But Hitler was (not) a vegetarian …

In the dialogue with Derrida entitled ‘Violence Against Animals’, Elisabeth Roudinesco brings up the ‘fact’ of Hitler’s vegetarianism precisely in the overdetermined terms so beloved of the humanist opponents of pro-animal activism (Luc Ferry, for example), in which vegetarianism is explicitly linked with the bad conscience of a deflected misanthropy: ‘from a psychoanalytic point of view, the terror of ingesting animality can be the symptom of a hatred for the living taken to the point of murder. Hitler was a vegetarian’ (‘Violence Against Animals’, 68). Aside from the patent absurdity of such thinking, it should be made known that Hitler was in fact not a vegetarian, but rather it was the case that he only seldom ate meat as it caused him physical discomfort (i.e. stomach pains and flatulence). Nonetheless, he continued to eat sausages throughout his life, and a favourite dish was fledgling pigeon. In addition, upon coming to power in 1933 he banned all vegetarian societies in Germany, arrested their leaders, shut down the main vegetarian magazine, and persistently persecuted vegetarians. During the war, all vegetarian organisations were banned throughout the occupied territories, even though, as Charles Patterson points out, ‘vegetarian diets would have helped alleviate wartime food shortages’ (Eternal Treblinka, 127). Historian Robert Payne writes that the myth of Hitler’s vegetarianism was a public relations exercise organised by Joseph Goebbels: ‘According to the widely believed legend, he [Hitler] neither smoke nor drank, nor did he eat meat nor have anything to do with women. Only the first was true. … His asceticism was a fiction invented by Goebbels to emphasize his total dedication, his self-control, the distance that separated him from other men. By this outward show of asceticism, he could claim that he was dedicated to the service of his people’ (cit. ibid. 127-8). What is perhaps more interesting is why this propaganda should continue to be promulgated with such insistence. Why, in other words, do people find it necessary to reiterate this myth ad nauseum, that is to say, what anxiety does this recycled ideology conceal?

About Richard Iveson

Postdoctoral Research Fellow I have a PhD from Goldsmiths College, University of London; my teaching and research interests include animal studies; Continental philosophy; posthumanism; cultural studies; biotechnology and cyberculture; post-Marxism. Books; Being and Not Being: On Posthuman Temporarily (London & Washington: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016), forthcoming. Zoogenesis: Thinking Encounter with Animals ( London: Pavement Books, 2014). View all posts by Richard Iveson

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