college travels

Monday, June 29, 2009

Learning from the Nazis

Learning how NOT to do things that is.

I've been reading a book lately – Teenage: The creation of youth culture (Jon Savage). It's a social history of adolescents (and adolescence) from 1875 through to 1945. The latest chapter I've read was on the Hitler youth. This was his conclusion:

In keeping with its desire to create an entirely new kind of society, [Nazi Germany] privileged youth in its institutions, and indeed, for many adolescents this policy offered previously unthinkable freedoms. Intoxicated by this revolution, however, they failed to notice the downside to this Faustian contract: that what appeared to be freedom was slavery, that in the end they would be delivered, bound and gagged, into the hands of a sophisticated and pitiless war machine. (p.275)

I read that passage and reflected on how easily you could replace 'Nazi Germany' with any number of movements and world systems that have focussed their attention on winning young people – western capitalism, consumerism, 21st century hedonism, liberal humanism etc etc. One thing that western civilisation seems to have learned over the 20th century is that 'He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future' – said by Adolf Hitler at the German National Party convention in 1935.

It's a reminder to me of the importance of Christian ministry among young people – to both harness the energy and enthusiasm that is so often associated with youth, by giving them the freedom that is really free. It also reminds me of the ease with which our ministries could fall into manipulation and bondage when we replace the call of God in Christ with our own agendas and plans.


  • "He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future"

    What a great quote (though chilling in its context)! Obama's rise to office certainly demonstrated the truth of this.

    What do you think it is that makes (today's) young people so enthusiastic about joining causes?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:01 pm  

  • not sure about 'today's' young people - but the thing that has been interesting from reading 'Teenage' is that young people in the early part of the century were also enthusiastic about joining causes.

    Kenda Dean's thesis is that young people are 'wired' for 'passion'.

    Perhaps it's something to do with adolescent brain formation?

    Or something to do with human capacity for hopefulness that hasn't yet been tempered by experience (of sinful human existence)?

    By Blogger Graham Stanton, at 8:10 pm  

  • I think you might be right about the (slightly?) less developed sense of cynicism or fatalism in teenagers, that tends to discourage older people from getting 'too involved'.

    By Blogger Peter, at 7:21 am  

  • along with the pragmatic concerns of providing for and caring for a family which distract/preoccupy those who are older.

    Certainly adolescents in the twentieth and twentyfirst centuries have been in a situation where they are capable of action without the obligations of later adulthood - a privileged freedom for youth that didn't exist earlier in (western) history.

    The Bible has young people doing bold things - David vs Goliath, Daniel when he first arrives in Babylon, the twelve disciples (who, if Jesus was thirty, must have been in their mid-twenties, maybe not 'youth' but at least young adults). Are they displaying an inherent idealism of youth? An a-cultural enthusiasm?

    If you then add to this creational trait of the young with a cultual/social/economic freedom to associate and be devoted to a cause (along with the adults who exploit this for their own purposes, whether good or ill - i.e the Boy Scouts or the Hitler Youth) do we end up with the experience of youth movements of the twentieth century?

    By Blogger Graham Stanton, at 9:12 pm  

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