Adolf Hitler's political views
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Historians and biographers note some difficulty in identifying Adolf Hitler's political views. His writings and methods were often adapted to need and circumstance, although there were some steady themes, including antisemitism, anti-communism, anti-parliamentarianism, German expansionism, belief in the superiority of an "Aryan race" and an extreme form of German nationalism. Hitler personally claimed he was fighting against Jewish Marxism.
His views were more or less formed during three periods:
- His years as a poverty-stricken young man in Vienna and Munich prior to World War I, during which he turned to nationalist-oriented political pamphlets and antisemitic newspapers out of distrust for mainstream newspapers and political parties.
- The closing months of World War I when Germany lost the war; Hitler is said to have developed his extreme nationalism during this time, desiring to "save" Germany from both external and internal "enemies" who, in his view, betrayed it.
- The 1920s, during which his early political career began and he wrote Mein Kampf. Hitler formally renounced his Austrian citizenship on 7 April 1925, but did not acquire German citizenship until almost seven years later; thereby allowing him to run for public office.
Army intelligence agent
After the Great War, Hitler stayed in the army, which was mainly engaged in suppressing socialist uprisings across Germany, including in Munich, where Hitler returned in 1919. He took part in "national thinking" courses organised by the Education and Propaganda Department (Dept Ib/P) of the Bavarian Reichswehr, Headquarters 4 under Captain Karl Mayr. These helped popularize the notion that there was a scapegoat responsible for the outbreak of war and Germany's defeat. "International Jewry" was described as a scourge composed of communists and other politicians across the party spectrum.
Such scapegoating was essential to Hitler's political career, and it seems that he genuinely believed that Jews were responsible for Germany's post-war troubles. In July 1919 Hitler was appointed Verbindungsmann (intelligence agent) of an Aufklärungskommando (reconnaissance commando) of the Reichswehr, both to influence other soldiers and to infiltrate the German Workers' Party (DAP). While he studied the activities of the DAP, Hitler became impressed with founder Anton Drexler's antisemitic, nationalist, anti-capitalist and anti-Marxist ideas.
German Workers’ Party
That same month Hitler wrote what is often deemed his first antisemitic text, requested by Mayr for one Adolf Gemlich, who participated in the same "educational courses" in which Hitler had taken part. In this report Hitler argued for a "rational anti-Semitism" which would not resort to pogroms, but instead "legally fight and remove the privileges enjoyed by the Jews as opposed to other foreigners living among us. Its final goal, however, must be the irrevocable removal of the Jews themselves."
Most people at the time understood this as a call for forced expulsion. Europe has a long history of expelling Jews and the auto-da-fe.
Drexler was impressed with Hitler's oratory skills, and invited him to join the DAP. Hitler accepted on 12 September 1919, becoming the party's 55th member. Hitler was discharged from the army in March 1920 and with its continued support took full part in the DAP's activities. Displaying his talent for oratory and propaganda skills, with the support of Anton Drexler, Hitler became chief of propaganda for the party in early 1920. In the spring of 1920 he engineered the change of name to the National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei – NSDAP), commonly known as the Nazi Party (or, less commonly, the National Socialist Party). The name "Nazi" comes from the German pronunciation of the first two syllables of "Nati"onalsozialistiche (in contrast to Sozi, a term used for the Social Democrats). In the same period, under his influence the party adopted a modified swastika (a well-known good luck charm which had previously been used in Germany as a mark of volkishness and "Aryanism") along with the Roman salute used by Italian fascists.
At this time the Nazi Party was one of many small extremist groups in Munich, but Hitler soon discovered he had two remarkable talents, one for public oratory and another for inspiring personal loyalty. His street-corner oratory, attacking Jews, liberals, capitalists and communists, began attracting adherents.
Early followers included
- Rudolf Hess
- Hermann Göring, who was appointed to lead the SA after joining the party
- Ernst Röhm, later head of the Nazis' paramilitary organization, the SA
- Alfred Rosenberg
- Gregor Strasser
- Dietrich Eckart
- Hermann Esser
- Ludwig Maximilian Erwin von Scheubner-Richter
- Wartime Field-Marshal Erich Ludendorff, who was the party's candidate for President of the Republic in 1925
The Beer Hall Putsch
Hitler enlisted the help of World War I General Erich Ludendorff to try to seize power in Munich (the capital of Bavaria) in an attempt later known as the Beer Hall Putsch of 8–9 November 1923. This would be a step in the seizure of power nationwide, overthrowing the Weimar Republic in Berlin. On 8 November, Hitler's forces initially succeeded in occupying the local Reichswehr and police headquarters; however, neither the army nor the state police joined forces with him. The next day, Hitler and his followers marched from the beer hall to the Bavarian War Ministry to overthrow the Bavarian government on their "March on Berlin", similar to Benito Mussolini's March on Rome. However, the Bavarian authorities ordered the police to stand their ground. The putschists were dispersed after a short firefight in the streets near the Feldherrnhalle. In all, Sixteen NSDAP members and four police officers were killed in the failed coup.
Hitler fled to the home of Ernst Hanfstaengl, and by some accounts he contemplated suicide; this state of mind has been disputed. Hitler was depressed but calm when he was arrested on 11 November 1923. Fearing "left-wing" members of the Nazi Party might try to seize leadership from him during his incarceration, Hitler quickly appointed Alfred Rosenberg temporary leader.
Hitler was tried for high treason and used his trial as an opportunity to spread his message throughout Germany. In April 1924 he was sentenced to five years' imprisonment in Landsberg Prison, where he received preferential treatment from sympathetic guards and received substantial quantities of fan mail, including funds and other assistance. During 1923 and 1924 at Landsberg he dictated the first volume of a book called Mein Kampf (My Struggle) to his faithful deputy Rudolf Hess.
In Mein Kampf Hitler speaks at length about his youth, early days in the Nazi Party, future plans for Germany and general ideas on politics and race. The original title Hitler chose was My Struggle Against Four and a Half Years of Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice. His publisher shortened this to Mein Kampf.
During his childhood, Hitler had little interest in politics, as he fancied himself a painter. Like other boys in his part of Austria, he was attracted to Pan-Germanism, but his intellectual pursuits were generally those of a dilettante. After the fifth grade, he began neglecting his schoolwork, was forced to repeat a grade, and continually had to take special examinations to be permitted to advance to the next grade level. Soon after his father, Alois, died in 1903, Hitler dropped out of high school at age 16, living at home and pursuing a Bohemian lifestyle.
He discovered his skill in oratory after the end of World War I. Hitler's objective as a politician was to restore the dignity of the German nation.
Hitler wrote of his hatred towards what he believed were the world's twin evils: communism and Judaism. He said his aim was to eradicate both from Germany.
He also wrote that Germany needed to obtain new soil, called lebensraum, which would properly nurture the "historic destiny" of the German people. This was envisioned to encompass vast regions of Eastern Europe.
In Hitler's mind, communism is the primary enemy of Germany:
|“||In the years 1913 and 1914 I expressed my opinion for the first time in various circles, some of which are now members of the National Socialist Movement, that the problem of how the future of the German nation can be secured is the problem of how Marxism can be exterminated.||”|
— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
|“||In this way the struggle against the present State was placed on a higher plane than that of petty revenge and small conspiracies. It was elevated to the level of a spiritual struggle on behalf of a WELTANSCHAUUNG, for the destruction of Marxism in all its shapes and forms.||”|
— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
|“||In view of the complete subordination of the present State to Marxism, the National Socialist Movement feels all the more bound not only to prepare the way for the triumph of its idea by appealing to the reason and understanding of the public but also to take upon itself the responsibility of organizing its own defence against the terror of the International, which is intoxicated with its own victory.||”|
— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
According to Hitler, Marxism is a Jewish strategy to subjugate Germany and the world:
|“||For this purpose French armies would first have to invade and overcome the territory of the German REICH until a state of international chaos would set in, and then the country would have to succumb to Bolshevik storm troops in the service of Jewish international finance.
Hence it is that at the present time the Jew is the great agitator for the complete destruction of Germany. Whenever we read of attacks against Germany taking place in any part of the world the Jew is always the instigator. In peace-time, as well as during the War, the Jewish-Marxist stock-exchange Press systematically stirred up hatred against Germany, until one State after another abandoned its neutrality and placed itself at the service of the world coalition, even against the real interests of its own people.
The Jewish way of reasoning thus becomes quite clear. The Bolshevization of Germany, that is to say, the extermination of the patriotic and national German intellectuals, thus making it possible to force German Labour to bear the yoke of international Jewish finance—that is only the overture to the movement for expanding Jewish power on a wider scale and finally subjugating the world to its rule.
— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
|“||All other restraints on police action imposed by Reich and Land law [are abolished] so far as this is necessary [...] to achieve the purpose of the decree. [...] In keeping with the purpose and aim of the decree the additional measures [...] will be directed against the Communists in the first instance, but then also against those who co-operate with the Communists and who support or encourage their criminal aims. [...] I would point out that any necessary measures against members or establishments of other than Communist, anarchist or Social Democratic parties can only be justified by the decree [...] if they serve to help the defense against such Communist activities in the widest sense.||”|
— Hermann Göring, March 3, 1933 directive to the Prussian police authorities
Persecution and extermination of these political groups was systematic in Germany and the occupied zones during the War.
Hitler was a Pan-Germanic ultranationalist whose ideology was built around a philosophically authoritarian, anti-Marxist, antisemitic, anti-democratic worldview. There are strong connections to the values of Nazism and the anti-rationalist tradition of the Romantic movement of the early nineteenth century in response to the Enlightenment. Like many Romantic artists, musicians, and writers, the Nazis valued strength, passion, frank declarations of feelings, and deep devotion to family and community. German romanticism in particular expressed these values. For instance, Hitler identified closely with the music of Richard Wagner, who harbored antisemitic views as the author of Das Judenthum in der Musik.
The Nazis' idealization of German tradition, folklore, volkisch culture, leadership (as exemplified by Frederick the Great and as eventually instantiated in the Fuhrerprinzip), their rejection of the liberalism and parliamentarianism of the Weimar Republic, and calling the German state the "Third Reich" (which traces back to the medieval First Reich and the pre-Weimar Second Reich) has led many[who?] to regard the Nazis as reactionary.
Nazism drew heavily on Italian Fascism: nationalism (including collectivism and populism based on nationalist values); Third Position (including class collaboration, corporatism, economic planning, mixed economy, national syndicalism, protectionism, and the studies of socialism that fit the Nazi Party ideologues and agendas); totalitarianism (including dictatorship, holism, major social interventionism, and statism); and militarism.
Uniquely, Nazism added a non-rationalist racial dimension to this otherwise typically Fascist ideology:
|“||Every manifestation of human culture, every product of art, science and technical skill, which we see before our eyes to-day, is almost exclusively the product of the Aryan creative power. This very fact fully justifies the conclusion that it was the Aryan alone who founded a superior type of humanity; therefore he represents the archetype of what we understand by the term: MAN. He is the Prometheus of mankind, from whose shining brow the divine spark of genius has at all times flashed forth, always kindling anew that fire which, in the form of knowledge, illuminated the dark night by drawing aside the veil of mystery and thus showing man how to rise and become master over all the other beings on the earth. Should he be forced to disappear, a profound darkness will descend on the earth; within a few thousand years human culture will vanish and the world will become a desert.||”|
— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
The anti-rationalist identification between Aryanism and Germanism, and its arcane opposition to Jewish Bolshevism, was a source of much confusion. Large institutions were established to define what an Aryan was, with poor success, and finally the concept evolved around their practical needs. Original Aryan peoples like Romani were excluded and annihilated as the Nazis deemed them to be too racially mingled.
- Extreme homophobia leading to the systematic persecution of homosexuals.
- Persecution of "degenerate art".
- Strong rejection of premarital sex, prostitution, pornography and "sexual vice". Smoking, drinking and use of cosmetics were discouraged.
- Revindication of a glorious past as the key to a glorious future.
|“||If we study the course of our cultural life during the last twenty-five years we shall be astonished to note how far we have already gone in this process of retrogression. Everywhere we find the presence of those germs which give rise to protuberant growths that must sooner or later bring about the ruin of our culture. Here we find undoubted symptoms of slow corruption; and woe to the nations that are no longer able to bring that morbid process to a halt.
In almost all the various fields of German art and culture those morbid phenomena may be observed. Here everything seems to have passed the culminating point of its excellence and to have entered the curve of a hasty decline. At the beginning of the century the theatres seemed already degenerating and ceasing to be cultural factors, except the Court theatres, which opposed this prostitution of the national art. With these exceptions, and also a few other decent institutions, the plays produced on the stage were of such a nature that the people would have benefited by not visiting them at all. A sad symptom of decline was manifested by the fact that in the case of many 'art centres' the sign was posted on the entrance doors: FOR ADULTS ONLY.
— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
|“||That such a mentality [racial purity] may be possible cannot be denied in a world where hundreds and thousands accept the principle of celibacy from their own choice, without being obliged or pledged to do so by anything except an ecclesiastical precept. Why should it not be possible to induce people to make this sacrifice if, instead of such a precept, they were simply told that they ought to put an end to this truly original sin of racial corruption which is steadily being passed on from one generation to another. And, further, they ought to be brought to realize that it is their bounden duty to give to the Almighty Creator beings such as He himself made to His own image.||”|
— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
|“||Prostitution is a disgrace to humanity and cannot be removed simply by charitable or academic methods. Its restriction and final extermination presupposes the removal of a whole series of contributory circumstances. The first remedy must always be to establish such conditions as will make early marriages possible, especially for young men – for women are, after all, only passive subjects in this matter.||”|
— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
|“||No; those who want seriously to combat prostitution must first of all assist in removing the spiritual conditions on which it thrives. They will have to clean up the moral pollution of our city 'culture' fearlessly and without regard for the outcry that will follow. If we do not drag our youth out of the morass of their present environment they will be engulfed by it. Those people who do not want to see these things are deliberately encouraging them and are guilty of spreading the effects of prostitution to the future—for the future belongs to our young generation. This process of cleansing our 'Kultur' will have to be applied in practically all spheres. The stage, art, literature, the cinema, the Press and advertisement posters, all must have the stains of pollution removed and be placed in the service of a national and cultural idea. The life of the people must be freed from the asphyxiating perfume of our modern eroticism and also from every unmanly and prudish form of insincerity. In all these things the aim and the method must be determined by thoughtful consideration for the preservation of our national well-being in body and soul. The right to personal freedom comes second in importance to the duty of maintaining the race.||”|
— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
Distrust of democracy
Hitler blamed Germany's parliamentary government for many of the nation's ills and wrote that he would destroy that form of government. Many historians have asserted that Hitler's essential character can be discovered in Mein Kampf. In it, he categorized human beings by their physical attributes, claiming German or Nordic Aryans were at the top of the hierarchy while assigning the bottom orders to Jews and Romani. Hitler also claimed that dominated peoples benefit by learning from superior Aryans, and said the Jews were conspiring to keep this "master race" from rightfully ruling the world by diluting its racial and cultural purity, and exhorting Aryans to believe in equality rather than superiority and inferiority. He described a struggle for world domination, an ongoing racial, cultural, and political battle between Aryans and Jews.
Considered relatively harmless, Hitler was given an early parole from prison and released in December 1924. From there, Hitler began a long effort to rebuild the Nazi Party. Meanwhile, as the Sturmabteilung ("Stormtroopers" or SA) gradually became a separate base of power within the party, Hitler founded the more reliable Schutzstaffel ("Protection Unit" or SS) a personal bodyguard. This elite, black-uniformed corps was eventually commanded by Heinrich Himmler.
Laying blame on the November Criminals
A key element of Hitler's popular appeal was his charismatic ability to convey wounded national pride caused by the Treaty of Versailles, imposed on a defeated Germany by the Allies. Germany had lost territory to France, Poland, Belgium and Denmark along with admitting sole responsibility for the war, giving up his colonies, agreeing to severe military restrictions and assuming a staggering reparations bill. Since most Germans did not believe that the German Empire had started the war (and did not clearly understand until later they had been defeated) they bitterly resented the terms. Two years after coming to office in 1933, Hitler blatantly defied the terms of the treaty when he announced that Germany would adopt military conscription and would no longer adhere to the restrictions on the size of the Reichswehr as set out in Versailles. The party's early attempts to garner votes by blaming these humiliations unilaterally on "international Jewry" were not successful with the electorate, but the party's propaganda wing learned quickly and began a more subtle propaganda combining antisemitism with a spirited attack on the failures of the "Weimar system" and the parties supporting it, calling them the November Criminals.
- Kershaw 2008, pp. 72–74.
- Kershaw 2008, p. 82.
- Ed Pilkington (8 June 2011). "Hitler's first draft of the Holocaust: unique letter goes on show". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 June 2011.
- Stackelberg 2007, p. 9.
- Mitcham 1996, p. 67.
- Toland, Adolf Hitler, chapter 4. Hitler, by resigning from the party in early July 1921, forced the party's leadership to choose between allowing him to leave and appointing him as chairman. They capitulated to Hitler's demand and on 29 July 1921 a special congress was convened to formalize Hitler as the new chairman; the vote was 543 for Hitler and one against. Toland, Adolf Hitler, pp. 111-112.
- Ludendorff during the early 1920s was the leading figure of the Fatherland Fighting Leagues and the various Freikorps and only became a member of the party thereafter
- Kershaw 2008, p. 129.
- Kershaw 2008, pp. 130–131.
- Shirer 1960, pp. 73–74.
- Kershaw 2008, p. 132.
- Kershaw 2008, p. 131.
- In any case, Rosenberg was so disliked that he would be an unlikely threat to take over Hitler's leadership.
- Evans 2005, p. 299.
- Evans, Richard J. (2005). The Third Reich in Power. New York: Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-303790-3.
- Haffner, Sebastian, The Meaning of Hitler (first published in German in 1978)
- Hitler, Adolf, Mein Kampf (first published in German in 1925)
- The History Place: The Rise of Adolf Hitler
- Kershaw, Ian (2008), Hitler: A Biography, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 0-393-06757-2
- Mitcham, Samuel W. (1996). Why Hitler?: The Genesis of the Nazi Reich. Westport, Conn: Praeger. ISBN 978-0-275-95485-7.
- Shirer, William L. (1960). The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-62420-0.
- Stackelberg, Roderick (2007). The Routledge Companion to Nazi Germany. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-30860-1.
- Toland, John (1976). Adolf Hitler. New York: Doubleday & Company. ISBN 0-385-03724-4.