You Cannot Sign a Pact with Hitler


By J. B. PRIESTLEY, English Writer and Commentator

Delivered over the British Broadcasting System, August, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 766-768.

WE have been told by many experts lately that we must soon expect a peace offensive from the Nazis. Within the next two or three months, they will probably offer to call the whole thing off, on what may look at first sight fairly reasonable terms. We know that this peace offensive is already doomed in advance to failure. The democracies and their allies are not prepared to open negotiations with the Nazis. There are many good reasons for this, some of which have already been publicly and very plainly stated. I want to explain what seems to me easily the most important of these reasons. And I don't think that even now this most important reason of all is sufficiently understood and appreciated.

The point is that there is nothing at all to be done with Nazi Germany except to fight it and ultimately destroy it. Why? First, because Nazi Germany means Adolf Hitler. Secondly, because Adolf Hitler is not a person with whom it is possible to negotiate. You can only make agreements of any value with sane responsible persons, and Hitler cannot be considered a sane responsible person. He is, in strict fact, a borderline case, an example of abnormal psychology. He may not be in the fixed condition of the poor lunatic who is convinced that he is an egg, but undoubtedly he exists somewhere in the dubious region between those who think they are eggs and those who are normal and sane. He is the type that provides cases for our psychiatrists and psycho-analysts. And unless we try to understand this psychological aspect of Nazi Germany and its Fuehrer, not all the political and economic reasoning in the world will ever make us grasp how this uneducated Austrian outcast contrived to seize so much power that he now threatens all civilisation.

Possessed by Some Alien Spirit

I have lately been reading some fascinating and valuable accounts of Hitler. In one of them, in Rom Landau's WeHave Seen Evil, the author describes how when he first met Hitler he was completely unimpressed. The man merely seemed rather commonplace, slightly furtive, flabby, ill-at-ease. But immediately afterwards Landau saw and heard Hitler addressing a gigantic meeting, and he tells us that never in his life had he seen a more drastic change come over any man. It was as if a completely different personality came to take charge. What before seemed soft, flabby, furtive, now became taut, harsh, ruthlessly challenging. The eyes, he remarks, seemed quite different. "They seemed to have become bigger, especially the white round the pupil. This enlarged white background gave them a staring hypnotic, and also demented, expression. There was an iciness in them that could come from fanatical hatred only. They hardly seemed the eyes of a human being." Landau says that he felt he was watching a man who had ceased to be himself and was possessed by some alien spirit. And he goes on to declare that Hitler, in his view is a kind of medium, the vehicle of terrible, dangerous dark forces. If this view is fantastic, let me remind you that Dr. Rauschning, who knew Hitler well, and with whom I have talked, takes more or less the same view, regarding Hitler as a queer, abnormal, mediumistic type, who expresses, but is himself irresistibly carried along by, terrible forces of destruction. And let me remind you too that theories of this kind, fantastic though they may appear at first, are not as fantastic as the facts themselves, the rise to such power of this man, the adulation, the almost divine honours, he has received, the fact that a German Church minister can actually declare in public that "Adolf Hitler is the real Holy Ghost" and another official can tell us that "Hitler is a new, a greater and more powerful Jesus Christ." No easy commonplace explanation will be found to explain facts of this kind. We are no longer in the shallows now, but perilously launched on the deep waters of human psychology and behaviour. The most detailedpsychological study of Hitler and Nazi Germany I have come across so far is Germany Possessed, by H. G. Baynes, a psychologist of the Jung School. The theoretical background of Jung's individual psychology is much too complicated to be dealt with adequately in a short talk of this kind, and therefore it will not be possible for me to give you here even the gist of Germany Possessed in all the complexity of its reasoning. But in order to give you any account at all of this theory, it is necessary first to explain that according to this school of psychology, there is in addition to the personal unconscious, a collective unconscious, a kind of deep unconscious shared by members of a community. It is of course very primitive, and one of the chief objects of every true religion is to try to civilise the forces that come whirling up, like a great wind, from this deep unconscious. On the other hand, false religions, dangerous occult movements and the like, reverse this process, and allow these forces, which appear to have a magical quality just because they emanate from the unconscious, to have full sway. What we call madness is simply the successful invasion and complete possession of the conscious mind by the unconscious. The lunatic who thinks that he is an egg is, so to speak, living in a perpetual dream of being an egg from which he cannot wake up. Now the Germans, more than any other major European people, have failed to come to terms with these forces of the unconscious.

The chief reasons are probably that most of Germany lay outside the great civilising power of the Roman Empire, and that in addition Christianity, which erected safeguards against this uprush from the unconscious, was very late in arriving in Germany, Thus the typical German tends to be insecurely poised. He may have developed his intellect but not his fundamental character, which is split up, almost like a split personality, between this intellectualisation of the conscious mind and this untamed ever-threatening unconscious. This has been observed by many famous Germans, for example Heine. It is this lack of any feeling of inner security that makes the German so unstable, so much given to boasting and bragging (in order to bolster himself up), and so liable to sudden and tremendous outbursts of violence and cruelty. It makes him too, in spite of his intellect, very credulous, ready to believe any wild nonsense that he wants to believe. The last war, with its enormous sacrifices, and its final defeat, followed by the economic collapse, which brought about a similar collapse of many values and standards, began to set the currents flowing the wrong way. It is an odd fact, by the way, that Hitler ruined that ancient emblem of good fortune, the swastika, by reversing the hooks, which originally represented the four legs of the sun-god. They are now, in the Nazi swastika, against the direction of the sun. Psychic energy, known as the libido, now poured into the unconscious, to light up and animate mysterious primitive images there.

Medicine Man of the German Tribe

German folk lore, those myths that are the dreams of a whole people, is filled with stories of great wild heroes, conquerors, emperors who are waitings hidden perhaps in some magic place inside a mountain, until the moment arrives for them to come out and storm the world again. Now, it seemed, they were stirring in their long sleep. The vast dark forces were waiting to be released. And now we come to Adolf Hitler, the Austrian outcast, who could come to no terms with life, who hated all established things, whoselast warm human relationship was with the mother who died when he was in his teens, the hysteric, the neurotic, the mediumistic. He became the medicine man of this vast German tribe. The power of the medicine man, as Mr. Baynes points out, rests upon his capacity for surrendering himself to, and becoming possessed by, the unconscious. "Throughout antiquity and amongst practically all primitive races, this capacity for being possessed and transported by the unconscious endows the individual in question with magical prestige." This is the key to Hitler. It is, as Mr. Baynes observes, "as though he were equipped not only to perceive the hidden forces or tendencies of the unconscious, but also to be conditioned by them, as the wire is to the electric current which it conducts." If it had not been for the last war, which you may remember Hitler, as he tells us, welcomed with joy, Hitler might have remained an obscure neurotic casual labourer, moping and day-dreaming in corners and gradually losing all touch with reality. But the war came, and after that the gathering of those dark forces waiting to be released. It was Hitler, the medicine man, who released them and was himself carried away by them. This explains the profound irrationality of the whole Nazi movement, its lack of any real programme, its perpetual falsehood, its violence and cruelty. It was something surging up from outside our civilisation altogether. And it was bent on the destruction of that civilisation. Notice how always, from the first, it has tried to destroy those very things that enable the conscious mind to withstand the invasion of the unconscious: religion, scholarship, science, liberal literature. These had to be destroyed because they helped to give the individual mind its value, and Hitler, because he represented unconscious forces that lay outside individuality, desired this destruction of the individual. He saw mankind as a mass-animal, to be drilled and harnessed. He is not himself, strictly speaking, a real individual, with a completely integrated personality, but is a neurotic with a split personality, which explains the contradictions in him, his half-effeminate timidity, his bouts of terror—and there is a most vivid description by Rauschning of one of these—his apathy and inertia on the one side, and on the other his sudden frenzies, his insistence upon instant furious action, his cruelty and treachery. He is not a real person living in a real world. His whole vast crazy movement, which has had its effect upon all our lives, is not, in a strict sense, within reality. It is a long-continued mad dream. At first, when the forces of the German collective unconscious were released, there was about it a half-magical, semi-religious air, which imposed upon some people who visited Germany. They could never discover quite what it was all about, for it said one thing one minute and quite another the next, but they felt instinctively it was tremendously about something. This was the first phase, when Hitler first came to power. The vast forces were harnessed to the prodigious war machine. That machine still goes plunging and rolling on, but the Germany people themselves are now merely its slaves. The magical uprush has finished. Hence that curious apathy which all observers have noticed in war-time Germany. The victories mean nothing to them. They feel spiritually exhausted. But the terrible machine of destruction is still there, going it does not know where, and guiding it, hurling millions to death because he cannot waken up from his frantic dream, is that hysterical medicine man, in the depth of whose mind there is nothing but a dark chaos. What is there to make peace with? The answer is—nothing. How can you sign a pact with lunacy? Therefore we can only fight on.