The Folk, the Elite, and the Leader. No figure of speech recurred more frequently in national socialist writing than that of the organism and its organs to express the relationship between the individual and the nation of which he is a member. Mussolini had written it into the Italian Labor Charter in 1927 which began
The Italian nation is an organism having ends, life, and means of action superior to those of the separate individuals or groups of individuals which compose it.
The analogy was of course very old. It had been used by the critics of individualism from Rousseau on and often it had been expanded in fantastic ways. Usually it had meant nothing definite except the obvious ethical statement that persons who have rights also have obligations. But the word organic had long had mystical and vitalistic connotations that had little or no foundation in biology.
The national socialist conception of the racial folk developed these obscure suggestions into a philosophy and claimed for them a scientific in fact a pseudo scientific-support. The result was the mystical concept of the Volk and the parallel theories of blood and soil in which the concept-was elaborated.
The concept of the Leader and his relation to the folk was for practical purposes the most important element in the complex. National socialist political theory was a philosophy of the Volk and of the state which is appropriate to the Volk. Thus in Mein Kampf Hitler repeatedly proclaimed national socialism as the theory of the folkish state.
The highest purpose of the folkish state is the care for the Preservation of those racial primal elements which, supplying Culture create the beauty and dignity of a higher humanity. We, as Aryans, are therefore able to imagine a state only to be the living, organism of a nationality which not only safeguards the preservation of that nationality, but which, by a further training of it spiritual and ideal abilities leads it to the highest freedom.
The use of the invented word folkish in this passage is a recognition on the part of the translators that there is in English no word that has the connotations of the German word Volk and its derivatives especially those which national socialist theory exploited.
The central idea in this theory was that of the racial folk or the organic people, The folk cannot be described as a race, in any sense that accords with the biological meaning of race, because it refers to culture, which is in fact always learned or acquired and cannot be inherited. It is not equivalent to nation because it is assumed by national socialist theory to be biological. It is not people because it is collective, a real but quite non-empirical essence of which any actual person is merely for, the time being the bearer.
Stefan George called it the dark womb of growth, and on the whole some such figurative expression would be the best rendering of the word, since the meaning is essentially inexpressible. From the dark womb of growth, the racial folk, the individual emerges; etc it he owes all that he is and all that he does; he shares in it by virtue of his birth and he is important only because for the moment he embodies its infinite potentialities.
He is united to his fellows by the mystic holiness of the blood tie. His highest training is discipline for its service and his highest honor is to be expended for its preservation and growth. His values-whether of morals, of beauty, or of scientific truth-are derived from the folk and have no meaning except as they maintain and foster it.
Consequently individuals are in no sense equal in dignity or worth, for they embody the reality of the folk in varying degrees. Rather they make a hierarchy of natural superiors and natural inferiors, and the institutions of the folk must distinguish these grades of worth with corresponding degrees of power and privilege.
At the center stands the Leader, surrounded by his immediate following, and at the margin is the great body of undistinguished individuals whom he leads. The national socialist theory of society and politics thus included three elements, the masses, the ruling class or elite, and the Leader.
The picture which national socialism drew of the people in the mass appears at first sight strangely contradictory. Neither Hitler nor Mussolini ever concealed his contempt for them. The great body of any nation, Hitler said, is capable neither of heroism nor intelligence; it is not good and not bad but mediocre. In a social struggle it is inert put falls in behind the victor. Its instinctive reaction is to fear originality and hate superiority, yet its highest desire is to find its leaders.
It is unmoved by intellectual or scientific considerations, which it cannot understand, and it is swayed only by gross and violent feelings like parted, fanaticism, and hysteria. It can be approached only with the simplest arguments, repeated again and again, and always in a manner fanatically one-sided and with unscrupulous disregard for truth, impartiality, or fair play.
The great masses are only a part of nature. What they want is the victory of the stronger and the annihilation or the unconditional surrender of the weaker.
On the other hand neither Hitler nor Mussolini ever doubted that his position depended on the fanatical devotion and self-sacrifice which he inspired. That they did inspire it was simple matter of fact. When every allowance is made for the use of terrorism, and they used it continuously and systematically, national socialism and fascism were authentic mass-movements and owed their power to that fact.
Terrorism was merely a logical extension of propaganda, since as Gentile cynically said, national socialist argument was itself a kind of intellectual blackjack. The characteristic quality of national socialist propaganda was its alternating resort to abuse and flattery-perhaps psychologically an appeal to some primitive sense of sin and redemption-and this method was quite in accord with the theory.
For in the mass the people are endowed not with intelligence but with a more elemental capacity of instinct and will. Deep in human nature is that sure herd instinct which is rooted in the unity of the blood and which guards the nation against ruin, especially in dangerous moments.
Or as Mussolini is said to have expressed it, in different words but to the same effect, The capacity of the modern man for faith is illimitable. And it is, of course, faith that removes mountains. Both men no doubt believed, as sincerely as they believed anything, that
All great movements are movements of the people, are volcanic eruptions of human passions and spiritual sensations, stirred either by the cruel Goddess of Misery or by the torch of the word thrown into the masses.
From the masses, who merely follow and under stimulus provide the weight and force of the movement, national socialist theory distinguished the natural aristocracy, the leading and ruling class or elite, which provides intelligence and direction, Because it depended on the masses, national socialism claimed to be truly democratic, but it imputed to them no judgment that lent value to their political opinions nor did it assume that any process of popular education would alter the case.
In this respect its theory followed the line already taken by most revolutionary philosophies of the twentieth century, by the syndicalism in which Mussolini grew up and by Lenin’s theory of party organization. Long before he was a fascist Mussolini described the party as the small, resolute, audacious nucleus.
National socialism merely construed this idea of revolutionary strategy as a universal biological fact. The process of selecting the elite takes place through the eternal struggle for power which is characteristic of nature. The national socialist ruling class emerges as the racially fittest, or perhaps more truly are thrown up from the dark womb of growth as the natural leaders of the folk.
A view of life which, by rejecting the democratic mass idea, endeavors to give this world to the best people has logically to obey the same aristocratic principle also within this people and has to guarantee leadership and highest influence to the best heads.
The selection of the elite is therefore a natural process, quite different from the mechanical device of vote-counting. They represent the folk, simply by embodying more clearly and explicitly its inner will to power.
World history is made by minorities whenever this numerical minority incorporates the majority of will and determination.
At the head of the national socialist elite is the Leader in whose name everything is done, who is said to be responsible for all, but whose acts can nowhere be called in question. The relation of leader to folk was essentially mystical or irrational. It was what Max Weber called charismatic, which might be expressed less learnedly by saying that the leader was a kind of mascot, the luck of the movement.
He is an offshoot of the folk, bound to his people by the mystic tie of blood, deriving his power from his roots in the race, guiding them by a sure intuition that is akin to animal instinct, and drawing them to him by an affinity that has nothing to do with the power to produce intellectual conviction. He is the genius or the hero conceived as the man of pure race.
In the florid language that seems appropriate to the idea, the leader soars heavenward like some strong and stately tree nourished by thousands and thousands of roots. He is the living sum of untold souls striving for the same goal. Less poetically but to like effect Hitler in Mein Kampf characterized the leader in terms of propaganda.
The leader is neither a scholar nor a theorist but a practical psychologist and an organizer-a psychologist in order that he may master the methods by which he can gain the largest number of passive adherents, an organizer in order that he may build up a compact body of followers to consolidate his gains.
The only parts of the book that can be called methodical are those which deal with propaganda and the steps by which the author perfected himself in the art. No trick was overlooked the advantage of oratory over written argument; the effects of lighting, atmosphere, symbols, and the crowd; the advantage of meetings held at night when the power to resist suggestion is low.
Leadership works by a skillful use of suggestion, collective hypnosis, and every kind of subconscious motivation; the key to its success is clever psychology and the ability to sense the thinking processes of the broad masses of the population. The leader manipulates the people as an artist molds clay.
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