cover image The Pursuit of the Nazi Mind: Hitler, Hess, and the Analysts

The Pursuit of the Nazi Mind: Hitler, Hess, and the Analysts

Daniel Pick. Oxford Univ, $35 (336p) ISBN 978-0-19-954168-3

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. (Aug.)