January 4, 2017
2016: the year Mein Kampf was a German bestseller
by Simon Reichley
2016 was a big year for fascism. In particular, it was a big year for the ur-text of twentieth-century fascism, Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf. In January of 2016 the book was republished for the first time since 1945 by the Munich-based Institute for Contemporary History (ICHB) in a two-volume, heavily annotated academic edition. The initial print run of 2,000 copies sold out instantly.
And now, several outlets are reporting that the early surge in sales pretty much kept pace for the whole year. The ICHB told the Associated Press that they were moving forward with their sixth printing, and that that text had sold 85,000 copies in 2016. Deborah Cole, reporting for the AFP, writes that the book was on the non-fiction bestseller list for most of the year, and actually topped the charts for a few weeks in April.
Yes, yikes, but the publishers are insisting that this… enthusiam for the most virulently racist and death-dealing book in modern history doesn’t necessarily reflect contemporary interest in Hitler’s ideas, but is indicative of the urgent need to reflect on the roots of a dangerous ideology at a moment of ascendant nationalism and far-right extremism. After a year of organizing discussions and presentations on the annotated edition, Andreas Wirsching, director of the ICHB, came to the following conclusion:
It turned out that the fear the publication would promote Hitler’s ideology or even make it socially acceptable and give neo-Nazis a new propaganda platform was totally unfounded.
To the contrary, the debate about Hitler’s worldview and his approach to propaganda offered a chance to look at the causes and consequences of totalitarian ideologies, at a time in which authoritarian political views and rightwing slogans are gaining ground.
While I don’t have any evidence to contradict these claims, and while I generally agree that rigorously and publicly dismantling the arguments of fascism and intolerance is the right move, it is difficult to take comfort in Mr. Wirsching’s statement. Not to say that the ICHB was wrong to republish, but “a chance to look at the causes and consequences of totalitarian ideologies” isn’t necessarily the best medicine for genuine fascists, violent racists, or sludge-faced authoritarians. Pretending that the groundswell of interest in Mein Kampf is anything other than disturbing and alarming seems more than a little disingenuous. So, get alarmed, and get ready for a really shitty 2017.
Simon Reichley is the Director of Operations and Rights Manager at Melville House.