As part of my research for the new book, I have been reading up about Bismarck – someone I had never learnt about before. I certainly do not pretend to be an expert on him or on Germany generally. But suddenly Hitler has become a lot more comprehensible to me. Bismarck gave him and the German people an example of a man who had joined up territories to make a bigger and stronger Germany. It had worked and people had been happy about it. Meanwhile, references to anti-Semitic sentiments are everywhere. It seems that Bismarck personally had some Jewish friends, but one of his contemporaries and close associates, Moritz Busch, casually refers to lots of people hating the Jews.
So Hitler did not come out of nowhere. Just as Caesar did not, either. There were precedents of Roman generals making grabs for power in the century before him. And one of the themes of War and Peace is that Napoleon could never have succeeded in what he did without the support of many, many people.
None of the above is an earth-shattering revelation. But one should resist the idea that Hitler was just one extraordinary individual who with some evil power managed to pervert an entire civilisation. Evil is more subtle and important than that. It should not be caricatured.