Paving the Way for Hitler


No question cuts more deeply into the core of world politics today than this: Does Hitler represent Germany? It is a question that will demand a pragmatic answer from every nation that enters the war, a theoretical answer from every delegation to the peace conference that concludes it.

The prevailing impression in the United States is that Hitler foisted himself upon the German people and dragooned them into the war. Though not entirely false, this impression is certainly oversimplified. It derives partly from Allied propaganda, partly from innocence of the facts. The British today draw the same distinction between the German people and their government as they did in the last war. This is an ancient stratagem, of which Napoleon was past master. It is at best a doubtful guide to the truth. Moreover, Americans have received an incomplete accounting from their own newspaper correspondents, on whom they have chiefly relied for their knowledge of the Third Reich. They have heard a great deal about Hitler’s partners in the Nazi revolution — Göring, Hess, Himmler, Goebbels, and the rest. They have heard still more about Hitler’s victims. But of the Germans who were neither Hitler’s partners nor his enemies, but who themselves represented and induced in others a state of mind that readily accepted Hitler’s leadership and welcomed the war with England, they have heard little.

Unknown in the United States because never translated, the writings of these men indicate that the German people caused the war with Hitler as their instrument; they argue that both Hitler and the German people are slaves of a common master, an idea that unites all groups and classes in Germany and amounts to a national obsession, the idea of Lebensraum. Even in Weimar days, prophets were spreading this idea among the faithful, and the faithful included all ranks of German society, rich and poor, military and political, warlike and peaceful. Compounded of historical and economic data, clothed in mysticism, the notion that Germany was suffering for want of ‘living space’ acquired in Germany a symbolic appeal not exceeded by Manifest Destiny and Democracy in our own experience. The men who preached this doctrine paved the way for Hitler and for war with England.

In their search for the origins of National Socialism, scholars have trodden a well-worn trail back to the philosophers Fichte, Hegel, and Nietzsche, and the historian Treitschke. But they have applied to post-Versailles Germany an intellectual stereotype that has proved an inadequate guide even to the causes of the last war. They have neglected the apostles of racism Gobineau and Chamberlain, as well as Gottfried Feder and Dietrich Eckart, Hitler’s tutors in economics and political science in the early days in Munich. They have conspicuously left without honor the prophets of Lebensraum. To be sure, Treitschke himself must be acclaimed as one of these. In his seven-volume History of Germany in the Nineteenth Century, as in his lectures at the University of Berlin and the political essays that made him famous throughout Imperial Germany, Treitschke summoned his countrymen to build a navy and battle England for their rightful share of the world’s wealth and power. ‘We have already had our reckoning with Austria, France, and Russia,’ he wrote, not long after the Franco-Prussian War. ‘The final reckoning with England will be the longest and hardest, because here we are confronted with a policy which for centuries, almost unimpeded by other powers, has moved toward the objective of maritime world supremacy.’ In thus identifying England as Germany’s principal antagonist and chief obstacle to the realization of her national interests, Treitschke established a basic pattern for the latterday exponents of Lebensraum to copy.

In a sense, every German who ever advocated territorial expansion could be designated a prophet of Lebensraum. But it was in post-Versailles Germany that the idea really took hold. By this time it had been appropriated and imbued with its present-day mystical connotations by an occult school of political geographers. In the name of the new ‘science’ of Geopolitik, these individuals translated national pride and an understandable, if regrettable, envy of England into demonstrable equations of European geography. The man acknowledged by its later members as the founder of this school was Friedrich Ratzel, a contemporary of Treitschke’s. Born in 1844, Ratzel busied himself as a pharmacologist until the higher truths called him to Heidelberg, to service in the Franco-Prussian War, to travel through Europe and America, and, in 1876, to a professorship of geography in Munich. Munich has remained ever since the fons et origo of Geopolitik.

In his writings, Ratzel confined himself more strictly to geographical analysis than did his successors. Nevertheless, he did not neglect to point out the political value of space. For a nation to be pressed into narrow space meant national extinction. ‘Every people has to be educated up from smaller to larger space conceptions; and the process has to be repeated again and again to prevent the people from sinking back into the old small-space conceptions. The decay of every state is the result of a declining space conception.’ When Ratzel died, in 1904, a foreign disciple was ready to take up where he left off. Rudolf Kjellen, a Swedish historian and subsequently professor of government at Göteborg, projected Ratzel’s theories into the realm of political science, where he greatly expanded them and applied them to current world politics. On geographical premises identical to Ratzel’s, for example, he urged an activist Swedish policy against Russia. What is more to the point, he saw and reëmphasized the fundamental rivalry between Germany and England. ‘England stands today as the last and greatest embodiment of the ancient idea that the oceans of the world must have one master and not several,’ he wrote in 1914; ‘just as if the vast oceans were not better suited to divided rule than the land, since traffic can no longer be monopolized in one hand!’

Kjellen’s work (he died in 1922) is of interest to us chiefly because it inspired the greatest of all exponents of Lebensraum, Professor Karl Haushofer of Munich, leader of the modern German school of Geopolitik and confidential adviser on foreign policy to Adolf Hitler. The name of Haushofer is just beginning to appear in the works of American writers on Hitler’s Germany, who should have taken note of it long ere now. Born in Munich in 1869, Haushofer inherited from an artistic grandfather an interest in art and scientific research. But he entered the army, was promoted and sent on a pre-war military mission to Japan. The assignment, which enabled him to travel widely throughout the Far East, gave him an interest in that region and a political theory to accompany it that were to bear fruit in the GermanJapanese Alliance of 1940. Haushofer saw active service throughout the First World War, retiring in 1919 with the rank of Major General. He was now free to resume his geographical studies and to begin a new career as professor of geography at the University of Munich.

Haushofer openly acknowledges his debt to Kjellen, though he repaid some of it by editing and amplifying one of the latter’s principal works. But it is for a political rather than an academic connection that Haushofer compels our attention. During his first years as professor in Munich, his friend and wartime aidede-camp, Rudolf Hess, sat in his classroom and duly reported the content of his lectures to the dreamy Adolf Hitler. When the Beer Hall Putsch misfired, in 1923, Haushofer concealed Hess as well as some valuable archives of the Nazi Party on his Bavarian estate, and afterwards went to visit and console Hitler in the prison of Landsberg on the Lech. From that time to this, Haushofer’s lucubrations on Lebensraum have found a ready channel, through Hess, lo Hitler and thence (more recently) into German foreign policy. In addition, as editor in chief of the Zeitschrift fiir Geopolitik (‘Journal of Geopolitics’) and as president of the German Academy, Haushofer has dominated Nazi pedagogy as well as Nazi demagogy. The Nazi primer, Vom deutschen Volk und seinem Lebensraum (‘The German People and Their Living Space’), reduces his teachings to their simplest terms and carries them to every one of the seven million members of the Hitler youth.


Haushofer’s earliest works, two of which appeared immediately before the last war and two shortly after, all had to do with the history and geography of Japan and the Pacific Ocean. The last of these, Geopolitik des Pazifischen Ozeans (‘Geopolitics of the Pacific Ocean’), 1924, is the most important. Revised and republished in 1937 and again in 1938, it contains all of Haushofer’s main ideas. Many of these are expressed in a style (which characterizes all his works) so involved as to defy understanding, not to mention translation. But in essence, and with special reference to the Far East, they are the same as those which appear in his later and most erudite tomes, Grenzen in ihrer geographischen und politischen Bedeutung, 1927, revised 1939 (‘The Geographical and Political Significance of Frontiers’), and the three-volume opus, Macht und Erde (‘Power and Earth’), of which he was both editor and co-author. His Weltpolitik von Heute (‘World Politics of Today’), 1934, is an illustrated, popularized text on international relations.

Through all of these and the rest of Haushofer’s score of books runs the same theme, — he himself would call it a theory, — which, as he freely avows, he inherited from Ratzed and Kjellen. The state is an organic entity, subject to biological laws. It must either grow or perish. Geopolitik is not just political geography. It is a science by which the material needs of each particular state may be diagnosed and its proper geographical Raum (space) and Lage (situation) determined. The resulting prescription constitutes the true Lebensraum of the state. In endless variations, becoming progressively more abstruse, Haushofer employs his ‘science’ to solve Germany’s economic, social, political, and military problems by redefining — that is, expanding — her Lebensraum.

It is not our purpose to measure Haushofer in particular or Geopolitik in general against any universal economic standards. It is altogether idle to point out that before Hitler ran them out of the country leading German economists, as well as British, Swedish, and American, were by no means certain as to the precise limits of population density a country such as Germany could sustain. It is equally idle to show that the German population density of 370 per square mile is considerably lower than the Belgian of 706 per square mile, the Dutch of 629, or the British of 499, or that the population pressure of these three nations has actually increased since their acquisition of colonial Raum. Neither does it avail to invoke, as the British did before the present war, the classic principles of free trade as a means of assuring Germany the raw materials and access to markets that Raum was supposed to guarantee. The facts of interest are what Germans, not outsiders, were taught, and apparently learned to believe.

‘When, late in the fall of 1918,’ wrote Haushofer in a characteristic passage in his Grenzen in 1927, ‘on my return homewards as commander of a reserve division from the wrecked remnants of Germany’s border provinces, I realized, in contrast to the keen frontier instinct I had observed in other peoples, the complete lack of any such instinct on the part of my own otherwise so highly gifted people; when I perceived the German people’s blind faith in the phrases of their enemies and painfully experienced their self-deception concerning the facts of the perpetual frontier struggles for Lebensraum upon this earth — at that time the inner need which I felt myself and which I believed would soon be felt by my people created the impulse and plan for this work.’

It is in such stuff as this, not in the empirical realm of economics, that the German doctrine of Lebensraum finds its genesis. And it is not hard to discern in the recent rearrangement of the population of Lorraine a more highly developed German frontier instinct than the one which Haushofer lamented in 1918. Why did the German people lose their breathing space all over the world, demands Haushofer in another place, ‘a space w’hich amounted only to a mere fifth of the size of the mother country as compared with the British which is ninety times, the Dutch which is six hundred times, and the French which is fifty times the size of the respective mother countries? Because the German people has never possessed it inwardly, as a people, or cherished it as a spiritual treasure.’ To correct this astigmatism, to teach the German people as a whole to appreciate the value of Raum, was the mission to which Haushofer dedicated himself.

Haushofer’s writings are not all vague generalities. Looming out of their incredibly obscure prose, like mountain peaks out of a cloud bank, are certain explicit and highly practical concepts of foreign policy. It has even been asserted that his books contain maps and plans for the invasion of the Americas. This is not true; he does not go as far as that. But he does go far enough to advocate the alliance with Japan and to lay down the geopolitical basis for the rapprochement with Russia; and, as is true of every member of his school, the logical conclusion to all his works is war with England. Haushofer’s admiration for Japan dates from his pre-war and later visits to the Far East. In his magnum opus on the Pacific and elsewhere he hammers away at the point that the balance of power is shifting to that ocean, and urges the closest possible collaboration with Japan. We may reasonably suppose that the ultimate alliance with Japan owes something to his confidential representations to Hess as well as to his public literary advocacy.

To the deal with Russia which prefaced Germany’s entrance into the present war Haushofer bears a similar, if less definite, relationship. One of the great problems left unsolved by the last war, he tells us in Weltpolitik von Heute, was the splitting up of Europe into great ‘space-possessing’ sea powers in the west, great ‘space-possessing’ land powers in the east, and spaceless powers (Germany) in the middle. The proper solution of this problem would be for Germany to encourage Russia’s expansion on an Asiatic front ‘8000 kilometres distant,’and permit her to ‘ reinsure her European back door,’In several other places, notably in the third volume of Macht und Erde, Raumiiberwindende Mdchte (‘How to Conquer Space’), 1934, he pays tribute to the English geographer Sir Halford Mackinder’s concept of Russo-German collaboration as ‘the geographical pivot of history.’ This prospect, of the ‘heartland of the old world reaching from the Elbe to the Amur’ united in defiance of British sea power and pressing on the life lines of British empire, elicits as enthusiastic approval from Haushofer as it did apprehension from his English colleague. The Ribbentrop-Molotov Agreement was the consummation of Haushofer’s academic, doubtless also his political, tuition.


There are, of course, many other aspects to the ‘science’ of Geopolitik, and many other practitioners of it, than those presented here. Haushofer’s colleagues and pupils have rewritten anthropology, sociology, economics, and constitutional law in accordance with its maxims. Hennig, Schmitthenner, Obst, Hahn, Maull, Sapper, Gradmann, Schlüter, Keller, Schmitt, and Huber are names to conjure with in these fields, names unknown outside of Germany but potent inside. In fairness to them, and to their eminent leader, it must be conceded that they do not all recommend war as the best means of achieving their objectives; indeed, some of them advise expressly against it. But their ‘scientific’ deductions lead them all to profound agreement on the point that Germany’s Lebensraum must be expanded to include substantial portions of Central Europe as well as the neighboring territories and overseas colonies taken from Germany in the last war. England had only to interfere with this program to make war inevitable. If some of the

geopoliticians were afraid to face this conclusion in their books, others were not, and all had to face it as soon as a political leader appeared on the scene who was walling to put their theories into practice. Haushofer himself welcomed the inauguration of the Third Reich in a pamphlet entitled Der nationalsozialistische Gedanlce in der Welt (‘What National Socialism Means to the World ‘), which he published in 1933. He is over seventy today. He lives in Munich in the esteem of the National Socialist Party, which he did not join because of his Jewish wife, and in the confidence of Hitler and Hess, who have made his two sons honorary Aryans in recognition of his wrork. It was a work that substantially assisted Hitler on his way to power and provided him with an extremely serviceable rationale for using that power once he had achieved it.

One reason why Haushofer’s exploitation of the idea of Lebensraum proved so effective was the fundamental popularity of the idea. Just as Mahan’s concept of sea power found ready acceptance among the nations already committed to naval competition and overseas expansion, the geopoliticians had little proselytizing to do among the German people. Practically the entire officer corps of both army and navy, a class represented by Göring, returned from the last war with the same thoughts as Haushofer himself. Few of them were ever reconciled to the armistice, much less to the Treaty of Versailles. Many continued to fight the war in memoirs and semi-official histories, in which they did not conceal their hopes that Germany’s territorial losses would be redeemed and the German defeatist spirit cleansed by just such leadership as Hitler has given them. Some even continued to fight with bullets, like the leaders of the notorious free corps, who battled the Russians in the Baltic area until the Allies put pressure on the Weimar Government to call them home. Even then these groups did not disband. They concealed their machine guns and army rifles in attics and took to street fighting against forces which they could not define but which they believed were ruining their country. Ernst von Salomon’s bloody memoir, Die Geächteten (‘The Outlaws’), chronicles the activities of these groups, which formed the nucleus of Hitler’s Storm Troops.

Then there is the morbidly acute prophecy of Mölier van den Bruck, Das dritte Reich (‘The Third Reich’), written in 1922 and constituting one of the two or three most important ideological sources of National Socialism apart from Mein Kampf itself. For a while this amazing blueprint of the shape of things to come enjoyed only an esoteric fame. Not until 1930, five years after its author’s death, was it reissued and circulated on anything like a popular scale. From that year to this it has remained a sacred document of National Socialism, yielding to none in its intellectuality and only to Mein Kampf in practical significance. It alone, of all the contemporary writings treated in this article, except Mein Kampf, lias been translated and published in English. Möller van den Bruck was born into an upper-middle-class family in 1876. His ancestors had been Lutheran pastors, gentlemen farmers, officers in the Prussian army. His father was an architect. A restless, Nietzschean spirit, he traveled widely through pre-war Europe and lived for a time in Paris, where he came under the influence of the Russian Merezhkovsky; and by the time the war broke out he had written numerous books of æsthetic criticism and literary and social history. The war turned him from æsthetics to politics. He entered the press department of the foreign office. In this capacity, just before the war ended, he addressed a pamphlet to President Wilson urging the latter to give Germany’s war aims a hearing at the peace conference. In 1922 he wrote down his political philosophy in Das dritte Reich, repudiating the Versailles Treaty and the Weimar Government that obeyed it, and calling for the real revolution, the suppression of parties, and the totalitarian régime that were then just beginning to fill Hitler’s mind.

Das dritte Reich fits much more appropriately into the tradition of Fichte, Hegel, Treitschke, and Spengler than its two low-brow rivals in the Nazi hall of fame, Mein Kampf and Alfred Rosenberg’s preposterous Der Mythus des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts (‘The Myth of the Twentieth Century’). It covers nearly all aspects of political life, a much more comprehensive work than anything produced by the geopoliticians. Yet we introduce it here because it, too, propounded the doctrine of Lebensraum. In fact, Möller van den Brack’s wartime appeal to Wilson, Das Recht der jungen Völker (‘The Right of Young Peoples’), is a justification of Germany’s struggle for living space that might easily be a chapter from Haushofer. Space and people (Raum und Volk) were the two fundamentals on which lie built his prophetic Third Reich. Space, he said, represented the lasting, the eternal forces of life. It influenced spiritually as well as materially the people who lived within it. A people is entitled by the laws of nature to Lebensraum adequate to its needs and commensurate with its ideals. Here, in the same stream of thought that brought to Hitler the ideas of Hegel and Nietzsche, a stream much deeper than the collateral sources of National Socialist ideology, was the same doctrine that flowed from the pen of Haushofer. Both merged in the broad, meandering river of Mein Kampf.


Nor was the literature of Lebensraum all recondite or technical in quality. If the writers thus far mentioned found readers chiefly among those who held or aspired to political leadership, there was one prophet in Weimar, Germany, who reached a much wider audience. In 1926 Hans Grimm, a little-known author who had spent much of his mature life in South Africa, published what soon became the most sensationally famous novel in contemporary Germany, Volk ohne Raum (‘People without Space’). By 1933, the year Hitler became chancellor, the book had sold 265,000 copies; by 1940, 455,000. It was acclaimed as Das deutsche Schicksalsbuch (The book of Germany’s fate’) and as The foremost political novel of our times.’ The phrase Volk ohne Raum gained currency as a popular byword all over Germany. People who never read the long, tragic, impassioned saga knew the message that flashed in its very title.

Hans Grimm was born in 1875 in the city of Wiesbaden. His forbears had been teachers, ministers of the gospel, and small business men. After a brief schooling he himself was sent to England for apprenticeship in the import-export trade. In 1896 he went to South Africa, there to serve as clerk in a British company for five years, and then as independent merchant, first in Port Elizabeth, then in East London, British South Africa. He stayed in this vicinity until 1910, when he undertook some journeys through German Southwest Africa and the Cameroons, gathering material for the literary career to which he was now turning. The First World War brought him home to Germany, where in 1918 he acquired and settled down in an ancestral family home in Lippoldsberg, a small town on the Weser River just west of Göttingen. By this time he had published a play and a few South African tales which had brought him scant fame, but which confirmed his determination to write. Though his age and bad eyesight had kept him out of active service in the war, he lived close enough to it, both physically and spiritually, to perceive in it the climax to the German tragedy he had witnessed at first hand in South Africa. This, to him, was the tragedy of a people that was being driven from farm to factory, from factory to emigration, and from emigration to loss of culture and nationality by lack of Raum. The colonial ventures that Grimm had known so well in Africa had promised to avert this tragedy; now the war had swept these away. The inflation that followed the war brought financial ruin to Grimm as to his countrymen. He needed no further inducements to sit down to the five years’ labor it took him to complete his masterpiece.

Volk ohne Raum bears to the Second W’orld War much the same relationship that Uncle Tom’s Cabin bore to our own Civil War. It is a political tract expressed in deeply emotional symbolism. The hero of the massive, twelve-hundred-page novel, Cornelius Friebott, is both alter ego of the author himself and symbolic representative of the entire German people. From his birth in Grimm’s ancestral town of Lippoldsberg, his life spans Germany’s rise and fall as a colonial power, and, like Grimm’s, extends on into the devious present. Friebott’s thrifty, independent parents expect to put by enough from their farm to educate their son as a teacher or minister, the professions of his forbears. But crops fail and oxen die, and, rather than mortgage the farm, Cornelius’s father goes to work in a stone quarry. Cornelius is forced to take up carpentry, a more remunerative trade than pedagogy. He serves two years in the Imperial German Navy, returning to work in the quarry with his father, then in some of the factories and mines that are gradually encroaching on already overcrowded farmlands and employing dispossessed farmers’ sons at slave wages. Protest against the laboring conditions he encounters earns Cornelius the reputation of a political radical. The only escape from the vicious circle is emigration. So he takes ship to South Africa, to which his service in the navy has introduced him. Up to this point, agrarianism rather than imperialism is the dominant theme of the novel.

Once Cornelius Friebott’s ship sails out of Bremen, however, the true villain of the piece appears, subtly at first, then more and more bluntly, until at the end its identity is unmistakable. Friebott finds work and friendship among the Boers in South Africa, only to have the Boer War cut his happiness short. He fights on the side of his benefactors, is captured by the British and interned on St. Helena for nearly two years. On his release he returns to find that the farm on which he had been working has been destroyed and its owner, a young Boer widow, has died in a British concentration camp. Everywhere he looks for work he finds signs in English reading ‘Germans need not apply here,’ and when he asks English acquaintances to explain the discrimination they reply with the question, ‘Why don’t you Germans get colonies of your own?’

A series of misadventures and further discrimination of this type send him to German Southwest Africa. There, after long hard years, he at last acquires a farm of his own, in a colony of his own nation’s, only to have both taken away by the British in the World War. To crown this irony, he is arrested by the invading British for having shot a marauding native on the ranch of a friend, and is given a death sentence, commuted to life imprisonment. With two friends he escapes from prison and eventually makes his way into Portuguese Angola. There, just as the three half-starved fugitives are about to board a ship for Germany, a British detective procures their arrest and demands their extradition. Another flight ends in a Portuguese prison. When at long last Cornelius makes his way back to Germany, he does so only by eluding the grasp of the impersonal yet terrible enemy of himself and his people, British imperialism.

The fact that Grimm’s untranslated wrork is little known outside of Germany in no way detracts from its power or its universal significance as a political document. If ever a Northern abolitionist burned with indignation at Simon Legree, thousands, very possibly millions, of German readers of Volk ohne Raum have burned with a similar indignation at Great Britain. Despite the length of the book, its tedious political harangues, or the strange intrusion of the author himself as a character in his own narrative, its episodes are real enough and often genuinely moving. They excite the interest, and to a considerable extent the sympathy, even of a reader suspicious of the author’s raw materials, skeptical of his reasoning, and weary of his plea. The success of the book surprised its author, and for a time alarmed him. He himself was a man of peace, an amiable, mild-mannered, literary soul, not a blustering jingo. He did not like to have himself compared, as he was, to Kipling. Well he may have been alarmed. With Volk ohne Raum he had enlisted in the cause of German expansion, of Hitler, and of war.

Lebensraum. The need for space; space for farms as well as factories; space for the expatriates lost to Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Lithuania, for the emigrants lost to the Americas; strategic space in Central Europe; lost space in South Africa and the East Indies; space filled with foodstuffs and industrial raw materials; tangible items of current interest, vivid memories of things past; envy of England; the fear (common to all nations, including the United States, but more real to Germany than any of them) of a two-front war — these were the elements of a belief so popular and so strong that it paved the way for Hitler before 1933 and continues to do so today. It survives the Führer’s inconsistencies, such as attempting to increase the population in an allegedly overpopulated Raum, and thrives on the deductions of his quack economists. It still unites all groups, classes, factions, and sections of German society, liberal and conservative, radical and reactionary. For the British to drive a wedge between Hitler and the German people on this issue will take some mighty blows.