“National Socialism is not only a protest against the Treaty of Versailles. It is a revolt against the ideals of democracy.”



When one remembers how National Socialism appeared to be declining in 1932 and how Hitler was called to power as a last resort, it seems as though the movement might be only a belated convulsion of the war. In fact, the enemies of the movement, especially in Prague, Zurich, and Paris, expect Hitler's downfall quite shortly, and a restoration of the Weimar constitution or something like it, together with their own return. But I believe they are wrong. Hitler may fall, and his enemies may return, but it will probably be to a different Germany from the one they left. The forces at work in that country have only temporarily crystallized in Hitler, and will continue to work themselves out when he is gone.

National Socialism is not only a protest against the Treaty of Versailles, and not only an uprising of the middle class; and it cannot be disposed of by calling it barbarous, dictatorial, or militaristic. It is all these things and a great deal more. It is a revolt against the ideals of democracy; not merely its practices, but the very assumptions upon which the democratic state operates. The Nazis reject equality, and put hierarchy in its place; they reject the ideal of a society run by scientific methods for the ideal of an organic society in which personality will play a greater part than formulae; and, consistently with this, they war against the intellect in favor of 'the creative spirit.'

It is important, in judging National Socialism, to be clear that its objectives are different from those of democracy and still more different from those of Communism. Superficially resembling the Communist state in certain ways, the spirit and aims of National Socialism are diametrically opposite. The Communists are trying to bring more equality, rationality, and scientific patterns into the social order than even America has achieved, but the Nazis regard these aims themselves as disintegrating and demoralizing. In fact, they do not say, 'You are sailing the wrong course to the harbor,' but they say, 'Your harbor is a pile of barren rocks, and any course toward it will bring you to shipwreck.'

To understand why the Germans have undertaken to revise their social order, the historical setting must be recalled. In this setting, the war and the depression are in the foreground, but they do not by any means cover the stage. Indeed, if one is going to start from the war and its consequences to account for National Socialism, there seems to be no reason why the revolution should have happened at all. Consider the situation of the country between 1918 and 1933. German diplomacy was winning concession after concession from the Allies —— Locarno, the League, the Rhineland, and Lausanne. Slowly, successive cabinets were pulling the nation out of the war pit and restoring its prestige. Business revived, the arts flourished, German science was regaining its old position, and the general atmosphere was full of vitality. So much for the upper layers. The workmen were on the whole better off than under the Kaiser. In the post war years, the Social Democrats were the strongest political power, whether in or out of the government, to say nothing of the Christian Unions, left wing of the Centre Party. And during this time the unions increased in membership and strength.

On the other side of the account, it is true that even before the Young Plan Conference a systematic campaign from within Germany to destroy German credit did greatly aggravate the effects of the general depression. It is also true that during the post war period the middle class were almost desperate; their savings gone in inflation, they saw no future for themselves between big business and labor. The dislocated Junkers, too, were bitterly aggrieved, and large industrialists financed the Hitler movement as an offset to Communism. But it does not explain National Socialism to count incomes. Hitler's chief appeal has never been to economic motives; he has never promised prosperity, never held out hope of a return to the old règime. Not when the nation was prostrate in defeat and the power lay open to any adventurer, but in the midst of an ordered enterprising State, this amazing revolution took root. Why?


The reasons, I think, lie below the apparent vigor and stir in Germany, deeper than economic motives and foreign policies. They are found first, probably, in German internal dissension. Bismarck's unification of the country was only a political framework, and when the frame broke, in 1918, the pieces of the picture puzzle fell apart. Sectional feeling became bitterer than ever, and at one time during the twenties the premier of Bavaria, Held, said in a public speech, 'The true enemy is Prussia,' and proposed secession. At the same time, the Treaty of Versailles imposed conditions which weighed on Germans as Germans; and as Germans alike, whether from Pomerania or the Rhine, they had to meet suspicion and dislike from other nations. This modern German nationalism is a curious thing. It is kindled, one might say, from without, but its fuel is the consciousness that there never has been in the real sense a German nation.

Here, of course, was Hitler's double point of appeal, to the sufferings imposed on all Germany and to the need of reacting to these sufferings as a united whole. Apparently something like a real whole has been achieved. Some say the unification is still superficial and will not last, but on the other hand some of Hitler's most serious enemies declare that the creation of a unified Germany is his one great merit. At all events the Nazis have gone about this task in the most thorough way, not only from without, but from within. They have abolished local parliaments and local premiers, and reorganized the country by functions rather than by states. They try to overcome sectional feeling by transporting large groups of people from north to south, east to west, for their holidays; and above all every law, every article, every speech, every school lesson, repeats and repeats: German unity, German wholeness, German spirit.

I shall return to this passion for national wholeness, which the Nazis raise from a political expedient to a philosophic doctrine. But before going on to their system there is another even deeper and much vaguer cause than the political one.

In spite of considerable blossoming in many directions after the war, millions of Germans were restless and discontented, not so much with outward conditions, but because they were not getting what in their souls they longed for. Germans— and this in my experience is about as true as a broad generalization can be have a strong sense for outward order and will make endless sacrifices for what they think will maintain order namely, the State. So we have the familiar picture of the goose stepping German, the verboten signs, the extraordinary respect which all, even the most independently placed, pay to any state official. The story is told that the Communist uprising after the war failed because the leaders neglected to get hold of the state seals, and local functionaries refused to obey any order which was not properly sealed. And it is a fact that when the Communists were rioting in front of the Reichstag, in 1918, they were careful to keep off the grass.

But that is only one side of the picture. The other side is seen in the common saying, 'Two Germans, three opinions.' Touch the inner life of a German, his beliefs, his affections, his family, his pleasures, and you have opened a hornet's nest. To day, for instance, Germans are under rigid financial control and cannot even get money to travel abroad without the express permission of the Reichsbank. This they submit to with complaints, but they do submit. Yet, when the government attempts to incorporate the Church, an irresistible force meets an insurmountable obstacle and the obstacle wins.

As the post war world was shaping itself, therefore, the German nature, this nature which will pay any price for inner freedom, found very little to be free about. The individual not only found himself a cog in a machine, but the Socialist leaders told him that to be a cog was his glorious destiny and he must be happy about it. A dreary prospect, which not even the hope of higher wages could brighten. It is a curious but telling fact that in German there is no word for what we call 'efficiency.' Yet efficiency, with all it implies as a way of life, was being forced on the German people and it was not in their vocabulary.

Some inchoate feeling of this sort was the subsoil in which National Socialism took root. The revolt in Germany is not against materialism, Germans are as susceptible to cars and villas and fur coats as anybody, but it is against rationalization, against the idea which is shaping social legislation in most industrial countries: that the perfect society would run like a machine, and that the more one routinizes and conforms one's life, the more successful it will be. Those who could articulate their discontent felt that business and politics were a scramble of personal ambitions, that culture was drying up in a kind of intellectual fever, that morals were corrupt and young people in anarchy, and that all these things were inevitable and life not worth living if a factory was the ultimate goal. And, to sharpen this feeling, they felt themselves ruled (as indeed they were ruled, in politics, in finance, in art and literature and learning) by an alien race which is well disciplined to thinking in economic terms and especially adapted to an industrial civilization in fact, the high priests of the very things to which they objected.

Hitler came along with his appeal to national feeling, his attack on the Jews, his insistence on discipline —— and the people responded. But what Hitler voiced and what the Germans responded to was not so much these concrete talking points as a protest against the monotonous pulse of economic efficiency.


This protest has been made many times before. Broadly speaking, the Nazi revolution belongs with agricultural authoritarian as against urban—democratic movements, and the ideas the Nazis are trying to embody in their system belong in the general organic, vitalistic school of thought. They object to equality because it makes men egotistical and works toward social disintegration; instead, they believe in a closed hierarchy in which each leader has authority over those below him and responsibility to those above him. Throughout Nazi writings runs the emphasis on the 'whole,' the organic whole, first of the State, then of the personality. The Nazis explicitly say, for instance, that decisions should be made on the basis of the good of the State rather than on abstract right. They emphasize qualities which are matters of personal interpretation, like loyalty, rather than those which can be defined, like justice; honor as against self interest, duty as against right. The ties of race and blood, the inspirational role of women, the heroic role of men, obedience, paternalism, sacrifice of the person for the ideal, austere self discipline all these old fashioned and irrational conceptions are the leitmotifs of the programme.

The application of these ideas is drastic, and in some cases novel. I shall illustrate them briefly from three enactments which give most clearly the National Socialist intent —the land law, the labor law, and the penal code.

The change that has been made in the land law is somewhat similar to English entail. Peasants' farms must now descend from father to son, and the owner can neither sell nor borrow against his land. What happens to the children who do not inherit the farms is a problem which the Nazis undertake to deal with, but which cannot be gone into here. It is difficult to tell how this system is working so far, for, like most questions in Germany, the answer depends on whether or not the speaker is a Nazi. One hears, for instance, from 'antis' that a peasant's daughter is not the partie that she was. Her father can no longer lay his hand on money for her dowry, and this change in social status is resented. On the other hand, new rural settlements are being created all over Germany, and although people are being ordered from the city to the country, it seems to be true that more want to go than there are farms to put them on.

Without going into other provisions of the act, it is easy to see what an immense change this makes in the lives of millions of people. Farmers in Germany, like farmers in most industrial countries, were coming to look on their farms as a business instead of a way of life. They were becoming the stepchildren of industry, regarding the money they could get out of the farm as the measure of its value. Now, with a stroke of the pen, the values of land are altered. The farm is no longer a speculative business, but a trust for the nation and posterity, and if the farmer cannot make money by selling it, neither can he lose by borrowing against it. Tradition, inheritance, the patriarchal family, small units, independence, handiwork, are favored by this system as against enterprise, individualism, restlessness, mechanization.

The National Labor Act, however, is the most comprehensive statement of Nazi principles that has been made, and also the most interesting of Nazi documents because it shows the attempt to incorporate intangibles in what might be called the enemy camp, the factory. The land law is, in essence, a return to the old order, but the labor law is an attempt to do something new.

First of all, the Labor Act declares the principle of leadership. 'In an industrial concern, the owner as leader of the establishment, and the salaried and wage earning employees as his followers, shall work together for the furtherance of the enterprise and for the common good of the nation and the state.' The leader makes all decisions and bears the responsibility for them, but he has a 'confidential council' of employees at his side. This council has no relation to a labor union (unions are, of course, abolished). It is selected in a prescribed way from a list which the leader makes up, and has no function except to advise. On the other hand, the leader is obliged to summon the council if half of the members request it, and the councilors have certain judicial functions in cases of appeal.

The framers of the law appear to have been quite aware that human nature tends to abuse power, and against this abuse they have set up a complicated machinery. Regional Labor Trustees who are state officials are appointed to act as arbiters, and also as checks on encroachments from either side. The leader, for instance, is obliged to notify the Trustee in writing before he dismisses more than nine men in a factory of less than one hundred, or ten per cent in larger factories. The Labor Trustees have the power, if their instructions are 'repeatedly and willfully contravened,' to impose fines and in serious cases imprisonment. Yet there is a check even on the Labor Trustees, for they are obliged to consult with an advisory committee of experts of which three quarters must be chosen from a list presented by the German Labor Front.

As one reads the law, one is struck by the fact, that its tendency is socialistic that is to say, most of its provisions are for the protection of labor. Yet it is very different from Marxian socialism. The capital labor antithesis is not taken for granted. On the contrary, it is assumed that the interests of the plant control both sides. Workmen participate in every decision on wages, dismissals, factory rules; the leader decides and is responsible; but if the confidential council feels itself disregarded the machinery of the act is put in motion and the state intervenes. In November 1934, for instance, a factory owner in Westphalia was taken into 'protective custody' on the charge of having totally disregarded his confidential council, and having dealt with them in an arbitrary manner.

The entire act assumes that people— workmen as well as employers —— will be or can be made socially responsible. Social Honor courts are the most extreme expression of this idea. The court consists of a judge, an industrial leader, and a member of a confidential council. It deals with exploitation, interference, 'wounding of honor,' betrayal of confidence, disobedience, not only as between leader and followers, but among the followers themselves. The court has the power to fix various penalties, running from warnings to fines up to ten thousand reichsmarks and to removal of the offender whoever he be from his post. The procedure is this. Any leader or employee who feels aggrieved states his case in writing to the regional Labor Trustee, who does not decide the case, but does decide whether to call the court. The court then hears the complainant and renders its decision. The decisions of the regional court can be carried on appeal up to the Reich Honor Court in Berlin, where they may be sustained or revoked.

Especially interesting is the fact that the act tries to develop social responsibility by basing its machinery on the individual. In every grievance, the individual must make his complaint personally in writing and give his testimony in person (though in special cases he may send a representative). In every accusation also the procedure is against an individual. No motive to group organization is given except for common work; in other words, when the individual works for the good of the plant, he works with others, but when he complains, he complains alone. The tendency of the act in this respect seems to be to combine the constructive forces and isolate the destructive ones.

Commenting on the German Labor Act, the former Italian Finance Minister, Alberto de Stefani, wrote in the Corriere della Sera, 'It is an act which possesses a unique form; an ethical form is introduced into a sphere where ethics as such do not appear to be at home . . . . The German Government, one must admit, has presented an ideal principle the dynamic importance of which is incalculable.'

These illustrations are brief, and intended to illustrate one thing: how the Nazi government is attempting to introduce into an industrial, urban, and on the whole liberal democratic state the kind of ideas and codes that go with an agricultural and, generally speaking, early feudal civilization. Most clearly does the shift in emphasis come out in two proposed changes in the penal code. One, that if motive to commit a crime can be established, it shall be considered as serious an offense as if the crime were committed. Second, that judges shall be guided more by the spirit of the law than by its letter. *.' The intent of these changes is explained in the following quotation from Carl Schmitt's Staat, Bewegung, Volk: 'The law can no longer guarantee the computability and certainty which are necessary for the definition of law in a constitutional state. Computability and certainty do not lie in standardization (of the law), but in the situation which is assumed to be standard. On all sides in countless paraphrases, general clauses and indefinable conceptions have crept in: "good faith," "custom," "determining reason," "unnecessary harshness," "reasonable expectation," "arbitrary prohibition." . . . We have seen that every word, every concept, becomes contestable, uncertain, indefinite, and wavering when differently oriented minds and interests undertake to interpret them in an indefinable situation . . . . The fiction and illusion of a law which factually includes and foresees all cases and all situations cannot be revived.' This gives clearly the reaction from Montesquieu's conception: 'The judge is the mouth which pronounces the words of the law.' In fact, the intent of the proposed changes is evidently to remove law from the objective to the subjective sphere, and shift the weight of authority from the law to the judge. The perils implied in these 'reforms' make an Anglo Saxon shudder. But they are perfectly consistent expressions of Nazi ideology, which in these cases carry further the abstract tendencies of German law. 'Not the law, but the lawyers, must be reformed,' they say. In other words, the good society must come from within.


Germany at the moment is full of contradictions. Heads are carried high and the clear blue eyes of young men have a look of burning enthusiasm; at the same time, no one dare speak his mind except in strictest privacy; even in front of house servants, and of course in all public places, conversation is restricted to personal matters. National Socialism is a crusade, a religion, and it is applied as has happened before with brutality, sometimes savagery. The Nazis go about deliberately rousing emotions and passions, and at the same time they insist on rigid discipline. Most puzzling is the position of the individual. The Nazis lay great emphasis on personality, especially on those aspects of personality which cannot be harnessed or charted, like loyalty and self respect. Motives are as serious as acts; innate sense of justice outweighs the letter of the law, and the creative spirit is to subdue the sterile intellect. Yet exactly these qualities require free play, personal interpretations. Exactly these forces of personality which the Nazis wish to stimulate are paralyzed in a 'totalitarian' state where the government takes charge of every phase of life and pours its slogans day and night through the press, the radio, and all cultural organs. It is hard to see a resurgence of personality under a dictatorship of this nature.

There is still another major contradiction. The Nazis preach from every platform the unity and wholeness of Germany. Artgleichheit, likeness in kind, creates a mystic understanding between all Germans of pure race, and from this they derive the 'classless state.' But in practice the state is not classless at all. The old class distinctions, between employer and employee, well born and humbly born, rich and poor, are supposed to be erased, but in their place is a new one. In Germany to day there are two classes, the Nazi party members 'PG,' as the Partei Genossen are called —— and the others. Any 'PG' carries in his displeasure the sting of arbitrary dismissal or imprisonment against any non party member, no matter how highly placed, official, industrialist, or professional man. Obviously this opens the door wide to every kind of corruption —and as long as the party remains distinct from the nation, as long as there are admittedly two kinds of Germans, the door will stay open. Even from the theoretical point of view it is impossible to develop social responsibility as long as only a fraction of the population is entitled to say what social responsibility is.

Partly because of party tyranny and partly because the system is so new, the quality of the leadership is for the most part deplorable. And this is especially serious in a regime which politically bases itself on the principle of leadership and socially aims at stimulating the free forces of personality. Many of the present leaders are ignorant or inexperienced; they are arrogant, fanatical, and often corrupt, but they are still carried on the wave of revolutionary enthusiasm. The wiser ones realize this condition and have established training schools for leaders, to which the best young men — best from the point of view of 'character, mental orientation (Gesinnung), arid race' are sent. If the system survives until these young men enter it, National Socialism will provide a test, which is not possible now, of whether government by professional leadership is politically practical.

All these contradictions make it difficult at present to judge National Socialism. It is almost impossible to say what are the revolutionary features and what is inherent in the system. The ideas which are the motive force of the movement are ideas which we associate with a small, stable, slow moving world long passed away, and we have come to think, in dealing with the tempo and complexity which our own inventions have created, that our best equipment is the rational side of our nature. The Nazis, of course, are aware of tempo and complexity, and they use the most modern devices radio, printing press, expert knowledge of mass psychology to mobilize the revolt of a people against rationalization, their nostalgia for the intangibles of vanished ages. It is a rather ridiculous spectacle at times, a nation being dragooned into a romantic attitude, and this combination of new methods with old, apparently superseded ideas explains many anomalies. National Socialism at present is a romantic movement hitched to a dynamo.

The fascinating question is: Which will win, the dynamo or the resurgence of atrophied forces? If it is the former, then farewell to personality. If it is the latter, the Nazi strait jacket will be burst and the new order will be neither Fascism nor Communism, as we know them now, but something toward that fulfillment of the German nature which Goethe expressed as 'outwardly limited, inwardly free.'

The social scale swings from one side to the other. At one time the weight is on a vitalistic interpretation of nature and then again it is on a mechanistic one. For a century and a half the main current of European civilization has run in mechanistic channels; our energies have gone into making, building, combining, paragraphing, and regulating, and our patterns have been the laboratory and the factory. But there is another side, another interpretation, another set of forces, organic, vitalistic, irreducible, and unpredictable. They express themselves socially through emotions, contemplation, religious aspirations, creative impulses; in force and cruelty and injustice; in romanticism and mysticism, in agricultural civilization, in an emphasis on being rather than doing. National Socialism belongs to this latter school. Peasants are reestablished, women are returned to the home, society is organized on a hierarchical military basis, government is aristocratic, selective this time, not hereditary, law is subordinated to personal interpretations, and the ideals held before the people are deliberately mystical and unattainable.

It is too soon to say whether we Europe and America have gone far enough in the direction of rationalization, and whether the compensating swing to inner freedom has really set in. But, whatever the outcome of the German revolution, a mystical romantic quality is its vital core. It is national in the first place, the profound longing of a sovereign people to cast out foreign elements and regain their own cultural and spiritual sovereignty. In the second place, it is not only national but universal, the resurgence of the inner life against a creeping paralysis. Make no mistake. The movement is brutal, blustering, repressive; it burns books, struts uniforms, and kills. But its real meaning, below the tyranny and the childishness, is an effort to deliver man from the machine.

*'These two points were stated by Dr. Gurtner, Reichsminister of Justice, in a summary of the proposed reform of the legal code in the Völkischer Beobachter of August 31, 1934. —AUTHOR