Friday, June 24, 2005

Victor Klemperer on “Fanaticism”: A Historical Parenthesis

In my comment on the so-called German “werewolves” who continued to fight the Allied occupation forces even after the May 1945 capitulation of Nazi Germany, I wrote:
for anyone who knows anything about Nazi ideology and the fanaticism it bred, regrettably, within large swathes of German society, it is quite simply ludicrous to suggest that all Germans quietly laid down their arms just because Admiral Doenitz (in an act that many undoubtedly regarded as an act of treason) signed a piece of paper.
Indeed, as the philologist Victor Klemperer, in his classic study of the language of the Third Reich, LTI (Lingua Tertii Imperii), has noted, Nazi Germany may have been the first society in the everyday discourse of which the term “fanatical” [fanatisch] was typically invested with positive connotations. Here is Klemperer:
On holidays, on Hitler’s birthday, on the anniversary of the [Nazi] seizure of power, there was no newspaper article, no message of congratulations, no appeal to the troops or in any organization that did not contain a “fanatical pledge” or a "fanatical avowal”, that did not bear witness to the “fanatical belief” in the eternal existence of Hitler’s Reich. And that during the war, and indeed precisely as the military setbacks could no longer be kept quiet! The more dismal the situation became, the more often was affirmed the “fanatical belief in the final victory”, in the Führer, in das Volk or in the fanaticism of the Volk as a fundamental German virtue.
I will leave it to Arabists to say whether an analogous usage is to be observed in the discourse of the Islamists. (The linguist Latifa Ben Mansour in fact draws liberally upon Klemperer’s LTI in her study of Islamist discourse Frère Musulmans, Frère Féroces [literally, "Muslim Brothers, Ferocious Brothers"].)

Victor Klemperer’s LTI is, incidentally, available in English.

I cannot vouch for the translation. But for detailed insight into the workings of Nazi ideology, Klemperer’s study - based on the daily record of life in the Third Reich represented by the author's journals - is difficult to surpass.