Posted by: sean | January 14, 2008

Hitler and his "socialism"

While doing some light reading this afternoon in Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, I came across another reference that might be useful in thinking about Jonah Goldberg’s new book, in which he argues, grosso modo, that since Nazis were called “National Socialists,” fascism was and always has been a leftist affair.

Shirer, in the section entitled “The Mind of Hitler and the Roots of the Third Reich” in his first definitive history of Nazi Germany has this to say about Hitler’s economic plans (pp. 93-4 in the Folio edition):

On the nature of the future Nazi State, Hitler’s ideas in Mein Kampf are less consise [than his ideas on the German Volk’s expansion]. He made it clear enough that there would be no ‘democratic nonsense’ and that the Third Reich would be ruled by the Fuehreprinzip, the leadership principle — that is, that it would be a dictatorship. There is almost nothing about economics in the book. The subject bored Hitler and he never bothered to try to learn something about it beyond toying with the crackpot ideas of Gottfried Feder, the crank who was against ‘interest slavery’.

What interested Hitler was political power; economics could somehow take care of itself.

The state has nothing at all to do with any definite economic conception or development … The state is a racial organism and not an economic organization … The inner strength of a state coincides only in the rarest cases with so-called economic prosperity; the latter, in innumerable cases, seems to indicate the state’s approaching decline … Prussia demonstrates with marvelous sharpness that not material qualities but ideal virtues alone make possible the formation of a state. Only under their protection can economic life flourish. Always when in Germany there was an upsurge of political power the economic conditions began to improve; but always when economics became the sole content of our people’s life, stifling the ideal virtues, the state collapsed and in a short time drew economic life with it … Never yet has a state been founded by peaceful economic means …

Therefore, as Hitler said in a speech in Munich in 1923, ‘no economic policy is possible without a sword, no industrialization without power’. Beyond that vague, crude philosophy and a passing reference in Mein Kampf to ‘economic parliament’ which ‘would keep the national economy functioning’, Hitler refrains from any expression of opinion on the economic foundation of the Third Reich.

And though the very name of the Nazi Party proclaimed it as ‘socialist’, Hitler was even more vague on the kind of ‘socialism’ he envisaged for the new Germany. This is not surprising in view of a definition of a ‘socialist’ which he gave in a speech on July 29, 1922:

Whoever is prepared to make the national cause his own to such an extent that he knows no higher ideal than the welfare of his nation; whoever has understood our great national anthem, ‘Deutschland ueber Alles’, to mean that nothing in the wide world surpasses in his eyes this Germany, people and land — that man is a Socialist.

So according to Shiher, Hitler, for all intents and purposes, didn’t think much at all about an economic policy and hoped the issue “could somehow sort itself out.” Further, when he talked of National Socialism, he seemed to be talking much more about nationalism than about socialism, so much so, in fact, that his own idea of what a socialist is was equivalent to being a German nationalist.

While these sentiments are certainly totalitarian, they don’t seem to have much in common with liberalism or the left.

Later on, Shiher makes an interesting point that bolsters my third point from yesterday (p. 94):

The problem of syphilis and prostitution must also be attacked, [Hitler] states, by facilitating earlier marriages, and he gives a foretaste of the eugenics of the Third Reich by insisting that ‘marriage cannot be an end in itself, but must serve the one higher goal: the increase and preservation of the species and the race. This alone is its meaning and its task.’

Again, as noted by one of Jonah’s readers, as well as myself, if one were to insist on tying this rhetoric to either the left or the right in contemporary American politics, it would be much closer to the right. But that’s just the point: pace Goldberg, pushing for the Healthy Marriage Initiative doesn’t make the Bush administration or its Republican supporters in Congress fascist.


  1. I wonder if there’s a comparative study somewhere of the myriad different things the word “socialism” has been used to refer to by different political movements and leaders around the world. Maybe such a study would find that there’s nothing that all these different senses have in common, except perhaps a vague notion that “society” is supposed to benefit from whatever is being advocated.

  2. […] offered an outlandish, heretofore never-heard-of definition of a ‘socialist’ in a speech on July 28, 1922, which would make one hold his stomach and roll on the floor with […]

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