June 25, 2007

1. The Hitler-Ibsen Connection

Our book group recently read Ibsen’s Emperor and Galilean, as a precursor to Sage’s Ibsen and Hitler. I didn’t enjoy a single page of Emperor and Galilean; it’s historically accurate, and philosophically profound, but it doesn’t draw you in, you can’t enter this far-off world, you never for a moment forget that this is just a play, and these are just characters. Now, however, our book group is reading Sage’s book, and I’m enjoying it a lot. I posted the following message on an Oxfordian forum:

I discovered the most amazing theory. According to this theory, Hitler followed the script of an Ibsen play, Emperor and Galilean, patterning his personal life and his political life after the Ibsen play. This theory is set forth in a book called Ibsen and Hitler: The Playwright, The Plagiarist, and the Plot for the Third Reich. The author, Steven Sage, is a Ph.D. and a professional scholar; he worked at the Library of Congress and now works at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

Sage has revolutionized the study of Hitler; his impact on the study of Hitler is comparable, in my view, to Looney’s impact on the study of Shakespeare [J. Thomas Looney discovered the Oxford Theory]. “Wait a minute. Looney completely upended our view of Shakespeare, whereas Sage only modifies our view of Hitler.” True, but Looney had many ancestors, Looney was the culmination of a long line of anti-Stratfordians, but Sage has no ancestors, or almost none, hence the impact of Sage’s work can be compared to that of Looney’s work.

Sage must struggle against the same resistance that Oxfordians must struggle against: at first glance, Sage’s theory is so wild that people are turned off by it. Truth is stranger than fiction — the theories of Looney and Sage are stranger than fiction. If a novelist concocted such plots, his work would be criticized as far-fetched, unrealistic.

It’s hard to believe that a significant new discovery — like Looney’s or Sage’s — can be made about a subject that has already been studied so much. Most of us have an ingrained resistance to revolutionary ideas. But once you overcome your initial resistance, once you see the truth of a theory like Looney’s or Sage’s, you find it exciting that major discoveries are still being made in what seemed like old, well-worn fields.

Sage’s theory is, in one respect, more exciting than Looney’s: when I saw the truth of Looney’s theory, I was convert #44,758 but Sage’s theory is unknown, I feel like I’m convert #1, I feel like Looney’s first reader must have felt.

In his book, Sage describes how the young Hitler, out of school and out of work, spent his days and nights watching plays and operas. He watched the same works over and over. He didn’t just watch them, he lived them, he identified with the characters. (Did anyone ever do this with Shakespeare’s works? Did anyone ever live Shakespeare? Did John Wilkes Booth, for example, feel that he was living the role of Cassius when he killed Lincoln?)

One play that Hitler attended was The King, by Hanns Johst. Hitler later met Johst, and told him that he had seen The King seventeen times, and that he himself would die in the same manner as the king in Johst’s play. And in fact, he did.

Hitler was also enamored of the Cowboy novels of the German writer Karl May. Hitler seemed to view Eastern Europe and Russia as “Indian territory”; it was Germany’s destiny to conquer this territory, as whites had conquered the American West. “When Nazi troops were losing to the Soviet resistance, Hitler sent 300,000 copies of Karl May novels to the officers.... ‘The struggle we are waging there against the [Soviet] Partisans,’ Hitler said, ‘resembles very much the struggle in North America against the Red Indians.’”1A

But Hitler’s strongest identification was with the protagonist of Ibsen’s Emperor and Galilean, Julian the Apostate. Indeed, Hitler seemed to believe that he was Julian reincarnated. (Did anyone ever think that he was a reincarnation of Shakespeare, or one of Shakespeare’s characters?) Hitler’s identification with Julian had a profound influence on his life and career. It influenced the most dramatic events in his personal life, such as the suspicious death of his lover/niece, Geli Raubal. It also influenced the most momentous events of his career, such as his decision not to concentrate on Moscow during his invasion of Russia.

No one ever knew that Hitler was following Ibsen’s Julian — no one except Hitler himself, and later, Steven Sage. In Shakespeare’s lifetime, his identity was known to dozens, if not hundreds, but Hitler didn’t reveal his secret to anyone. Indeed, if Sage hadn’t discovered it, one wonders if it would ever have come to light.

It may seem odd that Hitler would regard himself as Julian reincarnated. It should be remembered, though, that Hitler was receptive to all forms of the occult. Furthermore, Hitler’s guru, Dietrich Eckart, believed that he was the reincarnation of one of Ibsen’s most famous characters, Peer Gynt. Unlike Julian, Peer Gynt has no basis in history, so the idea of being Peer Gynt reincarnated is even odder than the idea of being Julian reincarnated. Yet that’s what Eckart believed, and Hitler revered Eckart. “He shone in our eyes like the polar star,” Hitler said of Eckart.

Sage is a hard-headed rationalist, who respects the intellectual establishment. He scorns the occult, and dismisses reincarnation out of hand. His argument is based on solid evidence, accumulated by painstaking research. I have no personal connection to Sage; indeed, he refused to help me to publish my work, insisting that it was unworthy of publication.

I said earlier that “Sage has no ancestors, or almost none.” Let me explain what I meant by “almost”. During Hitler’s formative years, interest in Ibsen was intense, and numerous studies of Ibsen’s works were published. Some of these studies viewed Ibsen as a prophet, and some said that Emperor and Galilean, in particular, was a prophetic work. One of the themes of Emperor and Galilean is the “Third Reich”, and at the end of the play, it is predicted, “the Third Reich will come!” When Hitler’s career began, one German writer, Paul Schulze-Berghof, seemed to equate Hitler with Julian. So there are some hints of Sage’s theory in the early 1920’s, just as there are “Oxfordians” in the early 1600’s.

I summarized Sage’s theory in [an earlier issue], and Sage summarized his own theory in a lecture at the Library of Congress, and in an essay on History News Network. But the force of his theory, like the force of the Oxford theory, comes from a wealth of detail, so his theory should be judged after reading his book, rather than a summary. His book is neither long nor difficult to read. Beware of Ibsen’s Emperor and Galilean; it’s the dullest Ibsen play I’ve read.

[This is the end of my posting. I wrote to Sage as follows:]

HammondI’m reading your book, and enjoying it a lot. Interesting argument, interesting anecdotes, hard to put down. It’s especially interesting to me, a student of the occult, since it has much to say about the occult. Perhaps it’s even more interesting to me than it is to you, since I regard things like reincarnation as real, or possibly real....

I read Emperor and Galilean. I didn’t enjoy it, but I don’t regret reading it. Somewhat interesting. I didn’t find any prophecy of Hitler (beyond what you’ve already identified).

SageMy point, again, is that ample evidence shows AH [i.e., Adolf Hitler] maintained an abiding obsession with three Ibsen plays, whose scripted lines turn up from time to time paraphrased in AH’s transcribed ad-hoc remarks. Three series of Hitlerian actions then parallel plot episodes of these same three dramas, in like sequence to their scripted counterparts. This happens rather too often to ascribe to random chance.

Furthermore, the observed phenomenon is made fully explicable by a German literary cult centered around at least one of the plays (Emperor and Galilean) which was called “prophecy.” A cult title like “Ibsen’s Emperor and Galilean as Allegory” couldn’t be more explicit. The author of that tract even indicated AH as the man anointed to bring about the ‘third Reich’ foretold in Ibsen’s play.

AH was a confirmed, obsessive theater maven, and his circle overlapped with several of the Ibsen cultists. One, the Ibsenist Dietrich Eckart, was cited by AH as his guiding mentor.

I affirm that the case is proven on empirical (i.e., not conjectural) grounds: AH mimicked episodes of three Ibsen plays, and instances of that mimicry replayed as major historical events which have hitherto lacked adequate accounting. Anybody wanna talk about the specifics, instance by instance?

Could one man’s delusions generate events so colossal as WWII and the Holocaust? Well why not? It’s happened before in History. And AH was a near-absolute dictator. It’s freely acknowledged that many other moves were made on his whim and that he, at the apex, engineered the aggressions sparking the war. The few informally stated objections to my findings about AH as a theatrically-deluded madman, voiced among professional historians, appear to be doctrinal rather than based on evidentiary specifics. There’s a prejudice against significant biography, which is derided as The Great Man Theory of History. Although such prejudices are conveniently shelved in other instances. (E.g., no one ever minimizes what was in Muhammed’s head, in accounting for the rise of Islam.)

A year after IBSEN AND HITLER appeared, there have been no, repeat no (nada, rien) probing discussions of the contents of the book, fact by fact, episode for episode. No discussions, and certainly no refutations. Only a breezily expressed distaste by some with the findings. Although those findings are fully in accord with all we’ve always known about AH’s persona. What’s new in IBSEN AND HITLER is, mainly, the identification of the previously-unsuspected Ur-text which guided the lunatic drama maven AH.

....Again, what I’ve shown is that three Ibsen plays figured really big in AH’s head, on the basis of what he said.

Hammond I’m moving along with your book. It’s readable and interesting, so I make rapid progress (rapid for me, I’m a slow reader). I’m on page 124. And of course, it’s fun to be able to correspond with the author....

You seem disappointed by the reception of your book. I think your expectations may have been too high. If you wait a bit, and lower your expectations, I think you’ll find that your book will be seen as a significant contribution to the understanding of one of history’s pivotal players.

I must fault you, however, for the tone of your book. While you criticized my book’s “grandiose” tone, I must criticize you for the opposite — an ironic, sarcastic tone. History is a serious thing, and should be written in a serious tone. Also, literature is a serious thing, and we should all write as if our books are going to be immortal — and perhaps if we take that attitude, they will be immortal. (This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t sometimes be light-hearted, humorous, etc.) As an example of the tone of your book, I would cite your subtitle for the section on the whip of Hitler/Christ: “Miracle Whip” (p. 64). Such a tone can make a book more “catchy”, but I think we should aim higher than being catchy. I’ll mention one more example of an ironic, sarcastic tone: “That guy always in the Der König audience, the one sporting the little moustache, saw many more plays after his romance with this one.”(p. 63)

....On page 105, you say that the Third Reich combines “pagan Hellenistic learning together with the second Reich of Christ.” If this were true, then Ibsen wouldn’t have said, “The ideals of our time, while falling apart, are tending toward what... I called by the term ‘the Third Reich’”.(p. ix) I don’t think the ideals of Ibsen’s time included either pagan learning or Christian spirit.

So what does Ibsen mean? He means, I think, that the Third Reich is a fusion of head and heart, reason and feeling, conscious and unconscious. In short, the Third Reich (as conceived by Ibsen) is an inner ideal, a spiritual ideal, relevant to the 19th century, and equally relevant to our time. In support of my interpretation, I would cite the following passages:

  1. Part I, Act 5, p. 84 (of the paperback Johnston translation): “To be fully human has been forbidden from the day the seer of Galilee gained control of the world.... To love or to hate, each is a sin.... All that’s healthy within our souls rises against this.” Ibsen’s ideal, I think, is wholeness and balance, and his gripe with Christianity is that it doesn’t foster wholeness.
  2. I, 2, p. 36: Julian: “There must be a new revelation.” On page 84, Julian says, “What was it we sought to create so ardently? A system of philosophy. Nothing more nor less.” Julian (and Ibsen) are aiming at more than combining paganism and Christianity, they’re aiming at a new philosophy/religion, a new ideal, a new spiritual ideal, an ideal that transcends earlier ideals, earlier “reichs”. This ideal is, in my view, relevant to our time, and resembles what I’ve called The Philosophy of Today.
  3. II, 4, p. 177: Julian: “The third empire has come, Maximus! ....Spirit is made flesh, and flesh spirit.” This is wholeness, this is fusion.
  4. II, 3, p. 156: Maximus: “Logos in Pan — Pan in Logos.” Again, a fusion of opposites. Wholeness.
  5. II, 3, p. 155: Maximus criticizes Julian for trying to turn the clock back, instead of creating a higher synthesis: “You wanted to turn the youth back into a child again. The empire of the flesh has been absorbed into the empire of the spirit. But the empire of the spirit is no more the ultimate state, than that of the youth is. You tried to stunt the youth’s maturing — preventing him becoming a man. Oh, you fool, who drew your sword against the future — against the third empire where the twin-natured one shall rule!” So for Ibsen, the Third Reich is an inner ideal, an ideal of human nature, an ideal of fusion (“twin-natured”). Since human nature naturally displays two opposed states, a “Third Reich” naturally presents itself as a spiritual ideal, a higher synthesis, personal growth.

In short, I think your interpretation of the “Third Reich” stresses externals, whereas I believe we should stress internals — creating a whole personality, a balanced personality, by fusing disparate elements (reason and feeling, etc.). Your interpretation may be true with respect to Joachim of Fiore, but for Ibsen, I think the “Third Reich” was an inner state. Four years ago, I discussed Joachim in my e-zine — or rather, I discussed the Jungian view of Joachim. The Jungians interpret Joachim’s Three Ages theory in terms of inner life, ignoring the externals of Joachim’s theory. In short, the Jungians may be over-stressing Joachim’s internals, just as you may be over-stressing Ibsen’s externals.

My interpretation of Ibsen’s play places less emphasis than yours on Julian as a reincarnation of Christ. I don’t think the play says that Julian is a reincarnation of Christ. You not only believe that it does say that, you regard that as the cornerstone of the play. You quote (II, 4, p. 164) a remark of Maximus: “Can you know, Julian, you weren’t once in him you now persecute?” I take this at face value, I take this to mean, “you may have lived before as Christ.” On the other hand, you seem to think that this line means, “You definitely lived before as Christ.” What I regard as a vague possibility, almost a thought experiment, you regard as an unequivocal statement, and the central message of the play.

I’m not suggesting, though, that my interpretations are right, and yours are wrong. Rather, it’s a difference of emphasis. I’m sure you can adduce quotes that support your interpretation. I think my interpretation makes both Ibsen and Julian more important, more relevant for our time.

HammondPerhaps your book could be the basis of a Hitler movie. If someone wrote a novel about Hitler following an Ibsen script, it would be derided as far-fetched. Your thesis is “stranger than fiction” and that’s one reason it interests me.

I’m asking myself, Did Hitler ever wish that he didn’t have to follow a script? Or did the script prompt him to do things that he would have done anyway? Did Hitler ever wonder whether his “Ur-text” would be discovered? Did he perhaps have a premonition that Steven Sage would uncover the truth in the 21st century?

HammondThe Geli Affair is one of your best chapters. The material is inherently interesting/dramatic, and it confirms your thesis. But perhaps the most momentous result of Ibsen’s influence is the northward turn during the Russian campaign, and the postponement of the assault on Moscow. Your work merits the serious attention of historians. But instead of that, it’s receiving the serious attention of outsiders/iconoclasts like me — people who are drawn to the offbeat, the anti-establishment, the original. In time, though, the establishment will take notice of your work — just as, in time, the Earl of Oxford will be accepted as the real author of Hamlet, Macbeth, etc. Original, offbeat theories need time to gain acceptance — the Copernican theory needed 2 centuries. Patience! “The world belongs to him who can wait.”
HammondAbout your thesis: doesn’t your thesis imply that Hitler read Emperor and Galilean very closely? Multiple times? Surely his knowledge of the play seems to go beyond seeing it a couple times, beyond reading a couple of books about it.
HammondYour argument is strong, Steven, and it gets stronger as the book proceeds. The connection between the Final Solution and Julian is most interesting. But one question keeps coming up: Would it have happened anyway? Would the invasion of Russia have happened anyway? Would the Final Solution have happened anyway?

It seems to invite a discussion of causation. Should historians look for “causes”? Should we attempt to say whether Ibsen was the cause of such-and-such a policy? Or should we abandon the search for causes? Is it just our Western, rational worldview that sees the world in terms of linear causality, sees the world as a chain of events? Were the Asians right to say that everything arises together (Mutual Arising), everything causes everything else — a net of causality, not a chain?

Freud used the phrase “over-determined” for something that had multiple causes. Perhaps we could say that the invasion of Russia, and the term “Third Reich” were over-determined — that is, they had multiple causes, not one single cause. Ibsen’s plays were one cause but not the only cause. Ibsen encouraged the Nazis to use the phrase “Third Reich,” but they might have used it anyway, it was over-determined. It’s impossible to say how much weight each cause had. Ibsen was part of the net of causality — perhaps as weighty as any other part.

One can imagine a stupid critic reading your book, and then saying, “It doesn’t matter because it would have happened the same way anyhow. Hitler just used Ibsen as a prop to support policies that he would have carried out anyway. Ibsen changed nothing, so Sage’s book is meaningless.”

SageWas AH’s Ibsen fixation central to his historical role? Or tangential? If just tangential, then one can read my findings as a mere addendum to the existing, standard bio treatments. And that’s the way things stand now; the gray eminences in the field aren’t disposed to acknowledge how crucial this Ibsen thing was to AH and what he wreaked upon the world. However, if the Ibsen thing be admitted as central (as it was indeed), then... somebody’s gotta write a new, full length AH bio incorporating the Ibsen material and also investigating whatever other texts AH might have mimed.
HammondI was bowled over by your chapters on Emperor and Galilean, but now I see that there’s more, now I see that the discussion of The Master Builder is just as interesting, just as convincing. This is one of the most interesting books I’ve read in a long time. One of its virtues is that it throws light on Hitler the man, but doesn’t give the reader lots of anecdotes. Too many modern historians, especially popular historians, chatter about someone’s diet, someone’s sex life, etc., etc. They string together dozens of anecdotes, knowing that even the weakest brains can digest such junk food.
HammondYour remarks on Hitler’s feminine side jibe with my remarks on the psychology of genius. This strengthens the case (if it needed any strengthening) that Hitler was a genius. In my view, recognizing Hitler as a genius is essential to understanding him. Wikipedia says, “In his biography of Hitler, Kershaw presented him as the ultimate ‘unperson’; a boring, pedestrian man.” But if we see Hitler as a genius, then we should be skeptical of Kershaw’s view.

Your remarks on Hitler’s psychology are most interesting, but perhaps you should take account of the psychology of genius.

HammondAlmost done with your book. You have indeed discovered a “stupendous fact” (p. 293), but as I’m sure you know, some people will question whether it’s a fact, others will question whether it’s stupendous, and still others will ignore it altogether. Am I your only convert? ....Of course, in the long run, I think your theory will be regarded as a breakthrough in the study of Hitler, as well as a remarkable finding in a general sense. Indeed, someday it won’t be called a theory, but rather a fact, just as Darwin’s theory is now often called a fact.

You give us some interesting insights into Hitler the man, but don’t tell us about the “cause of causes” — his early years. You suggest that he may have had Multiple Personality Disorder (or “Dissociative Identity Disorder”), but you don’t ask, “where did that come from? What childhood issues might have created such a condition? What childhood issues made Hitler vulnerable to a variety of illnesses/madnesses?”

Wikipedia says,

As a boy, Hitler said he was whipped almost daily by his father. Years later he told his secretary, “I then resolved never again to cry when my father whipped me. A few days later I had the opportunity of putting my will to the test. My mother, frightened, took refuge in the front of the door. As for me, I counted silently the blows of the stick which lashed my rear end.”

That is, he dissociated a part of himself from the self that was being beaten — as if he were acting in a play, and at the same time watching the play.

Wikipedia also says,

Dissociation is a complex mental process that provides a coping mechanism for individuals confronting painful and/or traumatic situations. It is characterized by a disintegration of the ego.... The difference between a psychotic break and a dissociation, or dissociative break, is that, while someone who is experiencing a dissociation is technically pulling away from a situation that s/he cannot manage, some part of the person remains connected to reality. While the psychotic ‘breaks’ from reality, the dissociative disconnects, but not all the way.... Because the person suffering a dissociation does not completely disengage from his/her reality, she/he may appear to have multiple ‘personalities’.... North American studies show that 97 to 98% of adults with dissociative identity disorder report abuse during childhood.... Patients with dissociative identity disorder can be easily hypnotized.

Hypnotized by a play or opera? One might say that Hitler didn’t just watch plays, he was hypnotized by them — he was moved by them more than most people are.

Among the symptoms of Dissociative Identity Disorder, Wikipedia mentions “sexual dysfunction, eating disorders... suicidal preoccupations and attempts... psychoactive substance use/abuse.” You mention several of these symptoms on page 269, and point out that they fit Hitler. A preoccupation with suicide seems to fit Hitler well, given his interest in the play Der König. Wikipedia goes on: “Other symptoms include: Depersonalization, which refers to feeling unreal, removed from one’s self.... The patient feels like an observer of his life and may actually see himself as if he were watching a movie.” Or a play? Was Hitler watching himself in the role of Hilde, Julian, Stockmann, etc.? As Strasser said, “He never ceases from watching himself and playing a conscious part” (p. 64).

Since Stalin was also severely beaten as a child, one wonders if he shared any of Hitler’s traits, or if he developed different traits, perhaps opposite traits. Was Stalin’s ego strong rather than shattered?

You backtrack from a diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder, saying that the various personas within Hitler were aware of each other. But the Wikipedia article on Dissociative Identity Disorder doesn’t say that this awareness disqualifies a diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder. Perhaps you shouldn’t backtrack, perhaps you should go forward with the thesis that Hitler exemplifies Dissociative Identity Disorder. It seems to fit well.

It appears that Hitler was partly insane, that he lived in the borderland that lies between sanity and insanity. Again, this agrees perfectly with my remarks on the psychology of genius. One might describe Hitler not only as a genius, but as a classic example of a genius.

Perhaps the least interesting section of your book is the opening section, dealing with Enemy of the People. I wonder if you should move it toward the back, instead of putting it “front and center”. The section on Master Builder is great, but some readers may not make it that far.

The Jewish Question: what was the cause of Hitler’s hatred of the Jews? Father Schwarz, whom Hitler regarded as a converted Jew? Father Schwarz, whom Hitler blamed for expelling him from school, and for condemning him to a life among the dregs of society? Your remarks on this subject are most interesting, but perhaps they need a summation/conclusion/clarification.

Iago’s hatred of Othello seems to stem from being passed over, not promoted. Perhaps Hitler and Iago can both be seen as examples of what Kundera calls litost....

Having read your book, I must retract many of my earlier comments about your theory. I must admit there’s no evidence that Ibsen foresaw Hitler, but there’s abundant evidence that Hitler copied/imitated/followed Ibsen.

If I remember correctly, Hitler said in Mein Kampf that he began his mission at age 30, and that Jesus also began his mission at age 30. This would suggest that Hitler associated with Jesus, and took a positive view of Jesus; in other words, this might strengthen one of your arguments.

Like the Oxford theory, your theory would make a great movie. If I promote your theory, will you give me a percentage of the gate?

SageGreetings from Dubrovnik, where I’ve been lecturing at the InterUniversity Centre, including one hour-long Powerpoint talk-plus-discussion on Ibsen & Hitler book. Very well received. I’m struggling with a Croatian keyboard here; letters & punctuation in different places which makes writing difficult. But I’ll try to respond.

Was Ibsen the cause of AH’s personal anti-Semitism, his animus against the Jews? No. As you know, I identified AH’s personal nemesis (whom he mistook for a Jew) from AH’s own words. [In a chapter called “Judenfrage: Hitler’s ‘Jewish Question’,” Sage argues that the source of Hitler’s hatred of the Jews was a teacher named Father Schwarz. Hitler clashed with Father Schwarz, and was expelled from school, doubtless at the instigation of Father Schwarz.] I’m the first to identify AH’s abiding personal nemesis. And I did so on the basis of what AH said, which is the ultimate source. [Sage is a rebel, an iconoclast. He argues that the establishment can’t accept his findings:] The problem (again) here is the irony. It’s too much to ask of the establishment to accept that the bee in AH’s bonnet was a gentile whom AH wanted, incorrectly, to have been a Jew. It’s ironic. But it’s again, demonstrably what happened. The greatest sin is to be prematurely right. Another sin is to upstage authority, to scoop your boss on something that counts, big time....

Dubrovnik very pleasant, sunny, breezy, temperature just right.

Hammond[Sage’s book discusses Hitler’s pyromania; Sage quotes Speer’s remark that Hitler was fascinated by fire, and was mesmerized by films of Russian cities in flames, etc. This prompted me to write:] They say that Hitler often asked, near the end of the war, “Is Paris burning?” That became the title of a well-known book about the French resistance.
SageDunno about “often”, but supposedly AH telephoned General von Choltitz, the Wehrmacht garrison commander, to ask “Brent Paris?” by way of confirming whether if orders to raze the city had been carried out prior to German retreat and the liberation of Paris by French and U.S. armies in August 1944. The journalistic piece “Is Paris Burning?” by the authorial team Collins & LaPierre added much to WWII mythology upon its publication in the 1960s. This book is filled with anecdotes, some of which seem dubious, but the cinematic quality paid off; a film (since forgettable) was indeed made. [Since my wife and I are interested in Paris, we watched this movie. It’s harmless, even enjoyable at times, but mediocre.]

Hammond[While corresponding with Sage, I continued discussing Ibsen-Hitler on the Oxfordian forum:] When I posted my initial message, I hadn’t finished Sage’s Ibsen and Hitler, and I didn’t realize that he discusses the Booth-Shakespeare connection. After showing how Hitler followed Ibsen’s plays, Sage compares Hitler to four other examples of “mimetic syndrome”: Booth following Shakespeare, the Unabomber following Joseph Conrad, John Hinckley (who shot Reagan) following the movie Taxi Driver, and Timothy McVeigh following a novel called The Turner Diaries.

For more on the Booth-Shakespeare connection, Sage refers us to an Atlantic essay, “Was the Bard Behind It?” (October, 1990) and to a book called Assassin on Stage: Brutus, Hamlet, and the Death of Lincoln.1B For more on the Unabomber-Conrad connection, click here and here. The Unabomber followed Conrad so closely that even before he was arrested, people realized that whoever was committing these crimes must be Conrad-inspired. [I discussed The Unabomber in a previous issue, but I didn’t realize that he was a Conrad-follower, as Hitler was an Ibsen-follower. The Unabomber read Conrad’s complete works in their entirety, and repeatedly. Conrad seems to have caused, or at least confirmed, The Unabomber’s hostility toward technology. As for the root cause of The Unabomber’s crimes, it seems to be the same as the root cause of Hitler’s crimes: early-childhood trauma.]

Were Ibsen’s plays the cause of World War II? I would argue that there isn’t one single cause for an event like that. Rather, there’s an infinite number of causes that act concurrently. Philosophers in India call this The Doctrine of Mutual Arising. These philosophers view causation as a vast net. Ibsen’s plays were an important part of the World War II net — important, fascinating, and hitherto unknown.

Hammond[Again writing on the Oxfordian forum:] Wilde said that life imitates art. Hitler, as described by Sage, is the greatest example of life-imitating-art in all of history. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Hitler was a product of Wilde’s era — late 1800s, early 1900s — an era that took art very seriously, that treated art as a religion.

Shakespeare said that art imitates life, that art holds a mirror up to life. Hamlet staged a play that imitated life. Hitler staged events that imitated plays. Perhaps Shakespeare concealed his identity because in his day, art wasn’t glorified, wasn’t treated as a religion; the artist was somewhere between a clown and a craftsman.

Nietzsche was a contemporary of Wilde. Nietzsche’s best friend, Richard Wagner, was one of the foremost artists of the time (and a favorite of Hitler’s). When he was in his twenties, Nietzsche was caught up in the Wagner craze, but later he decided “we’re taking art too seriously,” and he broke with Wagner.

Hitler took art way too seriously, he was hypnotized by it. He had a weak ego, a weak identity, hence he was prone to adopt alter-identities, multiple personas. Hitler’s weak ego can be traced, I believe, to early-childhood traumas; like Stalin, he was abused/beaten as a child. Part of the value of Sage’s Ibsen and Hitler is that it enriches our understanding of Hitler the man, just as the Oxford theory enriches our understanding of Shakespeare the man.

Hammond[Again on the Oxfordian forum:] Yes, the Shakespeare story is certainly aberrant, strange. But at least we’re dealing with sane people, acting from sane motives. With Hitler, on the other hand, we’re dealing with mental illness, and an unusual illness at that. So one might say that the Hitler story is even stranger than the Shakespeare story....

Before Sage made his discovery about Hitler, some people realized that Hitler was fundamentally an actor playing various roles.... The philosopher Emil Fackenheim said, “I don’t think he knew the difference between acting and believing. Of course, it’s a shocking thing to consider that six million Jews were murdered because of an actor.”1 The Dutch writer Harry Mulisch said, “Perhaps Hitler, the man of the theater... had only played theatrically with toy soldiers, albeit of flesh and blood.”2

Sage’s Ibsen and Hitler is so much fun to read that, when you finish it, you suffer withdrawal symptoms. I don’t remember any book affecting me like that. If his book becomes popular, support groups should be set up. IHA: Ibsen Hitler Anonymous.

Hammond[I wrote to Sage as follows:] Finally, I’m done with your book. I recommend it to everyone I meet.

You end by saying, “It appears that what set the world aflame was a theatrical production by an unbridled lunatic.”(p. 317) But as I argued earlier, the Ibsen plays were just one cause, not the cause. This is a case of Mutual Arising — innumerable causes arose together. As for Hitler being an “unbridled lunatic,” he was only partly loony; perhaps we should call him a “semi-lunatic” rather than an “unbridled lunatic”.

[In Chapter 13, Sage discusses other cases of criminals following a script. ] Your book resolves some puzzles but creates others. For example, it creates the puzzle, “why did Hitler keep mum about the three plays? Why didn’t he point to them — as the Unabomber pointed to Conrad, as McVeigh pointed to The Turner Diaries?”

SageYou ask, “Why didn’t he point to them — as the Unabomber pointed to Conrad, as McVeigh pointed to The Turner Diaries?”

Because if AH had openly avowed his theatrical game, he would have been overthrown, by his own people.

The Unabomber only hinted to his family about Conrad, and he wasn’t trying to get caught. McVeigh didn’t admit to the Turner book since he wasn’t trying to get caught, and thought he had gotten away with the deed when stopped by the cops.

But AH would’ve destroyed himself for sure with the simple admission of lunatic mimesis of a script. Which is why no public honors ever went to Paul Schulze-Berghof in the Third Reich.

HammondWe recently discussed your book at our book group.... I’m the perfect reader for your book because I like bold new ideas, I like inter-disciplinary stuff, and I’m interested in Julian, Ibsen and Hitler.

Since Sage has read much about Hitler, he can teach us about the Hitler literature. He says that the best Hitler biographies are those by Bullock, Fest, and Kershaw. Of the three, Bullock’s seems to be the earliest and the shortest, Kershaw’s the latest and the longest. Sage says that Kershaw’s is the “definitive biography” — an enormous, two-volume work.

As for memoirs about Hitler, the most well-known is probably Speer’s Inside the Third Reich. August Kubizek wrote about his early friendship with Hitler, and Heinrich Hoffman wrote about his years as Hitler’s photographer. Sage made use of Hitler’s conversations, published under the title Hitler’s Table Talk, 1941-1944.3

One of Sage’s problems is that modern historians downplay Hitler’s importance, so Sage’s work goes “against the grain” of modern historiography. Modern historians focus less on individuals, and more on groups, bureaucracies, etc. In fact, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, to which Sage is attached, never has a seminar or lecture devoted to Hitler. Ian Kershaw exemplifies the tendency to downplay Hitler:

Kershaw has no time for the Great Man theory of history and has criticized those who seek to explain everything that happened in the Third Reich as the result of Hitler’s will and intentions. Kershaw has argued that it is absurd to seek to explain German history in the Nazi era solely through Hitler as Germany had 68 million people during the Third Reich, and to seek to explain the fate of 68 million people solely through the prism of one man is in Kershaw’s opinion a flawed position.

Kershaw was a disciple of Martin Broszat, who “saw professional history as a social science that should examine society and culture rather than an individual in explaining the past.” The tendency to downplay individual leaders contrasts with the 19th-century tendency to view history as biography, and to stress the importance of the individual.

© L. James Hammond 2007
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1A. See Alan Gilbert’s article, “The Cowboy Novels That Inspired Hitler.” back
1B. “Near the end [Booth] wrote in his diary, ‘After being hunted like a dog... I am here in despair. And why? For doing what Brutus was honored for.’” “[Booth] aspired to what ‘an antique Roman’ would do in his place, and it is very likely that he was alluding to both Brutuses when he spat out ‘Sic Semper Tyrannis’ (‘Thus Be it Ever to Tyrants’).” (Atlantic article) back
1. Sage, p. 310 back
2. ibid back
3. Other memoirs were written by Otto Strasser, Kurt Lüdecke, Ernst Hanfstaengl, and Otto Wagener. back