At last. A new biography of Hugh Trevor-Roper, recently published in the UK, gets past the tired controversy over his "Hitler diary" mistake. Trevor-Roper (1914-2003), the leading British historian that did more than anyone to begin serious scholarship on Hitler, made the notorious error of authenticating forged Hitler diaries in 1983. As this biography shows, however, he retracted withing two weeks, getting his boss, Rupert Murdoch–who planned to publish them after Trevor-Roper’s stamp of approval–very mad. "Fuck Dache," Murdoch said of Trevor-Roper, referring to his Baron name.
But what’s important is why Trevor-Roper authentication mattered so much in the first place. That is what Adam Sisman’s biography appears to get right. Sisman reminds us that Trevor-Roper was the first historian to take Hitler’s ideas seriously, running against the early histories that painted Hitler as a wild buffoon whose only gifts were charisma and good-luck. On the contrary, said Trevor-Roper, Hitler was a calculating, even brilliant strategist who ruthlessly coaxed a nation into his hellish plans.
This debate has evolved over the last decades, but the root of it begins with Trevor-Roper. It’s worth noting, too, that during the Second World War, Trevor-Roper’s work for the British intelligence against the Nazis (he spoke German perfectly) was another one of his many gifts. Also worth noting is that before his works on Hitler, Trevor-Roper intially gained renowned for his work on the religous controversies that set the ground for the English Civil War. A central part of that history had to deal with the Puritans, who favored an egalitarian, individually-driven vision of salvation, compared to the clergy-centered Christianity favored by Armanians.
You’ll recall that Puritans didn’t fare so well in that debate. Soon, they came to America.