing what was after him was a whole crowd. Terrorized, he jumped up, clutching the bars of a window and turned to see his pursuers... No one... The street was empty. He told Kapuscinski : "From then on I felt the fear. It would hit me at the most unexpected moments. I was ashamed but I couldn't deal with it. It began to disturb me profoundly. I thought with horror that by carrying that fear inside me I'd voluntarily become part of a system founded on fear. A terrible, yet indissoluble, relationship, a sort of pathological symbiosis, has established itself between me and the dictator."

Following the eating metaphor, we could say that Masters cook the meal. But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. Let me digress for a bit about power itself, power and eating. The Nobel laureate Elias Canetti spoke of this in his great work "Crowds and Power": "The road the prey travels through the body is a long one and on the way all its substance is sucked out of it. Everything useful is extracted 'till all that remains is refuse and stench. This process, which stands at the heart of every act of seizing, gives us a clue to the nature of power in general.... Anyone who wants to rule men, first tries to humiliate them, to trick them out of their rights and their capacity for resistance until they are as powerless before them as animals. He uses them like animals and even if he does not tell them so, in himself he always knows quite clearly that they mean just a little to him; when he speaks to his intimates he will call them sheep or cattle. His ultimate aim is to incorporate them into himself and to suck the substance out of them. What remains of them afterward does not matter to him. The worse he has treated them, the more he despises them. When they are of no more use, he disposes of them as he does his excrement, simply seeing to it that they don't poison the air of his house. He will not dare identify the individual stages of this process, even to himself."

Returning to the eating metaphor, one could say that the Master is the Master Chef who supervises the cooking of the meal and eats as much as he pleases. In most cases he gets the Followers to do his hunting and cooking, but he identifies the prey and dictates the recipe with which it is cooked. The Followers are the cooks, eat the meal as well, but they also want to be eaten by the Master, to be absorbed into his great crowd-body. The Master eats to become larger, stronger, the strongest. The Follower eats as well but also wants the safety of inclusion. The greater his fear, the greater the need for a strong leader who will digest him and keep him safe. Bystanders watch others eat and are initially outside the development of the Master-Follower relationship. People identified as the Source of Evil are seen, depending on the type of Master involved, as either harmful bacteria that must be destroyed, or as unclean food that must be purified before consumption. Slaves are the main body of the meal and are discarded as refuse after digestion. Resisters choose to disrupt the meal by destroying the kitchen and the restaurant.

Now allow me to be more specific about each type and role. There are two broad categories of Master: Ideological and Despotic. Masters such as Czar Nicholas of Russia, Somoza in Nicaragua, and Batista in Cuba, are despots perpetuating the interests of a small, privileged few. They possess no particular vision of the world, no ideology that claims a universal truth. Unlike Ideological Masters, they do not believe in history with a capital H, that is, that one can grasp in History answers that reveal cause and effect and from this understanding shape objective forms of action that will change the world in a precisely prescribed manner. They do not want so much to change the world as to dominate it for their own mundane interests. A good example of this type of Master is the American gangster of the 1920's and 30's Al Capone. He, like most despots, commanded only loyalty and obedience from his Followers.

Ideological Masters, on the other hand, claim insight into a universal truth only they can reveal. They claim to hold the key to the book of knowledge and revelation. They create or adhere to a rigidly defined ideology, either complete and comprehensive as with Lenin and Stalin, or somewhat incomplete as with Hitler. These ideologies are utopian in nature promising relief and salvation. Unlike Despotic rulers, Ideological Masters need love and admiration, more precisely, a kind of secular worship from their followers. They identify themselves as having a special mission, For example Hitler fashioned himself as the genius sent to the German people. Another example in my country is the militant Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan. He is a good example of the attempt at deification of the Ideological Master. In a speech at Madison square garden in New York City some years ago, he said to his followers: "They called him the Devil. They call me the Devil. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and fed the 5000 (the miracle of loaves and fishes) it was then that the authorities began to attack him. I am resurrecting the minds of black people from the dead, and they attack Farrakhan."

Ideological Masters identify a scapegoat. For Communists it is the bourgeoisie; for Farrakhan, as for Hitler... the Jews; for the Israeli militant Mayer Kahane, the Arabs; for Khomeini, Western civilization; for religious fundamentalists, secular humanism. I'm sure you can think of more examples. Despotic Masters do not do this. They are much more interested in accumulation of wealth. The Ideological Master seeks power, ultimate power if possible. He realizes that he must make a choice between riches and power. If one want to win the support and following of the masses, if he wants to become their hero, he must relinquish riches. And he must be willing to give his life for his cause. Despots do not do this. If they are faced by a stronger force, they steal as much money as they can and run, never to return. Ideological Masters assume heroic proportion. This is a necessary ingredient. The most important traditions center around heroes. They found the group and perform extraordinary feats that either save the group from destruction or enlarge it. As the American social psychiatrist Eric Berne said: "The most important hero psychologically is the founder of the group and thus may be called its primal leader. Primal leaders are canon makers. They make possible in practice the constitution, the laws and the culture. He may not actually set up the canon, but he gives it reinforcement. The historical canon-maker is the one who writes the constitution, but the traditional primal leader is the one who, by heroic deeds give it meaning by fighting or dying to make it possible.

The point should be made here that being a hero, setting up the group canon and being willing to die are in themselves not qualities characteristic of only Ideological Masters; as people like George Washington, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, indeed the great religious leaders possess these qualities. So what makes the Ideological leader a Master type? First, he must identify an enemy, though not just any will do. A source of evil must be found who helps create and sustain the special feeling so necessary for the formation of a group of Followers. How this source of evil is defined leads to a distinction between Ideological Masters: Enslaving and Converting. There is a third category, that of Destroying Masters. I will save that description for the end of this talk.

The Ideological Enslaving Master defines a specific group of people as the source of primordial evil. This helps form a clearly maintainable goal, known, clearly marked and near. The group, or crowd as Canetti called it, "is out for killing and it knows whom it wants to kill. One important reason for rapid growth... is that there is no risk involved... because the crowd has immense superiority on their side.... A murder shared with many others, is not only safe and permitted, but indeed recommended, irresistible to the great majority of men". Ideological Converting Masters need a source of evil as well, but in a different sense. They do not focus necessarily on a particular group, though they may, but rather on a an idea or concept such as a political philosophy, historical or religious tradition. The Converting Master attempts to transform the evil into converts to his cause. He allows that their evil is correctable and is willing to forgive if they will renounce their former ways and accept his definition of reality. Lenin is much different than Stalin or Hitler, as he defined a commonplace evil, one that is changeable. If the bourgeois will give up his decadent ways, he can be accepted into the socialist fold. Enslaving Masters see the evil as primordial, fundamental, primitive, and irrevocable, thus requiring isolation and removal from the society at large. Later when more primitive urges emerge in him, the need to isolate and enslave is transformed into the need to kill. More about that later.

Now let us turn to the relationship between the Master and the Follower.

Masters present themselves as having the answer, the way, the solution to all the people's fears. This mechanism is aptly described in Irwin Shaw's play "Man In The Glass Booth". Col. Dorf, a suspected Nazi war criminal is on trial in Jerusalem. He turns to the gallery of observers in the courtroom and says:

"Let me speak to you of our Fhrer... He who answered our German need, he who rescued us from our most terrible fears, he who made us believe in ourselves.... To whom did he appeal? To the people...Why? Why did we love him? Because we were afraid and we knew he was afraid. We did not know what he feared but he did, and he told us, and because we loved him, we believed him. The Jews!... It was marvelous to know, finally, what frightened us.; to have it all go away so easily. And therefore, to end his fear and our fear we had to destroy them. That was the need he satisfied in us. That is why he became our good and wise father. That is why we loved him. While he lived, Germany lived, and the people demanded it. We never denied him... This marvelous father, to tell us what we are afraid of and to tell us how to get rid of out fears forever, for anytime, anywhere, any- place. That is whom we will love. That is for whom we will kill and in killing we would live and be cleansed of fear."

Of course it wasn't just the Jews. It was just the most practical way to attract followers. Later Poles, Russians, Gypsies and more, many more were included. More on that later as well.

The Master has to maintain the status of a powerful prophet who can improve the quality of Followers' lives dramatically, even create a utopia. He may even succeed in this for a while. For example, Hitler improved the quality of life in Germany dramatically. The price people paid was their freedom.

Finally, I want to turn to description of the Destroying Master, a category of Ideological Master. What seems to me the crucial question of our time is why genocide? Why did they, do they, do it? Many people refuse to answer this question, claiming it an unanswerable dilemma, a riddle beyond understanding. Most think that what the Germans did was a unique event, genocide having never before occurred in this form. Even if you are an anti-semite you probably just want the Jews to go away and you don't want a holocaust. But let us include others in the analysis. After all, if my information is correct, didn't this city lose one third of its population during Stalin's purges of the 1930's? When it comes to the Nazis, many say they were beasts, a special, brutal breed, somehow outside normal humanity, definitely different from the rest of us. Does not this view limit our ability to understanding of what happened? Is prevention possible if we have no understanding? Remembering is not enough, important as it is. I think we must move beyond this and figure out what happened. To explain these actions in human terms means we must stop dehumanizing the dehumanizers. In order to do this do we not have to admit the terrible possibility that we too are capable of similar acts?

Implying that the Nazis, or Stalin and Beria are ultimate evil and we are good polarizes "good" and "evil" as separate and ultimate qualities that are intolerant of mutual existence in a single individual. Paradoxically the search for absolute good and evil explains in part why they did it. The Nazis, and for that matter many Germans, envisioned themselves as ultimate good and the Jews as primordial evil. Gypsies, Slavs, Homosexuals, etc., were a lesser, surrogate evil, at least temporarily.

Masters dominate and followers want to be dominated. Sadomasochistic desires, In Eric Fromm's term, to control, or be controlled, which to some degree exist in all of us, are exaggerated in the autocratic personality. The Master from the (+, -) position says "I am more than you" and the Follower from the (-, +) position says "I am less than you". What develops is an overlapping hierarchy of sado-masochism in which each Follower, presents two faces to the world, Janus like, relating to those above from the (-, +) position and to those below from the (+, -) position. So each, with the exception of the Master, is a Follower to those above and a Master to those below.

In order to understand this type we need to assign qualities that are associated with Necrophilia, that is an abnormal attraction to the dead. Forms of Necrophilia I have classified elsewhere as incipient, primary, flagrant, and atrocious.

Incipient Necrophilia is characterized by experiencing pleasure , satisfaction and or fascination with such things as attending funerals or post-funeral gatherings, reading about the dead, watching newsreels, or films depicting scenes of war, death, destruction, torture and murder.

Primary Necrophilia occurs when the need is more extreme and the person is drawn continuously to moments with the dead, for example, having sexual contact with corpses, although the love of the dead need not necessarily be sexual. A person might just need to be close to death in some way, like working in a hospice, or on a terminal cancer ward, driving a crash ambulance, or working in a mortuary.

Flagrant Necrophilia involves killing animals and humans for the sense of power and strength it produces, this for the satisfaction produced by a kind of triumph over death. This form of Necrophilia characterizes most Ideological Enslaving Masters. In such cases the individual has to cause death in order to gloat over being alive. I think this is a reaction to an extreme fear of death, coupled with a certain degree of paranoia. This characteristic can also be observed in serial killers, mercenary soldiers, and even in some conventional soldiers who are attracted to combat because of the feelings of power killing engenders.

And finally we come to a partial answer to the question I posed. It can be found, I think, in the idea of Atrocious Necrophilia, which is characterized by the need to destroy more than a few humans, more even than several or even many. Destruction of the products of human labor and creativity is also sought by this sub-type. This is the syndrome of the Destroying Master. His main goal is the production of bodies, masses of bodies, heap upon heap of cadavers. Destruction of cities is also a goal. The greater the paranoia, the greater the need to cause more death. Historically, a single Destroying Master emerges from a group of people infected with the social disease Primary Necrophilia and leads the rest of them, whom we could call Destroying Followers.

In discussing this particular phenomenon two aspects, or drives, within the Destroying Master, have become obvious to me. One is the need to Triumph Over Death and the other is The Moment of Onliness.

In discussing Triumph Over Death it is necessary to see that survival and power are both distinct from one another and inseparable. It is not possible to discuss one without the other. The greatest power is the power to live, to forever if possible. Sometimes this is experienced as the power over someone else's life and may involve killing or witnessing another's death. The hard fact is that in some way we all experience a sense of satisfaction, or perhaps heightened senses of well being or being alive surviving in the face of death. Most of us repress or deny these feelings, though they are quite normal, I think. When friends or loved ones die we generally feel shocked and then we grieve. But somewhere inside lies the feeling a being glad one is alive; not a gladness that someone you knew or loved is dead, but a gladness at surviving. This feeling of survival is always greater in the presence of others' deaths. As Canetti tell us: "The living man never considers himself greater than when confronted with the dead man, who is felled forever: at this moment the living man feels as though he had grown. Yet it is a growth that one ordinarily does not flaunt. It may recede behind a genuine grief, which it covers entirely...even if the deceased meant little.... It nevertheless would flout good taste to reveal any of the satisfaction at being confronted with the dead. It is a triumph that remains concealed, that one admits to nobody else and perhaps not even to oneself.

A good example of a commonplace aspect of this process can be found in examining auto-racing. Drivers often complain about the ghoulish desire of spectators to see someone die in a flaming crash. But I think it is not ghoulish but rather a vicarious experience of the power of triumph over death that the driver feels directly. Extreme situations like war put a magnifying lens on emotions we ordinarily don't notice in everyday life. This intensification leads to a deeper understanding of our primitive selves. It is no mistake, I think that Freud's work on death was written during, and in response to, WW I. Many combat veterans I have talked with talk of the excitement they felt after a battle. I think it is a sense of triumph they felt standing over the dead and at having survived the battle. These reactions are normal. However some people become preoccupied with them and even devote their lives to seeking them out. Enslaving Masters and their Followers, and to a greater extent their Destroying counterparts, deliberately strive for such moments of satisfaction.

A survivors sense of power and aliveness is multiplied the number of dead he or she has confronted. We want to exist forever and even to exist when others don't. We want to live longer than anyone and to know it.

The second aspect of power and survival is The Moment of Onliness. As Canetti wrote: "There is nothing that man fears more than the touch of the unknown.... All the distances which men create around themselves are dictated by this fear.... The whole not of shifting and intensely sensitive reactions to an alien touch proves that we are dealing here with a human propensity as deep seated as it is alert and insidious." An Ideological Enslaving Master possesses more of these fears than the rest of us. If his mastering is successful and he gathers millions around him, and if he begins to fear his own death, and if he creates many enemies, he begins to seek a safety only isolation brings. This is one half of the transformation from enslaver to destroyer. At this stage he wants to be the only survivor. His triumph over death must be purchased at any cost, even the deaths of Followers. On some level, either unconsciously or secretly conscious, he wants to destroy everyone. One is reminded of Hitler and Stalin's fears about their circle of guards and Followers. Their lust for ultimate and absolute survival wins over everything and everyone. The following story illustrates the dynamics in this aberration:

"Muhammud Tughlak, the Sultan of Delhi, kept finding letters that were thrown over the walls of his audience hall. Their exact contents were not known but supposing they were insulting and injurious. He decided to reduce Delhi, one of the biggest cities in the world back then, to ruins. Since, as a strict Mohammedan, he cared greatly for justice, he bought up all the house and homes, paying full price. The he ordered the inhabitants to move to a new, very distant city, Daulatabad, which he wanted to make his capital. They refused. Whereupon he had his herald announce that no one was to be found in the city after three days. The majority gave in to the order, but some people hid in their houses. The Sultan had the city combed for any remaining inhabitants. His slaves found two men in the streets, one crippled, one blind, and brought them before the Sultan. He ordered the cripple be shot from a catapult and the blind man be dragged from Delhi to Daulatabad, a voyage of forty days. En route, he fell to pieces, and all that arrived in Daulatabad was a leg. Now everyone else fled from Delhi, leaving furniture and property behind; the city was utterly deserted. The destruction was so total that not a cat, not a dog remained in the buildings of the city, in the palaces or suburbs. One night, the Sultan climbed to the roof of his palace and gazed across Delhi, where no fire, no smoke, no light was to be seen, and he said: Now my heart is tranquil and my wrath appeased."


One can see in this story elements of what drove Hitler. First, Hitler projected his own fears, and focused the German people's fears on the Jews, Communists and trade unions. Then he offered to pay the Jews for their property. When that failed to produce the desired result, Hitler instituted a reign of terror, beginning with Kristallnacht. As for the moment of Onliness, Hitler never reached this moment but there are indications he was working steadfastly toward it: the blatant errors in military planning, going against his generals advice on many occasions. For example, hesitating to attack Great Britain after their defeat at Dunkirk, or creating the second front by attacking Russia, and then failing to equip his soldiers for a winter campaign, Moscow, and Leningrad and the 900 days, and then Stalingrad... and Kursk. He eventually withdrew from the ritual displays so important to Nazi propaganda efforts first to Berteschgarten and then Rastenburg and finally to the bunker; each place isolating him more and more from his enemies. Then he ordered that all cities in Germany be destroyed and said if the German people could not win the great racial battle against the Slavs, they did not deserve to live. So, he moved to be alone and he created countless dead.

Perhaps the most eloquent description of this process can be found in a poem by J. L. Moreno, the man who invented Psychodrama and group therapy.

"Hitler speaks: This is my prayer, oh God:
Give me the power to kill. Let me destroy one half of mankind and let me build the other half for the future.
It will be a healthier world, a rejuvenated world.
The world will be vastly better if only the superior will survive.
They know how to worship you.
I shall first reduce in number or destroy the lower breeds of men; the Negroes, the yellow people, the gypsies, the Jews.
Give me the power to kill the lower breeds, the eternal bastards of your creation.

He speaks: I return to you in prayer, because I am in doubt.
Give me the power to kill more.
One half of mankind is not enough. May I destroy perhaps, two thirds of it?
I know now that I must reduce in number or destroy the Slavs,
the Poles, the Czechs, the Turks and many other breeds that stand in the way of your glory.
God! Give Me the Power!

He speaks again: I turn again to you, oh God.
Again I am in doubt.
There are still more races and breeds of men who should perish from the face of the earth if the world would be after Thy image.
Give me the power to kill all who are not worthy of You.
Now I know that there are Anglo-Saxon tribes, and even Germanic tribes which should perish.
And as I look closer, oh God, there are people even in my own house; men around me who are not worthy of living.
Give me the power to destroy all of them!

He speaks once more: This is my prayer, oh God.
I return in prayer to you.
For the last time this is my prayer.
This is my last prayer:
May all beings perish.
You and I are now alone.
We share the world,
and as I think it to the end,
I could not bear a God above me.
Give me then, oh God, the power to destroy you" (Moreno. 1969)


Why did they do it? When the desire for absolute aloneness -Onliness- and the need to triumph over even death itself are joined in a nation or people, usually embodied in the presence of one man, a supreme Master, the result is genocide, including the particular type of genocide know as holocaust. The early need is for power. But power is not enough, not even the idea of absolute power. Heaps of bodies are required, more and more, for their sake alone. No number, short of everyone, is enough. Ultimately all that is striven for is nothingness.


Copyright © 1995, Alan Jacobs