Recent biographies of Adolf Hitler's life, especially those by Joachim C. Fest, Ian Kershaw, and Ludolf Herbst, have referred extensively to Max Weber's concept of charisma. The article raises the question of what it means to narrate the charisma of a historical figure such as Adolf Hitler. The implications of the concept of charisma must be understood in their social, political, and—most important—affective dynamics. Writing Hitler's biography always means not only retracing the emotions, hopes, desires, and imaginations invoked by his political style but also working on the affects that he still triggers in his modern biographers. While Fest aims to reenact Hitler's highly theatrical and emotional style, Kershaw disrupts Hitler's aesthetical mise-en-scène in his form of narrative, drawing on quotations and witness accounts. For Kershaw, charisma cannot be understood without reconstructing the social and psychological context in which it manifests itself. Fest's narrative technique emphasizes the aesthetics of National Socialist politics, rendering Hitler's theatrical style palpable to a modern reader. Having been a contemporary repulsed by National Socialism, the article argues, Fest thereby “works through” (in a Freudian sense) his own profoundly affective reaction to Hitler.
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Eva Horn; Work on Charisma: Writing Hitler's Biography. New German Critique 1 November 2011; 38 (3 (114)): 95–114. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0094033X-1340066
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