Orwell displays his remarkable foresight in a fascinating book review, published in March 1940, of Adolf Hitler’s notorious autobiography Mein Kampf. In the review, the author deftly cuts to the root of Hitler’s toxic charisma, and, along the way, anticipates themes to appear in his future masterpieces, Animal Farm and 1984.
The fact is that there is something deeply appealing about him. […] Hitler … knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty-parades. However they may be as economic theories, Fascism and Nazism are psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life.
Yet Orwell was certainly no fan of Hitler. At one point in the review, he imagines what a world where the Third Reich succeeds might look like:
What [Hitler] envisages, a hundred years hence, is a continuous state of 250 million Germans with plenty of “living room” (i.e. stretching to Afghanistan or there- abouts), a horrible brainless empire in which, essentially, nothing ever happens except the training of young men for war and the endless breeding of fresh cannon-fodder.
The article was written at a moment when, as Orwell notes, the upper class was backpedaling hard against their previous support of the Third Reich. In fact, a previous edition of Mein Kampf — published in 1939 in England — had a distinctly favorable view of the Führer. “The obvious intention of the translator’s preface and notes [was] to tone down the book’s ferocity and present Hitler in as kindly a light as possible. For at that date Hitler was still respectable. He had crushed the German labour movement, and for that the property-owning classes were willing to forgive him almost anything. Then suddenly it turned out that Hitler was not respectable after all.”