It was permeated by fear for
the fragile nature of this purity. Like America in the post-war
McCarthy era, it feared pollution from ‘degenerates’ outside or
within. It included visions of national and racial destiny. It included
ideas of apocalyptic transformation through national solidarity and
military dedication to a cause. It was hospitable to the idea of the
leader whose godlike vision is authoritative and unchallengeable. In
turn, those ideas had roots in misapplications of Darwinism, in
German Romanticism, and indeed in some aspects of Judaism and
Christianity. In short, Hitler could come to power only because
people did think – but their thinking was poisoned by an enveloping
climate of ideas, many of which may not even have been conscious.
For we may not be aware of our ideas. An idea in this sense is a
tendency to accept routes of thought and feeling that we may not
recognize in ourselves, or even be able to articulate. Yet such
dispositions rule the social and political world.
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