The first four fifths of this article are fascinating. It’s titled “The future of Mein Kempf in a meme world”. Though I’ve not consumed historically significant events with consistent interest, World War II has been an exception by far. And belonging to the generation I do – the so-called Millennials – I resent the article’s conclusion that when the book’s copyright lifts next year and the “original” annotated version becomes available, its size alone will deter younger readers from picking up a copy.
Mein Kampf is Adolf Hitler’s account of his years growing up in Germany and Austria. Its greatest accomplishment has been to offer a peek into the mind that lead the world into one of history’s worst conflicts and more dreadful tragedies. Hitler wrote it – rather, dictated it to his minion Rudolf Hess – when he’d been imprisoned for the failed Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. His actions in the Second World War consequently lead to a new world order, resulting in a geopolitical power structure that continues to shape global politics in the early 21st century.
In 1945, the book was banned by law in West Germany, which identified it as Nazi propaganda. The copyright remained with the Bavarian state government – and that copyright is set to expire in 2016. For the occasion, the Institute of Contemporary History said in 2010 that it would release an annotated version of the text.
Now, it’s been almost 70 years since the end of the War and much has definitely happened. But it’s hard to investigate the causes of many aspects of the present – especially the technology – without finding a part of their foundations rooted in the indignation and exigency of the first half of the previous century. And if the author of the piece – Gavriel Rosenfeld – had argued that Mein Kampf‘s relevance in 2016 among the teens and tweens was contingent on the relevance of these aspects, he might still have constructed a better argument than to say the size of the book would drive this demographic away.
His example of Otto Strasser not having read the book also sports a glaring error. Strasser says few in the Nazi Party had read the book in 1927, when Mein Kampf‘s measure of greatness was only in terms of what Hitler had accomplished until then: trivial compared to what would come after. Today, the book depicts incidents that shaped the most terrible head of state in recent history, and likely even differs in how it is significant among neo-Nazis and the civilized.
Rosenfeld may have been misled by a deception akin to the one at play with a $10,000 Apple Watch. With that price tag, Apple is targeting only those people who think spending $10,000 on it is a good idea, not anyone else – including people with $10,000 to spare but not for a smartwatch. Similarly, those who are afraid of hefty tomes from the past have already turned away from them, but it’s facile to think it entirely an acceptance of 50-KB memes and in no part a rejection of 2,000 pages of text with 5,000 annotations.
In fact, the author’s secondary mistake through writing the piece may have been miscalculating what the memetic endeavors flooding the Internet are founded upon: an industry that continuously makes all kinds of information easier to consume and easier to share. Few will contest Rosenfeld when he says the book will not be consumed widely in its original form. However, its physical original form is irrelevant.
It will be made consumable in parts by many groups of people, many journalists, teachers, historians and an ensemble group of enthusiasts, who will upload the fruit of their efforts to the web, who will make the book searchable and shareable. In due course, and with a measure of interest that’s only to be expected, the book’s contents will be available for everyone – young and old. Who knows, even an annotation of the annotations that Mein Kampf will be released with will revitalize flagging debates on historiography. The book will ultimately be more accessible than it ever was.
And Rosenfeld’s primary misstep? To assume those who consume information in 30-second bits have no way to access what’s available in 2,000-page chunks, that they may not be interested at all because they wouldn’t be appealed by it. If anything, the Millennials’ engagement with social attributes like memetics, network effects and virality has only revealed more efficient methods of knowledge-dissemination its producers weren’t able to leverage even a decade ago.
We live in a time when anything is susceptible to become appealing to anyone with the right alterations. Why would Mein Kampf be immune to this?