Political views of Adolf Hitler

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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[edit]

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.[1] 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.[2]

German Workers’ Party[edit]

Adolf Hitler's membership card for the German Workers' Party. Hitler wanted to create his own party, but was ordered by his superiors in the Reichswehr to infiltrate an existing one instead.

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."[3][4]

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,[5] becoming the party's 55th member.[6] 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.[7]

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

The Beer Hall Putsch[edit]

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.[9] 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.[10] In all, Sixteen NSDAP members and four police officers were killed in the failed coup.[11]

Hitler fled to the home of Ernst Hanfstaengl, and by some accounts he contemplated suicide; this state of mind has been disputed.[12] Hitler was depressed but calm when he was arrested on 11 November 1923.[13] 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.[14]

Mein Kampf[edit]

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.

Anti-communism[edit]

In Hitler's mind, communism is the primary enemy of Germany:

According to Hitler, Marxism is a Jewish strategy to subjugate Germany and the world:

Because of these views, leftist political dissidents were the first to be targeted by the Nazi regime, long before racial discrimination was applied, on the basis of the Reichstag Fire Decree.

Persecution and extermination of these political groups was systematic in Germany and the occupied zones during the War.

Volkisch nationalism[edit]

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:

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.

Social conservatism[edit]

The Nazis (National Socialists) promoted a socially conservative view of all aspects of life, supported by harsh discipline and a militaristic point of view.

Distrust of democracy[edit]

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[edit]

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.

See also Nazi Party, antisemitism

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Kershaw 2008, pp. 72–74.
  2. ^ Kershaw 2008, p. 82.
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Ed Pilkington (8 June 2011). "Hitler's first draft of the Holocaust: unique letter goes on show". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 June 2011. 
  5. ^ Stackelberg 2007, p. 9.
  6. ^ Mitcham 1996, p. 67.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ 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
  9. ^ Kershaw 2008, p. 129.
  10. ^ Kershaw 2008, pp. 130–131.
  11. ^ Shirer 1960, pp. 73–74.
  12. ^ Kershaw 2008, p. 132.
  13. ^ Kershaw 2008, p. 131.
  14. ^ In any case, Rosenberg was so disliked that he would be an unlikely threat to take over Hitler's leadership.
  15. ^ Evans 2005, p. 299.

References[edit]