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The Pursuit of the Nazi Mind: Hitler, Hess, and the Analystsby Daniel Pick
Synopses & Reviews
An intellectual and cultural history of the encounter between psychology and fascism, The Pursuit of the Nazi Mind draws on neglected archive sources in Britain and the US, as well as literature, film, legal testimony, letters and memoirs, to map the rise and fall of psychoanalytic and psychiatric explanations of the Third Reich, highlighting the clinical ambition to transform mysterious "Nazi monsters" into plausible, individual "case studies."
Daniel Pick brings both the skills of the historian and the trained psychoanalyst to weave together the story of clinical encounters with leading Nazis and the Allies' broader interpretations of the Nazi high command and the mentality of the wider German public. Following the bizarre capture of Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess in 1941, leading British psychiatrists (especially Dr. Henry Dicks) assessed their new charge, in an attempt to understand both the man himself and the psychological bases of his Nazi convictions. Around the same time, Pick reveals, a similar team of American officers (notably Walter Langer) working for the OSS, the forerunner of the CIA, were engaged in an attempt to understand Hitler's personality from afar, using the theories and techniques of Sigmund Freud. Pick then weaves together these Allied attempts to understand Hess and Hitler with the wider attempt to understand the pathology of Nazism and its hold over the German people.
Pick asks what such psychoanalytical and psychiatric investigations set out to do, showing how Freud's famous "talking cure" was harnessed to the particular needs of military intelligence during the war and the post-war reconstruction period. Looking beyond this, he also shows just how deeply post-war Western understandings of how minds work and groups operate were influenced by these wartime attempts to interpret the psychopathology of Nazism.
"Nazism was the one historical phenomenon crazy enough to license the wildest flights of psychoanalytic speculation, to judge by this probing study of Freudian efforts to understand the Third Reich. University of London historian and psychoanalyst Pick (Svengali's Web: The Alien Enchanter in Modern Culture) examines several attempts to put Nazism on the couch: British psychiatrists' interviews with captive Nazis, including Hitler's crony Rudolph Hess, a raving nut obsessed with health food nostrums and paranoid delusions of Jewish plots; reports on Hitler's psyche commissioned by the wartime American OSS; postwar psychiatry, scholarship, novels, and movies that took Nazism as a template for sociopolitical pathology. Pick's lucid but rather dry discussion is appropriately critical of knee-jerk Freudian dogmas, remaining cautious about analysts' impulses to ground fascist attitudes in infantile trauma and a harsh Germanic 'super-ego' or to theorize about Hitler's Oedipal issues. But he also shows why psychoanalytic concepts, with their focus on the irrational roots of behavior, unconscious desires and fantasies, and the hysterical emotions Hitler elicited from Germans, were so persuasive to contemporaries trying to understand the power of Nazism. The result is a thought-provoking, though inconclusive, investigation of psychoanalysis at its peak of ambition and influence, and of the link between politics and individual psychology. Photos. 20 b&w illus." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Daniel Pick is Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London. An editor of History Workshop Journal, he is also a practicing psychoanalyst and a fellow of the British Psychoanalytical Society. He is the author of numerous works on European cultural history, including Svengali's Web: The Alien Enchanter in Modern Culture and, most recently, Rome or Death: The Obsessions of General Garibaldi.
Table of Contents
2. Analysts and Nazis
3. 'The Deputy Madman'
4. Getting Through to Hess
5. Madness and Politics
6. The OSS
7. Hitler's Mind
8. So Plainly Mad?
9. Nuremberg: Conspiracy and Confession
10. Sane Features
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