George Orwell Reviews Mein Kampf: “He Envisages a Horrible Brainless Empire” (1940)

Christo­pher Hitchens once wrote that there were three major issues of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry — impe­ri­al­ism, fas­cism, and Stal­in­ism — and George Orwell proved to be right about all of them.

Orwell dis­plays his remark­able fore­sight in a fas­ci­nat­ing book review, pub­lished in March 1940, of Adolf Hitler’s noto­ri­ous auto­bi­og­ra­phy Mein Kampf. In the review, the author deft­ly cuts to the root of Hitler’s tox­ic charis­ma, and, along the way, antic­i­pates themes to appear in his future mas­ter­pieces, Ani­mal Farm and 1984.

The fact is that there is some­thing deeply appeal­ing about him. […] Hitler … knows that human beings don’t only want com­fort, safe­ty, short work­ing-hours, hygiene, birth-con­trol and, in gen­er­al, com­mon sense; they also, at least inter­mit­tent­ly, want strug­gle and self-sac­ri­fice, not to men­tion drums, flags and loy­al­ty-parades. How­ev­er they may be as eco­nom­ic the­o­ries, Fas­cism and Nazism are psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly far sounder than any hedo­nis­tic con­cep­tion of life.

Yet Orwell was cer­tain­ly no fan of Hitler. At one point in the review, he imag­ines what a world where the Third Reich suc­ceeds might look like:

What [Hitler] envis­ages, a hun­dred years hence, is a con­tin­u­ous state of 250 mil­lion Ger­mans with plen­ty of “liv­ing room” (i.e. stretch­ing to Afghanistan or there- abouts), a hor­ri­ble brain­less empire in which, essen­tial­ly, noth­ing ever hap­pens except the train­ing of young men for war and the end­less breed­ing of fresh can­non-fod­der.

The arti­cle was writ­ten at a moment when, as Orwell notes, the upper class was backpedal­ing hard against their pre­vi­ous sup­port of the Third Reich. In fact, a pre­vi­ous edi­tion of Mein Kampf — pub­lished in 1939 in Eng­land — had a dis­tinct­ly favor­able view of the Führer.

“The obvi­ous inten­tion of the translator’s pref­ace and notes [was] to tone down the book’s feroc­i­ty and present Hitler in as kind­ly a light as pos­si­ble. For at that date Hitler was still respectable. He had crushed the Ger­man labour move­ment, and for that the prop­er­ty-own­ing class­es were will­ing to for­give him almost any­thing. Then sud­den­ly it turned out that Hitler was not respectable after all.”

By March 1940, every­thing had changed, and a new edi­tion of Mein Kampf, reflect­ing chang­ing views of Hitler, was pub­lished in Eng­land. Britain and France had declared war on Ger­many after its inva­sion of Poland but real fight­ing had yet to start in West­ern Europe. With­in months, France would fall and Britain would teeter on the brink. But in the ear­ly spring of that year, all was pret­ty qui­et. The world was col­lec­tive­ly hold­ing its breath. And in this moment of ter­ri­fy­ing sus­pense, Orwell pre­dicts much of the future war.

When one com­pares his utter­ances of a year or so ago with those made fif­teen years ear­li­er, a thing that strikes one is the rigid­i­ty of his mind, the way in which his world-view doesn’t devel­op. It is the fixed vision of a mono­ma­ni­ac and not like­ly to be much affect­ed by the tem­po­rary manoeu­vres of pow­er pol­i­tics. Prob­a­bly, in Hitler’s own mind, the Rus­so-Ger­man Pact rep­re­sents no more than an alter­ation of timetable. The plan laid down in Mein Kampf was to smash Rus­sia first, with the implied inten­tion of smash­ing Eng­land after­wards. Now, as it has turned out, Eng­land has got to be dealt with first, because Rus­sia was the more eas­i­ly bribed of the two. But Russia’s turn will come when Eng­land is out of the pic­ture — that, no doubt, is how Hitler sees it. Whether it will turn out that way is of course a dif­fer­ent ques­tion.

In June of 1941, Hitler invad­ed Rus­sia, in one of the great­est strate­gic blun­ders in the his­to­ry of mod­ern war­fare. Stal­in was com­plete­ly blind­sided by the inva­sion and news of Hitler’s betray­al report­ed­ly caused Stal­in to have a ner­vous break­down. Clear­ly, he didn’t read Mein Kampf as close­ly as Orwell had.

You can read the full review here.

via Boing Boing

Relat­ed Con­tent:

George Orwell’s 1984: Free eBook, Audio Book & Study Resources

The Only Known Footage of George Orwell (Cir­ca 1921)

George Orwell and Dou­glas Adams Explain How to Make a Prop­er Cup of Tea

For 95 Min­utes, the BBC Brings George Orwell to Life

Find 1984 and Animal Farm in our Free Audio Books and Free eBooks col­lec­tions

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrowAnd check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing one new draw­ing of a vice pres­i­dent with an octo­pus on his head dai­ly. 

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Comments (17)
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  • Mark K. says:

    Dare I say that Orwell’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the appeal of Napoleon, Hitler, and Stal­in seems to fit today’s rad­i­cal­ized forms of Islam as a glove fits a hand?

    • Simon says:

      Err no it does­n’t you loooonat­ic

    • the81kid says:

      Anoth­er man co-opt­ing any­thing he reads (bonus points if it includes Hitler some­how!) for his pre-exist­ing ide­ol­o­gy, and ignor­ing every­thing that does­n’t sup­port his beliefs.

      • Mark K. says:

        Yeah, you’re prob­a­bly right. Although I will say in my own defense that I posed my com­ment as a ques­tion (i.e. “dare I say?”) to sig­nal my dis­com­fort with fit­ting too neat­ly into some­one else’s box.nNonetheless, I don’t think that my com­ment was moti­vat­ed much by ide­ol­o­gy or specif­i­cal­ly by the Hitler ref­er­ence. The por­tion that most cap­tured my imag­i­na­tion was the state­ment, “human beings don’t only want com­fort, safe­ty, … and, in gen­er­al com­mon sense; they also, at least inter­mit­tent­ly, want strug­gle and self-sac­ri­fice, not to men­tion drums, flags and loy­al­ty-parades.… great dic­ta­tors have enhanced their pow­er by impos­ing intol­er­a­ble bur­dens on their peo­ples.… and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet. Per­haps lat­er on they will get sick of it and change their minds.” That’s a very gen­er­al psy­cho­log­i­cal claim, that pre­sum­ably could be test­ed by look­ing for oth­er con­texts in which it might apply. I also hap­pen to like the latent opti­mism that this dri­ve to strug­gle and suf­fer is only “inter­mit­tent” and that it is pos­si­ble to get sick of dan­ger and death and change one’s out­look.

    • Boomerexpat says:

      You are right. Your view sad­ly is too polit­i­cal­ly incor­rect for oth­ers to see it as Orwell’s take on Stal­in and com­mu­nism was too far ahead of its time.

  • Tom S says:

    I felt the same thing when I read the review.



  • Sean says:

    I think per­haps we can gain some insight into the psy­che of a new author­i­tar­i­an leader devel­op­ing on the oth­er side of the Atlantic, from Orwell’s words. Albeit it seems now the per­ceived vic­tim isn’t just the ruler — it’s all white men.

  • Blenda Richter says:

    A very mediocre review from a writer who got famous due to the unique top­ic of his sto­ries but nev­er could improve his very mediocre prose.

  • Someone says:

    The por­tion you quote here also caught my eye. It fits every reli­gion on earth though, rad­i­cal­ized or oth­er­wise ;)

  • Bob says:

    Yawn (that is to say, to the “idea” that we can “gain some insight into the psy­che of a new author­i­tar­i­an leader devel­op­ing on the oth­er side of the Atlantic”)
    Yawn again. Need some cof­fee.…

  • Bob says:

    “Mediocre prose”? Per­haps. But the great­est polit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor of the 20th cen­tu­ry.

  • ChrisF says:


  • D.Crossan says:

    Orwell’s insight and pre­dic­tion is remark­able.
    If you trans­late Adolfs elec­tion ban­ners they say “Make Ger­many great again”
    His­to­ry repeats if you burn the books.

  • Peter D. says:

    Orwell’s review is the kind of essay that requires more than one read­ing. There is a lot to digest. Also, this lends per­spec­tive to the Trump Pres­i­den­cy and the calami­tous events of Jan­u­ary 6.

  • Matthew Fox says:

    Spo­ken like a servile MAGA bootlick­er.

  • JJ says:

    “You will own noth­ing and be hap­py”

    Which fla­vor would you like?” Stal­in, Hissler, or Mao.

    We shale see how you pre­fer your diet plan.

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