The Preservation of Democracy

Part 3: The Obligation of Promises


The promises of Hitler that he would be finally satisfied when just this last demand should be granted are highly interesting in another aspect. After the creation of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia British statesmen realized that something might be wrong with Hitler's promises. They did not know exactly what, and they do not seem to know yet, but at least they found a pattern to cover it: Hitler lies, he lies habitually, pathologically. The case is not as simple as that. A lie, we may say for the purpose of this paper, is a statement known to be untrue by the man who utters it, who nevertheless makes it with the intention to have it appear true.

Now, first, it is not quite certain that the statements and promises made by Hitler and broken later were always lies subjectively when made. He may have been at the time of making them in a state of auto-suggestion which made him sincere. However, this is a minor point for our present problem. The more interesting one is that the National Socialist movement has developed a theory of truth, most amply elaborated by Alfred Rosenberg, to the effect that truth is what is useful to the German people. This principle is applied in millions and millions of cases in everyday life by all German governmental agencies in the sense that promises, agreements, understandings, contracts, etc., are liable to be broken at any time when a superior political interest seems to require it.

It is even incorrect to say that they are broken, for in any given promise is implied the understanding that it is not supposed to be a stabilizing factor of the social order but a passing point in a revolutionary process. The same principle, of course, applies to statements made by Hitler himself, or by any German official, in international relations. If spoken or written language of a National Socialist in official capacity is understood by the partner to the discussion as a promise or statement in the sense of Western stabilized, nonrevolutionary society, this certainly is not the fault of National Socialism; for the National Socialist point of view is elaborately expressed and accessible to everybody who can read and cares to know it.

The unrealistic, nonobligatory use of language is, furthermore, not altogether an invention of National Socialists. Even before the war German lawyers advanced theories that came rather close to the National Socialist idea, such as the theory of the Clausula rebus sic stantibus in Erich Kaufmann's famous book bearing this title. And even more, the general trend of the German mind and language in the direction of unrealism and nonobligation, of which the nonobligation of promises is a specialized outgrowth, has been the great problem of German culture for more than half a century.

It has given rise to counter-movements that tried to reestablish the realistic character and obligatory force of the German language, and to analytical efforts describing it in all detail. I am talking of the movement initiated by Stefan George in the Nineties, and of the more than thirty fat volumes, beginning in 1900, of the periodical [Die Fackel (The Torch)] issued and for the greater part written by Karl Kraus, which contain practically nothing but a thousandfold-instanced analysis of this problem.

Hitler as a writer is an outstanding representative of precisely this style of unrealistic, nonobligatory language. These style characteristics, being peculiarly German and determined by the German revolutionary process for at least sixty or seventy years, are untranslatable into any other language. A translation of Hitler's Mein Kampf is equivalent to a destruction of its most essential characteristics. If Western statesmen know about these facts and problems of German cultural history, and nevertheless insist on treating National Socialist use of language according to the Western pattern, this certainly is their own fault.

PUBLISHED ESSAYS, 1940-1952,
CW VOL 10,
Extended Strategy: A new Technique of dynamic Relations
pp 24-25.

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