Probably because, as Hegel put it, the only thing we can learn from the past is that that we cannot learn anything. That’s why we keep repeating mistakes from the past. Norman Ohler’s book about the Third Reich and drugs is educational because it shows that what is necessary for a dictatorship to happen, is not only a strong ideology but also the narcosis of an entire nation, whether literal or metaphorical, and in this concrete example it was literal - from the leaders who were on drugs, to housewives who were popping amphetamines like candies even back in the Weimar Republic, even before Hitler came into power. Some elements of what Norman Ohler discovered was already known but the entire image which surfaced after his thorough research adds new, I dare say shocking, details for understanding of Nazism. Of course, one should be careful not to simplify things; not everything can be reduced to drugs, although they did offer a significant “help” to Hitler and the soldiers who went to Blitzkrieg - but the point is that the birth of a dictatorship or a totalitarian regime does not happen overnight, but through of a certain process of “normalization” which makes things that didn’t use to be normal suddenly acceptable, be it amphetamines for housewives or testing amphetamines on Jews. The key thing, at least today, seems to be that the rise of right-wing populism should not be mystified or assigned to the “irrational” - this proliferation of authoritarian leaders and regimes, from Brazil and the USA to the Balkans, hasn’t come out of the blue - it is the result of long-lasting historical and economic processes, and I’m afraid it might be a sign of something else, probably much worse, which is yet to come…
- Would you say that the social changes in the 21st century have led to an altered definition of the left and the right, given the fact that some new notions have appeared - neoliberal capitalism, for example, or artrepreneurs, or precariat? Do we now have new communities, and what do they gather around?
Although it is true that the political subject which could bring revolution has changed, I think that the division between the left and the right still does exist. We live in a world in which the famous quote by Margaret Thatcher, that there's no such thing as society, only individuals, has come true, and it is the right-wing politics - economic politics first of all - that has led to the privatisation of everything - from public services (healthcare, retirement funds, education), to natural resources (water, squares, beaches). In such a society there truly is no society but only individuals who turn into what the Italian philosopher Maurizio Lazzarato calls “self- entrepreneurs”, or what other theoreticians call precariat. With the rapid development of technology, which is typically owned by several leading global companies, individuals are not only forced to present and “sell” themselves like goods at the market, but the majority remains unaware of that and enjoys it; they have learned, as it stated at the end of Orwell’s 1984, to love the Big Brother. And despite the fact that the majority believes that they belong to some new “communities”, what really has disappeared is the community in a deeper sense, people linked through principles that would supersede fragmentary division into individual, or through a common vision of future which would include not only care for other people, but care for animals and the planet too, i.e. something that is not limited only to homo sapiens who has led to this planetary crisis.
- What would be a contemporary equivalent to drugs in Hitler’s Germany? Is there an “addiction treatment” of a sort?
The equivalent to Hitler’s drugs is something we could call “narco-capitalism”. It is not so important anymore for the capitalism to reproduce through the cash that comes through drugs, like Roberto Saviano nicely depicts in his book Zero Zero Zero that the cash accumulated by the narco-market managed to save capitalism after the financial crisis of 2007-2008 by an “injection” which was necessary for the capitalism to keep on going. What’s even more important is that modern-day capitalism, actually, functions on the principle of drugs - all the products that we come upon, especially technology (Facebook, Instagram) work like drugs - every “like” is some kind of addiction which activates similar parts of the brain like drugs. Scientists have conducted numerous researches on the nature of social networks, and on the correlation between the processes that get activated by certain drugs and checking one’s smartphone. Dopamine, serotonin, noradrenaline, all are nowadays directly linked to capitalism, but also to our perception of reality. The entire humanity is turning into addicts awaiting new excitement, only to fall into depression once again and to wait for the new excitement. Addiction therapy? The creation of new communities.