In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • The Pursuit of the Nazi Mind: Hitler, Hess, and the Analysts by Daniel Pick
  • Benjamin Poore
The Pursuit of the Nazi Mind: Hitler, Hess, and the Analysts. Daniel Pick. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pp. x + 357. $35.00 (cloth).

Daniel Pick's study explores the wartime confrontation of two of the most controversial "-isms" of the twentieth century, fascism and Freudianism. Pick suggests that the term "Nazi mind" indicates the "notion that such an (elusive) psychological object existed and could be recovered in some shape or form" (3). Pick's study explores how this enigmatic historical and psychological quarry was constructed: he engages institutionally and politically with specific Nazis and with Nazism in general, tracing its development from the 1930s through the Nuremburg trials and the postwar reconstruction of Germany. This eclectic study reflects the breadth of Pick's interests as a historian and psychoanalyst; he combines social history with reflections on critical and psychoanalytic theories, and he places these alongside carefully wrought case histories and analyses of senior figures in the Nazi Party.

The book's episodic structure allows fascinating glimpses of both unfamiliar and well-trodden historical terrain, which is analyzed through relatively short chapters that alternate between historical and clinical vignettes. The first half of the book examines the variegated interactions between British and American psychoanalysts (and psychoanalytically sensitive doctors), and it also looks at different parts of the Allied war effort—such as the War Office in Whitehall and the Office of Strategic Services (the OSS) in the United States—alongside a particularly powerful account of Rudolf Hess's psychoanalysis in captivity. We are given an intriguing introduction to Henry Dicks, the psychiatrist who wrote up his treatment of Rudolf Hess for the War Office, and to Walter Langer, an American psychiatrist who produced an unusually prescient psychobiographical account of Hitler's mental state for the OSS in the 1940s, an account based on an extraordinary "wild analysis" of Mein Kampf (118). The chapters on the OSS weave together discussions of Langer's work with other better known psychoanalytically-influenced contributors to the war effort like Frankfurt School émigré Herbert Marcuse. The first half of the book concludes with an examination of how psychoanalytic ideas were employed by both the prosecution and the ancillary staff involved in the Nuremburg trials, and it revisits Hess's mental state in particular.

The second half of the book explores the legacy of the quasi-psychoanalytic interests of the Allies, who sought to understand both the Nazi leadership and authoritarianism in general in [End Page 405] order to aid the reconstruction of postwar Germany and to help establish a social democratic consensus. Particularly fascinating in this respect are Pick's discussions in the tenth chapter of the emergence of group therapy as a mode of examining potential candidates for crucial organizational roles in Germany's reconstruction. Psychoanalysis, as adapted by Roger Money-Kyrle and the German Personnel Research Branch, was seen as uniquely responsive to the urgent questions of group dynamics and leadership involved in the foundation of a new, non-totalitarian state. Because of this focus, some of the book's most powerful revelations come from the importance it grants the Second World War, which is viewed as formative for psychoanalytic ideas and institutions. This is a novel suggestion given that prior critics have emphasized the First World War in Freud's work and in the geneses of better-known psychoanalytic concepts (the work of mourning; the compulsion to repeat in trauma; narcissism). In this regard, Pick's study complements and deepens our understanding of other substantial social histories of Britain in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s (Peter Hennessey's magisterial Never Again would be one example). Pick draws out the powerful feeling in the period of "an erotic and destructive enjoyment at stake in politics" (9).

Along these lines, Pick's book shows that psychoanalytic ideas and diagnostic categories penetrated the cultural and political discourses that attempted to explain European fascism alongside much more recognizably psychoanalytic interventions. For instance, Pick reports that psychoanalytical language permeated Whitehall and cabinet discussions of Hitler's appeal as well as debates about his personal pathology. Describing Whitehall in...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 405-407
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.