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When Little Men Become Big

Joseph H Berke examines how a country's internal conflicts creates opportunities for men such as Adolf Hitler.

The Bosnian and Chechen conflicts have allowed a wide scope for little men to become big. By this I mean that individuals who might otherwise have had nondescript careers as businessmen, politicians, soldiers, or, for that matter, psychiatrists, have been able to project their personal desires, insecurities and hostilities on a much Iarger scene. They accomplish this by exploiting the waves of group discontent that occur when a country or organisation, that is, an entity definable as a large group, is in an unstable state.

There exists a continual flow of feelings from the individual to the group and back the other way. In the latter circumstances the group projections may be so strong as to force people to feel what they do not feel. Or, in the case of men and women accepted as 'leaders', the return flow replenishes and amplifies hostilities (based on imagined as well as actual grievances) which they had put into the organisation in the first place.

The German sociologist, Helmut Schoeck, has pointed out that Sigmund Freud's theories of the 'herd instinct' and the 'leadership principle' (Führerprinzip) provide an astonishingly accurate picture of such group dynamics. This is particularly demonstrable when regimes are under the sway of autocrats such as fascist Germany under Adolf Hitler or Iran under the Ayatollah Khomeini or North Korea under Kim II Sung, and so on. The institutional infrastructure may do the dirty work, but behind faceless mandarins and impenetrable interpersonal processes, there lies personal praxis, that is, the specific actions of strong willed, aggrandising personalities.

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