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Hesse’s sheltered lifestyle could hardly serve as an inspiration for the European intellectuals to whom he directed his writings in the interwar years. Dropping out of society is impractical when society is in chaos, and barely imaginable in a totalitarian regime such as Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany. The studied impartiality Hesse adopted towards the mass movements of his time was impossible in countries where they had taken control. In reality, his pose of independence was more a psychological stratagem than a principled stance.

What does it refer to by saying “... where they had taken control” ? Where and who?

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"Where they had taken control": "They" refers to "the mass movements of his time", in places "such as Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany", as mentioned in the previous sentence.

I would paraphrase the last 2 sentences of the passage like this: "When your country is controlled by a mass movement it is impossible to live independently of that situation. Hesse pretended to be unaffected by the political environment, but his independence was all contained in his own mind, and not accompanied by external acts of resistance."

  • I'm not over-impressed with the writer's decision to use "psychological stratagem" here . In my opinion that collocation usually implies using "propaganda, psyop tactics" to "covertly" persuade other people to adopt a particular attitude. But he seems to be using it to mean a [psychological] defence mechanism (by which someone convinces himself that his apparently "incorrect" attitudes or actions are in fact okay). That's to say, Hesse pretended to himself that he was "impartial", because he couldn't consciously acknowledge that he was just keeping quiet to save his own skin. – FumbleFingers Dec 28 '18 at 19:27
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Such impartiality was impossible in countries where totalitarian regimes had taken control, such as in Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany.  In his own country he could be impartial to mass movements, but much of his intended audience didn't have that option.

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