book report - Hitler, A Biography by Ian Kershaw, 1

Cover of Cover of Hitler

My reading for this summer is Ian Kershaw's condensed-from-two-volumes-to-one-yet-still-massive biography of Hitler. I expect to plod through it in fits and starts. I also expect there will be many noteworthy quotes in it. My first one is from the prelude. the key to understanding how Hitler could obtain, then exercise, his peculiar form of power, I turned to the concept of 'charismatic authority', as devised by the brilliant German sociologist Max Weber, who died before Hitler had been heard of - at least outside Munich beerhalls...'Charismatic authority', as deployed by Weber, did not rest primarily on demonstrable outstanding qualities of an individual. Rather, it derived from the perception of such qualities among a 'following' which, amid crisis conditions, projected on to a chosen leader unique 'heroic' attributes and saw in him personal greatness, the embodiment of a 'mission' of salvation. 'Charismatic authority' is, in Weber's conceptualization, inherently unstable. Continued failure or misfortune will bring its downfall, and it is under threat of becoming 'routinized' into a systematic form of government. pp. xxviii, xxix

My first thought as an American recently out of an election cycle, "Obama." My second thought was "Palin." My third thought was "W." At least Bush and Palin oversaw state governments. Then I think, does the American political system let the cream rise to the top lately? Not in a country that is so focussed on celebrity deaths instead of victims of human rights violations around the world. However, how many countries do focus on more than charisma? It seems we are by nature charisma-attracted and consider ourselves lucky if the charisma comes with experience, wisdom, and sobriety. Hitler doesn't appear often in societies because the degree of megalomania is exceptional.

God save us.
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