Hitler’s anti-Semitic treatise, first published in 1925, closed 2016 as the top selling book in Germany. Amid the wave of populism sweeping many western countries it would be easy to assume the worst. But is the highly controversial tome’s return as sinister as it seems?

In any list of controversial books, the manifesto of one of the most despised figures in all history would probably top the lot. Hitler’s wrote it during time spent in prison following the failed Munich putsch of 1923. It detailed his vision for the future of Germany, including his aims to colonize the lands of nearby countries and his notorious anti-Semitic ideology.

A return during worrying times

It is clear that we are living at a time when nationalist fervor is on the rise. Elections in countries across the Western world are being fought closely with, or won by, populist parties. The examples are numerous. Donald Trump’s odds-defying election in the United States, the British Referendum on EU membership, Marine Le Pen and the Front National in France.

In Germany itself, Angela Merkel is making moves in opposition to long-held stances, in order to curb the rise of the far right party,  Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). The sudden emergence of headlines surrounding Mein Kampf’s return to top of sales last year, couldn’t possibly pass without causing great concern among most observers.

Having been banned for 7 decades following the end of World War 2, Hitler’s copyright (owned by the state of Bavaria) expired at the end of 2015. The book’s rights were quickly sold to Munich-based Institute for Contemporary History (IfZ), a semi-state-run research institute. However, the transferal stipulated that any edition published would need to be an annotated critical version of Hitler’s book.

The study of a historical text?

A mammoth read at 2000 pages, the version contains 3’500 critical and historical annotations. The thorough analysis of the thought process of such a reviled figure seemingly mitigates the publishing of his now widely condemned ideas. As such, the success of the release is being welcomed as a sign that the public is seeking to examine the cause of such xenophobia.

“The discussions about Hitler’s worldview and dealing with his propaganda presented an opportunity — at a time when authoritarian political beliefs and far-right slogans are again gaining in popularity — to re-examine the ominous roots and results of such totalitarian ideologies,” said Andreas Wirsching, the institute’s director.

The 70 year ban on publishing Mein Kampf meant that the release was sure to draw criticism from some. It was feared that the publishing would be taken advantage of by nationalists and xenophobes. However, local reports suggest the majority of those purchasing the edition are actively interested in politics or history, students, or educational bodies such as universities.

Understanding your opponent

The idea that those who are liberal should look to understand the ideologies of those that oppose them, and the reasons behind them, is also gaining popularity. After Trump’s victory on November 8th, this is particularly pertinent. Both mainstream and online commentators, reeling from the shock result, suggested that the surprise win was down to a refusal of each side to discuss their differences.

Whether the release of Hitler’s magnum opus will be used solely for this purpose remains to be seen. Furthermore, the Institute for Contemporary History has clarified that most orders of the book are handled through individual booksellers. As a result, it has been unable to establish who exactly has purchased the book and their respective reasons.