E.5. The Functioning of the Nazi Regime: State and Society
The Nazi state: strong dictatorship or polycratic chaos?
How did the Third Reich work? What was the role of the army, the industry, the state apparatus, the Nazi party, the SS? A debate closely connected to the discussion on the genesis of the Holocaust emerged about the functioning of the Third Reich.
The intentionalist position has tended to see the Third Reich above all as a dictatorship of Hitler, whereas the functionalist position has emphasized chaos in the government and the improvisatory character of Nazi decision-making. The intentionalists argued that almost all of Nazi propaganda centered on Hitler, that his personal popularity always was much higher than the prestige of his party, the army, or any other person or institution. Given his popularity, Hitler’s position was unassailable, all the more so, since the Nazi party had been founded on a strict “leadership principle” of absolute obedience to the leader. The regime soon tried to impose this personal loyalty and blind obedience on the army, the judiciary, the civil service, and all other areas of public (and even private) life. The intentionalists further pointed to Hitler’s impressive range of power: in 1934, after Hindenburg’s death, Hitler usurped the power of the state president, and in 1941 he seized the supreme command of the army, which he had strongly influenced already before. The SS carried out his racial visions, and the whole state apparatus worked to support them. The Führer’s will was the highest level of reference.
The functionalists dismissed the role of the dictator, arguing that a single man could not run all offices alone. They paid more attention to the structure of the Nazi state, focusing on four major power blocs that functioned partly independently from each other and often competed with each other: the Nazi party with all its organizations (including the SS), the state apparatus, the economy, and the army. Given this rather decentralized structure and its often chaotic overlapping, the functionalists saw Hitler as a weak dictator and explain the history of the Third Reich less as an outcome of Hitler’s will than as a dynamic of diverse power centers. The following chart summarizes the positions:
THE DEBATE ON THE FUNCTIONING OF THE THIRD REICH
|Intentionalist Interpretation||Functionalist Interpretation|
|1.Hitler’s role||Strong dictator; can implement his will||Weak dictator; depends on competing organizations|
|2.Structure of the state||Obedience to the dictator||Rivalry of offices in spite of the dictator
Four competing and relatively independent power blocks: economy, army, Nazi party/SS, state administration
|3.Implementation of policies||Hitler’s will
Realization of long-term goals
Primacy of ideology
|Spontaneous initiatives of organizations, improvisation, primacy of opportunism|
|4.Critique||Too personalistic, too much centered on Hitler, too rational, too apologetic of Germans in general||Ignores deliberate policies and the popularity of Hitler, overestimates independence of single organizations and apparatuses, too much focused on anonymous structures|
|Synthesis (according to Bracher and Jäckel): Hitler derived much of his strength from the rivalry and the overlapping responsibilities of state and party institutions. He thus could assume the role of a mediator. Single offices competed to win him over to their policies. Often they tried to implement what was considered to be his wish (example: genesis of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, August 1939). In a deeper sense, Hitler also was a mediator in a thoroughly divided German society neither of whose main forces (socialism, conservatives) had been able to dominate the other ever since the late Wilhelmine Empire.|
Whether Hitler deliberately applied the principle “divide and rule” or simply made use of the chaos of responsibilities existing since his appointment in 1933 is unclear. The very constitutional vagueness of the Third Reich (the Weimar Constitution remained in place but was largely ignored) gave the will of the leader more and more authoritative and legitimizing power. Undoubtedly the balance between the main rivaling institutions changed during the Third Reich: Hitler’s control of the military and the economy increased; the independence of the state apparatus and the economy diminished as the SS (the organization most closely associated with Hitler’s aims) assumed nearly total control toward the end. The army was placed under Hitler’s command in 1941 but (due to its essential role in the war) preserved a little more independence than other institutions.
Altogether, we should not see the four power blocs of the functionalists as too static. Although the economy and the army enjoyed some independence for much of the Third Reich, their status and interests changed in the twelve years of the Nazi regime. The economy was first left alone in order to complete the recovery from the devastating crisis. We have seen how Hitler courted big business and repressed the SA with its partly socialist demands. Until 1936 rearmament was limited and subordinated to the health of the national economy. Businessmen could largely do what they considered most profitable and faced almost no state invention (except for the removal of Jews and, indirectly, strong incentives for rearmament).
After 1936 rearmament and state control intensified. The government drafted a four-year plan that should prepare Germany for war by 1940 (neither the industrialists nor the public, however, were informed that readiness for war should be realized so quickly). The plan’s insistence on autarky and rapid rearmament sometimes contradicted industrialist interest, and the pace of war preparation raised concerns about the future of the economy. The economics minister consequently stepped down. Despite occasional tensions, however, business relations to the government remained good, and the Nazis still tried to placate the entrepreneurs’ concerns. With party-directed educational and leisure programs (Strength through Joy), the regime reconciled the workers with low wages and long hours.
The pace of war preparation in 1936-39, however, might have overheated the economy, created an irresponsible deficit, and threatened a new economic crisis. Some historians believe an aggressive war of conquest was necessary in 1939 to make up for excessive military spending. During the war, government control over the economy intensified, but until 1941 the Blitzkrieg concept mandated only limited changes. Only in 1942-44 did the government intervene more directly in the economy to support a more intensive struggle that could not be tackled by Blitzkrieg methods. But even in this period, dominated by Hitler’s armament minister Albert Speer, the economy did not fall under complete Nazi control, and businessmen could still largely influence the government regulations. In the face of defeat in 1944-45, the regime tried to implement total control but failed in the midst of chaos, bombings, and general breakdown. It remains remarkable, however, that the most intensive phase of military production started so late and culminated only in 1944.
The army, another pillar of the “polycratic chaos” seen by the functionalists, at first was eager to comply with the regime. The army did not want to be taken over by the SA, appreciated the more rapid rearmament after 1933, and credited the Hitler government with increasing freedom from the limitations of Versailles. The army may also have tried to make up for its attentism during the domestic struggles of the Weimar Republic. Seeckt’s reluctance to support rightist plots in the early 1920s had frustrated the Nazis.
After Hitler’s sacrifice of the SA in 1934, the party continued to exert relatively little control over the army. A crisis broke out in 1938, when army leaders got concerned about Hitler’s risky foreign policy, but a reshuffling of the army command ensured more loyalty to the regime. The army’s relative independence prevailed until December 1941, when Hitler appointed himself supreme commander. After the war, the army tried to dissociate itself from the racial crimes of the regime and, in particular, from the SS, but recent research offers much evidence that the army let itself be ideologized, at least on the eastern front, where most of the German forces were fighting. Army involvement in mass shootings and help in deportations is widely documented.
In my opinion, the army enjoyed relative independence from the party and the government only because it complied readily with most of what Hitler wanted. A group of committed enemies of the regime existed, however, and resistance against Hitler came from parts of the officer corps (see below). We have to take into consideration, moreover, that every soldier had to swear a personal oath of allegiance to Hitler. Many officers and soldiers disliked the regime’s racial agenda and hated the “coward” SS units shooting innocent people behind the lines, but most of the army venerated Hitler for most of the Third Reich, and much of the army embraced at least parts of the regime’s racial agenda during the war with the Soviet Union, which in its brutality and extremely harsh conditions brought out the worst traits of hatred.
The state apparatus retained some autonomy at least until 1938, when Hitler appointed several Nazis to key offices, such as the foreign ministry. Even after that, the bureaucracy remained relatively independent. Not everybody serving in high office was a Nazi or had to be a party member. Unlike in the Soviet Union, the party did not completely take over the state and society to run them in a revolutionary way. The party did much in local government, as Germany was divided into new administrative units, the Gaue with a Nazi Gauleiter as governor. With its specific organizations for every German citizen, the party did much to ensure loyalty to the regime and to instill the people with Nazi propaganda. The success of the Hitler Youth (HJ) and its sister organization for girls, the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM), was decisive in ensuring ideological loyalty among most of the young. Women’s organizations and every other imaginable club run by the Nazi party sought to organize the whole people according to Nazi ideology.
But differences existed: even people who were party members did not always like the party or the regime’s policy. It was possible to become a member of a “harmless” Nazi organization (for example the Nazi motor drivers corps) to hide oppositional strivings under the cover of compliance. One needed not always to be a party member to make a career, and people who had occupied high positions before 1933 (and were neither socialist nor Jewish) did not necessarily have to join the party in order to keep their jobs. The party was important, but it did not monopolize power in the state and army nearly as much as the communist party did in most communist societies including the Soviet Union and China.
The peculiar characteristic of the Third Reich’s functioning indeed is its apparent chaos of overlapping competencies. Foreign policy, for example, was conducted by the foreign ministry, by a committee of the SS, by Hitler, by Göring (the chief of the air force), by the army, and occasionally by other institutions as well. German policies in the occupied countries often were contradictory because different agencies worked for different goals. Denmark, for example, was administered first by the foreign ministry and later by the army. Both institutions tended to be much less repressive and fanatical than the SS. It was the local German army commander, for instance, who warned Danish authorities about the upcoming deportation of the Danish Jews and thus helped to make possible their escape to Sweden. In this chaos of overlapping competencies, Hitler often appeared as the mediator in conflicts, and he could reward a successful policy of one institution by listening more to it than to another. Rivaling agencies, according to Bracher, would often try to interpret Hitler’s will and act accordingly, so he could be a strong dictator even without actually influencing every bit of policy-making.
Throughout the Third Reich the Nazi regime remained stable. Terror and manipulation of public opinion combined with widespread, sometimes overwhelming, popular consent to the regime and, in particular, to Hitler. But despite the total claim of the Nazi ideologues, loopholes remained, and some were even tolerated or deliberately created as security valves by the system itself. Entertainment was one such area. Goebbels, the propaganda minister, furthered “unpolitical” literature and films, knowing that too much Nazi propaganda would alienate the Germans.
The churches were also left largely intact even though their ultimate preservation in the Nazi state would have been doubtful. During the war, the churches were treated particularly carefully by the regime, as they fulfilled an important role in soothing people who felt increasingly depressed about the war and the regime; they thus helped to keep up morale. That the churches secured some autonomy, of course, had to do with their general refusal to fight the regime. In my opinion, the Nazi system functioned so successfully because it remained relatively polycratic and did not insist on complete control of every sphere of life.
Combining terror with freedom and leaving loopholes in a system with a totalitarian claim proved successful. Germans who did not care much about politics or did not like the Nazis could continue their lives more or less unharmed until well into the war, provided that they were not Jewish or communist. People upset with one particular policy or institution could always find a scapegoat while excusing the Nazi regime as a whole. In particular, Germans often dissociated Hitler from aspects of the regime or the party they disliked. The most widespread phrase was “If only the Führer [the leader: Hitler] knew.”
Hitler always was much more popular than the party or, in particular, the SS. Many Gauleiter were hated, and party institutions often had the reputation of allowing poorly qualified people a rapid career (which they did). But, amazingly, Hitler was considered by many Germans as standing above all the aspects they disliked about the regime. With his charisma and the aura of an honest, committed outsider to the political establishment (“one of us”), he was able to stylize himself (with Goebbels’ help) as an ingenious, trustworthy, and powerful savior who would lead the country into new, better times.
Opportunities for resistance:
The terror machine of the Gestapo as well as the regime’s popularity left little latitude for opposition. To many people there appeared to be no alternative to the Nazi regime except foreign domination by the Soviet Union (which was seen by most as the worst possible fate). Hardly anybody wanted to return to the latent civil war and weakness of the Weimar Republic. Resistance in the Third Reich nevertheless existed. It assumed different shapes and often mixed with partial or temporary cooperation. There was a gliding scale from cooperation and consent to indifference, disagreement, and active, determined opposition.
Resistance during the war carried the connotation of betrayal (the person who resisted allegedly stabbed the German army in the back and opened the gates for murderous Bolshevists); unlike in the German-occupied countries, resisters in Germany could not claim to fight a war of liberation from foreign oppression, and they could not offer a governmental alternative with broad popular support.
Nevertheless, the total coherence of the “Volksgemeinschaft” that the regime claimed was fiction. Although Hitler personally was very popular (particularly in 1938 and 1940 after major successes), attitudes of Germans toward the system and its policies covered a wide range. Many people did not hate the regime enough to be willing to risk their lives (and usually the lives of their families) in fighting it. But keeping one’s children out of the HJ or BDM already was an act of resistance. Even some party members did not condone all of the regime’s or Hitler’s policies, and opinions changed with time.
But beyond those who were indifferent or critical it seems fair to mention those thousands of Germans who in spite of terror and accusations of betrayal risked and lost their lives by opposing the regime. Communist underground resistance operated under terribly difficult conditions; its repression by the Gestapo led to 20,000 deaths over the twelve years of the Nazi dictatorship; thousands of other Germans were also killed or put into concentration camps for acts of defiance, such as hiding a Jew, listening to a foreign radio station, doubting that Germany would win the war, cracking a joke on the regime, writing an anti-Nazi phrase on the wall of a public restroom, and others.
Some individuals also took more spectacular action: Georg Elser, a South German artisan, tried to kill Hitler in Munich in November 1939; the Catholic priest Bernhard Lichtenberg prayed for the Jews in his church in Berlin until he was deported to a death camp; the general Henning von Treskow placed a bomb in Hitler’s plane when the dictator flew back to Berlin after a visit to the eastern front in March 1943 (the bomb did not explode); the Scholl siblings, other students, and one professor in Munich got killed for distributing anti-Nazi leaflets (their resistance group was called the White Rose). Several conspiratorial circles were formed in the army and within the churches, such as the Bekennende Kirche (in opposition to the official Protestant church).
The oppositional army circles were the most powerful centers of resistance since they had weapons and direct access to Hitler. Some resistance circles included such diverse groups as military officers, conservative politicians, Social Democrats, and clergy. Some planned to remove Hitler and the Nazis from power already before the war, but they postponed their plans when Hitler became extremely popular after the victory over France and when the war assumed existential proportions, in which every form of resistance would have been considered as betrayal by most Germans. When some officers and civilians nevertheless took decisive action in July 1944 (after many abortive attempts in the preceding months), they knew of all the involved dangers but hoped at least to state a heroic example documenting “another” Germany than the one claimed by the Nazis.
Many resisters in the army had cooperated in the war for a long time, and it seems to have been the racial crimes of the regime that committed them to killing Hitler. After several failed attempts, Count Stauffenberg, a high officer with direct access to Hitler, managed to place a bomb next to the dictator on 20 July 1944. But due to an unfortunate series of circumstances Hitler survived with only minor injuries.
The putsch plan the resisters had prepared failed quickly when the survival of the dictator, to whom the whole army had sworn an oath of allegiance, became known. Stauffenberg and his fellow conspirators were killed in the evening of the same day, and a special court run by the Gestapo condemned to death 5000 people who had been involved in the plot indirectly.
Others committed suicide to evade that fate, such as the generals Stülpnagel and Rommel. Some of the executions were carried out in April 1945, days before the ultimate breakdown of the Third Reich. The executions were done sadistically, filmed, and “served” to Hitler in the evenings to satisfy his unquenchable thirst for revenge. Unfortunately, many Germans did not understand what had happened on 20 July. Nazi propaganda depicted the plot as a conspiracy of ambitious and selfish aristocratic officers, and many Germans believed this, particularly since Hitler personally was still rather popular.
Resistance, in any case, faced almost insurmountable problems. After the conference of Casablanca in January 1943, Germany had no choice other than fight to the end or surrender unconditionally. A new government, even after having overthrown the Nazis, would have had no latitude. If it surrendered or continued the war and lost, it would have produced a new stab-in-the-back legend and associated itself with high treason. In the desperate situation of the Second World War, the resisters knew that they could not make much of a difference. They at least gave a heroic signal of humanism and tried to stop the regime’s mass murder.
Living in the Third Reich: workers and women:
That the Nazi regime was not resented as a repressive dictatorship by a majority of Germans and actually offered many welcome innovations to the people should be clear by now. The economic recovery after 1933, the seeming restoration of order (however questionable), and a successful foreign policy created the feeling that things in Germany in the late thirties were much better than in the Weimar Republic. The Nazis, who were concerned about the workers (in particular the former Communists and Social Democrats) as their main opponents, did much to reconcile them.
Psychologically, Nazi propaganda instilled the workers with a sense of social pride. They were considered heroes in their workplaces, and Nazi rhetoric made sure that they would consider themselves a pillar of the Volksgemeinschaft (phrases such as the “nobility of work” suggested an obliteration of traditional class prejudice and difference). Social projects and leisure programs (Strength through Joy) gave the workers the opportunity to take holidays in Scandinavia, Italy, or Germany.
Hitler also promised a cheap car to every German (the Volkswagen, which means “people’s car”, at the price of 999 mark) and hoped to replace the big working-class apartment complexes by individual houses with a small piece of land for each family. These houses looked like a strange combination of suburban home and family farm, all done in old German style. This was an attempt to decentralize the workers and to bring them into closer contact with the “soil.” The Nazis believed that exposure to agricultural work would wean the workers of all remaining socialist striving. This decentralized rural housing, of course, made commuting necessary, and the Nazis considered cars important in this respect (because individual commuting would prevent the potentially seditious meeting of workers in the public trains and buses).
Nazi organizations also tried to give workers opportunities to improve their training and to advance socially. The Nazis also wooed the farmers, telling them that they would occupy a central place in the future Aryan state. Nazi ideology insisted that agricultural work was racially healthy and would be the way of the future. The Nazis were fascinated with modern technology, but they ultimately wanted to create a predominantly agricultural state, focusing on the bond of “blood and soil.”
The war rearranged priorities, so that few Germans ever got their promised Volkswagen or individual home during the Third Reich. But the regime’s social policies were successful nevertheless. Many working-class people even after the Second World War felt that the Nazis had — regardless of their criminal aspects — done a lot for them. Party organizations, among them the SS, offered fast careers to many people with limited education and money. In this context, historians have spoken of a “social revolution” in Nazi Germany. In terms of values, social prestige, and opportunities to advance, the Third Reich was probably more egalitarian than the Weimar Republic. It eliminated privileges of the Prussian aristocracy, for example, and destroyed some traditional class barriers.
In some respects, the engagement of the regime for the workers represents a striking continuity from Bismarck’s social legislation to the social welfare state of West Germany in the 1950s. The Nazis increased the state’s commitment to worker welfare and accepted the widespread demand of German workers that the state should play a decisive role in securing their jobs and standard of living.
In doing so, they walked in the footsteps of the German government of World War I and completed programs the Weimar cabinets had started. In the two Germanies after 1945, politicians were aware that the state could not back down from this role without losing the support of many workers. West Germany built up a social welfare state, making sure that nobody would be worse off than under the Nazis, and the East German communists until 1989 did all they could (however insufficiently) to keep the people satisfied in material terms. That this “paternalistic” attitude of the state is not as strong in today’s unified Germany than it was under the communist regime explains some of the anti-unification feeling in former East Germany today.
Nazi policies toward women carried many contradictions as well. In ideology, Nazis wanted women to stay home and breed as many children as possible. Mothers of four children or more got medals and were honored in ways similar to war veterans. The Nazis told women that their role as breeders of children and of a higher race was essential, and they seem to have instilled many of them with a sense of pride. Nazi organizations for girls and women, though not as comprehensive as their counterparts for boys and men, organized female Germans in mostly traditional roles. They nevertheless seem to have been rather popular and given many women a sense of mission and importance they had missed before 1933.
Professionally active women faced pressure to leave their jobs, especially if they were married. Education and skilled jobs for women became harder to get. Yet, these reactionary policies, which were hardly unpopular among women for reasons discussed above, soon conflicted with the demands of a rearmament economy. Around 1938 there was a lack of workers in Germany, and women were encouraged to join the work force. Around 1939 almost half of all working-age women were employed. The need for labor increased during the war. The Nazis made up for the missing men by using forced labor (prisoners of war, deported men, or concentration camp inmates) but also had to compromise their ideology further by drafting even more women into jobs.
One occasionally reads that this happened on a smaller scale than in Britain or the Soviet Union (hampering the German war effort), but the employment rate of German women was already exceptionally high in 1939, so that the potential for additional mobilization was limited during the war. The racism of Nazi ideology in some ways also empowered women and ascribed primary importance to them: as mothers, they were responsible for choosing a racially valuable mate and for breeding genetically healthy offspring. This and the extension of female employment (which was higher in 1939 than in West Germany during the 1980s) instilled many women with a sense of independence and importance that made them little concerned about lacking freedom.
Many historians therefore argue that Nazi Germany forms a continuity in the emancipation of women rather than a step back. Although women remained legally subordinate to men, faced discrimination in all upper-level jobs, and got lower pay than men, the opportunities for female employment were greater than in the Weimar Republic and partly greater than in postwar West Germany. But this was largely due to economic circumstances and happened in contradiction to official ideology.
German rule in Europe:
A final aspect that needs to be considered is German rule in the countries and territories occupied during the Second World War. In general, occupation policies in the west were milder than in the east, where the SS worked to realize Hitler’s bloody racial utopia. After the defeat in June 1940 France was separated into an occupied zone in the north and west and a formally independent unoccupied state. Alsace-Lorraine was annexed by Germany. Germany justified the occupation of parts of France with the necessity to fight the British, who were still at war. In the unoccupied south of France a conservative and authoritarian government under General Pétain, the popular defender of Verdun in 1916, established itself in Vichy. The Vichy regime legally had authority over all of France (and its colonies), but its power was particularly limited in the areas occupied by German troops.
The Vichy regime collaborated with the Germans, particularly after the end of 1942, when the German army occupied the rest of France fearing an Allied invasion after the defeat in North Africa. Under the cover of compliance, the Vichy regime did preserve some independence for France, but the latitude was small, and the price seems not to justify the results in retrospect. The Vichy legacy is painful for France even today, and the country has only reluctantly faced the large degree of collaboration that included even support for the Nazis’ Jewish policies. Resistance in France, as in many other German-occupied areas, arose on a larger scale only when the war obviously had turned and when German rule became more exploitative and repressive. Forced labor and other forms of German exploitation fueled broader popular resistance in France.
Similar dynamics characterized the other occupied countries in western and northern Europe. Resistance was partly successful in Norway and Denmark, but it is hard to deny that many Western and Northern Europeans accommodated themselves with the Nazi regime at least in 1940-42, believing that the Nazi empire would remain in place for the foreseeable future. In some places in Eastern Europe the Nazis even found allies. Slovakia and Croatia became reliable satellite states under authoritarian Catholic regimes. Their anti-Semitism made them help the implementation of the Holocaust.
Croatia left one of the bloodiest legacies of Germany’s satellites: without pressure from Germany the Croat regime established its own death camps and murdered thousands of Serbs and Jews. Serbia had strong partisan movements, one communist and one monarchist-conservative. The partisans managed to liberate their country even before the Red Army arrived, but there was much infighting. The fact that more people in Yugoslavia died as a result of infighting than as a result of German or Italian brutality (which took place on a considerable scale) shows that a Yugoslav civil war was taking place already during World War II.
The Czech part of occupied former Czechoslovakia remained loyal to the Germans until the murder of Heydrich, planned by the British, led to brutal German reprisals and consequently to greater resistance of the populace. Hungary and Rumania remained in the German sphere of dominance as nominal allies for most of the war but were occupied by German troops shortly before the Red Army arrived. Hungarian fascist units helped in the deportation of the Jews.
Poland and the Soviet Union, as the building ground for the Nazi racial utopia, were treated in totally different ways that have already been explained in the context of the war and the Holocaust. While extermination and large-scale resettlements were not the German policies outside Poland and the Soviet Union (except for the extermination of the Jews), reprisals against resisters and partisans made thousands of victims everywhere, and the growing exploitation of the occupied countries for the German war industry after 1942 built up massive resentment. In any case, the Nazi occupation throughout Europe left a legacy of hatred for all things German that in many respects can still be felt today, particularly among older people.
Modernism and the Nazis:
Was the Nazi regime a terrifying aspect of modernity or did it rise as a reaction to modernity? Historians have always been struck by the anti-modern and agrarian elements in Nazi ideology. Ultimately, the Nazis seemed to want to resettle the racially “purified” Germans on the vast lands of Eastern Europe. Like the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia they sometimes manifested hatred of intellectuals and suspicion of industrial work. Hitler’s writings reveal that he was obsessed with the coming of a new ice age that would threaten the survival of the human race. His racial policy aimed to make the German-Aryan race genetically as strong as possible, so that it would survive this extreme hardship.
Many other aspects of the Nazi regime show anti-modern trends as well, such as the aim to revert the individualization of modern society through the Volksgemeinschaft, the policies toward women, the Germanic cults of the SS (which, by the way, copied the organizational structure and hierarchy of the Jesuit order), and the conservative, classicist element in Nazi art and architecture (although this element strangely mixed with some “modern” forms developed during the Weimar Republic).
Nazism often defined its anti-modern stands by using the Jews as the epitome of modernity: they seemed urban, they had a low birthrate, they seemed tied to industry and commerce, and they represented avant-garde art and literature, modern science and so on. This kind of modernity had seemed to thrive in the Weimar Republic, not only among Jews. But Nazis, with other rightists, defined the Weimar Republic as “Judaized” and degenerate, representing the modernity they wanted to destroy.
The anti-modern aspects of the Nazi regime clashed with the needs of a military power in the modern world. Even many party members started to complain that Nazi education with its stress on physical strength and politically correct attitude was not conducive to making physicists and creative engineers. “Germanic” warriors, however strong, fierce, brutal, and obedient, could not win the war alone. The cult of muscular strength and Aryan breeding in Nazi schools stifled critical inquiry and intellectual skills.
This became apparent already during the war. It is safe to say that many Germans, even party members, did not take the regime’s agrarian cult too seriously; it became the target of many popular jokes. Certainly, Nazism can be seen as a reaction to the “crisis of classical modernity” apparent in the Weimar Republic, as historian Detlev Peukert has done.
But I think that modernity should not be defined simply as the progress of freedom, individualism, democracy, and industrial society. Nazi methods, particularly in propaganda and mass manipulation, were extremely effective and “modern.” Many social goals or achievements of the Nazi regime, moreover, have made it to contemporary lifestyle, for example the holidays and holiday trips for workers or the upgrading of car traffic through the building of highways and the promise of a car to every family. Ultimately, Nazi Germany with its industrially organized death machine seems to me a terrifying but very real potential of modernity, as was the Stalinist Soviet Union.
Go on to E.6.