How many people are reading Mein Kampf in 2014?

According to Time and ABC News it has rocketed up the e-book charts - but are more people reading it now than six months ago? By turning Mein Kampf into a totem of evil, we only reinforce its dark glamour.

The Internet acts as a powerful echo chamber: Drop a pin and you would think a bomb had gone off. Earlier this month, the bombshell was the news that Mein Kampf had suddenly become a best-selling book. According to reports at Time, ABC News, Fox News, and many other news sites, a 99-cent e-book edition of Hitler’s tract was rocketing up the charts on Amazon and iTunes. Historians and Jewish spokesmen were called on for worried comments; comparisons were made to 50 Shades of Grey. It was enough to make you wonder if, next time you take a peek at someone’s Kindle on the subway, you’ll find them immersed in Hitler’s rants about the Treaty of Versailles. 

Look closely at the news reports, however, and it becomes clear that they weren’t actually reporting anything. They were all simply paraphrasing the same essay by Chris Faraone, which originally appeared on the website Vocativ. And Faraone’s evidence for the alleged surge in Mein Kampf sales is, at best, slender. “Kindle Fuhrer: Mein Kampf Tops Amazon Charts,” the headline shouts; but the chart in question turns out to be “Propaganda and Political Psychology,” where Mein Kampf is, as of this writing, number 2. This is a subsection of Amazon’s Politics and Government chart, which in turn is a subsection of the Politics and Social Sciences Chart.

How many actual sales does it take to move up a few notches on a sub-sub-section of Amazon? No one knows, since the ranking algorithm the bookseller uses is secret. But it’s clear that Mein Kampf is fairly deep into the “long tail” section of Amazon’s titles, where a handful of sales could significantly improve its ranking. (The 99-cent Kindle edition of the book is currently ranked 11,855 among all paid e-books.) Are we talking about a hundred downloads? Ten, which just happen to have come in a short period of time? Maybe less?

The picture is further complicated by the fact that Mein Kampf is easily available for free online. Neo-nazis can find it on Stormfront, while everyone else can find selections at Jewish Virtual Library; a complete facsimile of the 1941 English edition is hosted at archive.org. Interestingly, that edition, appearing not long before America entered the war against Hitler, lists on its cover not just the author and translator but ten “editorial sponsors.” These literary and academic worthies seemingly had nothing to do with the actual preparation of the book; their names are there strictly to reassure the reader. Even in 1941, the mephitic reputation ofMein Kampf made respectable people feel the need for official permission to pick up a copy.

How many people, then, are reading Mein Kampf in 2014? The answer is that it’s impossible to say, and there’s no real reason to think there are more now than there were six months or six years ago. Yes, the Internet makes it easy to find the book—just as it makes it easy to find hardcore pornography, snuff films, and videos of people eating excrement (remember 2 Girls 1 Cup?). It’s not news that the human imagination is drawn to the forbidden, or that the privacy of the computer screen allows us to violate all kinds of boundaries that remain sacrosanct in real life. Nor should we be surprised that there are people in the world who admire Hitler and hate Jews—after all, they tell us so themselves, all the time. (Just look at the comments section of any of the news reports about Mein Kampf.)

By turning Mein Kampf into a totem of evil, whose very title makes us start jumping at shadows, we only reinforce its dark glamour. At this point in history, no one is going to be converted to Nazism or anti-Semitism by reading Hitler. Indeed, given how execrably written the book is, it’s hard to imagine that many of the people who download Mein Kampf will actually finish it. Owning the book, physically or virtually, is a way of stating one’s politics, not of learning about politics. And since those politics are both hateful and, in the larger scheme of things, utterly marginal, the best thing for us to do with Mein Kampf is to go on ignoring it. Unless, of course, it ever becomes an actual best-seller—in which case we will have a lot worse problems to deal with than literary ones.

A wartime Mein Kampf on display in a Berlin exhibition. Photograph: Getty Images.
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How Donald Trump is slouching towards the Republican nomination

There was supposed to be a ceiling above which Trump’s popular support could not climb.

In America, you can judge a crowd by its merchandise. Outside the Connecticut Convention Centre in Hartford, frail old men and brawny moms are selling “your Trump 45 football jerseys”, “your hats”, “your campaign buttons”. But the hottest item is a T-shirt bearing the slogan “Hillary sucks . . . but not like Monica!” and, on the back: “Trump that bitch!” Inside, beyond the checkpoint manned by the Transportation Security Administration and the secret service (“Good!” the man next to me says, when he sees the agents), is a family whose three kids, two of them girls, are wearing the Monica shirt.

Other people are content with the shirts they arrived in (“Waterboarding – baptising terrorists with freedom” and “If you don’t BLEED red, white and blue, take your bitch ass home!”). There are 80 chairs penned off for the elderly but everyone else is standing: guys in motorcycle and military gear, their arms folded; aspiring deal-makers, suited, on cellphones; giggling high-school fatsos, dressed fresh from the couch, grabbing M&M’s and Doritos from the movie-theatre-style concession stands. So many baseball hats; deep, bellicose chants of “Build the wall!” and “USA!”. (And, to the same rhythm, “Don-ald J!”)

A grizzled man in camouflage pants and combat boots, whose T-shirt – “Connecticut Militia III%” – confirms him as a member of the “patriot” movement, is talking to a zealous young girl in a short skirt, who came in dancing to “Uptown Girl”.

“Yeah, we were there for Operation American Spring,” he says. “Louis Farrakhan’s rally of hate . . .”

“And you’re a veteran?” she asks. “Thank you so much!”

Three hours will pass. A retired US marine will take the rostrum to growl, “God bless America – hoo-rah!”; “Uptown Girl” will play many more times (much like his speeches, Donald J’s playlist consists of a few items, repeated endlessly), before Trump finally looms in and asks the crowd: “Is this the greatest place on Earth?”

There was supposed to be a ceiling above which Trump’s popular support could not climb. Only a minority within a minority of Americans, it was assumed, could possibly be stupid enough to think a Trump presidency was a good idea. He won New Hampshire and South Carolina with over 30 per cent of the Republican vote, then took almost 46 per cent in Nevada. When he cleaned up on Super Tuesday in March, he was just shy of 50 per cent in Massachusetts; a week later, he took 47 per cent of the votes in Mississippi.

His rivals, who are useless individually, were meant to co-operate with each other and the national party to deny him the nomination. But Trump won four out of the five key states being contested on “Super-Duper Tuesday” on 15 March. Then, as talk turned to persuading and co-opting his delegates behind the scenes, Trump won New York with 60 per cent.

Now, the campaign is trying to present Trump as more “presidential”. According to his new manager, Paul Manafort, this requires him to appear in “more formal settings” – without, of course, diluting “the unique magic of Trump”. But whether or not he can resist denouncing the GOP and the “corrupt” primary system, and alluding to violence if he is baulked at at the convention, the new Trump will be much the same as the old.

Back in Hartford: “The Republicans wanna play cute with us, right? If I don’t make it, you’re gonna have millions of people that don’t vote for a Republican. They’re not gonna vote at all,” says Trump. “Hopefully that’s all, OK? Hopefully that’s all, but they’re very, very angry.”

This anger, which can supposedly be turned on anyone who gets in the way, has mainly been vented, so far, on the protesters who disrupt Trump’s rallies. “We’re not gonna be the dummies that lose all of our jobs now. We’re gonna be the smart ones. Oh, do you have one over there? There’s one of the dummies . . .”

There is a frenzied fluttering of Trump placards, off to his right. “Get ’em out! . . . Don’t hurt ’em – see how nice I am? . . . They really impede freedom of speech and it’s a disgrace. But the good news is, folks, it won’t be long. We’re just not taking it and it won’t be long.”

It is their removal by police, at Trump’s ostentatious behest, that causes the disruption, rather than the scarcely audible protesters. He seems to realise this, suddenly: “We should just let ’em . . . I’ll talk right over them, there’s no problem!” But it’s impossible to leave the protesters where they are, because it would not be safe. His crowd is too vicious.

Exit Trump, after exactly half an hour, inclusive of the many interruptions. His people seem uplifted but, out on the street, they are ambushed by a large counter-demonstration, with a booming drum and warlike banners and standards (“Black Lives Matter”; an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, holding aloft Trump’s severed head). Here is the rest of the world, the real American world: young people, beautiful people, more female than male, every shade of skin colour. “F*** Donald Trump!” they chant.

After a horrified split-second, the Trump crowd, massively more numerous, rallies with “USA!” and – perplexingly, since one of the main themes of the speech it has just heard was the lack of jobs in Connecticut – “Get a job!” The two sides then mingle, unobstructed by police. Slanging matches break out that seem in every instance to humiliate the Trump supporter. “Go to college!” one demands. “Man, I am in college, I’m doin’ lovely!”

There is no violence, only this: some black boys are dancing, with liquid moves, to the sound of the drum. Four young Trump guys counter by stripping to their waists and jouncing around madly, their skin greenish-yellow under the street lights, screaming about the building of the wall. There was no alcohol inside; they’re drunk on whatever it is – the elixir of fascism, the unique magic of Trump. It’s a hyper but not at all happy drunk.

As with every other moment of the Trump campaign so far, it would have been merely some grade of the cringeworthy – the embarrassing, the revolting, the pitiful – were Trump not slouching closer and closer, with each of these moments, to his nomination. 

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism