We can't help but view history through the lens of our most deeply held beliefs.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in how people look at Hitler and the Third Reich: we slap our priors on a hyper-complex era permitting a nigh-infinite number of angles, and as if by magic, the whole thing sorts itself out into a neat little narrative.

And so, leftists will claim that Hitler was just a conservative on steroids, and see, that's where conservatism inevitably leads.

Marxists will make the case that the Nazis were really just Capital's reaction to the otherwise inevitable proletarian revolution, therefore postponing the communist utopia by way of collusion between industrialists, Junkers and Western bankers.

Conservatives argue that akshually, Nazism was just communism, because dontcha know, there's an "S" in "NSDAP."1

Revisionists give this a further twist by claiming that the real bad guy in this whole story wasn't Hitler, but Stalin: it was he who started WWII by forcing Hitler's hand.

Christians point out that Hitler was anti-Christian, held a bunch of crazy pagan beliefs (or alternatively, embraced scientism), that the famous Concordat between the Vatican and the Nazis was just about protection of the clergy from persecution — which then happened in spates anyway.

Atheists say that especially the protestants, but no small number of Catholics too (Hitler having been one himself), wholeheartedly embraced Hitler, and we should see Nazism as the outgrowth of the Christian-authoritarian mindset.

Psychoanalysts paint Hitler as the archetypical Oedipus Complex Guy: because he was close to his mother and may have been hit by his dad a few times, he went on to savagely set Europe ablaze (naturally).

Nazi apologists complain about laws prohibiting holocaust denial (fair enough), and then go on to defend a regime where nobody was allowed to say anything not sanctioned by the powers-that-be, and really, the Joos are to blame for all the mayhem, even though it was good, or something.

Systems thinkers will deny Hitler's agency and blame it all on the infamous infighting among Nazi big shots or economic laws or evolution-fuelled tribal conflict or whatever, whereas others see in Hitler an all-powerful figure who did it all by himself through sheer fanatical will, conveniently exempting both Germans and foreign powers from any blame.

Still others seek to blame Germans — many masochistic Germans among them — by painting Hitler as the natural outgrowth of Teutonic irrationality and authoritarianism.

And on and on it goes.

Is there any way out? Can there be something like a true historical narrative?

Well, at least we may come closer to one. But for that, we desperately need to work against our tendency to default to the most convenient story: convenient, that is, for our own preexisting notions and argumentative interests.

Importantly, what we see in history depends on our own personal development, experience & wisdom. Can we imagine living through a certain historical situation? Can we feel the pull of the dominant narrative at the time and honestly assess our reaction to it? Can we viscerally understand the different forces at play both during the period in question and our own present time? Do we understand psychopathology and its relationship to healthy human beings, as a result of reading and real-life experience, and can we apply it to various movers and shakers — and the general population — in the past?

To give an example: those who lived through the Covid madness, while seeing through all the propaganda and sophistry, will be able to recognize some of the same patterns and sensations many people felt during Nazism. When the whole thing started, my wife and I reread Sebastian Haffner's autobiography Defying Hitler, in which he recounts the Nazi takeover from the perspective of an ordinary German's daily life. Needless to say, the parallels are eerie. Having lived through Covid, and realizing that the beginning of the Nazi era was similar in certain respects, will not only sharpen your vision of past and present, but also make you immune against certain Nazi apologists: if you disliked the Covid thing, you would have hated life under Hitler. It will also make you more immune against similar patterns playing out today.

But instead of turning this insight into yet another simplistic narrative, we should be open to other angles as well. These are seldom mutually exclusive.

For instance: again going from our own experience in the present, we know how the Anglo Empire has lied and propagandized us into countless wars, from Kosovo to Iraq, from Libya to Ukraine. What should that tell us about the accepted story of WWI and WWII? Are we to take it that Britain and the US had been choir boys before, say, 1960, and then suddenly turned into imperialist liars overnight? What to make of the Allied version of events in that light?

"But that would mean there really are no good and bad guys here!" No, sometimes there are. Mostly, however, history is complicated. To even talk about good and bad guys, we need, again, to understand viscerally today what good and bad mean in different contexts, that is, the whole conundrum of morality.2 We need to understand the ways of deception and propaganda employed by various actors, the different levels of ignorance, ideological fanaticism, human weaknesses, the life of the soul, and so much more.

Another example of how our reading of history depends on our priors is the materialist assumption that there are no such things as good or evil "higher forces," so to speak, that is: influences we can become subject to if we open ourselves, consciously or not, to certain energies. To put it less esoterically: we tend to see history as a chain of cause and effect, as opposed to something that moves along different teleological lines, expressing certain forms we can tap into, or as Oswald Spengler put it: destinies.

Let's have a quick glance at what these two angles yield, just to demonstrate the idea.

The Role of the Anglos

In the early 20th century, Britain was the most powerful player — the dominant empire, ruler of the sea, the world's power center. It is rather strange, then, that hardly anybody ever asks about her role in the defining events ushering in the new world order: the Great War and World War II.

Some historians know better, to be sure, but the cartoon version of history we are all taught goes something like this: after Napoleon did his evil things for no reason whatever except being evil, now it was the evil Germans who randomly started WWI (cause they are stupid and evil), with the other nations randomly "sleepwalking" into it. The Kaiser is to blame because he built a fleet and thus naively competed with Britain, although it never seems to occur to anybody that this implies England really is to blame for the war, but nevermind.

Lucky us, as coincidentally so often happens in the Anglo version of world history, Britain and the US saved the day. Then Germany plunged into chaos, completely unconnected to any Anglo policies of course (please don't look at the central banks, the City and Wall Street, which no historians should ever do), and Hitler came out of nowhere — which of course nobody could have known much less stopped, especially not the Empire, which eventually had no choice but to save the day again.

You might reasonably ask how it is possible that the most powerful empire on earth didn't have anything to do with anything. It would be a bit like looking at the Ukraine war and claiming that the US had nothing whatsoever to do with it: it was just Putin doing evil for no reason at all except being evil, and the Anglo Empire simply chimed in when a poor invaded nation cried for help. (Wait a minute...)

But given what we know today about how the Anglo world conducts business, are we to believe that from 1914 till 1945, there was no intelligence? No meddling? No overt and covert operations safeguarding the interests of the empire's elite? No financial shenanigans, profiteering, regime changes, patsies, manipulation of public opinion at home and abroad, and the rest? Of course not! The blame squarely goes to the Kaiser, and the Weimar reactionaries, maybe some communists, with a little bit to spare for the greedy French. Funny how that works.

Consider Halford Mackinder's famous Heartland Theory, which he developed in the early 1900s and which articulated key Anglo geopolitical interests.

The gist of it is that the greatest danger to Anglo supremacy lies in the "heartland" (Eastern Europe and Russia), which has the potential to dominate the world should it develop technologically and in terms of organization:
[Mackinder] outlined the following ways in which the Heartland might become a springboard for global domination in the twentieth century (Sempa, 2000):
  • Successful invasion of Russia by a Western European nation (most probably Germany). Mackinder believed that the introduction of the railroad had removed the Heartland's invulnerability to land invasion. As Eurasia began to be covered by an extensive network of railroads, there was an excellent chance that a powerful continental nation could extend its political control over the Eastern European gateway to the Eurasian landmass. In Mackinder's words, "Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland."
  • A Russo-German alliance. Before 1917 both countries were ruled by autocrats (the Tsar and the Kaiser), and both could have been attracted to an alliance against the democratic powers of Western Europe (the US was isolationist regarding European affairs, until it became a participant of World War I in 1917). Germany would have contributed to such an alliance its formidable army and its large and growing sea power.
  • Conquest of Russia by a Sino-Japanese empire (see below).3
In other words, the Anglo empire was (and is) desperate to stifle Russia's development, and especially any joining of forces between it and Germany — the latter having become, in the eyes of the British, a threat to Anglo supremacy in its own right thanks to its industrial and scientific power.

Mackinder’s geopolitical map
Now, it just so happens that WWI brought about precisely what the Heartland Doctrine dictated would be the perfect outcome for Britain: Germany in shambles, the Kaiser gone, Russia first torn apart by civil war and then by Bolshevik madness. Any rapprochement between Germany and Russia was out of the question: the only chance would have been a coalition between the anti-Bolshevik, monarchist "Whites" in Russia and the reactionary German Prussian generals, or alternatively, perhaps, between the Bolsheviks and a communist Germany. Needless to say, both options didn't materialize, and it would be a blatant conspiracy theory to suggest that there might have been forces at work who sought to make sure of it.

Everybody hated the Weimar Republic and many options were on the table: a military dictatorship, a restoration or a constitutional monarchy, various nationalist movements, communist rule (both aligned and non-aligned with the Bolsheviks)... And yet, it was Hitler who won the day: an explicit Anglophile who saw in Britain his natural ally, as he outlined in Mein Kampf. He was also fiercely anti-communist and therefore anti-Russia, on top of his considering the Slavs an inferior race. By no means was this view of things the only one in German nationalist circles: even some in the Nazi movement, like the Strasser brothers, leaned more to the left and might have opted for a more pro-Russia policy. Indeed, many nationalist conservatives were very hostile to Britain and bemoaned the "Americanization" of Germany. Most also didn't have much patience for Hitler's race theories — even Göring thought the "race mania" was a private obsession of Hitler, Himmler and Rosenberg.4

Alas, Hitler it was, on he went to invade Russia, and after WWII, Germany was utterly defeated, spiritually crushed, and integrated into the Anglo empire with basically zero chance of taking any independent geopolitical decision ever again. Europe was neatly divided along Mackinder's fault lines via the Iron Curtain: an integration with Russia utterly impossible, with allied troops — and later American nukes — stationed in the middle of it all.

When we look at the sources from that angle: what does it yield? Turns out a great deal. In his book, Conjuring Hitler: How Britain and America Made the Third Reich,5 Guido Giacomo Preparata presents a serious case that Britain and the US manipulated, double-crossed, and pushed the Continental powers around to achieve their goals. From the triggering of WWI when the alliances would produce exactly the desired results, Britain's entry into the war which turned it into a world war in the first place, to covert financial and economic actions that ruined Germany, propped it up in the "golden" Weimar years, then ruined it again right before Hitler, then propped it up again — at the right junctures so that Hitlerism could rise — , his story is quite astonishing and well-sourced.

Now, do I believe this is all there is to it? Or that Britain really planned the whole thing from start to finish, in a sort of grand plan to crush Germany? Absolutely not. Because that's not how history works: Preparata's version of events reads a bit too much like yet another neat little narrative, and some of his claims are far-fetched indeed. But still, it would be foolish not to assume that strong factions in Britain and the US, as the dominant world powers, didn't pursue their interests with Machiavellian zeal, and that a lot of the moralistic story we've been told is incomplete at best, utter nonsense at worst.

For instance, it makes total sense, from this perspective, that Britain's support for the Russian Whites (who fought against the Bolsheviks) was just for show, and that it covertly undermined the effort. Why wouldn't it, if a destroyed Russia led by murderous zealots was preferable? And why wouldn't certain factions in Britain, looking at the different options in Weimar, covertly support Hitlerism rather than the forces hostile towards England? And isn't it true that powerful forces, including Churchill, saw to it that England entered WWI by fearmongering about an exaggerated threat of German fleet-building6, needlessly turning it into a bloodbath dragging on for years, masterminded Versailles using deception and scheming, and then did it all over again when it entered WWII, promising Poland security out of the blue without demanding anything in return, even while it led Hitler to believe it would stay neutral?

Indeed, if you forget about all the propagandistic smoke screens for a moment, between Anglo geopolitical interests and the Military Industrial Financial Complex getting fat on war by lending and selling to all sides, early 20th century history starts making a lot more sense.

But again, I don't believe in straight-forward grand conspiracies spanning many decades, much less that it's possible to implement such a grand plan. You'll always find different factions at each other's throats, unforeseen developments screwing things up, mere reactions from moment to moment, mistakes, and so on. It's not that Secret Cabals of powerful men aren't real; we know they are. It's that their power, knowledge and competence are limited, despite their grandiosity and posturing. To claim that they could plan the events in the first half of the century at the extreme level of detail that would be required for it to not go completely off the rails many times over would be absurd. At least they couldn't do it alone.

Which brings us to another neglected angle from which to look at history.

Dark Forces and their Agents

Despite what I just said about grand conspiracies, when studying history closely, one sometimes gets the eerie feeling that the results it produced aren't quite random. Napoleon might have defeated Britain if just a few things had gone slightly different, with all that this would have entailed — and yet, it seems to us this somehow wasn't meant to be, that this wasn't his, and our, destiny.

Similar with Nazism: you could almost make a fine-tuning-type argument for why there must have been some kind of vague intention behind it all. Hitler's rise (and reign) could have been stopped a thousand times by circumstances if certain events had played out differently ever so slightly. And yet, all the parameters somehow seem to have been set to "produce Nazism." As various Hitler biographers have noted: throughout his career, Hitler seems to have been followed by a strange sort of luck that kept him from going under at various junctures.7

It's as if a sort of Telos subtly gestates and imposes a certain form on historical epochs, a certain Gestalt. Like a crystal growing a certain way, with some variability yet a distinct overall structure; like a plant producing a certain flower: not deterministically, because the flower may bloom in many different ways, but not freely either: the type of flower can't be changed.

This kind of teleological understanding of history isn't as far out as we moderns tend to believe. German historian Rolf Peter Sieferle expressed it thus, pondering the relationship between ideas that emerge in history and which foreshadow their implementation at a (much) later time:8
If a new pattern develops in a symbolic field, this pattern (which is still quite far from dominance) can be represented early in individual organs of the corresponding field. The intellectual vision would then be a premature crystallization of a more comprehensive, subsurface process; perhaps also a vehicle for its realization. However, the concept of causation would be misleading; it would merely be a matter of different intensities in the spread of a new symbolic field, which can already emerge quite early here and there.
And of course, Oswald Spengler famously claimed that nations and peoples play out their destinies rather than being pushed by causality — causality being a problematic concept anyway when dealing with history, as everybody understands (or should understand).9 Such a view used to be pretty standard, especially in Germany.10

But how does this work? How does a telos from the future produce a certain Gestalt in history?

Hard to know, but part of the answer seems to be straight-forward: via human beings. As Sieferle hinted at, we are sometimes capable of tapping into the Urgrund, something connected to the future, what Ernst Jünger called the "underground streams" flowing through civilizations from which their unique beauty can arise. But there's not just one possible future, or telos, just as the higher realms are not just about truth, beauty, and love. Like there's ugliness, chaos, entropy, evil, lies, egomaniacal cruelty here on earth, so above — or beyond — in the unseen world.

Just as true artists tap into that realm to channel their Muse, as Steven Pressfield so vividly describes in his War of Art, so can otherwise ordinary people garner support and inspiration from there, provided they have pure intentions and know how to listen instead of demanding. However, people can also open themselves up to manipulative energies and thus become an active part of a less-than-desirable Gestalt coming to fruition in history.

Our man Adolf "Addi" Hiedler might have been one of them. (Yes, the original family name was Hiedler (pronounced "Heedlaer") — doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it? A strange historical quirk, and perhaps a first clue.11) Hitler, in a sense, just so happened to tap into the subsurface process, instantiating a certain form that was meant to be for whatever reason.

This fits with Max Planck noticing, after meeting Hitler for the first time, that he was "possessed" and "driven" as opposed to in control.12

How did he become "possessed" and "driven"? Hitler wasn't as dumb as some people claim; his school teachers actually thought he was smart enough, if not exactly outstanding. But he was a dreamer, and extremely lazy from an early age on — even at the height of his power he wasted most of his day, which he began late at 11, with small talk and watching movies.13 It would seem that being a lazy dreamer can render you susceptible to nefarious influences.

Consider this episode in the life of young Hitler. During his time in Linz,
After a performance of Wagner's opera Rienzi, Hitler fell into a kind of trance. He persuaded [his friend] Gustl to take a walk with him to a hill overlooking Linz and told him in a croaky, excited voice that he would receive a mission from his Volk to lead it to freedom. Thirty-three years later, he confirmed to [Gustl] Kubizek: "It all began at that hour."14
He would later open the Reichsparteitage in Nürnberg with the overture of that same Wagner opera.

Not too long after this "trance," now living in Vienna in 1908, he broke off contact with his family and best friend Gustl. Following that, he "became hard," as he later wrote, and developed some of his core ideas. He retreated more and more, and "his proclivity not to show his true face and hide his true intentions now became second nature to him."15

Did he tap into Sieferle's "symbolic field," from which he gained his "mission"? Did he summon Mephisto? Throughout his career, there are more clues: after Hitler came out of prison in the 1920s, Goebbels talked in his diary about Hitler being driven by a sort of "fever," a "demon." Even in the early 1920s, he completely identified Germany's fate with his own, and he was convinced that Providence (Vorsehung) had saved his life in the course of the Beer Hall Putsch. During the following trial, he was oscillating between being sentimental and brutal. Periods of depression, interspersed with rage.16

Overall, the picture I see emerging here is that of the Saruman or Anakin Skywalker archetype (except that he wasn't as brilliant as them). Hitler wasn't born an evil maniac; rather, he overtime allowed himself to be consumed by darkness, in exchange for the deceptive vision and power to save Germany, in which he might have sincerely believed. What comes to mind is the moment in Lord Of The Rings where Saruman completes his transformation and declares: "We have work to do." Hitler, too, was fanatically driven to complete his work come what may, and hinted in the early 1930s that should his movement fail, he would blow his brains out.
Something else that jives with the Saruman archetype is that Hitler claimed to have learned much from Lenin and Trotsky, from the Freemasons, from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and that he understood that "one must beat one's enemy with their own weapons."17 As we know from Saruman's story arc, however, if you try to fight evil with supreme power, that is, with its own weapons and methods, you are consumed by it: you become it. You become a dupe to its schemes.

Hitler might have been the ultimate dupe.

Just as Saruman gained power through his pact with darkness, so apparently did Hitler. A clue are Hitler's hypnotic qualities as an orator, on which many witnesses have commented. If we are to believe Albert Speer (later Hitler's architect), he too was instantly taken with Hitler when he first heard him, even though Speer hailed from a grand-bourgeois background not necessarily predisposed to Nazism. (His father was a fan of Kalergi.)18 Various people have commented on his eyes and voice, in particular, that had a magnetic effect on them.19

Tellingly, Otto Strasser, the NSDAP's left-wing champion and Hitler's long-time comrade who was exiled when he ceased to be useful, said this about Hitler:20
A sleepwalker, - truly a medium ... He emerges from the penumbra, between night and day ... When he tries to support his speeches with erudite theories gleaned from the half-understood works of others, he barely rises above a pathetic mediocrity. But when he throws away all crutches, when he charges forward and utters what his spirit prompts him to say - then he immediately transforms himself into one of the greatest orators of the century.
But just as Saruman's staff was broken at the end, and with it his magical powers, so Hitler's powers faded. Today, watching his speeches, many cannot help but wonder how people could have been so taken by him: the spell is broken.

Now, Hitler wasn't the only dupe in all this. Many who seek power as an end in itself, or overestimate their abilities and discernment, get sucked into the darkness, and willingly or not, consciously or not, become part of Mephistophelian plots, Faustian bargains, of the dark parts of Sieferle's Symbolic Field. This is not something we can prove; our case rests on subtle clues, scattered in the sources. But it might be forces like this, people getting under the spell of a certain Gestalt-producing telos, that explain some of the seeming non-randomness, the fine-tuning, the sheer "luck" in how certain events (and non-events) seem to conspire to birth certain results.

Is that how we should look at history exclusively? Obviously not. Any hope of getting a better grasp at what went down in the past relies on us giving it all we got: using all sensible angles, distilling a variety of narratives, using those as puzzle pieces, letting them sit for a while, thinking and researching: rinse and repeat.

Most importantly, I never tire of repeating how our view of history depends on our own internal make-up, of our own development and experience. It is not a dry, abstract affair; history is deeply connected to our minds, and is intelligible only from the perspective of a human being who knows viscerally the patterns defining the human condition he can then discern. This works in the other direction, too: the more we learn about history, the better our mind becomes — a mind that can only be understood in history, as part of history, as history itself. R.G. Collingwood had figured this out, and I encourage you to read his work.21

And so, the truth shall set us free, above all, perhaps, historical truth: if we gain the maturity to have at it from multiple angles at once, while getting over ourselves.

1 For a case of this sort, see Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, Penguin Books, 2007

2 For further explorations of morality and its role, see for example my essays The Human Condition: An Unsolvable Equation and Moral Realism Without Obligation.

3 From Wikipedia, The Geographical Pivot of History

4 Rolf Peter Sieferle, Die konservative Revolution: Fünf biographische Skizzen, Landtverlag 2019 (1995), p. 295

5 Guido Giacomo Preparata, Conjuring Hitler: How Britain and America Made the Third Reich, Pluto Press, 2005

6 See Gerry Docherty & Jim Macgregor, Hidden History: The Secret Origins of the First World War, Mainstream Publishing, 2013

"[Admiral Jacky] Fisher wrote confidentially to King Edward in 1907 that the British fleet was four times stronger than the German navy, 'but we don't want to parade all this to the world at large'" — p. 137

7 See Marlis Steinert, Hitler, C.H. Beck, 1994

8 Rolf Peter Sieferle, Finis Germania, Landtverlag, 2023, p. 44

9 It seems that historical "causality," in the final analysis, collapses either into some form of teleology or destiny, or unintelligible randomness. In any event, picking out causal nexus points in history is an activity of the human mind, and as such depends on our presuppositions.

10 See my essay The German Soul on Germany's different academic approach to science, history and philosophy.

11 The name "Hitler" came into being because of a document Adolf's father, Alois, presented to the Austrian authorities settling his status as a legitimate son, on which the name "Hiedler" had been replaced by "Hitler" for unknown reasons

See Steinert, Hitler, p. 18

12 Werner Heisenberg, Der Teil und das Ganze, p. 235 ff. (Engl. title Physics and Beyond)

13 See Albert Speer, Erinnerungen, Ullstein, 1969.

Even Goebbels called Hitler lazy, see Steinert, Hitler, p. 250

14 Steinert, Hitler, p. 33, as informed by Kubizek's memoirs

15 Ibid., p. 50

16 Ibid., p. 173

17 Ibid., p. 181

18 See Albert Speer, Erinnerungen.

Speer needs to be taken with a big grain of salt though, since he was clearly out to clear his name and that of his bourgeois class. He might well have fallen under Hitler's hypnotic spell when he first heard him speak, as he describes it, but his conversion story doesn't really add up: he was active in the NSDAP before the supposed first encounter with Hitler.

19 Karl-Alexander Müller, describing Hitler at the start of his career as an orator, was surprised by the fascination that his "strange guttural voice" provoked, and his "strikingly large blue eyes shining coldly and fanatically" Steinert, Hitler, p. 115

20 Ibid., p. 110

21 For a great and short introduction, read Collingwood's Autobiography. You'll find his philosophy of history in his lectures, published as The Idea of History.