American Heretic, American Burke

There are some biographies which are almost impossible to write. Sometimes this is because the subject is guilty of such monstrosities that the empathy required to write a worthwhile biography can undermine the moral judgment a difficult subject demands. Ian Kershaw, at the beginning of his two-volume biography of Adolf Hitler, admitted that “any biographical approach” to a character like the Nazi fiend has the “inbuilt danger” of requiring “a level of empathy with the subject which can easily slide over into sympathy, perhaps even hidden or partial admiration.” Any attempts to understand Hitler as something other than a consummate devil—as an opportunist, a hypnotizer, an anti-Bolshevik, a social revolutionary, or a Weberian charismatic—all have lurking within them the “potential for a possible rehabilitation of Hitler” as some version of a national hero, if only his “crimes against humanity” could be somehow contextualized.

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