The Tyranny of Average Men
They are slaves who fear to speak
For the fallen and the weak. . .
They are slaves who dare not be
In the right with two or three. ~ James Russell Lowell
Tyranny is always majoritarian. Whether people like to admit it or not, never in the history of mankind has any dictatorship existed without the consent and approval of the vast majority, and countless historical precedents support this axiom. However, for the purpose of this article, one particular instance will be examined: Nazi Germany.
A huge blind excitement fills the streets. The national socialists have come to power in a land tortured by unemployment, embittered by the loss of territory, and demoralized by political weakness. Perhaps this will be the new beginning. Most people think the nazis are a little absurd here, too obsessive there; but perhaps the time for thinking is over. Adolf Hitler did not seize power, he was offered it just as his voting strength was declining. The politicians who made Hitler Chancellor argued “WE are hiring HIM”. Their figurehead was the ancient president Paul Von Hindenburg. The communists and the socialists tried to take Hitler coolly, “this wouldn’t last”, they said. Conservative anti-nazis took comfort from the fact that their old war leader Hindenburg, still head of state, was known to despise the vulgar little corporal.
With mock solemnity, Hitler and his lieutenants walked to the ceremonial opening of parliament. The party’s strength had been built up by revolutionary violence. They had never imagined that they could take office legally. When the old Reichstag building was mysteriously gutted by fire, Hitler seized his chance to suspend all civil liberties. His followers could hardly believe their luck. The old Hindenburg, the symbol of apparent continuity, presided as they turned office into power by acts of sham legality. In March, when the Reichstag voted to allow Hitler to govern without parliament, Hindenburg made no comment. The legal chancellor marched irresistibly into the role of the legal dictator. Hitler proclaimed the New Germany and meant it to last a thousand years.
From the first moment, Hitler unleashed his promised campaign against the Jews. The Sturmabteilung (SA) organized boycotts of Jewish-owned shops. The real point was to encourage the German people to think and act antisemitic as a matter of cause. The outside world was horrified. But there were those, including many German Jews, who thought the anti-Jewish campaign the work of Nazi extremists, something Herr Hitler would put a stop to when he felt more secure. There was to be a cultural revolution too. German culture would be purged of the Jewish Bolshevist taint. Books flew into the fire, many of those who flung them were students and teachers. And as the sparks rose, the intellectuals fled, writers and scientists, to give their talents to Western Europe and America. A hundred years before, the German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine whose books now went into the fire had warned: “where one burns books, there one eventually burns people.”
The nazis had mass support among the unemployed, but less among the organized workers. Nazi supporters were basically middle class, shopkeepers ruined by the depression, clarks who had lost their savings, craftsmen squeezed out by mass production. These were Hitler’s worshippers. To this army of those who would come down in the world belonged the small farmers and the peasants. Hitler had enlisted them during the depression. Now he told them that their blood and their soil were Germany’s treasure. He passed laws to give them safe possession of their fields and he gave them bread.
Transcript from the 1st episode of “The World At War” (1973) documentary
After being appointed as Chancellor on 30 January 1933, Hitler asked President Hindenburg to dissolve the Reichstag (parliament), and a general election was scheduled for 5 March 1933. The Nazi Party won 45% of the seats and, with its coalition partners, passed the Enabling Act of 1933 which granted the German cabinet — most importantly, the chancellor — the legislative power to enact and enforce laws without the involvement of the Reichstag or President Hindenburg. Three months later, all parties except the Nazi Party were banned or pressured into dissolving themselves, and a law was passed on 14 July that made the Nazi Party the only legal party in Germany. The general election which was held shortly afterward on 12 November 1933 saw the Nazi Party win all 661 seats of the Reichstag, now reduced to a mere stage for Hitler’s speeches. On 1 August 1934, one day before Hindenburg’s death, Hitler and his cabinet decreed the “Law Concerning the Highest State Office of the Reich,” which stipulated that upon Hindenburg’s death, the office of the president was to be merged with that of Chancellor. Thus, upon Hindenburg’s death, Hitler became Führer of Germany and was approved by a referendum on 19 August when 88% voted affirmatively.
In all those steps, Hitler asserted himself as the de facto dictator of Germany with the overwhelming support and approval of the people, and through “legal” means. Democracy had run its course in the Weimar Republic and paved the way for a Nazi dictatorship that would soon engulf the entire continent. Most historians erroneously elevated Hitler’s personal power to a level where the history of Germany between 1933 and 1945 becomes reduced to little more than an expression of the dictator’s will. For Ian Kershaw, regarded by many as one of the world’s leading experts on Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, the real significance of Hitler lies not in the dictator himself, but rather in the German people’s perception of him. In his biography of Hitler, Kershaw presented him as the ultimate “unperson”; a boring, pedestrian man devoid of even the “negative greatness” often attributed to him. He rejected the Great Man Theory of history and criticized those who seek to explain everything that happened in Nazi Germany as the result of Hitler’s will and intentions. It is absurd to explain the fate of 78 million people solely through the prism of one man. Kershaw also disagrees with the “Weak Dictator” thesis, the idea that Hitler was a relatively unimportant player in Nazi Germany. However, he agrees that Hitler did not play much of a role in the day-to-day administration of the government of Nazi Germany. Kershaw’s way of explaining this paradox is his concept of “Working Towards the Führer”. The phrase is taken from a 1934 speech by the Prussian civil servant Werner Willikens:
“Everyone who has the opportunity to observe it knows that the Fuhrer can hardly dictate from above everything which he intends to realize sooner or later. On the contrary, up till now, everyone with a post in the new Germany has worked best when he has, so to speak, worked towards the Fuhrer. Very often and in many spheres, it has been the case — in previous years as well — that individuals have simply waited for orders and instructions. Unfortunately, the same will be true in the future; but in fact, it is the duty of everybody to try to work towards the Fuhrer along the lines he would wish. Anyone who makes mistakes will notice it soon enough. But anyone who really works towards the Fuhrer along his lines and towards his goal will certainly both now and in the future, one day have the finest reward in the form of the sudden legal confirmation of his work.”
Kershaw has argued that in Nazi Germany officials of both the German state and Party bureaucracy usually took the initiative in coming up with policies to meet Hitler’s perceived wishes, or alternatively attempted to turn into policy Hitler’s often loosely and indistinctly phrased wishes. By 1938 the German state had been reduced to a hopeless, polycratic shambles of rival agencies (the NSDAP, big corporations, the state bureaucracy, the Wehrmacht, and the Schutzstaffel), all competing with each other to win Hitler’s favor, which by that time had become the only source of political legitimacy. Kershaw sees this rivalry as causing the “cumulative radicalization” of Germany and argues that though Hitler always favored the most radical solution to any problem, it was German officials themselves who for the most part, in attempting to win the Führer’s approval, carried out on their own initiative increasingly “radical” solutions to perceived problems like the “Jewish Question”, as opposed to being ordered to do so by Hitler. Simply put, German agencies were competing for Hitler’s approval after Hitler had already secured the approval of most Germans, as was proven by the 1934 referendum. Even after accounting for the manipulation of the voting process, the results reflected the fact that Hitler had the backing, much of it fervently enthusiastic, of the great majority of the German people at the time.
There remains the important issue of the extent of resistance in the Third Reich. How popular was opposition to Nazism? Such questions go to the heart of the problem of the relationship between German society and the Nazi regime.
The Nazi Regime was a terroristic dictatorship — in a literal sense, a terrifying regime — which knew no bounds in the repression of its perceived enemies. ‘Keep quiet or you’ll end up in Dachau (longest-serving concentration camp in Nazi Germany)’ was a common sentiment indicating an all-pervasive fear and caution sufficient to deter most people from challenging the regime in any way. Passivity and cooperation — however sullen and resentful — were the most human of responses in such a situation. Nevertheless, many aspects of Nazism enjoyed popularity extending far beyond Party die-hards. Economic recovery, the destruction of ‘marxism’, the rebuilding of a strong Germany, territorial expansion, foreign policy and military successes, all seemed, before the middle of the war, stunningly impressive to millions. They found their embodiment in Hitler’s personal popularity, boosted by propaganda into a leadership cult of great potency. The apparent ‘achievements’ of the regime both disarmed criticism and created an atmosphere in which opposition was unable to reckon with any broad base of growing popular disaffection that could have proved dangerous to the regime. The frequently expressed sentiment of jealousy among the opponents of the regime betrays the large popularity the Party enjoyed among the German people.
The humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles, the loss of territory, the Weimar hyperinflation in 1923 (29,500% monthly inflation rate, meaning prices doubled every 3.7 days), 1 in 3 Germans being unemployed for a total of 6.1 million in January 1933… The Nazi takeover of Germany reflected the embitterment and resentment fostered among the great majority of Germans at the time. The demand for scapegoats was already there, as was the propensity for vengeful violence. In short, the persona of Adolf Hitler was the personification of the popular German will. Psychiatrist Carl Jung describes Hitler’s power as a form of “magic”, but that power only exists, he says, because “Hitler listens and obeys….”. The people may be possessed, but it is their will that the Nazi leader enacts, not his own.
“His Voice is nothing other than his own unconscious, into which the German people have projected their own selves; that is, the unconscious of seventy-eight million Germans. That is what makes him powerful. Without the German people he would be nothing. […] The true leader is always led.” — Carl Jung
To represent Nazi Germany as an oligarchy where few ruled is highly misleading. While most people did not wield power and influence, they overwhelmingly approved the destruction in 1933 of the ‘Party system’ which they had so detested in the Weimar Republic; they publicly lauded Hitler for the mass murder of the SA leaders in the Night of the Long Knives in 1934; they rejoiced in the dismantling of Versailles in 1935; they accepted the lurch into the economics of autarky and war preparation in 1936; they voiced no criticism of the mounting wave or ‘Aryanization’ of Jewish property and its accompanying wave of terror in 1937–8; and they bathed in the reflected glory of their Leader following the Anschluss in 1938. The atrocities of the Nazi regime may have been engineered by the ruling elite, but they were paved by indifference, passive complicity, and the collaboration of millions. It’s hard not to assign culpability for what happened in Nazi Germany to society at every stratum.
World War II highlighted many social behaviors shared by people of all walks of life:
- Conformity: the tendency to leave decision-making to the group and its hierarchy, especially in times of crisis.
- Agentic state: the tendency to absolve oneself from the responsibility of one’s actions, as a mere instrument/agent carrying out another person’s wishes.
- Blind trust in authority: the learned faith in the upper chain of command to provide proper guidance.
- Belief perseverance: the tendency to maintain a belief despite new information that firmly contradicts it.
- Desire for strong leadership: the tendency to turn to authoritarianism as a way out of social desperation, especially in the aftermath of economic crisis, hyperinflation, and rampant unemployment.
- Idealism of political ideology: the belief that one’s ideology is a positive product that is beneficial and helpful for society by and large.
- Obedience to authority: the tendency people have to respect and follow those whom they perceive to have legitimate authority.
Most people nowadays like to think of themselves as moral beacons and fighters against oppression and tyranny. The unsettling reality however indicates that many people alive today would have been nazis in similar circumstances. The Asch Conformity Experiments from the 1950s found that people were willing to ignore reality and give incorrect answers in order to conform to the rest of the group. Even when they did not really believe their conforming answers, people had gone along with the group for fear of being mocked or thought peculiar. The Milgram Experiment from 1961 showed that people will do whatever they are told as long as they believe that whoever is telling them what to do has the right to order them. They will obey orders from what they think is legitimate authority even if they are ordered to do terrible things. The Stanford Prison Experiment from 1971, despite being criticized as unethical and immoral, certainly showed that if ordinary people are given the opportunity to be fascist barbarians, many of them would be.
How many people today have the strength of character to stand their ground when everyone around them falls in line? How many people today have the composure and integrity to defy orders or even to question the legitimacy of political authority? How many people today can support their pompous moral high ground claim, and not dehumanize and oppress their adversaries when given the chance? Very few.
How disturbing is it to realize that many of your coworkers, your classmates, your neighbors, your close friends, your relatives, your parents, and even your brothers and sisters would have been/would be Nazis if the right combination of circumstances enabled their worst traits to manifest? Tremendously.
Nevertheless, if World War II and the following decades can reveal anything, it’s this: The mass man is weak-minded and weak-willed. He’s unprincipled and abhors responsibility. He’s dishonest, morally corrupt, and a coward. And this does not come as a shock, really. The biblical concept of “Remnant” posits that very few people possess the force of intellect and of character to apprehend higher principles and to cleave to them. That notion was shared by the Athenian philosopher Plato who compared the Athenian masses to a herd of ravenous wild beasts and by Stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius who described the masses as “meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil.”
It wasn’t until the 17th and 18th centuries that this conception was challenged, by an intellectual movement that came to be known as the Enlightenment. Certain European philosophers posited that, contrary to widely accepted beliefs, the mass man is a worthy object of interest and that his negative traits are to be blamed on his environment and society at large. It was argued that the mass man can transcend his defects in a favorable environment, and the best way to secure such a favorable environment was to let him arrange it for himself. The French Revolution served to propagate this notion, as egalitarianism, democracy, and universal suffrage spread throughout Europe, and later, the world. With more than 2 centuries under his belt though, the mass man failed to fulfill the purpose of the Enlightenment, and he failed miserably. Access to the government didn’t refine the mass man; the mass man remodeled the systems of governance in his wretched image. Suffrage legitimized the state’s authority with deadly consequences and democracy paved the way for ideological total wars. The monarchies of old have solid grounds for being the superior form of government, (stability, human desire for hierarchy, nonpartisan head of state, unifying institution, lower time preference…) but perhaps the greatest benefit of monarchy that often goes unpraised was the exclusivity of government, the fact that the mass man had no access to positions of power where he could manifest his wickedness. Worse than a cruel autocrat is a possessed barbaric collective of average men. While class-consciousness kept monarchies relatively in check, a malicious collective with a purpose is an unrestrained evil.
The French Revolution, the 2 World Wars, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Nazi Revolution, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, systematic genocides, famines, hyperinflation episodes, severe premeditated economic crises… for more than 2 centuries, the mass man has been on a rampage to continuously outdo himself; the coordinated international medical dictatorship ongoing since early 2020 being his latest chef-d’œuvre. Perhaps the hardest pill to swallow is that all tyrannies throughout history are enabled and fueled by the masses, be it explicitly through vocal endorsement and personal contribution, or implicitly through performative contradictions emanating from feeble intellect. As the masses pace towards totalitarianism, the Remnant has a duty to hold fast and to shoulder the burden of building up a new society when the masses hit their endgame and everything turns to tatters. There is no point in attempting to reform the current system, too corrupt to be redeemed by a Remnant too small to be of any avail against the ignorant and vicious preponderance of the masses. Sodom and Gomorrah must be allowed to burn for their wickedness. And as the world spins out of control, the Remnant will have to strive hard to preserve their undaunted principles and their individual sovereignty.
The Genius of the Crowd ~ Charles Bukowski
There is enough treachery, hatred, violence,
absurdity in the average human being
to supply any given army on any given day.
And the best at murder are those who preach against it.
And the best at hate are those who preach love
And the best at war — finally — are those who preach peace.
Those who preach God need God.
Those who preach peace do not have peace.
Those who preach love do not have love
Beware the preachers.
Beware the knowers.
Beware those who are always reading books.
Beware those who either detest poverty or are proud of it.
Beware those quick to praise for they need praise in return.
Beware those quick to censure; they are afraid of what they do not know.
Beware those who seek constant crowds; they are nothing alone.
Beware the average man, the average woman.
Beware their love.
Their love is average, seeks average, but there is genius in their hatred.
There is enough genius in their hatred to kill you, to kill anybody.
Not wanting solitude, not understanding solitude,
they will attempt to destroy anything that differs from their own.
Not being able to create art, they will not understand art.
They will consider their failure as creators only as a failure of the world.
Not being able to love fully, they will believe your love incomplete,
and then they will hate you.
And their hatred will be perfect
like a shining diamond
like a knife
like a mountain
like a tiger
Their finest art.
- Ian Kershaw — The Nazi Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation
- Carl Jung — Hitler on the Couch
- Jordan B. Peterson — 2015 Personality Lecture 13: Existentialism: Nazi Germany and the USSR
- Albert Jay Nock — Isaiah’s Job
- Marcus Aurelius — Meditations
- Hans-Hermann Hoppe — Democracy: The God That Failed
- Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn — Monarchy and War