I learned from this article in the New York Times that Germany has been officially suppressing Mein Kampf since German government was reconstituted after World War II. I’m sure that doesn’t mean that the full text isn’t available online. But the copyright expires at the end of next year and when it does, anyone can publish it and you can be sure someone will.
So…now what? Peter Range thinks that Germans really shouldn’t get up tight about the whole thing.
But while the prospect of the Führer’s words circulating freely on the German market may shock some, it shouldn’t. The inoculation of a younger generation against the Nazi bacillus is better served by open confrontation with Hitler’s words than by keeping his reviled tract in the shadows of illegality.
Inoculation is certainly one of the possible effects. Another is for deeply frustrated Germans to find in Hitler’s promises just the kind of rhetoric that will focus their fears and steel their wills. That is, after all, what happened last time.
“Inoculation” sounds to me very much like Justice Holmes’ “the test of the marketplace.” Inoculation works by summoning the body’s natural defenses to defeat a mild threat. There are no “pro-smallpox” organizations in your body who will collect the virus you introduce and greatly amplify its effect and if there were little “pro-smallpox” clusters, inoculation would be incredibly risky.
And it turns out that in society—in “the body politic”–there actually are such clusters. There are regions, classes, and groups that will welcome the “virus,” that will take the teachings of Mein Kampf and urge that they be put into practice. That means that the discussions that are most likely to occur are between ardent proponents, on the one side, and representatives of the status quo on the other.
Why? The publication of Mein Kampf will cause changes along two dimensions. The first may be called “salience.” The questions that so urgently engaged Hitler will rise in importance. They will be debated where they were ignored or suppressed before. They will appear in magazines and on talk shows that would not have included them before. That means that Germans who would rather not talk about it will have an issue to deal with because the new salience of Mein Kampf means that the question will no longer be whether to talk about it, but what to say about it.
The second dimension is often called “direction.” It refers to the positive or negative effects of the new prominence. The direction may be pro or con; positive or negative. One result of the new discussions—certainly the result Peter Range is hoping for—may be a contemporary rejection of Hitlerism and all it ever stood for. The publication is a “crisis,” a decision point, and in this scenario, the arguments of Hitler are rejected by a new generation of Germans who had never faced this particular argument before. Are there really Untermenschen? Are Aryans a legitimate racial category? Is Hitler a “World-Historical Individual,” to use a category Hegel provided, and therefore justified in writing his own rules. Does Germany “deserve” Lebensraum and because of that is justified in taking it by force?
These are central contentions of Mein Kampf and Range’s argument is that they should be confronted by each new generation of Germans and rejected over and over again. I’d like to see that and, frankly, I don’t think there is an alternative, but I think we need to take seriously the possibility that the direction is going to be negative, rather than positive. In this scenario, many Germans would respond to the newly salient arguments by embracing them. If they are prevented from electing representatives who will express their views, they will take their argument to the streets and do it the way Hitler did it.
So I come down on the same side of the immediate issue as Range. The book should be published and the discussion should be allowed. There should be a “free marketplace of ideas” in which some win and others lose. But a “free marketplace” doesn’t happen by itself and distorted marketplaces do. Actual marketplaces very often are not “pure” markets; they are alloyed with fraud, deception, monopolistic domination, and physical or legal coercion.
If there is going to be a market in the ideas of Nazism, competitors will have to be willing to come into that market and compete and most of the new competitors will have to be drawn from categories of people who would rather the issue had not arisen at all. They will be inclined to argue for balance among views, for the historical setting of these rhetorical flourishes, and for a general sense that we have “moved past that.” They will be up against people with flame in their eyes and grievances in their hearts. No one has moved past the grievances and they will not take kindly to being told that their anger should be expressed in politically correct forms.
Really awful things are going to be said in public about Untermenschen. Since Hitler’s time, quite a few Untermenschen have been invited to Germany under a “guest workers” program. The question of whether they are “really German” has been raised both by the workers, many of them Turkish, and by other Germans whose ancestry is more clearly local. So far as I know, no one wants that discussion, but I see it becoming topical once again as Mein Kampf is discussed in its newly published versions.
In the end, I’m on Range’s side. This is a discussion that cannot be indefinitely delayed. Each new generation needs to see it and hear it and talk about it. Some will fight about it, but that cannot be helped. Pretending that this text never had an ardent and effective audience will not work.
 Dissenting in Abrams v. United States, Justice Holmes proclaimed that “the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.” So says Thomas Wuil Joo, of the University of California at Davis, who concludes, “Economic markets thus provide a poor analogy for the deregulation of speech.”
 The Latin root, salire, means “to jump” and that is captured by the expression “it jumped out at me” to refer to a salient passage.
 Thomas Jefferson felt the same way about constitutions, by the way. His idea that there should be a new governing document every twenty years was based on the notion that the debates on one generation should not bind the next; that every generation—hence the twenty years—has the right to have its own debate and reach its own conclusions.