Comme l’Islam est resté figé dans sa contemplation d’une société qui fut réelle il y a sept siècles, et pour trancher les problèmes de laquelle il conçut alors des solutions efficaces, nous n’arrivons plus à penser hors des cadres d’une époque révolue depuis un siècle et demi, qui fut celle où nous sûmes nous accorder à l’histoire ; et encore trop brièvement, car Napoléon, ce Mahomet de l’Occident, a échoué là où a réussi l’autre.
Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques
When I read Levi Strauss saying Napoleon was a Mohammed who failed I wondered if Hitler was too.
I suppose yes, more so than Napoleon.
I mean no particular disrespect to Mohammed by making the comparison with Hitler. Both were conquerors, both were moralists and both were religious figures, according at least to Jung. But Hitler was a complete failure. His legacy, seventy years after his defeat, was a continent dominated by ideas very consciously antithetical to his.
Carl Jung in 1938 said:
Hitler’s ‘religion’ is the nearest to Mohammedanism, realistic, earthy, promising the maximum rewards in this life, but with a Moslem-like Valhallah into which worthy Germans may enter and continue to enjoy themselves. Like Mohammedanism, it teaches the virtue of the sword. Hitler’s first idea is to make his people powerful because the spirit of the Aryan German deserves to be supported by might, by muscle and by steel.
Jung was asked by the Bishop of Southwark in a discussion published in 1939
…had he any views on what was likely to be the next step in religious development?
We do not know whether Hitler is going to found a new Islam. He is already on the way; he is like Muhammad. The emotion in Germany is Islamic; warlike and Islamic. They are all drunk with wild god. That can be the historic future.
During an interview with H. R. Knickerbocker, published in January 1939, Jung said:
There is no question but that Hitler belongs in the category of the truly mystic medicine man. As somebody commented about him at the last Nuremberg party congress, since the time of Mohammed nothing like it has been seen in this world. His body does not suggest strength. The outstanding characteristic of his physiognomy is its dreamy look. I was especially struck by that when I saw pictures taken of him in the Czechoslovakian crisis; there was in his eyes the look of a seer. This markedly mystic characteristic of Hitler’s is what makes him do things which seem to us illogical, inexplicable, and unreasonable. … So you see, Hitler is a medicine man, a spiritual vessel, a demi-deity or, even better, a myth.Was Jung right that Nazism was a quasi-religious idea and Hitler a (false) prophet?
Lothrop Stoddard was an American advocate of eugenics (though not a fascist) who visited Germany in 1940. In his Into the Darkness: Nazi Germany Today published that year he said:
I am convinced that the [Nazi] ‘Old Guard,’ at any rate, are for the most part, fanatical zealots. If the Nazi thesis were a dialectic screen hiding mere lust for power and pelf, it would never have converted so large a portion of the traditionally honest, idealistic German people. If the Nazi leaders were just a band of cynical adventurers, with tongue in cheek and wholly ‘on the make,’ it would be far easier to deal with them.Both Hitler and Napoleon can be compared to Muhammed. Interestingly, Hitler and Napoleon both expressed their admiration for Muhammed. (Why don't the English any more use the traditional spelling Mahomet? The French do.)
Napoleon’s biographer Emmanuel-Augustin-Dieudonné-Joseph, Count of Las Cases, says that Napoleon, exiled in St. Helena, was unhappy with Voltaire’s play “Mahomet.”
Mahomet was the subject of deep criticism.“Voltaire”, said the Emperor, “in the character and conduct of his hero, has departed both from nature and history. He has degraded Mahomet, by making him descend to the lowest intrigues. He has represented a great man who changed the face of the world, acting like a scoundrel, worthy of the gallows. He has no less absurdly travestied the character of Omar, which he has drawn like that of a cut-throat in a melo-drama. Voltaire committed a fundamental error in attributing to intrigue that which was solely the result of opinion." Omar refers to Omar bin al-Khattab, caliph after Prophet Muhammad.Moving from the profane to the sacred, Napoleon's admiration for Mohammed was exceeded by his admiration for Jesus, of whom he said,
I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creation of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him.Hitler admired Islam. In the bunker he said, according to Martin Bormann,
Had Charles Martel not been victorious at Poitiers — already, you see, the world had fallen into the hands of the Jews, so gutless a thing is Christianity! — then we should in all probability have been converted to Mohammedanism, that cult which glorifies heroism and which opens up the Seventh Heaven to the bold warrior alone. Then the Germanic races would have conquered the world. Christianity alone prevented them from doing so.There is no doubt about the enthusiasm of other Nazis for Islam, including Himmler, who was a good friend of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. The Grand Mufti is said to have visited Auschwitz at Himmler's suggestion.
The point Claude Lévi-Strauss made was that France is obsessed by the ideas of the early 19th century as Islam is with those of the distant past. But I don't think Napoleon did fail. As Anthony Burgess said, pace Levi Strauss, he won when England joined the European Economic Community (or Common Market as we called it or EU as it is known today).
I suppose the USA venerates the Whiggism of the 18th century. Are the Enlightenment ideas of Locke a quasi-religion? These words from the American Declaration of Independence sound very like dogmas.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.In fact, though church and state are separated in the USA the ideas of the Constitution are the established religion of America. There are heretics (Communists and fascists) but they are apt to be persecuted, just as were the only true American conservatives, the loyalists who were killed or driven out in the American revolution.
I think it is useful to see ideologies in religious terms, though some more than others. I think it is clear now that Marxism-Leninism was (or rather is) a religion, for example. Marxism is certainly also frozen in time, a product of the Europe of 1848, a by-blow of German romanticism.
Was Lenin also a Mohammed who failed? Lenin's ideas are still influential, at least as mediated via Gramsci. He has not wholly failed, unfortunately.