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Nazism, commonly known as National Socialism (German: Nationalsozialismus), refers primarily to the ideology and practices of the Nazi Party under Adolf Hitler; and the policies adopted by the government of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945, a period also known as the Third Reich. The official name of the party was Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP) — “National Socialist German Workers’ Party”. The Nazis were one of several historical groups that used the term National Socialism to describe themselves, and in the 1920s they became the largest such group. Nazism is generally considered by scholars to be a form of fascism, and while it incorporated elements from both political wings, it formed most of its temporary alliances on the political right. Among the key elements of Nazism were anti-parliamentarism, ethnic nationalism, racism, collectivism, eugenics, antisemitism, opposition to economic liberalism and political liberalism, anti-communism, and totalitarianism.
Nazism was not a monolithic movement, but rather a (mainly German) combination of various ideologies and groups, sparked by anger at the Treaty of Versailles and what was considered to have been a Jewish/Communist conspiracy (known in the vernacular as the Dolchstoßlegende or “Stab-in-the-Back Legend”) to humiliate Germany at the end of the First World War.
The term Nazi is derived from the first two syllables of Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, the official German language name of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (commonly known in English as the Nazi Party). Party members rarely referred to themselves as Nazis, and instead used the official term, Nationalsozialisten (National Socialists). The word mirrors the term Sozi, a common and slightly derogatory term for members of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands). When Adolf Hitler took power, the use of the term Nazi almost disappeared from Germany, although it was still used by opponents in Austria.
National Socialist philosophy came together during a time of crisis in Germany; the nation had lost World War I in 1918, but had also been forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles, a devastating capitulation, and was in the midst of a period of great economic depression and instability. The Dolchstosslegende (or “stab in the back”), described by the National Socialists, featured a claim that the war effort was sabotaged internally, in large part by Germany’s Jews. The National Socialists suggested that a lack of patriotism had led to Germany’s defeat (for one, the front line was not on German soil at the time of the armistice). In politics, criticism was directed at the Social Democrats and the Weimar government ( Deutsches Reich 1919–1933), which the National Socialists accused of selling out the country. The concept of Dolchstosslegende led many to look at Jews and other so-called “non-Germans” living in Germany as having extra-national loyalties, thereby raising antisemitic sentiments and the Judenfrage (German for “ Jewish Question”), at a time when the Völkisch movement and a desire to create a Greater Germany were strong.
On January 5, 1919, the party that eventually became the Nazi Party was founded under the name German Workers' Party (DAP) by Anton Drexler, along with six other members. German intelligence authorities sent Hitler, a corporal at the time, to investigate the German Workers’ Party. As a result, party members invited him to join after he impressed them with the speaking ability he displayed while arguing with party members. Hitler joined the party in September 1919, and he became the propaganda boss. The party was renamed the National Socialist German Workers’ Party on February 24, 1920, against Hitler’s choice of Social Revolutionary Party. Hitler ousted Drexler and became the party leader on July 29, 1921.
Although Adolf Hitler had joined the Nazi Party in September 1919, and published Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”) in 1925 and 1926, the seminal ideas of National Socialism had their roots in groups and individuals of decades past. These include the Völkisch movement and its religious-occult counterpart, Ariosophy. Among the various Ariosophic lodge-like groups, only the Thule Society is related to the origins of the Nazi party.
The term Nazism refers to the ideology of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party and its Weltanschauung, which permeated German society (and to some degree European and American society) during the party’s years as the German government (1933 to 1945). Free elections in 1932 under Germany’s Weimar Republic made the NSDAP the largest parliamentary faction; no similar party in any country at that time had achieved comparable electoral success. Hitler’s January 30, 1933 appointment as Chancellor of Germany and his subsequent consolidation of dictatorial power marked the beginning of Nazi Germany. During its first year in power, the NSDAP announced the Tausendjähriges Reich (“Thousand Years’ Empire”) or Drittes Reich (“Third Reich”), a putative successor to the Holy Roman Empire and the German Empire).
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In the night of February 27, 1933, the Reichstag fire provided Hitler with a convenient excuse for suppressing his opponents. The following day, he persuaded President Paul von Hindenburg to sign an emergency decree suspending civil liberties and stripping the power of the federal German states. Opponents were imprisoned first in improvised camps (wilde Lager) and later in an organized system of Nazi concentration camps. On March 23, the Reichstag passed an “ Enabling Law” which granted Hitler dictatorial powers. Unions were abolished and political parties, other than the National Socialists, forbidden.
Having dealt with his political enemies, Hitler moved against his rivals in the party, principally those allied with Ernst Röhm, leader of the Sturmabteilung (known as SA or “brownshirts”) and Gregor Strasser, leader of the Nazi left wing. Between June 30 and July 2, 1934, these were purged in the so-called Night of the Long Knives. With this, Hitler assured the support of the powerful Reichswehr. After the death of President Paul von Hindenburg on August 2, there was no one left who could present an effective challenge to Nazi power.
The Nazi Party had been anti-Semitic from the beginning, and shortly after seizing power had attempted a boycott against the Jews (see Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses). Official measures against the Jews had been limited by the reluctance of President Hindenburg, but the Nuremberg Laws, proclaimed by Hitler at the 1935 Nazi rally in Nuremberg, provided a legal basis for systematic persecution. Visible signs of anti-Semitism were removed during the 1936 Summer Olympics, but replaced shortly thereafter.
The British Conservative party and the right-wing parties in France appeased the Nazi regime in the mid- and late 1930s, even though they had begun to criticise its totalitarianism and, in Britain especially, Nazi Germany’s policies towards the Jews. However, Britain had appeased pre-Nazi Germany too. Important reasons behind this appeasement included, first, the erroneous assumption that Hitler had no desire to precipitate another world war, even though in Mein Kampf, he explained the party’s program to the voters in detail, describing World War I very much as he actually fought it (overtly and explicitly committing himself to World War II in precise detail) and second, when the rebirth of the German military could no longer be ignored, a concern that neither Britain nor France was yet ready to fight an all-out war against Germany.
The second reason, that the West was not ready for war with Germany is, as Churchill pointed out, unsatisfactory, for the appeasement program worsened that problem, for example by removing Czechoslovakia’s resources from the anti Nazi side, and adding them to the Nazi side. As Churchill said of appeasement:
You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor, and you will have war. If you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly, you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds are against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than live as slaves.
In 1936, Nazi Germany and Japan entered into the Anti-Comintern Pact, aimed directly at countering Soviet foreign policy. This alliance later became the basis for the Tripartite Pact with Italy, the foundation of the Axis Powers. The three nations united in their rabid opposition to communism, as well as their militaristic, racist regimes, but they failed to coordinate their military efforts effectively.
In his early years, Hitler also greatly admired the United States of America. In Mein Kampf, he praised the United States for its race-based anti-immigration laws and for the subordination of the “inferior” black population. According to Hitler, America was a successful nation because it kept itself “pure” of “lesser races”. Nevertheless, his view of the United States became more negative as time passed.
World War Two
The Nazi rulers of Germany began World War II by invading Poland in September 1939 and conquered most of Western Europe except for the United Kingdom and Ireland by the summer of 1940. On June 22, 1941, they invaded the Soviet Union and came close to capturing Moscow in December 1941. However, its fortunes in the war declined by late 1942 and early 1943 when the Allies defeated Nazi forces at Stalingrad and at both El-Alamein and Tunisia in North Africa.
The Nazi regime in Germany ended with World War II in 1945, when the party was declared a criminal organisation by the victorious Allied Powers. Since 1945, Nazism has been outlawed as a political ideology in Germany, as are forms of iconography and propaganda from the Nazi era. Nevertheless, neo-Nazis continue to operate in Germany and several other countries. Following World War II and the Holocaust, the term Nazi and symbols associated with Nazism (such as the Swastika) acquired extremely negative connotations in Europe and North America.
Nazism has come to stand for a belief in the superiority of an Aryan race, an abstraction of the Germanic peoples. During Hitler’s time, the Nazis advocated a strong, centralized government under the Führer and claimed to defend Germany and the German people (including those of German ethnicity abroad) against Communism and so-called Jewish subversion. Ultimately, the Nazis sought to create a largely homogeneous and autarkic ethnic state, absorbing the ideas of Pan-Germanism.
Historians often disagree on the principal interests of the Nazi Party and whether Nazism can be considered a coherent ideology. The original National Socialists claimed that there would be no program that would bind them, and that they wanted to reject any established world view. Still, as Hitler played a major role in the development of the Nazi Party from its early stages and rose to become the movement’s indisputable iconographic figurehead, much of what is thought to be “Nazism” is in line with Hitler’s own political beliefs — the ideology and the man remain largely interchangeable in the public eye. Some dispute whether Hitler’s views relate directly to those surrounding the movement; the problem is exacerbated by the inability of various self-proclaimed Nazis and Nazi groups to decide on a universal ideology. But if Nazism is the world view promulgated in Mein Kampf, that world view is consistent and coherent, being characterized essentially by a conception of history as a race struggle; the Führerprinzip; anti-Semitism; and the need to acquire Lebensraum (living space) at the expense of the Soviet Union. The core concept of Nazism is that the German Volk is under attack from a judeo-bolshevist conspiracy, and must become united, disciplined and self-sacrificing (must submit to Nazi leadership) in order to win.
Hitler's political beliefs were formulated in Mein Kampf. His views were composed of three main axes: a conception of history as a race struggle influenced by Social Darwinism; antisemitism; and the idea that Germany needed to acquire land from Russia. His antisemitism, coupled with his anti-Communism, gave the grounds of his conspiracy theory of “ judeo-bolshevism”. Hitler first began to develop his views through observations he made while living in Vienna from 1907 to 1913. He concluded that a racial, religious, and cultural hierarchy existed, and he placed “Aryans” at the top as the ultimate superior race, while Jews and “Gypsies” were people at the bottom. He vaguely examined and questioned the policies of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where as a citizen by birth, Hitler lived during the Empire’s last throes. He believed that its ethnic and linguistic diversity had weakened the Empire and helped to create dissent. Further, he saw democracy as a destabilizing force because it placed power in the hands of ethnic minorities who, he claimed, “weakened and destabilized” the Empire by dividing it against itself. Hitler’s political beliefs were then affected by World War I and the 1917 October Revolution, and saw some modifications between 1920 and 1923. He formulated them definitively in Mein Kampf.
In both popular thought and academic scholarship, Nazism is generally considered a form of fascism — a term whose definition is itself contentious. The debate focuses mainly on comparisons of fascist movements in general with the Italian prototype, including the fascists in Germany. The idea mentioned above to reject all former ideas and ideologies like democracy, liberalism, and especially marxism (as in Ernst Nolte) make it difficult to track down a perfect definition of these two terms; however, Italian Fascists tended to believe that all elements in society should be unified through corporatism to form an “Organic State”; this meant that these Fascists often had no strong opinion on the question of race, since it was only the state and nation that mattered.
German Nazism, on the other hand, emphasized the Aryan race or “ Volk” principle to the point where the state seemed simply a means through which the Aryan race could realize its “true destiny”. Since a debate among historians (especially Zeev Sternhell) to see each movement, or at least the German one, as unique, the issue has been for the most part settled, showing that there is a stronger family resemblance between the Italian and the German fascist movement than there is between democracies in Europe or the communist states of the Cold War; additionally, the crimes of the fascist movement can be compared, not only in numbers of casualties, but also in common developments: the March on Rome of Mussolini to Hitler’s response shortly after to attempt a coup d'etat himself in Munich.
Also, Aryanism was not an attractive idea for Italians who were seen as a non-Nordic population, but still there was a strong racism and also genocide in concentration camps long before either was in place in Germany. The philosophy that had seemed to be separating both fascisms was shown to be a result of happening in two different countries: since the king of Italy had not died, unlike the Reichspräsident, the leader in Italy (Duce) was not able to gain the absolute power the leader in Germany (Führer) did, leading to Mussolini’s fall. The academic challenge to separate all fascist movements has since the 1980s and early 1990s been ground for a new attempt to see even more similarities.
According to most scholars of fascism, there are both left and right influences on fascism as a social movement, and fascism, especially once in power, has historically attacked communism, conservatism and parliamentary liberalism, attracting support primarily from the "far right" or "extreme right."
Hitler founded the Nazi state upon a racially defined “German people” and principally rejected the idea of being bound by the limits of nationalism. That was only a means for attempting unlimited supremacy. In that sense, its hyper-nationalism was tolerated to reach a world-dominating Germanic-Aryan Volksgemeinschaft. This idea is a central concept of Mein Kampf, symbolized by the motto Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer (one people, one empire, one leader). The Nazi relationship between the Volk and the state was called the Volksgemeinschaft (people’s community), a late nineteenth or early twentieth century neologism that defined a communal duty of citizens in service to the Reich (as opposed to a simple society). The term “National Socialism” derives from this citizen-nation relationship, whereby the term socialism is invoked and is meant to be realized through the common duty of the individuals to the German people; all actions are to be in service of the Reich. The Nazis stated that their goal was to bring forth a nation-state as the locus and embodiment of the people’s collective will, bound by the Volksgemeinschaft, as both an ideal and an operating instrument. In comparison, traditional socialist ideologies oppose the idea of nations.
Nazi rationale invested heavily in the militarist belief that great nations grow from military power and maintained order, which in turn grow “naturally” from “rational, civilized cultures”. The Nazi Party appealed to German nationalists and national pride, capitalizing on irredentist and revanchist sentiments as well as aversions to various aspects of modernist thinking (although at the same time embracing other modernist ideas, such as admiration for engine power). Many ethnic Germans felt deeply committed to the goal of creating the Greater Germany (the old dream to include German-speaking Austria), which some believe required the use of military force to achieve.
Racism and discrimination
The Nazi racial philosophy was influenced by the works of Arthur de Gobineau, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, and Madison Grant, and was elaborated by Alfred Rosenberg in the Myth of the Twentieth Century.
Hitler also claimed that a nation was the highest creation of a “race”, and “great nations” (literally large nations) were the creation of homogeneous populations of “great races” working together. These nations developed cultures that naturally grew from “races” with “natural good health, and aggressive, intelligent, courageous traits”. The “weakest nations”, Hitler said, were those of “impure” or “mongrel races”, because they had divided, quarreling, and therefore weak cultures. Worst of all were seen to be the parasitic “ Untermensch” (“subhumans”), mainly Jews, but also Gypsies and Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, the disabled and so-called anti-socials, all of whom were considered “ lebensunwertes Leben” (“life-unworthy life”) owing to their perceived deficiency and inferiority, as well as their wandering, nationless invasions (“the International Jew”). The persecution of homosexuals as part of the Holocaust (with the pink triangle) has seen increasing scholarly attention since the 1990s, even though many homosexuals served in the Sturmabteilungen.
According to Nazism, it is an obvious mistake to permit or encourage plurality within a nation. Fundamental to the Nazi goal was the unification of all German-speaking peoples, “unjustly” divided into different Nation States. The Nazis tried to recruit Dutch and Scandinavian men into the SS, considering them of superior “Germanic” stock, with only limited success.
Hitler claimed that nations that could not defend their territory did not deserve it. He thought “slave races”, like the Slavic peoples, to be less worthy to exist than “ leader races”. In particular, if a master race should require room to live (“ Lebensraum”), he thought such a race should have the right to displace the inferior indigenous races.
“Races without homelands”, Hitler proclaimed, were “parasitic races”, and the richer the members of a parasitic race were, the more virulent the parasitism was said to be. A master race could therefore, according to the Nazi doctrine, easily strengthen itself by eliminating parasitic races from its homeland. This idea was the given rationalization for the Nazis’ later oppression and elimination of Jews, Gypsies, Czechs, Poles, the mentally and physically handicapped, homosexuals and others not belonging to these groups or categories that were part of the Holocaust. The Waffen-SS and other German soldiers (including parts of the Wehrmacht), as well as civilian paramilitary groups in occupied territories, were responsible for the deaths of an estimated eleven million men, women, and children in concentration camps, prisoner-of-war camps, labor camps, and death camps such as Auschwitz and Treblinka.
The belief in the need to purify the German race led them to eugenics; this effort culminated in the involuntary euthanasia of disabled people and the compulsory sterilization of people with mental deficiencies or illnesses perceived as hereditary. Adolf Hitler considered Sparta to be the first “ Völkisch State”, and praised its early eugenics treatment of deformed children.
According to Nazi propaganda, the Jews thrived on fomenting division amongst Germans and amongst states. Nazi antisemitism was primarily racial: “The Jew is the enemy and destroyer of the purity of blood, the conscious destroyer of our race;” however, the Jews were also described as plutocrats exploiting the worker: “As socialists we are opponents of the Jews because we see in the Hebrews the incarnation of capitalism, of the misuse of the nation’s goods.” In addition, the Nazis articulated opposition to finance capitalism with an emphasis on antisemitic claims that this was manipulated by a conspiracy of Jewish bankers.
An estimated 100,000 homosexuals were arrested after Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s. Of those, 50,000 were suspected to be incarcerated in concentration camps, making for 5,000 to 15,000 deaths. According to Harry Oosterhuis, the Nazis’ original view toward homosexuality was at least ambiguous if not openly tolerant or even approving, with homosexuality common in the Sturmabteilung(SA) which was critical to Hitler as the paramilitary arm of the NSDAP. Thus, the eventual arrests of homosexuals should not be viewed in the context of “race hygiene” or eugenics. Völkisch-nationalist youth movements attracted homosexuals because of the preaching of Männerbund (male bonding); in practice, Oosterhuis says, this meant that the persecution of homosexuals was more politically motivated or opportunistic than anything else. For example, the homosexuality of Ernst Röhm and other leaders of the Sturmabteilung was well known for years and became the basis for satire and jokes, including in the Army, which was highly suspicious and resentful of the SA’s power and size. Röhm was killed chiefly because he was perceived as a political threat, not for his homosexuality. Indeed, it was only after the murder of Roehm that the Nazis publicly expressed concern about the depraved morals of Roehm and the other S.A. leaders who were shot. …Hitler in addressing the surviving storm troop leaders in Munich at noon on June 30, just after the first executions, declared that for their corrupt morals alone these men deserved to die.
Eventually, Nazism declared itself incompatible with homosexuality, because gays did not reproduce and perpetuate the master race. In 1936, Heinrich Himmler, Chief of the SS, created the "Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion." Homosexuality was declared contrary to "wholesome popular sentiment," and gay men were regarded as "defilers of German blood." Homosexuals were persecuted for their sexuality. When they were prisoners in a concentration camp, they were forced to wear a pink triangle.
Hitler extended his rationalizations into a religious doctrine, underpinned by his criticism of traditional Catholicism. In particular, and closely related to Positive Christianity, Hitler objected to Catholicism’s ungrounded and international character — that is, it did not pertain to an exclusive race and national culture. At the same time, and somewhat contradictorily, the Nazis combined elements of Germany’s Lutheran community tradition with its northern European, organic pagan past. Elements of militarism found their way into Hitler’s own theology; he preached that his was a “true” or “master” religion, because it would “create mastery” and avoid comforting lies. Those who preached love and tolerance, “in contravention to the facts”, were said to be “slave” or “false” religions. The man who recognized these “truths”, Hitler continued, was said to be a “natural leader”, and those who denied it were said to be “natural slaves”. “Slaves” — especially intelligent ones, he claimed — were always attempting to hinder their masters by promoting false religious and political doctrines.
Anti-clericalism can also be interpreted as part of Nazi ideology, simply because the new Nazi hierarchy did not allow itself to be overridden by the power that the Church traditionally held. In Austria, clerics had a powerful role in politics and ultimately responded to the Vatican. Although a few exceptions exist, Christian persecution was primarily limited to those who refused to accommodate the new regime and yield to its power. A particularly poignant example is seen in the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. However, the Nazis often used the church to justify their stance and included many Christian symbols in the Third Reich .
The völkisch movement was inherently hostile toward atheism: freethinkers clashed frequently with Nazis in the late 1920s and early 1930s. On taking power, Hitler banned freethought organizations (such as the German Freethinkers League) and launched an “anti-godless” movement. In a 1933 speech he declared: “We have… undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out.” This forthright hostility was far more straightforward than the Nazis’ complex, often contradictory stance toward traditional Christian faith.
Several of the founders and subsequent leadership of the Nazi Party had been associates — and very occasionally members — of the Thule-Gesellschaft (the Thule Society), which romanticized the Aryan race through theology and ritual. The Thule Society had been an offshoot of the Germanenorden. The racist-occult notions of Ariosophy were not uncommon within these groups; Rudolf von Sebottendorf and a certain Wilde gave two lectures on occultism for the Thule Society. In general, however, its lectures and excursions were devoted to such subjects as Germanic antiquity and antisemitism, and historically it is more notable for the role it played as a paramilitary group fighting against the Bavarian Soviet Republic.
Dietrich Eckart, a remote associate of the Thule Society (he gave a reading there once from his plays, on 30 May 1919) coached Hitler on his public speaking skills, and Hitler later dedicated Mein Kampf to him. However, Hitler himself has not been shown to have been a member of the Thule Society or even to have attended its meetings. The DAP initially received support from the group, but the Thulists were quickly sidelined because Hitler favoured a mass movement and denigrated the occult-conspiratorial approach.
Heinrich Himmler, by contrast, showed a strong interest in such matters, although as Steigmann-Gall points out, Hitler and many of his key associates attended Christian services.
Himmler's activities at the Wewelsburg, the Thule Society and several other remote connections of Nazism with the occult are commonly brought up in the modern mythology of Nazi occultism. This image of Nazism only vaguely corresponds to its historic reality.
The prevailing scholarly view since the Second World War is that Martin Luther’s 1543 treatise, On the Jews and their Lies, exercised a major and persistent influence on Germany’s attitude toward its Jewish citizens in the centuries between the Reformation and the Holocaust . The National Socialists displayed On the Jews and their Lies during Nuremberg rallies, and the city of Nuremberg presented a first edition to Julius Streicher, editor of the Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer, the newspaper describing it as the most radically antisemitic tract ever published. Against the majority view, theologian Johannes Wallmann writes that the treatise had no continuity of influence in Germany, and was in fact largely ignored during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
According to Daniel Goldhagen, Bishop Martin Sasse, a leading Protestant churchman, published a compendium of Martin Luther’s writings shortly after the Kristallnacht; Sasse applauded the burning of the synagogues and the coincidence of the day, writing in the introduction, “On November 10, 1938, on Luther’s birthday, the synagogues are burning in Germany.” The German people, he urged, ought to heed these words “of the greatest antisemite of his time, the warner of his people against the Jews.” Diarmaid MacCulloch argued that On the Jews and Their Lies was a “blueprint” for the Kristallnacht.
There was a Persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Nazi Germany as well as of members of some other small Christian communities. Those groups were forced to wear a purple triangle in Nazi concentration camps.
Nazi publications and speeches included anti-capitalist (especially anti- finance capitalist) rhetoric. Hitler attacked what he called “pluto-democracy,” which he claimed to be a Jewish conspiracy to favour democratic parties in order to keep capitalism intact. The “corporation” was attacked by orthodox Nazis as being the leading instrument of finance capitalism, with the role of Jews emphasized. The National Socialist party described itself as socialist, and, at the time, conservative opponents such as the Industrial Employers Association described it as “totalitarian, terrorist, conspiratorial, and socialist.”
The Nazi Party’s 1920 “ Twenty-Five Point Programme” demanded:
…that the State shall make it its primary duty to provide a livelihood for its citizens… the abolition of all incomes unearned by work… the ruthless confiscation of all war profits… the nationalization of all businesses which have been formed into corporations… profit-sharing in large enterprises… extensive development of insurance for old-age… land reform suitable to our national requirements…
Nazi Party officials made several attempts in the 1920s to change some of the program or replace it entirely. In 1924, Gottfried Feder proposed a new 39-point program that kept some of the old planks, replaced others and added many completely new ones. Hitler did not mention any of the planks of the programme in his book, Mein Kampf, and he only mentioned it in passing as “the so-called programme of the movement”.
Hitler said in 1927, “We are socialists, we are enemies of today’s capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance.” However, Hitler wrote in 1930, “Our adopted term 'Socialist' has nothing to do with Marxian Socialism. Marxism is anti-property; true Socialism is not.” In a confidential 1931 interview, Hitler told the influential editor of a pro-business newspaper, “I want everyone to keep what he has earned subject to the principle that the good of the community takes priority over that of the individual. But the State should retain control; every owner should feel himself to be an agent of the State… The Third Reich will always retain the right to control property owners.” Party spokesman Joseph Goebbels claimed in 1932 that the Nazi Party was a “workers’ party” and “on the side of labor and against finance”. According to Friedrich Hayek, writing in 1944, “whatever may have been his reasons, Hitler thought it expedient to declare in one of his public speeches as late as February 1941 that ‘basically National Socialism and Marxism are the same.’ ” Privately, Hitler stated in 1942, “I absolutely insist on protecting private property… we must encourage private initiative”.
The ideological roots that became German National Socialism were based on numerous sources in European history, drawing especially from Romantic nineteenth century idealism, and from a biological reading of Friedrich Nietzsche’s thoughts on “breeding upwards” toward the goal of an Übermensch (“superhuman”). Hitler was an avid reader and received ideas that later influenced Nazism from traceable publications, such as those of the Germanenorden or the Thule society. He also adopted many populist ideas such as limiting profits, abolishing rents and generously increasing social benefits—but only for Germans.
The Nordic myth has been attributed to an inferiority complex. Phillip Wayne Powell claimed that the Nordic myth began to arise “in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, a powerful surge of German patriotism was stimulated by the disdain of Italians for German cultural inferiority and barbarism, which lead to a counterattempt by German humanists to laud German qualities.”
M. W. Fodor claimed in The Nation in 1936, “No race has suffered so much from an inferiority complex as has the German. National Socialism was a kind of Coué method of converting the inferiority complex, at least temporarily, into a feeling of superiority”.
According to Bertrand Russell, Nazism would come from a different tradition than that of either Liberalism or Marxism. Thus, to understand values of Nazism, it would be necessary to explore this connection, without trivializing the movement as it was in its peak years in the 1930s and dismissing it as little more than racism.
Antisemitism was shown to be a handy tool for Nazis to gain support, mainly because of the popular Houston Stewart Chamberlain. Personal accounts by August Kubizek, Hitler’s childhood friend, have varied, offering ambiguous claims that antisemitism did and did not date back to Hitler’s youth. One reason is the higher Jewish community in Austria and Germany because Germany had been a haven for many Jews over the years, including influential families such as the Rothschilds, although World War I and the Dolchstosslegende ended that legacy. Anti-Judaism had already been widely transformed into antisemitism before 1914 because of the new Europe-wide post-Darwin theory of racism. Historians universally accept that Nazism’s mass acceptance depended upon nationalistic appeals and fear against “non-normal people” (which also could include xenophobia and antisemitism) and a patriotic flattery toward the wounded collective pride of defeated World War I veterans.
Many see strong connections to the values of Nazism and the anti-rationalist tradition of the romantic movement of the early nineteenth century in response to the Enlightenment. Strength, passion, frank declarations of feelings, and deep devotion to family and community were valued by the Nazis though first expressed by many Romantic artists, musicians, and writers. German romanticism in particular expressed these values. For instance, Hitler identified closely with the music of Richard Wagner, who harbored antisemitic views as the author of Das Judenthum in der Musik. Some claim that he was one of Hitler’s role models, a comment of Kubizek’s that is also disputed.
The idealization of tradition, folklore, classical thought, leadership (as exemplified by Frederick the Great), their rejection of the liberalism of the Weimar Republic, and calling the German state the “Third Reich” (which traces back to the medieval First Reich and the pre-Weimar Second Reich) has led many to regard the Nazis as reactionary.
Nazism as a doctrine is far from homogeneous, and can be divided into at least two sub-ideologies. During the 1920s and 1930s, there were two dominant Nazi factions; the followers of Otto Strasser and the followers of Adolf Hitler. The Strasserite faction eventually fell afoul of Hitler, when Otto Strasser was expelled from the party in 1930, and his attempt to create an oppositional left-block in the form of the Black Front failed. The remainder of the faction, which was to be found mainly in the ranks of the SA, was purged in the Night of the Long Knives, which included the murder of Gregor Strasser, Otto’s brother. Afterwards, the Hitlerite faction became dominant. In the post-World War II era, Strasserism has enjoyed something of a revival among many neo-Nazi groups.
List of elements of the Nazi ideology
- The National Socialist Program
- The rejection of democracy, and consequently abolishing political parties, labour unions, and free press.
- Führerprinzip (Leader Principle) as a total belief in the leader (responsibility up the ranks, and authority down the ranks)
- Extreme Nationalism
- Anti- Bolshevism
- Strong show of local culture
- Social Darwinism
- Defense of “ Blood and Soil” (German: Blut und Boden)
- The Lebensraum policy of creation of more living space for Germans in the east
- Nazism and race, Racial policies of the Third Reich and Nazi eugenics:
- The creation of a Herrenrasse (or Herrenvolk) (Master Race = by the Lebensborn (Fountain of Life; A department in the Third Reich)).
- Aryan Supremacism; more specifically, ranking of individuals according to their race and racial purity, with the Nordic race favoured the most
- Limited freedom of religion (Point #24 in the National Socialist Program)
- Rejection of the modern art movement and an embrace of classical art
- Association with Fascism or Totalitarianism
- Animal welfare, see Animal welfare in Nazi Germany
- Environmentalism: In June 1935, the Reichsnaturschutzgesetz (Reich Nature Protection Law) was enacted. It was valid in West Germany till 1976. Some historians have either argued that this law was the symptom of an actual interest of the Nazi regime in the preservation of the natural world, or that it was not a Nazi law at all, but rather the nonideological expression of previous ideas. Others have contested these views, and claim that the Reichsnaturschutzgesetz reflected instead key elements of both progressive preservationism of the 1930s, such as the concepts of natural monuments and nature protection areas, and of Nazism, such as racialism and nationalism.
- Kraft durch Freude The well-being of the working classes.
- Public health ( Anti smoking campaigns, asbestos restrictions, occupational health and safety standards)
Nazism and communism emerged as two serious contenders for power in Germany after the First World War, particularly as the Weimar Republic became increasingly unstable. What became the Nazi movement arose out of resistance to the Bolshevik-inspired insurgencies that occurred in Germany in the aftermath of the First World War. The Russian Revolution of 1917 caused a great deal of excitement and interest in the Leninist version of Marxism and caused many socialists to adopt revolutionary principles. The Spartacist uprising in Berlin and the Bavarian Soviet Republic in 1919 were both manifestations of this. The Freikorps, a loosely organized paramilitary group (essentially a militia of former World War I soldiers) was used to crush both these uprisings and many leaders of the Freikorps, including Ernst Röhm, later became leaders in the Nazi Party. After Mussolini’s fascists took power in Italy in 1922, fascism presented itself as a realistic option for opposing communism, particularly given Mussolini’s success in crushing the communist and anarchist movements that had destabilized Italy with a wave of strikes and factory occupations after the First World War. Fascist parties formed in numerous European countries.
Many historians, such as Ian Kershaw and Joachim Fest, argue that Hitler’s Nazis were one of numerous nationalist and increasingly fascistic groups that existed in Germany and contended for leadership of the anti-communist movement and, eventually, of the German state. Further, they assert that fascism and its German variant, National Socialism, became the successful challengers to communism because they were able to both appeal to the establishment as a bulwark against Bolshevism and appeal to the working class base, particularly the growing underclass of unemployed and unemployable and growingly impoverished middle class elements who were becoming declassed (denounced as the lumpenproletariat). The Nazis’ use of pro-labor rhetoric appealed to those disaffected with capitalism by promoting the limiting of profits, the abolishing of rents and the increasing of social benefits (only for Germans) while simultaneously presenting a political and economic model that divested “Soviet socialism” of elements that were dangerous to capitalism, such as the concept of class struggle, “the dictatorship of the proletariat” or worker control of the means of production. Thus, Nazism’s populism, anti-communism and anti-capitalism helped it become more powerful and popular than traditional conservative parties, like the DNVP. For the above reasons, particularly the fact that Nazis and communists fought each other (often violently) during most of their existence, nazism and communism are commonly seen as opposite extremes on the political spectrum. Nevertheless, this view is not without its challengers. Several political theorists and economists, primarily those associated with the Austrian school, argue that nazism, Soviet communism and other totalitarian ideologies share a common underpinning in socialism and collectivism.
The simplicity of Nazi rhetoric, campaigns, and ideology also made its conservative allies underestimate its strength, and its ability to govern or even to last as a political party. Michael Mann defined fascism as a “transcendent and cleansing nation statism through paramilitarism”, with “transcendent” meaning that the all classes were to be abolished in order for a new, organic and pure people: all classes are abolished by transition, all “others” (an estimated two-thirds of the German population alone).
Support of anti-communists for fascism and Nazism
Various far right politicians and political parties in Europe welcomed the rise of fascism and the Nazis, out of an intense aversion towards communism. They saw Hitler as the savior of Western civilization and of capitalism against Bolshevism. During the late 1930s and the 1940s, the Nazis were supported by the Falange movement in Spain, and by political and military figures who formed the government of Vichy France. The Legion of French Volunteers against Bolshevism (LVF) and other anti-Soviet fighting formations formed.
Nazi economic policy
Nazi economic practice concerned itself with immediate domestic issues and separately with ideological conceptions of international economics.
Domestic economic policy was narrowly concerned with four major goals to eliminate Germany’s issues:
- Elimination of unemployment.
- Rapid and substantial rearmament.
- Protection against the resurgence of hyper-inflation
- Expansion of production of consumer goods to improve middle and lower-class living standards.
All of these policy goals were intended to address the perceived shortcomings of the Weimar Republic and to solidify domestic support for the party. In this, the party was successful. Between 1933 and 1936 the German Gross National Product ( GNP) increased by an average annual rate of 9.5%, and the rate for industry alone rose by 17.2%.
This expansion propelled the German economy out of a deep depression and into full employment in less than four years. Public consumption during the same period increased by 18.7%, while private consumption increased by 3.6% annually. According to the historian Richard Evans, prior to the outbreak of war the German “economy had recovered from the Depression faster than its counterparts in other countries. Germany’s foreign debt had been stabilized, interest rates had fallen to half their 1932 level, the stock exchange had recovered from the Depression, the gross national product had risen by 81 per cent over the same period…. Inflation and unemployment had been conquered.”
German marriages increased from about 511,000 in 1932 to 611,000 in 1936, while births rose from 921,000 births in 1932 to 1,280,000 in 1936. Suicides committed by young people under 20 dropped by 80% between 1933 and 1939.
Internationally, the Nazi Party believed that an international banking cabal was behind the global depression of the 1930s. Control of this cabal, which had grown to a position where it controlled both Europe and the United States, was identified with an elite and powerful group of Jews. Nevertheless, a number of people believed that this was part of an ongoing plot by the Jewish people, as a whole, to achieve global domination. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which began its circulation in Russia at the beginning of the 20th century, were said to have confirmed this, already showing “evidence” that the Bolshevik takeover in Russia was in accordance with one of the protocols. Broadly speaking, the existence of large international banking or merchant banking organizations was well known at this time. Many of these banking organizations were able to exert influence upon nation states by extension or withholding of credit. This influence is not limited to the small states that preceded the creation of the German Empire as a nation state in the 1870s, but is noted in most major histories of all European powers from the sixteenth century onward. Nevertheless, after the Great Depression, this libelous and unverified manuscript took on an important role in Nazi Germany, thus providing another link in the Nazis ideological motivation for the destruction of that group in the Holocaust.
The Nazis viewed private property rights as conditional upon the mode of use. If the property was not being used to further Nazi goals, it could be nationalized. Government takeovers and threats of takeovers were used to encourage complance with government production plans, even if following these plans cost profits for companies. For example, the owner of the Junkers (aircraft) factory refused to follow the government’s directives, whereupon the Nazis took over the plant, placed the owner Hugo Junkers under house arrest, then compensated him for his loss. Hitler extended state controls over prices, labor, materials, dividends and foreign trade, limiting competition and private ownership in attempt to direct all segments of economy towards "general welfare". From the 1930s state ownership increased in both war and non-war sectors of economy.
Central planning of agriculture was a prominent feature. In order to tie farmers to the land, the selling of agricultural land was prohibited. Farm ownership was nominally private, but ownership in the sense of having discretion over operations and claims on residual income were taken away. This was achieved by granting monopoly rights to marketing boards to control production and prices through a quota system. Quotas were also set for industrial goods, including pig iron, steel, aluminium, magnesium, gunpowder, explosives, synthetic rubber, all kinds of fuel, and electricity. A compulsory cartel law was enacted in 1936 which allowed the Minister of Economics to make existing cartels compulsory and permanent and to force industries to form cartels where none existed, though these were eventually decreed out of existence by 1943 with the objective being to replace them with more authoritarian bodies.
In place of ordinary profit incentive to guide the economy, investment was guided through regulation to accord to the needs of the State. The profit incentive for business owners was retained, though greatly modified through various profit-fixing schemes: “Fixing of profits, not their suppression, was the official policy of the Nazi party.” However the function of profit in automatically guiding allocation of investment and unconsciously directing the course of the economy was replaced with economic planning by Nazi government agencies. Government financing eventually came to dominate the investment process, which the proportion of private securities issued falling from over half of the total in 1933 and 1934 to approximately 10 percent in 1935–1938. Heavy taxes on business profits limited self-financing of firms. The largest firms were mostly exempt from taxes on profits, however government control of these were extensive enough to leave “only the shell of private ownership.”
Taxes and subsidies were also used in order to direct the economy. Underlying economic policy was the use of terror as an incentive to agree and comply. Nazi language indicated death or concentration camp for any business owner who pursued his own self interest instead of the ends of the State.
It is often regarded that businesses were private property in name but not in substance. Chritoph Buchheim and Jonas Scherner dissent, saying that despite controls by the state firms still had significant freedom in planning their own production and investment activities, though they admit that the economy was state directed.
Many companies dealt with the Third Reich: Volkswagen was created by the German state and was heavily supported by the Nazis; Opel employed Jewish slave labour to run their industrial plants; Daimler-Benz used prisoners of war as slaves to run their industrial plants; Krupp made gas chambers; Bayer worked with the Nazis as a small part of the enormous IG Farben chemistry monopoly; and Hugo Boss designed the SS uniforms (and admitted to this in 1997). There has been some disagreement about whether IBM had dealt with the Nazis to create a cataloguing system, the Hollerith punch-card machines, which the Nazis used to file information on those who they killed. Some companies that dealt with the Third Reich claim to have not known the truth of what the Nazis were doing, and some foreign companies claimed to have lost control of their German branches when Hitler was in power.
Nazism in popular culture
The term Nazi has become a generic term of abuse in popular culture, as have other Third Reich terms such as Führer (often spelled differently in English-speaking countries). Related terms (such as fascist or Gestapo or Hitler) are sometimes used to describe any people or behaviours that are viewed as thuggish, authoritarian, or extremist. Phrases such as grammar Nazi, feminazi, open source Nazi, and parking enforcement Nazi, are sometimes used in the United States. These uses are offensive to some, as indicated by the controversy in the mainstream media over the Seinfeld “ Soup Nazi” episode. These types of terms are used frequently enough to inspire Godwin's Law.
Some people strongly associate the blackletter typefaces (e.g. Fraktur or Schwabacher) with Nazi propaganda (although the typeface is much older, and its usage was banned by the Nazi German government in 1941). In films such as the Indiana Jones series, Nazis are often portrayed as villains, whom the heroes battle without mercy. Video game website IGN declared Nazis to be the most memorable video game villains ever. The main antagonists in the manga Hellsing are vampiric Nazis.