Canadians today are as susceptible to manipulation and emotionalism as Germans were in the 1930s
“Inside the Third Reich,” the lengthy 1969 memoirs of Hitler’s cabinet minister Albert Speer (1905–1981), makes for very interesting reading.
As the Minister of Armaments and War Production who used foreigners and prisoners of war for slave labour to sustain Germany’s war efforts, Speer was a member of Hitler’s “inner circle” for more than a decade. After World War II ended, he was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg trials in 1946. Speer managed to persuade five of eight British, French, American, and Soviet judges that he was largely unaware of the persecution and mass-murder of Jews, thereby avoiding the death penalty. Instead, he received a 20-year prison sentence. After his release from prison in 1966, evidence emerged to suggest that he knew far more than he had let on in 1946.
The book’s second chapter, titled, “Profession and Vocation,” is among the most fascinating. It details how Speer, along with millions of other Germans, fell under Hitler’s spell in the 1930s, making the National Socialists Germany’s largest political party.
An educated man, Speer described hearing the National Socialist leader for the first time:
Speer’s response was like that of so many other Germans:
Some weeks later, Speer listened to Joseph Goebbels, who went on to serve Hitler as Reich Minister of Propaganda. Speer described their masterful ability to manipulate emotion:
Having joined the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) and becoming Member Number 474,481 in January of 1931, Speer stated: “I knew virtually nothing about Hitler’s program. He had taken hold of me before I had grasped what was happening.”
In his book, Speer admitted to intellectual laziness:
But for Speer and so many others, intellectual laziness brought its own pleasure:
This relief from having to think proved to be dangerous and toxic:
Only after the war did Speer fully appreciate the high price that he—and millions of others—paid for this intellectual laziness:
How convenient it would be to dismiss Speer and the millions of other Germans who supported the National Socialists as people with whom we could not identify: uninquisitive, impressionable, and morally inferior. Convenient, yes, but also foolish. The world has changed since World War II, but the people in it have not. Canadians possess the same human nature as Germans. And, unless human nature has changed significantly in the past 90 years, Canadians today are as susceptible to manipulation and emotionalism as Germans were in the 1930s.
Are we any less capable than Germans of falling for hypnotic persuasiveness, of being carried on a wave of enthusiasm that sweeps away skepticism and reservation? When opponents are not given a fair chance to speak, do Canadians buy into the illusion of unanimity? Are Canadians immune to being fused into a homogeneous mob whose opinions can be moulded by politicians, media, and other authorities? How many Canadians undertake a thorough, systematic investigation of claims made by political activists, health authorities and other “experts”? How many Canadians read books, websites, and newspapers of varied viewpoints? How many Canadians appreciate being relieved of having to think, particularly about unpleasant facts?
As Speer explained it, the triumph of National Socialism (1933–1945) was facilitated and established by intellectual laziness. As he put it: “Not trying to see through the whole apparatus of mystification was already criminal, and being in a position to know and nevertheless shunning knowledge creates direct responsibility for the consequences – from the very beginning.”
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Intellectual laziness is the cement which holds the road’s bricks together.