Tag Archives: Ideology

On Ideology and infrastructure

Infrastructure is expensive. That’s the way of things.

Major infrastructure shifts are even more expensive. And the U.S. in general has lagged behind on major infrastructure developments for about 40 years now. Ever since the Reagan era, no one wants to commit public resources to providing better infrastructure here at home— we hear the cry of “socialism,” and “big government.” This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be very wary of socialism, or that big government isn’t a problem. But perhaps that shouldn’t push us away from being concerned about our infrastructure. We have spent more and more on wars and entitlements of various kinds, but with better infrastructure and better education, we wouldn’t need quite so many entitlements, and often, these wars are unnecessary, and products not of national defense, but flat-out imperialism.

Too many fight this perspective, it seems — and such is partially a problem tied to the intense U.S. cultural focus on localism and individual liberty.

Our public education systems are a messy patchwork, our national highway systems are incredibly expensive to maintain, and the need for road expansion just to have the parking for individual cars often exceeds our capacity, especially in the crowded Wasatch Front area of Utah where I live.

Limited government, and fiscal responsibility are important components to a nation that wishes to remain free. The road to serfdom is not only paved with entitlement, an ignorant public, a shrinking middle class, and corporate welfare, but also with inflexible ideology.

My experience and my instincts both tell me that ideology makes for bad policy — not because there aren’t effective and true ideologies out there. No — ideology itself, in its axiomatic inflexibility (not to mention the frequently inflammatory rhetoric so often intertwined in its presentation) is too simple to explain and account for the varieties of our reality.

Libertarianism, in all its anti-big-government glory, and its admiral wish to protect civil liberties above all else, can be blind to systemic societal problems. And the voluntaryism espoused by its adherents never can, by itself, make major dents in improving our quality of life. (And regardless of its effectiveness, voluntary is difficult to define– the definitions of “voluntary” and “coercion” are fuzzier than many Voluntaryists would like to admit.) The intense focus on individual liberties, and the disregard, disdain, or outright disapproval for any group action that encourages or enforces cultural norms — these negative reactions will destroy community, eventually.

Libertarianism, at its core, makes assumptions about human nature that treat individuals not simply as independent actors, but ones only minimally affected by the conditions of mortality, by psychology, by social conditioning. The zeal of Libertarians is infectious, and powerful, but too often, this zeal leads to blaming the poor for their circumstance — which may be fair at times — instead of finding systemic ways to lift them out of their condition — which doesn’t have to be fair or unfair to be wrong.

On the other end of the spectrum, Communism, and all of it’s Socialist cousins — are just as guilty, if not more so. Socialism, in it’s zealous desire to build a community that allows the individual to flourish without exploitation by the state or the corporation, does the inverse: it makes community meaningless — or simply annihilates it, because of assumptions about human nature that ignore or subvert any notion of a fundamental human nature, human roles or relationships. Socialism says: we can build new societies any way we want, and so of course we should. But this is dangerous when we perceive human beings to be more flexible than they really are — and here’s where it gets weird. Human beings aren’t a Tabula Rasa, or a blank slate — but this is the fundamental belief that socialist ideologies almost always purport — but individualists, including Libertarians, make this assumption too. This is why I’m drawn to conservatism as much as Libertarianism (although I will frequently agree with the latter group about civil liberty policies). I like conservatives because they believe in a fundamental order to the universe. But like a good anthropologist, I hesitate to believe in absolutes, and instead am more willing to accept that there are, generalities that will never fundamentally alter (I do not claim to be an anthropologist of any variety, but I do admire them at times). And like a good historian (which I do claim to be), I believe that context never vanishes, and that it always has significance.

Ideologies often focus on what human beings deserve, and I have big objections and problems with the very concept of desert (not a dry biome characterized by a lack of rainfall, but a social and moral concept revolving around notions about what ought or ought not to be given to certain people — or simply ought to be, period).

We have spent centuries studying both empirically and religiously, what people’s needs are. What we have never been able to do, is get any sort of real consensus on what people deserve. What people deserve can’t be studied empirically, because such study must rely on answering the is-ought question that philosophers have debated, politicians have assumed the answer to, religious leaders have conflicting messages over, and that business, and the general public, have too often ignored.

I don’t trust ideology. I don’t believe in Utopia (not of man’s making). And I hesitate to make drastic changes to society — such changes require intense study by experts and generalists, and should be made carefully and with precision and sensitivity.

But I do believe in progress. And from where I’m standing, it has been too long since American Republicans have believed in the same — too long since they’ve recognized what it means to truly be conservative.

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Hitler’s Power: Iconic Authority Part III

Hitler’s confidence, and his absolutism were part of his appeal to the masses.1 He was famous for his uncompromising statements, and Haffner remarks upon Hitler’s appeal, explaining that it was his complete polarization as an individual that incited such vigorous excitement in the German people. Of his confidence in leading Germany wherever he wished, one can note a brief exchange between Hitler and a British reporter by the name of Mosley.

… Hitler … demanded that I come forward and be introduced. He was in a good mood; he made a couple of jokes about the English Press when he knew who I was, and then banteringly asked why British journalists in Germany wrote so much about the threat of war. “There will be no war,” he said. “Don’t you agree?”

This, mark you, was the summer of 1939.

I said there would be no war if the rights of Poland and the Free City of Danzig were not infringed.

Hitler slapped his thigh, and laughed. “Even if there are, there will be no war,” he said. “There was no war over Sudetenland, nor over Czechoslovakia. There will be no war over Danzig.” When I demurred he repeated: “There was no war over Sudetenland! There will be none over Poland! The conditions are exactly the same and your actions will be the same.”2

Hitler’s position as head of party was something he was equally confident about. Of the party, Hitler once said, “The party is the Führer and the Führer is the party.”3 However, for all of Hitler’s allegations of unity, along the Nazi rise to power, he in fact stood apart, and above the party, to some degree or another. Sophie Scholl asked of her father, “But does the Führer have any idea of the concentration camps?” Her father responds, “How could he not know, since they’ve existed for years and were set up by his closest friends? And why didn’t he use his power to do away with them at once? And why are those released from them forbidden on pain of death to tell anything about what they went through?”4

For the masses, Hitler was not synonymous with the party—he was no simple mouthpiece, indistinct from the Nazi party itself. The exchange above instead suggests a belief in Hitler as a leader of the people, and confusion as to the disconnect with what Hitler had seemed to be, and what he now seemed to be condoning. This separation of the leader of all Germany and the political party in power can be explained in part by this “cheap mass intoxication” that Haffner writes about. To further exploit this yearning in the masses, Goebbels implemented a propaganda campaign of historic proportions.

In the early 1930s, as Hitler gained popularity, and just before he was appointed Chancellor by Hindenburg, propaganda posters showed Hitler and Hindenburg together. In one poster, Nationalist colors of red, white and black are used in one, with the caption, “The Reich will never be destroyed if you are united and loyal.”5 In another, Hitler and Hindenburg are shown standing. It reads, “In the deepest need Hindenburg chose Adolf Hitler for Reich Chancellor. You too should vote for List 1.”6 This is of course is disingenuous, Hindenburg needed Hitler like a fish needs a bicycle, but he dared not let the rabble rouser out of his sight, or he risked the continued stability of Germany.


Early on, the campaign sought to make an image for Hitler in keeping with his rhetoric. He sought a united Germany, at all costs, and Hindenburg was already accepted by the mainstream of German society as a great leader. Hitler in his bid for the chancellorship could effectively borrow this image, and move decidedly into mainstream politics.7

Later on, after Hitler had become Chancellor, and then dictator, further propaganda kept the people united. In another poster, a German worker is shown, lifting a stone into place on the wall. The background is sparse, and the worker appears Aryan, being blond and tall. The caption reads, “Hitler is building. Help him. Buy German goods.”8 This simple rhetoric was common to propaganda posters, if the archives at Calvin College are any indication.

The emphasis in these posters was not deep visual symbolism—this wouldn’t have been often picked up on by the masses. Instead, the posters contained short, pithy sayings, or oratorical prose.  Goebbels and Hitler both claimed that propaganda was a great art, and to communicate effectively a united message to the masses was the goal. No deep thinking or heavy symbology would be as effective. Hitler wanted an unthinking mass of Germans, united in attitude, to avoid dissent and confusion. As he said in Mein Kampf, “All propaganda must be popular and its intellectual level has to be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to.”9
While symbology wasn’t heavily relied upon, there were instances of it in the propaganda, probably due to Goebbels’s promotion of ‘Führer Worship’. One comparison, very Christian in its symbolism, was found in a poster featuring a dove, descending from above Hitler, with the sun blazing brightly behind him, as he holds the Nazi flag in his right hand. The text, again, is potent rhetoric, “Long live Germany!”10 In another instance, one of the well known paintings of the Nazi regime was entitled Der Bannerträger, or “The Standard-Bearer,” painted in the mid-1930s, probably 1935. Hitler stands looking to the left, in a suit of shining armor, holding the Nazi flag. The symbolism is medieval, and harkens to the Crusades, pointing to German militarism. Claims have been made that Hitler handpicked this from a number of other depictions, in which he was apparently disappointed.11

Goebbels did a great many things to craft Hitler’s image, and these are but a few examples. Propaganda was found in many forms in the Third Reich, but Hitler’s visage and the swastika were definitely the most recognizable symbols for the German populace.12

Toward the end of the war, Hitler struggled with waning enthusiasm for the war, the party, and a lack of unity in miltary leadership. These combined forces did not topple his government, or remove him from power. Protests were few in number, and were quickly silenced. In addition, Hitler’s domination over his generals in war strategy was actually complete enough to lead to his own demise, as the the overextended eastern front of the Wehrmacht was overrun by Soviet forces.

Hitler’s generals were a disparate group, loosely united by dedication to Germany, and the force of Hitler’s personality, as well as Hitler’s deliberate positioning of them such that they would quarrel with each other rather than challenge him. One of Hitler’s top generals, Franz Halder, took extensive notes during the war. His notes indicate no moral reservations about the attack on Poland. This indicates not a mindset of anti-Semitism, but of warmongering. Megargee, author or War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front, 1941, quotes a record indicating the peace between Germany and Poland was fairly disingenuous.13 However, Halder does not seem particularly invested in racial ideologies, in fact, he makes a note that the military should be particularly cautious in avoiding getting embroiled in politics. Such a position does not point to a particular devotion to Hitler’s ideas—rather it suggests that Hitler’s position as leader or his force of personality were the cementing forces for Halder himself. Halder’s notes further indicate a brusque, business-like attitude toward both Hitler and the war.

Other military leaders were of various dispositions. Göring, for example, was as devoted to Hitler as he was to the war—anything Hitler asked for, he would promise, including air support at Stalingrad, which was logistically impossible to deliver.14 Some military leaders in Germany eventually turned on Hitler, but would not challenge him openly, and lacked the courage to shoot him despite many opportunities. The failed July 20th bomb plot, pushed chiefly by Stauffenberg, was the most extensive of the military’s resistance to Hitler, but he was hardly wounded.15 Despite the attempts on his life, he maintained control of the military without obvious challenges.

The relationship of leadership within the military is far more nuanced than the memoirs of Hitler’s generals would make it seem, Megargee asserts. Hitler’s generals were not simply following their duty to their leader, although such motivations were a component in their behavior. Halder’s War Diary records of Hitler, “…the commander must give orders that express the common feelings of his men.”16 This does not mean that Hitler’s generals were anti-Semitic, as Megargee suggests, but rather that the military was ready and willing to fight a war for Germany’s greatness, against whatever perceived enemy, real or not, that their leaders could point to with any convincing oration.

Hitler’s military leadership and the average citizen were less interested in the Nazi party than they were in a singularly effective leader. Megargee explains that it was belief in the individual, Hitler, that led to belief in the party, and that the oath that so many took, was almost superfluous.17 Haffner’s account suggests that his some of his own generation, and some of the former Freikorps, were perhaps the most common adherents to Hitler’s actual philosophy.18

Hitler’s appeal to the masses was not without resistance; there were incidents of resistance to both Hitler himself and the Nazi party. Gertrude Sombart said in an interview, “…most people of course, were for Hitler.” She relates further, that after the an assassination attempt, she remarked to her husband that it was bad luck that Hitler had survived. Her husband told her to hush, as there was an SS officer nearby, but from a woman who was with them came similarly derogatory comments about Germany’s leader.19

What We Knew, a collection of interviews from both Jewish and non-Jewish Germans who lived through WWII, makes it clear that it was a common sentiment to dislike the Nazi party—especially through the war itself. Inge Scholl relates an account of her siblings and their protests against the regime in a memoir. Sophie Scholl, with several of her fellow college students, and their professor, protested the Nazi regime, distributing anonymous leaflets promoting resistance to the government. “Do not forget that every people deserves the government it is willing to endure!” the leaflets said.20 This formal resistance arrived toward the the middle of the war, much after the Nazis had already suspended civil liberties and tightened their grip on Germany. The six originators of the group, called die Weisse Rose, were executed by the Nazis in 1943.21 There were others, including Helmuth Hübener, who wrote his own leaflets on a typewriter while listening to British radio. Hübener and two of his friends and supporters were arrested. Only one of the three friends survived to relate the tale, Karl-Heinz Schnibbe.22 Whatever resistance there was, these groups’ outspoken, dissenting voices against the Nazi government were in the minority, despite general public frustration with the Nazis.

While there were groups that protested the regime, it seems that the clarity and extent of information about the ‘Final Solution’ itself was varied among the public. The German populace was fearful of saying a word against the regime—few were willing to risk what liberty they had. The Nazi party forbad those few that left concentration camps to ever speak about it, on pain of death.23 In fact, various sources suggest that the actual mass-murder of the Jews, fulfilling Hitler’s desires for a ‘Final Solution’, was the best kept secret of the Third Reich.

The lack of written communications between Hitler and Himmler about the concentration camps and the ‘Final Solution’ is conspicuous. There are several contributing factors, the first being that Hitler preferred spoken to written communication. The second follows on that premise, being that Hitler generally spoke to Himmler on the phone at least once a day.24 However, the Nazi Regime was a modern one—there were notes and records on many things, and it has been regarded as perhaps the mostly highly documented regime of the 20th century. So this lack of recorded directives for Himmler remains conspicuous. Notes of Himmler’s were recorded after telephone sessions with Hitler, and after 1938, Hitler began publicly threatening the Jews with extermination if they did not leave Europe. However, within the eye of the public, there is a distinction between rhetoric, speeches, or painting a group as pariahs, and actively exterminating a group openly. While the average German citizen may have been aware of some of what was going on in the death camps, it seems clear that Hitler knew that open discussion would be detrimental to his cause. A memo banning discussion of the ‘Final Solution’ in public was sent out in July of 1943.25

Hitler’s deliberate avoidance of written orders in general, as well as his particular avoidance to records of the “Final Solution” seem then attributable to a fundamental preoccupation with the public eye. Hitler’s vanity—his fixation on how he appeared and what he communicated, particularly in his speech-making, is well documented.26 Without any written records from Hitler himself on the ‘Final Solution’, one can conclude that Hitler was covering his bases, so to speak. The public was vaguely aware of the concentration camps, and he was preparing for the day that the mass-murders and the death camps became entirely public. The reaction of the public wasn’t as united as he wished,27 and this would certainly have made such a media conscious leader pause, no matter how bold.

Anti-Semitism could not have been the primary driving force for most Germans—they simply weren’t completely engrossed enough in Hitler’s haphazard ideology. Hitler’s control of Germany then seems most easily attributable to German perceptions and expectations about authority, and the force of Hitler’s oratory. Propaganda, filled with rhetoric, played its part as well, but above all else, the people were expecting a leader, a savior, a redeemer of Germany. Such needs were common sentiment, and would not be surprising in a monarchy, but the return of a dictatorship in the modern era promised a different kind of regime than had hitherto been seen in Europe.

1Stern, 18.

2Leonard O. Mosley, Report from Germany (London: Victor Gollancz LTD, 1945) 8-9.

3Kershaw, 83.

4Inge Scholl, The White Rose, trans. Arthur R. Schultz (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1983), 11.

5Poster from the March 1933 Reichstag election, digital image, “Nazi Posters: 1933-1945,” German Propaganda Archive http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/posters2.htm (accessed 13 Dec 2010). Original poster in possession of Dr. Robert D. Brooks.

6Poster from the March 1933 Reichstag election, digital image, “Nazi Posters: 1933-1945,” German Propaganda Archive http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/posters2.htm (accessed 13 Dec 2010). Original poster in possession of Dr. Robert D. Brooks.

7Kershaw, 46.

8Poster from Nazi Germany, mid-1930s, digital image, “Nazi Posters: 1933-1945,” German Propaganda Archive http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/posters2.htm (accessed 13 Dec 2010). Original poster in possession of Dr. Robert D. Brooks.

9Hitler, 180.

10Poster from Nazi Germany, mid-1930s, Christological depiction of Hitler, digital image, “Nazi Posters: 1933-1945,” German Propaganda Archive http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/posters2.htm (accessed 13 Dec 2010). Original poster in possession of Dr. Robert D. Brooks.

11 “Der Bannerträger,” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Website http://www.ushmm.org/propaganda/archive/painting-the-standard-bearer/ (accessed December 4, 2010)

12 Steven Heller, Iron Fists: Branding the 20th Century Totalitarian State (New York, NY: Phaidon Press, Inc., 2008), 19-20, 24-25.

13Geoffrey P. Megargee, War of Annihilation:Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front, 1941. (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2006), 8-9.

14Joel S. A. Hayward, Stopped at Stalingrad (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1998), 233-4.

15Percy Knauth, “The Hitler Bomb Plot,” Life Magazine (May 28, 1945), 17-18, 20, 23. http://books.google.com/books?id=7kkEAAAAMBAJ&lpg=PP1&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false (accessed December 12, 2010)

16Franz Halder, The Halder War Diary ed. Charles Burdick and Hans-Adolf Jacobsen (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1988), 346.

17Megargee, 8-9.

18Haffner, 10-15, 20-21, 27-28

19Johnson and Reuband, 160.

20Scholl, 31-2.

21Ibid., 155-6.

22Rick McFarland, Truth and Conviction: The Helmuth Hübener Story (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2002). DVD. See also: Karl-Heinz Schnibbe, The Price: The True Story of a Mormon Who Defied Hitler (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1984).

23 Johnson and Reuband, 147-150, 179, 222, 242-244.

24Sarah Ann Gordon, Hitler, Germans, and the “Jewish question.” (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), 136-140.

25Arad, Gutman, and Margaliot, 160.

26Kelly Davis, Nazi Germany (Mankato, MN: Smart Apple Media, 2005), 7.

27Gay, 63-66; Johnson and Reuband, 164-165 ,175-176, 231-233.

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Hitler’s Power: Iconic Authority Part II

Hitler’s rise to power and the mass movement behind the Nazi party were counter-revolutionary in nature, springing from frustration with the ineffective and splintered Wiemar government in the 1920s. Ian Kershaw has shown from research in German newspaper records of the time, that right wing groups’ desires for a common leader were not always shared by the leftists or the mainstream.1 However, for many Germans, the desire for an authoritative system and single, clear leader became heightened during the chaos of the Weimar Republic.

In Sebastian Haffner’s memoir of the Weimar Republic, he notes that the building blocks of the Nazis power were already in place. He talks of the Freikorps, noting that they were the military power while the Social Democrats ruled. They could have easily pulled off a coup détat, but lacked a central leader to follow. He asks the question of why they never attempted an overthrow of the government, and further explains that such a notion was not an acceptable line of thought for the majority of German soldiers, paraphrasing a famous remark by Bismarck:

…moral courage is, in any case, a rare virtue in Germany, but it deserts a German completely the moment he puts on a uniform. As soldier and officer, he is indisputably and outstandingly courageous on the field of battle. He is usually even prepared to open fire on his own compatriots if ordered to do so. Yet he is as timid as a lamb at the thought of opposing authority. The suggestion of such a confrontation always conjures up the nightmare of a firing squad and he is immediately paralyzed. It is not death he fears, but this particular death, which scares him out of his wits. That makes any idea impossible for the German military—whoever happens to be in power.2

This need for authoritarian rule is further corroborated by David Bankier’s analysis in Germans and the Final solution: Public Opinion Under Nazism. He notes that the German population of 1935, was frustrated with an unclear expectation of how they were to behave toward the Jews. The Nazi government had made it clear that the Jews were supposed enemies of Germany, but the population were not expressing anti-Semitism unhesitatingly. Instead, they sought direction from their leaders. While there was an obvious social disconnect from the Jewish population, the tendency shown here is one of comparitively blind obedience. These people were asking what they should do—and they were not asking their own consciences; they were seeking an external authoritative answer. At this point, if anti-Semitism was the banner behind which the populace had rallied to Hitler, then it should have been an equal or superior force to German authoritarian tendencies, but truly it paled in comparison.3

The Hitler Youth were yet another building block of the Nazi regime, and while such did not exist in 1919, there were indirect precursors that did.4 Haffner, mentioned above, was one of the members of a youth group in 1919, called the Rennbund Altpreussen (Old Prussia Athletics Club). He calls the group’s activities ‘beneficent’, and ‘patriotic’. Their motto was “Anti-Spartacus, for Sport and Politics”—but as he says, their ‘politics’ consisted of occasionally beating up other boys their age who supported the Social Democrats and the revolution that had established the Weimar Republic. The various groups like his, he notes, were anti-revolutionary, but not yet anti-Semitic in any sense—he notes their best runner was Jewish.5

Intermingled with these authoritarian dependencies was not only a right-wing, but eventually a strong mainstream longing for an iconic leader. The Weimar Constitution itself is evidence of monarchical leanings. In sections 41 through 59 of the document, extensive powers are granted to the President. Of particular note are two articles:

Article 47.
The President of the Reich shall have supreme command over the entire military forces of the Reich.
Article 48.

If a state fails to carry out the duties imposed upon it by the national constitution or national laws, the President of the Reich may compel performance with the aid of armed force.

If public safety and order be seriously disturbed or threatened within the German Reich, the President of the Reich may take the necessary measures to restore public safety and order; if necessary, with the aid of armed force. For this purpose he may temporarily suspend in whole or in part the fundamental rights enumerated in Articles 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124 and 153.6

These indicate the clear dictatorial powers that the President had, and a distinctly militaristic Germany. The articles mentioned in article 48 are largely similar to the U.S. Bill of Rights, being individual liberties. To note that these can be suspended by simple edict of the president is a foreshadowing of the disappearance of civil liberties in the mid 1930s. Indeed, Germany did not have a deeply ingrained tradition of democratic government, as Germany had only been united for roughly 50 years, and had remained a monarchy through to end of WWI.7 In comparison with the US democratic government, or even Britain’s, they had had little time in comparison to adjust to the idea.

Further illustrating these authoritarian leanings, the New York Times ran an article in 1927 with the headline: “Deferred Monarchist Hopes.” The article mentioned the patchwork alliance of the German Nationalists (monarchists) and the centrist party then in power under Hindenburg and Stresseman. “The Nationalists insist that the marriage is one of convenience and temporary in nature.”8They were determined to seek strong leadership and bring about a grand German monarchy once again.

Hitler himself discusses the need for leadership in Mein Kampf. “As worthless as an army in all its organisational forms is without officers, equally worthless is a political organization without the suitable leader,” he writes. There is no mention of true democratic process in the surrounding material, and his choice of language suggests the belief in the singular nature of central leadership.9 At this point in his book, he does not seem to indicate a belief in himself as said singular leader, although his trial after the Beer Hall Putsch had made it unequivocally clear that he saw no reason why he could not be the one to lead Germany to greatness.10 Ian Kershaw notes that this change came slowly, as members of his party became increasingly supportive of him, and as the press mentioned him more and more frequently.11

Movement from the ignored radical fringes into the spotlight for both the party and Hitler himself was dependent on two things. The first is the radicalization of the average German. The second is the opposite approach. Further acceptance of him as a leader by the political center and the apolitical German would require changing his image to a less radical one. Both Hitler and later his right hand man Goebbels sought this creation of an image for the Führer. He needed to become not only popular, but seen as a veritable avatar of the German spirit. The political base of the Nazi party was scattered, and its ideology a hodgepodge ofideas. These could not account for its continued success, although they certainly contributed to its popularity. The party needed a focus, otherwise it would continue to flounder at the edges of the political scene. Hitler was the answer.

In the 1920s Hitler gained the support of the Stahlhelm, Germany’s then largest veterans’ organization. The group denounced parliamentiarism as a ‘plague’ and promoted a dictatorship.12 Hitler’s support within the Nazi Party solidified, the Party itself became the largest collection of right-wing politicals in the nation.13 During this time, Goebbels became a devoted follower of Hitler. Goebbels himself was quite the spokesman, and eventually the two were twins of oratory might. Hitler acquired other supporters in the early 1920s, including Rudolph Hess and Hermann Göring.14

After the crash of the runaway inflation of 1923, were 6 years of relative peace during which the masses began their shift in thinking. Haffner writes, “A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to the entire content of their lives delivered gratis … by the public sphere … all their sensations and thrills—accompanied though they might be by poverty, hunger, death, chaos, and peril … they regarded the end of the political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation.”15 This generation’s decided emotional dependence on the war is markedly evident throughout Haffner’s account—it was the central focus of their lives. The first world war had cut them adrift from their social institutions and traditions by destroying the normality of life—Haffner’s account cannot easily be summed up. This generation sought salvation through many things, but Haffner says, the most important was a “vast, overpowering, cheap mass intoxication.”16 The masses sought salvation in a leader, and Hitler was beginning to take advantage of this.

While Hitler had been markedly successful in the early 1920s, up until the Beer Hall Putsch, party growth slowed after his imprisonment, and remained steady until a low point, politically, from about 1928-1930.17 Hitler became the uncontested leader of the party during the late 20s, pulling supporters from within the party that had hitherto been unconvinced, or had had conflicting aspirations themselves. Gregor Strasser was head of the party in 1927. He had been unconvinced despite Hitler’s popularity, but that year he remarked, “Friends, raise your right arm and cry out with me proudly, eager for the struggle, and loyal unto death, ‘Heil Hitler!’”18

Hitler’s speeches held listeners enthralled. A schoolteacher remarks on one of Hitler’s presentations in 1932, as quoted in Kershaw’s work:

There stood Hitler in a simple black coat and looked over the crowd, waiting—a forest of swastika pennants swished up, the jubilation of this moment was given vent in a roaring salute. Main theme: out of parties shall grow a nation, a German nation. … His voice was hoarse after all his speaking during the previous days. When the speech was over, there was roaring enthusiasm and applause. … Hitler was helped into his coat. Then he went. How many look up to him as their helper, their saviour, their deliverer from unbearable distress—to him who rescues the Prussian prince, the scholar, the clergyman, the farmer, the worker, the unemployed who rescues them from the parties back into the nation.19

Oratory was Hitler’s greatest gift, and it served him well. Many accounts of party members and others express similar feelings of adulation.20 Hitler words were often uncompromising, and Nazi party members articulated this absolutism as necessary.21

1Ian Kershaw, The ‘Hitler Myth’: Image and Reality in the Third Reich (New York, NY: The Oxford University Press, Inc., 2001), 18-21.

2Sebastian Haffner, Defying Hitler: A Memoir. Trans. Oliver Pretzel (New York, NY: Picador, 2000), 39-40.

3Bankier, 39.

4Kershaw, 16; Haffner, 35-38.

5Ibid.

6Wikisource. Weimar constitution. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Weimar_constitution (accessed December 1, 2010)

7Shirer, 94.

8Andreas Dorpalen, Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1964), 124-126; “Deferred Monarchist Hopes,” New York Times, Feb 6, 1927.

9Hitler’s construction of central leadership claims to be non-monarchical, but is still highly authoritarian. Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampftrans. Ralph Manheim (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1999), 345-353.

10Samuel W. Mitcham Jr.,Why Hitler: The Genesis of the Nazi Reich (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996), 107-109.

11Kershaw, 31-38.

12Mitcham, 133; Kershaw, 20-21.

13Kershaw, 22-25.

14Mitcham, 83, 87.

15Haffner, 68-69.

16Ibid., 10-15, 20-21, 27-28, 68-70.

17Kershaw, 28, 31.

18J. Noakes and G. Pridham (eds.), Documents on Nazism, (London, 1974), 84-85, quoted in Kershaw, 26-27.

19J. Noakes and G. Pridham (eds.), Documents on Nazism, (London, 1974), 104, quoted in Kershaw, 42.

20Kershaw, 30, 39-40; Johnson and Reuband, 149.

21Kershaw, 27.


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Hitler’s Power: Iconic Authority – Part I

The origins of the personality cult that gave rise to Hitler’s power in Nazi Germany are still debated. The underlying reasons for Hitler’s success as a leader and his unquestioned authority can be difficult to ascertain and certainly may never be settled. Nevertheless, a close look at the mentalities of the politics of both the conservatives and the leftists in the 1920s and 30s in Germany reveals a desire on both sides for an iconic and savior-like leader. In the discussion of how Hitler perpetrated the Holocaust and what led to his dictatorship, some allege that Germans in general were extremely anti-Semitic. While this may have been true by 1940s, it was not clearly so previously. Levels and kinds of anti-Semitism present in pre-Nazi Germany are insufficient to account for Hitler’s popularity or continued control of the nation. Hitler’s force of personality was a notable contributor to his success, as was the public’s desire for a great leader. Despite a fractured military leadership at the end of his reign and pockets of social resistance to the Nazi Party, Hitler maintained supreme leadership of Germany and was able to commit atrocities—not because the entire German population was rabidly anti-Semitic, but because of an inherent and heightened German cultural need for a central iconic leader exploited by effective propaganda portrayals of Hitler as the solution to said need.

Claims that anti-Semitism was an integral component in Hitler’s power abound. The banner of anti-Semitism was certainly highly promoted and relatively unquestioned within the Third Reich. However, for this to have been the foundational reason for Hitler’s rise to power and his later supreme control of Germany to have validity, the population must have been unequivocally anti-Semitic before the Nazi government solidified its power and curtailed individual rights. Real frustrations with the Jews, and not a vague undercurrent of irritation at them, is what is necessary to explain Hitler’s popular appeal. A definition of anti-Semitism clear enough to replace other reasons for Hitler’s popularity is then useful to examine his rise to power. When constructed and examined, such clear definitions of anti-Semitism are insufficient to explain Hitler’s popularity.

To further elaborate on the nature of anti-Semitism in Hitler’s regime, there are three possible real bases for German frustration with the Jews. The first that may leap to mind is a frustration of a religious nature—that Germans in general were anti-Semitic because of a difference in religious beliefs; however, this does not appear likely. This notion suggests that the prevailing religious groups and mentality would be in direct conflict with the Jews, and that then Hitler must have utilized such in his campaigning. Goebbels actually notes Hitler’s hatred of Christianity in his diary. Hitler’s approach appears more anti-religious. In fact, SA officers paraded through towns singing anti-Jewish and anti-Catholic songs.1 A positively Nietszchian morality seems to be what Hitler advocated, so religious frustrations of the people would not coincide with Hitler’s own, nor his government’s practices.2 In addition, this notion of religious strife disregards the large numbers of rather irreligious Jews, as well as irreligious non-Jews, whose views would not have been driven to any great degree by religious bigotry.3

The second possibility is that Jews refused to integrate into the culture of Germany, but economically, Jews were found in the areas they had historically been allowed to work, largely being doctors, lawyers, journalists and shop owners. While the majority of Jews in the Wiemar Republic were middle class as mentioned above, but there were a few groups of refugees from elsewhere in Poland that were less well off.4 The Jews were contributors to German heritage and the arts in Germany, as is evidenced by the Nazi party’s banning of many pieces of art and music that had been labeled Jewish or otherwise detrimental to German society.5 Furthermore, Jews were not refusing to frequent German businesses, or refusing them service. Instead, they were actually prohibited from intermingling with other Germans by the Nazi regime. There may have been some sort of cultural divide, as would be common to Europe in general, but this was insufficient to explain the Holocaust itself.6 Hitler deliberately, slowly, and carefully crafted legislation and public opinion to allow him to separate the Jews out from the rest of the public.7

Thirdly, Jews might have been separated by distinct looks, but this racial distinction was also deliberately created. Hitler himself, as well as Goebbels, and Göring, were not models of his so-called Aryan race.8 Hitler’s own niece was complimented on her good looks by his associates, and she was not blond, blue-eyed, or tall—all common descriptors of Hitler’s ideal Aryan.9Hitler’s own associates weren’t convinced of his racist ideology, or so their actions indicate.

While Hitler himself seems convinced that the Jews really were a drain on society, it was his conflation of these three possibilities with Communism and Bolshevism that was truly effective in uniting the people against this supposed common enemy (Hitler coined the phrase Judeo-Bolshevism). None of this would have been as effective as it was, but for Hitler’s popular appeal—outside of his anti-Semitic views.

1 David Bankier, The Germans and the Final Solution: Public Opinion Under Nazism (Cambridge, MA, 1996), 39.

2Joseph Goebbels, The Goebbels Diaries, 1939-1941 (New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s and Sons, 1983), 304-305; J.P. Stern, Hitler: The Führer and the People (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1975), 43-48.

3Eric A. Johnsonand Karl Heinz Reuband, eds., What We Knew: Terror, Mass Murder, and Everyday Life in Nazy Germany: An Oral History (Cambridge, MA: Basic Books, 2005), 164; Peter Gay, My German Question: Growing up in Nazi Berlin (Harrisonburg, VA: Yale University Press, 1998), 48-51.

4“Jewish Communities of Prewar Germany,” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Website, http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007052 (accessed Oct 20, 2010)

5Ibid; William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany (Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 1990), 242-243.

6It can be noted, that while German Jews weren’t particularly culturally distinct from Germans, the same was not true in Poland. Polish Jews actually spoke a different dialect of Polish, with an obvious accent.

7Yitzhak Arad, Israel Gutman, and Abraham Margaliot, eds. Documents on the Holocaust (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1999), 65-66, 72-73, 78-79, 91, 99-101, 115-121; Bankier, 121.

8Gay, 94-95.

9Anna Maria Sigmund, Women of the Third Reich, (Richmond Hill, ON: NDE Publishing, 2000), 133.

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GERMAN NAZISM AND JAPANESE ULTRA-NATIONALISM OF THE 1920s

German Nazism came to power through the efforts of right-wing discontents; gaining quite the popular appeal, it gave rise to perhaps the most singularly ruthless regime in the history of Europe. During the same period, the Japanese Empire rose rapidly into international prominence, its leadership coming from a stabler base of decades of rising military power and influence. While German Nazism and Japanese Ultra-Nationalism shared a similar outlook on their nations’ and hence their ethnicities’ place in world hierarchy, namely Pan-Germanism and Pan-Asianism, the ruling powers within each country were composed of largely dissimilar groups that reached that status in markedly different ways; the Japanese ruling powers were military in origin with centuries of tradition behind them, while the Nazi Party was a much more recent brand of nationalism appealing to the middle class.

German Nazism drew upon roots found in the wounded pride of the German people. Rightists and conservatives were still unfamiliar with democracy—a monarchy had ruled in Germany until 1918. When Wilhelm II abdicated the throne and German officials surrendered to the Allies in World War I, many Germans saw this as premature and felt betrayed by the democratic constituency that remained in power after the abdication. The Treaty at Versailles compounded this betrayal and wounded pride—particularly its infamous ‘war guilt clause.’[1] At this point, the Nazi party was yet to come, but the foundation was being laid.

The influence of anti-Semitism and Social Darwinism were large contributors to Nazi ideology, and Pan-Germanism coalesced out of the propaganda crafted by Hitler and his Nazi followers.[2] Joseph Goebbels “…soon recognized Hitler’s political genius…” and headed the Nazi Party’s propaganda division.[3] The Nazi Party had a need for popular support that Hitler recognized early in his political career; this need drove him to advocate and elaborate on this idea of Pan-Germanism. With Goebbels at the helm, the Nazi Party’s propaganda division was fantastically successful at uniting the German people and driving  these ideals home. According Hitler and Goebbels, the German people did not accept Pan-Germanism despite the obvious racism implicit within them, but rather because of the racism and hatred ingrained in the propaganda; it was easy to unite against a common enemy, and the more clearly defined, the better.

In Germany’s post WWI economic slump, the working class struggled just to survive; eventually people began latching onto any political leaders they felt could restore Germany’s former glory. As the Nazi Party grew, it made appeals to the Freikorps and the common working man,[4] in what are now relatively standard tactics for any conservative party during a depression: bring the veterans and the average worker to your side. With the massive war reparations they were paying, the economic depression, and the hyperinflation of the German Mark in the early 1920s, it seemed inevitable that either the Nazi or the Communist party would seize power.

The Allied powers were worried about the spread of Communism, so they did little if anything[5] to prevent the Nazi Party from rising to power. Britain and the United States viewed Nazism as a sort of shield against the Soviet Union’s spreading influence. The Nazis themselves eventually outmaneuvered the communist groups in Germany, and did so despite setbacks including the arrest of Hitler and others for high treason at the Beer Hall Putsch. These setbacks proved minor, with Hitler developing his Pan-Germanist ideas and plans for assuming power while in prison.[6]

Utilizing propaganda as an integral element in their campaign, the Nazis adroitly crafted public perceptions to their own ends, cementing their power base during the depression of the early 1930s. The Nazi Party’s expansion and rise can be described as a grassroots approach, appealing to the working class the way it did,[7] although along the way Hitler likely sought the favor of the upper class. The Nazi’s and their disparate leaders were vaulted into power suddenly, in little more than a decade,[8] [9] quite dissimilar to Japan’s ruling power in the 1920s through to the end of the war.

Japan’s ruling power was not a political party, and did not gain its power through a revolution or by popular appeal. Instead, Japan’s military leadership became a reasonably solidified ruling class over the course of several decades.[10] Japan warred almost constantly with either China or Russia all through turn of the century, and Japanese conservative values were bound by long association to the military and warfare.

The internal politics of the military also had effects on its tendencies outside the military. Junior officers often explicitly rebelled against their senior officers, grabbing power for themselves and asserting control of various conflicts in acts known as gekokujo. The senior officers tolerated Gekokujo with admiration.[11] These senior officers presumably acted similarly toward the rest of the ruling class, including the emperor himself. This would easily explain the dominance of the military in the formation of the new Japanese government in 1889.[12]

In addition, Japan long viewed mainland China with longing, as is obvious from their concern over the Manchurian province and Korean peninsulas. As World War I ended, in response to a dominant stance from the U.S. Navy and shipbuilding efforts from the U.S., the Japanese began constructing eight battleships of their own, increasing their already formidable navy. Later, in a classic example of the aforementioned gekokujo, the Kwantung Army attacked Mukden in Manchuria in late 1931 without authorization. They easily defeated the unresistant Chinese, who were more worried about a conflict with the Chinese Communists, and the Chinese took their complaints to the League of Nations, where they got little reaction.[13] The Japanese continued onward in their dominant stance, attempting to ward off Western influence in the Pacific, and conquer as much territory as possible.

During this same period Japan began to adopt Western style political parties with a liberal move to manhood suffrage,[14] perhaps in an effort to convince Western powers of Japanese competence in the political realm. This created an air of legitimacy in the view of the western world by indicating a nation interested in not just an appearance of the desire for ‘self-determination’, but a procedure for the entire nation to, as a whole, contribute to its political processes. Conceptions of Japanese dominance over political and economic spheres of Greater East Asia were widespread and believed whole-heartedly at the time, but have since been buried, much like Germany’s guilt over the genocide.[15] The adoption of manhood suffrage linked the common man to the destiny of the country, and inspired a rising generation to an exceedingly nationalistic patriotism.

The ultra-nationalism of Japan arose a bit more gradually and much less deliberately than the Nazi equivalent. Japan’s support for Pan-Asianism and united East Asia didn’t last long as an honest gesture of solidarity with other nations, and instead became a hierarchical desire to dominate the entire region. This racism wasn’t as overt as the Nazis’, it was more of a de facto racism; former Japanese soldiers don’t refer to United States soldiers or any other enemies with any particular derision. Instead, their focus remains on positioning and material advantages—the non-human aspects of the war.[16] Racism was used to create nationlistic fervor. The Japanese military forces, and the general public, were fanatically devoted to the war effort, rivaling Germany’s Nazi soldiers for precision, rigidity, and orderly obedience to their leaders, except in the cases of the aforementioned Gekokujo. But these deviations from obedience usually sought to advance the war, and were expressions of Japanese superiority.

The Japanese took their cues from the Germans in many ways, but had their own motivations and cultural traditions. They did not experience an internal social revolution the same way that either Germany, Italy, or the Soviet Union did, theirs was more of a surface revolution, resisted and tempered by strong conservative values. It would take time for these social changes to cement themselves into Japanese thought, eventually replacing Japanese claims of supremacy among Asian nations in a much stabler process. Nazism on the other hand was expunged, deliberately, with many a war trial for years after World War II was over. Its ideological underpinnings were perhaps even more radical than the Japan’s, and had less social stability under them to begin with.


[1] Michael J. Lyons, World War II: A Short History, (New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., 2004), 18.

[2] Lyons, 38-39.

[3] Lyons, 39.

[4] Lyons, 38- 39.

[5] Ibid, 53.

[6] Ibid, 38-39.

[7] Das Programm der NSDAP (“The Program of the National-Socialist German Workers’ Party”), Berlin [1933],  http://www1.yadvashem.org/about_holocaust/documents/part1/doc1.html (accessed 13 September 2010).

[8] Ibid. The date at the bottom of the page is shown as Feb. 24, 1920—Hitler was named Chancellor in January of 1933.

[9] Lyons, 41.

[10] Lyons, 44-45.

[11] Ibid, 46.

[12] Ibid, 45.

[13] Ibid, 49.

[14] Ibid, 46.

[15] Haruko Taya Cook & Theodore F. Cook, Japan at War: An Oral History, (New York: The New Press, 1992), 10.

[16] Cook, 17.

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