Victor Klemperer on “Fanaticism”: A Historical Parenthesis

Posted by John Rosenthal

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.

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