AT the present juncture, when the followers of Adolf Hitler appear to be the strongest group in Germany, when, as the London Times recently said, 'the Hitler movement has ceased to be the frothy ebullition of irresponsible young men, and undoubtedly represents at the moment the most powerful element of public feeling which the Chancellor has to take into account,' it may be of interest to consider the ideas of this extraordinary man, what he believes, and how he came to believe it. When Hitler was in prison, after the Bavarian Putsch of 1923, he set himself to write down for the instruction of his followers a full account of his political philosophy. The volume that resulted, entitled Mein Kampf ('My Fight'), is now the Bible of the National Socialist movement and is diligently circulated among faithful by the official 'Nazi' publishing house. It was not intended (in fact, Hitler has always declined) to offer a detailed programme or outline a specific procedure for attaining the National Socialist ideals when the actual control of Germany shall have fallen to his party; nevertheless the book does indicate very clearly the governing ideas, the fundamental points of view, the feelings and beliefs, which will guide him if he comes to power.
To what extent Hitler's Fascism is similar to Italian Fascism or to the academic Fascism of other countries, or to other movements of forcible salvation, I shall not attempt to determine here. Obviously they have much in common. Nor shall I consider Hitler's indebtedness to Nietzsche or to Treitschke. What I propose to do is to set down from his own words just what he stands for. What he stood for in 1923 he still stands for, and we shall do him no injustice if we judge him up on the evidence presented in his book.*
The principal articles of Hitler's political faith may be briefly summarized as follows:
1. His violent racial nationalism, which springs from his conviction that the Aryan stocks in general, and the Germans in particular, are a chosen people in whose victorious survival the divine purposes are bound up.
2. His violent animosity to Marxian Socialism as in essence opposed to his ideal of a nationally minded people and a racial state. He condemns the Socialism of Marx as a poisonous teaching which by its humanitarianism, its internationalism, and its pacifism—all legacies of the unnatural an unwholesome democracy of the French Revolution—operates to undermine the clean ideal of Aryan (that is, German) overlordship.
3. His violent hatred of the Jews as the racial enemies of all Aryans, the subtle corrupters of pure Aryan states. These parasites, says Hitler, have made Marxian Socialism, which they invented, the principal tool by which they insinuate themselves into healthy, pure blooded, racial states in order to debase simultaneously the national ideals and the national blood. Destroyers of Aryan civilizations, they remain impotent to create a civilization of their own.
4. His concern for social betterment ('true Socialism') as a necessary prerequisite to the acceptance of his ideals by the masses.
5. His contempt for the intelligence of the ordinary man and for a democracy based on faith in his development to higher levels.
6. His contempt for parliamentary institutions as the organs of such a democracy, which substitutes for the decision of a competent leader the majority vote of the incompetent. A parliament, moreover, says Hitler, is the natural field of operations for the Jewish Socialist enemy.
7. His insistence on the power of personality and on the entire concentration of authority in the hands of one leader (up to now, himself).
8. His economic nationalism, with its distrust of international capital and its preference for small, locally controlled business organizations. Hitler fears the banks and all newfangled ideas for controlling credit. He objects to stock companies and stresses the value of personal ownership. In short, he believes in the ruthless subordination of economic interests and economic leaders to racial and national considerations.
9. His insistence that Germany must acquire more land in Europe as a vital requirement for national expansion and progress (after the present corruption of the national blood and the national ideals has been stopped).
10. His insistence that France is the archenemy. France, he urges, must be broken before Germany can undertake to conquer land from Russia (the only possible source).
All these extraordinary ideas Hitler traces to their origin in the experiences of his early years all except his passion for German nationalism, which seems to have antedated the beginnings of his conscious thought and to have been the guiding principle of his life. The egocentric mentality which has enabled him to identify himself with this ideal, and persuade others to do the same, is the mainspring of his gift of leadership. Whatever may be the ultimate consequences of his leadership for good or ill, there can be no doubt that he has exploited his philosophy in masterly fashion; through it he has made himself a force that will have to be reckoned with in German politics.
As yet he has given no indication of his competence for the responsibilities of government, but it would be rash to go beyond that and assert that he lacks capacity in this direction. He has not yet been put to the test. During the last ten years, however, he has established himself in control of a movement which now numbers not less than eight million supporters, and he has certainly not done this on blood-and thunder talk alone.
It would appear from Hitler's account of his youth that he has been a fanatically rabid German from boyhood. An Austrian by birth, he says that he has always looked upon all persons of German stock as one people and has passionately desired the union of all sections of this people in one national state. Regarding the non-German subjects of the Austro Hungarian monarchy as aliens, he favored the Anschluss of German Austria to the Reich of Bismarck. Consequently he felt no loyalty toward the Hapsburgs, for his German national patriotism was essentially hostile to the dynastic interests which sought to hold together a polyglot empire, and which could not, therefore, be exclusively German or Germanizing in policy. It is notable that at twelve years of age Hitler was 'enthralled' by the music of Richard Wagner, and it is fair to assume that it was the stream of heroic national German feeling, so strong in much of Wagner, that made its elemental appeal to the young Hitler.
Left an orphan at seventeen, he removed from the neighborhood of Linz, where most of his previous life had been passed, to Vienna. He was practically penniless, but he carried with him a burning passion for everything German, a love of art, and an ambition to become a painter (later given up for architecture). The next six years were spent, according to his account, in intense study and observation while he earned his living as a laborer. To the experiences of this period he attributes the ideas which have since guided his life and the development of the National Socialist movement. All of them, however, are secondary to and derived from his fundamental conception of the Germans as a chosen people.
Living in the grinding poverty of the Vienna slums, Hitler soon realized that a wholesome national pride could not be aroused in men who lacked the necessities of life. Hence his interest in social betterment, which ultimately brought the word 'Socialist' into the name of his party. Like William Morris, he turned to Socialism as a necessary preliminary to the dissemination of his great idea. Morris became a Socialist, bent on improving the living conditions of the English masses, in order to make them listen to his artistic gospel. Hitler became a Socialist (in his sense of the word) so that the German masses would listen to his gospel of nationalism.
Convinced of the necessity of social reforms, Hitler turned his attention to the Social Democratic Party in Austria, but he soon concluded that his ideals and those of the party had nothing in common. The Social Democrats despised everything he held holy. They mocked at the Fatherland. They jeered at religion and morality. They used physical and mental terrorism to build up their party, and corrupted the trade unions, by nature a good thing, into tools of their politics. Class warfare, it appeared, was necessarily a destroyer of nationalism. In reacting against the internationalism and class-consciousness of the orthodox Socialists ('Marxists' is the term Hitler always uses), he has made himself the outstanding opponent of all Communistic tendencies. This explains the ease with which Hitler appears to have got money for carrying on his movement from capitalists, who could hardly be thought anxious to see him come to power.
From his work as a laborer in Vienna, and the practical contact this gave him with the labor unions and with the Social Democratic Party, he came to understand the Marxist 'gospel of destruction,' but Hitler says he was not privy to the real inner aims of the Social Democracy until he learned them through the Jews. At this time he had been diligently reading the great newspapers of Vienna, but he became dissatisfied with them and distrustful of what he found in them, so he took to reading a small anti-Semitic journal. Then one day he suddenly met in the street a Jew with side locks, an orthodox Polish Jew in Jewish costume, and he realized for the first time that the Jews were not Germans at all, but an entirely separate people. Following up this idea, he soon satisfied himself that the authors of most of the vicious theatrical shows produced in Vienna were Jews, that the great daily papers were edited by Jews, that the Jews controlled prostitution and the traffic in women, and finally that the leaders of the Social Democratic Party were Jews. He perceived that the Socialist members of Parliament were mostly Jews, and, worst of all, that no paper controlled by a Jew was out and out nationalistic. He concluded that in everything the Jews were poisonous, immoral, and un German.
Then he turned to the study of socialistic theory as set forth in the writings of Karl Marx and his followers. He came away with the conviction that 'the Jewish teaching of Marxism turns away from the aristocratic principle of nature and puts in place of the eternal preeminence of power and strength the measure of number with its dead weight. Thus it denies in men the worth of the individual, impugns the significance of nationality and race, and thereby takes away from humanity the basic idea of its existence and its culture.' The application of such a principle, he thought, could bring only chaos.
He followed the proceedings of the Parliament at Vienna, and they aroused in him nothing but scorn and ridicule an attitude which has never changed. In fact, it would seem that all the formative ideas of his life were obtained before he was twenty three and have remained fixed and final in his mind ever since. All his views are energetic, positive, dogmatic, but there is no penetration in his reasoning processes and he is often carried away by the glamour of his own gorgeous phrases.
The trouble with the Austrian Parliament, he first thought, was that it did not have a German majority. Apparently it never occurred to him that the other peoples of the Austro Hungarian monarchy might have as good a right to be heard as the Germans. Later he perceived that the difficulty was inherent in the parliamentary system. 'The democracy of the West to day is the precursor of Marxism,' he wrote; parliamentary government becomes the instrument through which the Jewish race prepares the way for a paralyzing and disintegrating Communism. The true German democracy, on the other hand, consists in the free choice of a leader, who then becomes the responsible chief. In the personality of the leader Hitler puts his confidence. Like Thomas Carlyle, he regards great personalities, not economic forces, as the effective causes of events.
Accordingly he regards the mass meeting as the only really effective way of influencing people, because it is the only way of bringing the masses into immediate personal contact with the leader. Hitler himself has the gift of capturing audiences. Distrusting the written word, he says that great revolutions are 'never led by a goose quill.' Power depends on 'the magic of the spoken word.' The pen can serve only for the theoretical justification of a movement, but the movement itself must be of the people, who must be aroused either by suffering or by the flaming torch of the fiery word scattered among them. The Pan German movement in Austria failed, he says, because its representatives spoke only in Parliament and not to the people.
Hitler doesn't believe in objective thinking about national questions. He is impatient of cool, intellectual considerations. He has a poor grasp of abstract principles and puts his faith in high feeling and strong emotion. Not seeing that civilization is a structure slowly built up by orderly procedure and respect for law, he is all for immediate action. He wants to apply his ideas at once by violation of law, if need be. The right of private judgment (that is, his right) is to be unlimited, beyond law. Thus, in thought, Hitler is still in the tribal stage. He is, in fact, a tribal chief and a good one. He teaches his tribe steadfastness, self control, sacrifice, care for the blood of the race, healthy living.
But this is not enough in one who aspires to be the leader of a great modern nation. Hitler is narrow, seeing only his own national ideal, and would ruthlessly force the human spirit into his mould. He does not accept the democratic postulates that no man can be trusted with absolute power and that education of the masses can make them competent for self-government. Unlike democratic leaders, he does not pretend to build on the good sense of the people, but, like his bêtes noires the Socialists, to establish a tyranny for carrying out the programme that he considers to be for the common good. Moral considerations with him are simple. His supreme goal is the victory and expansion of the tribe. There are no doubts or uncertainties in his mind. He pursues his ideals with absolute singleness of purpose. For him there is only one thing in human life to aim at. Race and nation are one, and he has fused them into an idol which he calls Volkstum, the racial community, which becomes an object of fanatical devotion. In short, his political philosophy is a kind of religion, based on pseudo science and tribal psychology.
In this connection it may be interesting to glance at Hitler's conception of the part religion should play in the state. Political parties, he asserts, should have nothing to do with religious problems so long as the teachings of the church do not undermine the mores of the race. This explains his oft-expressed disapproval of the Centre Party, which, he says, drags Catholicism into the mire of dirty politics. German Protestantism, he notes with approval, has always been strong to defend the German state, the German language, and German freedom, and in these respects is more reliable than Catholicism. He considers himself broad minded, however, and says that a German citizen should be free to take his religion wherever he likes, drawing from it whatever inspiration he needs always knowing, of course, that the secular ideal of a self sufficient, racial state must command his first loyalty, even against the highest religious authority. This is pure Protestantism and fundamentally unacceptable to the Vatican. Naturally enough, it has brought Hitler into open conflict with the Roman Catholic Church in Germany.
In the spring of 1912, Hitler emigrated to Munich. His heart had always been for a German Reich. He felt that the hour of dissolution of the Hapsburg monarchy would be the beginning of the redemption of the German nation, so he wanted to get away from Austria and into Germany, where the active work toward the Anschluss would have to be done. He was then twenty three years old and he brought with him all these ideas upon which he has since built up the National Socialist movement. He was surprised to learn that in Germany people did not see that Austro Hungary was not only not a German state, but that it was a shadow empire ready to go to pieces at the first shock. He was convinced that the Triple Alliance was no protection to Germany, because Austro Hungary and Italy would never fight on the same side, and because Austro Hungary, having no ends to gain by war, but only losses to avoid, would always be on the defensive.
His views of German foreign policy before the war are illuminating. Germany had to provide for an annual increase in population of about 900,000, and this cardinal fact should have determined the course she was to follow. There are only four possible ways, says Hitler, of dealing with such a population problem: (1) by limiting the increase, as in France but this leads to a deterioration of the stock by eliminating the struggle for existence and causing weak children to be brought up; (2) by 'interior colonization' but Germany had no vacant land available for this purpose; (3) by conquering new land; (4) by building up colonies and expanding industry and export trade. The last course was the one that Germany adopted, but it was a mistake from every point of view. It brought on all the evils of a highly industrialized state and neglected the welfare of the peasantry, whose vigor was the surest foundation of the country's well being.
Instead of following a policy of economic conquest, Germany should have looked to her peasants and provided for their expansion by annexing new territory in Europe. This could only have been done at the expense of Russia, and all of Germany's alliances should have been directed toward this end. In carrying out such a programme, Germany would have had England as a natural ally, and could have advanced eastward with the assurance that her rear would be protected. England would have been eager for such an alliance shortly after 1900, and, if German diplomacy had been shrewdly directed, Germany would have taken over Japan's role in 1904 and there would have been no World War.
Instead of this, Germany chose the way of colonies, foreign trade, and sea power, and England became her enemy. On the greatness and toughness of England, and her desirability as an ally for Germany, Hitler dilates at some length, and he indicates that it is still not too late to win her over. As long as British sea power exists, he says, he would favor an alliance with England and would look to the acquisition of land in the not yet fully populated areas between Germany's eastern border and the Ural Mountains.
Germany's failure in the war Hitler attributes not only to the diplomatic mistake of antagonizing England, but to degenerating influences at home. In the years before the war the German body politic was being poisoned by Marxist teachings. Internationalism was rampant. When the war came, he did not for one moment think of it as a fight for Austria; it was a fight for the very existence of the German nation. Accordingly he joined the German army as a volunteer to fight for the maintenance of 'his people' and to overcome the Marxists, whose ultimate goal was the destruction of all non Jewish national states. At that moment, he thinks, when the war spirit had turned the masses away from 'international solidarity' to patriotism, the Jewish leaders should have been ruthlessly exterminated. Instead, the Emperor tried to win their loyalty by kindness, and they were left to plot the revolution.
From this reflection on Marxism Hitler goes on to consider in detail the methods that must be used to stamp out pernicious ideas. One cannot eradicate one way of looking at life, he says, without inculcating a new faith in its place. This brings him to a discussion of war propaganda and the principles of propaganda in general principles, be it noted, which he has diligently applied in building up his new movement. These principles are simple. Propaganda must be aimed at the masses. Its object is not to make people weigh and discriminate, but to champion one particular idea. To succeed, it must appeal to the emotions rather than to reason. How well the German Fascists have learned this lesson which Hitler taught them can be seen by examining any issue of the Völkischer Beobachter, the daily journal of the movement. Its pages bristle with epithets like 'Marxists,' 'Jews,' 'tribute slaves,' 'black red criminals,' repeated ad nauseam few words and strong ones.
In Hitler's mind the word 'propaganda' seems to bear no relation whatever to truth. The mass of mankind is an instrument to be played upon, nothing more. Propaganda is a means of making people believe what is for the moment effective in moving them to do what he wishes. No moral considerations are involved. His mind is in the herd stage, and he is as grossly material in his politics as Freud in his psychology. Utterly contemptuous of the intelligence of the people, he seems quite to ignore the unwholesome aftereffects of a diet of lies. He is deliberately building upon the weakness of the mass mind, and in this he proves himself a genuine demagogue -- honest, no doubt, in believing that what he does is for the general good, demagogue just the same.
He expresses great admiration for British propaganda during the war, apparently failing to grasp the fact that British propaganda, whatever else may be said of it, was based upon British moral ideas. No doubt there were Englishmen who viewed the subject as Hitler does, but the great majority of them, high and low, will consider his methods as sufficient proof that the Germany against which they went to war has come back in a new guise, as unregenerate as ever. The gravamen of the charge against Imperial Germany was that it was dominated by the same philosophy which is now put forward by Hitler. Certainly both Americans and British thought they were fighting against the doctrine that truth is a shifty thing to be pragmatically determined by national interests. This is Hitler's opinion of it, and he sets it forth, not in private lectures to a war college, but in a book intended for the instruction of the people. It serves to explain only too well the flood of cheap, foolish, dogmatic statements which regularly appear in the press of his party.
With German war propaganda Hitler was thoroughly dissatisfied. He says very frankly that if he had had charge of it things might have turned out differently. To its defects he attributes the decline in morale which brought on the revolution and national collapse. When he was in Berlin and Munich on sick leave during the winter of 1916 1917, he found the beginnings of general disaffection in the public mind, and everywhere, he noted, Jews were in control of business and the press. The withdrawal of Russia and the defeat of Italy revived a waning hope of victory, but then came the munition strike, which discouraged the army by showing that the will to victory lagged at home. Though it did not last long enough actually to affect supplies, it heartened the enemy convinced them that, if the German army could be stood off a little longer, revolution would overthrow the government in Berlin. The men who engineered this strike, notes Hitler, were the men who later took over the highest offices of state under the revolution. Here, then, is the root of his undying anmosity to these men as traitors - animosity added to that which he had previously felt for their political principles. Marxism had overcome German nationalism.
Gassed and sent back to a hospital shortly before the Armistice, Hitler was plunged deep in woe and resentment by the civil disorders which ended in the flight of the Kaiser. He abandoned his intention of becoming an architect, and, full of hate for the 'Jewish criminals' who had directed the revolution, decided to become a politician. 'The parties of the November crime, the Centre and the Social Democracy,' he wrote, were incapable of saving Germany; and the bourgeois parties were not much better. So he formed in Munich, in the winter of 1918 1919, a 'Social Revolutionary Party,' choosing its name for its appeal to the masses. From this beginning he groped his way through the confused currents of those days to the organization which broke in the Putsch of 1923, and which he reorganized in 1926 as the National Socialist German Laborers Party of to day.
This new party Nazi, or Fascist, it is commonly called is 'National' because Hitler's fundamental ideal is nationalism. It is 'Socialist' (in Hitler's own meaning of the word) because he saw that the people would have to be made comfortable before they would listen to his gospel. It is 'German' because his national aspirations are for Germans only. It is a 'Laborers' party because Hitler intended to appeal particularly to the laboring masses.
* Gregor Strasser, Chief of the 'Organization' Section of the Nazi 'General Staff,' recently stated: 'No party in Germany can say that its speeches and writings, platform points and demands, have straight through the last twelve years remained so unchanged as ours' —AUTHOR
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.