Hitler and Hitlerism: Germany Under the Nazis

The Führer’s early goals included physical education, a return to rural life, health care for all -- and foreboding plans for the Jews.

IN my first article (published in the March Atlantic) I set forth in some detail the dominant ideas which shape the political philosophy of Adolf Hitler. I pointed out that almost everything this remarkable man believes stems from his conception of the Germans as a 'chosen people.' From this source spring his rabid nationalism, his violent opposition to Socialism and Communism, his undisguised hatred of the Jews; even his distrust of democratic government and parliamentary institutions is based upon his tribal sense of leadership. I now wish to turn to an examination of Hitler's methods, —methods by which he has built up the National Socialist Party into a formidable organization commanding the fanatical loyalty of eight million people, and to foreshadow, from his own statements, some of the things he would like to accomplish if the Nazis, or Fascists, as his followers are commonly termed, should succeed in gaining control of the German Government.

During the first years of Hitler's political activity he spent some time studying economic matters, principally under the tutelage of Gottfried Feder, a present member of the Reichstag who figures as the economic expert of the party. The ground plan of his economic thinking seems to be something like this: Capital is always the result of labor, and is dependent upon the same human factors as labor itself. Capital relies upon the freedom and power of the state, but must not be allowed to dominate the state. Though capital is the property of individuals, its use also affects the welfare of the state; it must therefore be directed to promote the national well being. In short, Hitler believes that economic boundaries should coincide with political boundaries; hence he denounces 'the economic bourse capital controlled by the Jews,' which, he says, is manipulated to work the overthrow of national states.

Prophecies of the chaos and paralysis that would be brought about by adopting this policy of economic isolation are as fantastic, Hitler thinks, as the solemn opinion of the Bavarian medical profession, in the early days of the railroads, that passengers would become dizzy and sick. For National Socialists he asserts, there is

but one doctrine People and Fatherland. What we have to fight for is to ensure existence and increase of our race and our people, the support of our children and the maintenance of the purity of their blood, the freedom and independence of the Fatherland; so that our people may be able to carry out the mission assigned them by the Creator of the universe. Every thought and every idea, every teaching and all learning, must serve this purpose. From this point of view everything is to be tested, and, according to its suitability, either applied or rejected.

From this it will be seen that the Nazis base their economic ideals upon a conception of commerce and trade which is already outmoded. They are still thinking in terms of free and unlimited competition, and have not even begun to see that economic rivalry between nations must give way to international cooperation, with an organization of the whole world for the benefit of all its inhabitants. Liberals of every stripe have perceived this, and have realized that national selfishness is not an ideal it is a way of destruction; but the Fascists, whether German or Italian, are not Liberals.

Hitler objects particularly to the complications of modern industrial life. He wants to get back to simpler and more personal conditions. His mind, like Gandhi's, turns longingly to times that are dead; both have committed themselves to an outgrown form of social organization, identifying the virtues of an older order with its exterior features. Gandhi asks his people to spin because he cherishes the human values which he associates with the period when each family made its own cloth. Hitler fears international capital for much the same reason. He does not see that 'national economics' is a thing of the past; that, instead of trying to restore a more primitive social system in order to revive the virtues which he associates with it, a modern statesman should seek to adapt to the needs of mankind the economic integration of the world which is now in process and is bound to go on. He does not realize that the existence of international capital is no longer an issue; that the important problem is to determine who is to control it, and how.

II

When Hitler discusses the national collapse of Germany at the close of the war, he gives us a very clear insight into the way his mind works. The cause of the collapse, he says, was not the defeat of the army, but the demoralization behind the lines. He affirms over and over again that it was a great mistake, in the pre-war years, for Germany to renounce the winning of more land in Europe and to aim, instead, at the economic conquest of the world. This led to limitless industrialization, with a consequent weakening of the peasantry and overgrowth of the proletariat in large cities; eventually the sharp contrasts between rich and poor engendered dissatisfaction and bitterness, and the people were divided into political classes. In proportion as 'big business' became mistress of the state, money became the god to be served. The Kaiser gradually let the nobility of gold get the upper hand over the nobility of the sword, and the combative virtues of the race declined.

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