The Washington Post
The Coming of the Third Reichby Richard J. Evans
"The clearest and most gripping account I've read of German life before and during the rise of the Nazis." —A. S Byatt, Times Literary Supplement
There is no story in twentieth-century history more important to understand than Hitler’s rise to power and the collapse of civilization in Nazi Germany. With The Coming of the Third/b>/i>
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"The clearest and most gripping account I've read of German life before and during the rise of the Nazis." —A. S Byatt, Times Literary Supplement
There is no story in twentieth-century history more important to understand than Hitler’s rise to power and the collapse of civilization in Nazi Germany. With The Coming of the Third Reich, Richard Evans, one of the world’s most distinguished historians, has written the definitive account for our time. A masterful synthesis of a vast body of scholarly work integrated with important new research and interpretations, Evans’s history restores drama and contingency to the rise to power of Hitler and the Nazis, even as it shows how ready Germany was by the early 1930s for such a takeover to occur. The Coming of the Third Reich is a masterwork of the historian’s art and the book by which all others on the subject will be judged.
The Washington Post
The last part of the book is a detailed, depressing account of Hitler's transformation of Germany in a few months in 1933, including the "cultural revolution" in which both Martin Heidegger and storm troopers played key roles. The Nazi "revolution," Evans concludes, was meant to be "the world-historical negation of its French predecessor," offering "a synthesis of the revolutionary and the restorative." Unconcerned with overthrowing the social system, Nazism focused on "race, culture and ideology"-and on creating "a dictatorship the like of which had never yet been seen."
"Richard J. Evans's The Coming of the Third Reich is an enormous work of synthesis—knowledgable and reliable." —Mark Mazower, New York Times Book Review
"[A] first-rate narrative history that informs and educates and may inspire readers to delve even deeper into the subject." —Booklist
“The generalist reader, it should be emphasized, is well served. …The book reads briskly, covers all important areas—social and cultural—and succeeds in its aim of giving “voice to the people who lived through the years with which it deals.” —Denver Post
“One finally puts down this magnificent volume thirsty, on the one hand, for the next installment in the Nazi saga yet still haunted by the questions Evan poses and so masterfully grapples with.” ―Abraham Brumberg, The Nation
“This first part of what will be Evans’ three-volume history of Hitler’s regime is the most comprehensive and convincing work so far on the gall of Weimar and Hitler’s rise to power.” ―Foreign Affairs
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The Coming of the Third Reich
By Richard J. Evans
Penguin BooksCopyright © 2005 Richard J. Evans
All right reserved.
Chapter Onethe legacy of
Is it wrong to begin with Bismarck? On several levels, he was a key figure in the coming of the Third Reich. For one thing, the cult of his memory in the years after his death encouraged many Germans to long for the return of the strong leadership his name represented. For another, his actions and policies in the mid-to-late nineteenth century helped create an ominous legacy for the German future. Yet in many ways he was a complex and contradictory figure, as much European as German, as much modern as traditional. Here, too, his example pointed forwards to the tangled mixture of the new and the old that was so characteristic of the Third Reich. It is worth calling to mind that a mere fifty years separated Bismarck's foundation of the German Empire in 1871 from the electoral triumphs of the Nazis in 1930-32. That there was a connection between the two seems impossible to deny. It was here, rather than in the remote religious cultures and hierarchical polities of the Reformation or the 'Enlightened Absolutism' of the eighteenth century, that we find the first real moment in German history which it is possible to relate directly to the coming of the Third Reich in 1933.
Born in 1815, Otto von Bismarck made his reputation as the wild man of German conservatism, given to brutal statements and violent actions, never afraid to state with forceful clarity what more cautious spirits were afraid to say out loud. Coming from a traditional, aristocratic background, rooted both in the Junker landowning class and the civil service nobility, he seemed to many to represent Prussianism in an extreme form, with all its virtues and vices. His domination over German politics in the second half of the nineteenth century was brutal, arrogant, complete. He could not conceal his contempt for liberalism, socialism, parliamentarism, egalitarianism and many other aspects of the modern world. Yet this seemed to do no harm to the almost mythical reputation he acquired after his death as the creator of the German Empire. On the centenary of his birth, in 1915, when Germany was in the midst of fighting the First World War, a humane liberal such as the historian Friedrich Meinecke could take comfort, even inspiration, from the image of the 'Iron Chancellor' as a man of force and power: 'It is the spirit of Bismarck', he wrote, 'which forbids us to sacrifice our vital interests and has forced us to the heroic decision to take up the prodigious struggle against East and West, to speak with Bismarck: "like a strong fellow, who has two good fists at his disposal, one for each opponent".' Here was the great and decisive leader whose lack many Germans felt acutely at this crucial juncture in their country's fortunes. They were to feel the absence of such a leader even more acutely in the years after the war ended.
Yet in reality Bismarck was a far more complex character than this crude image, fostered by his acolytes after his death. He was not the reckless, risk-taking gambler of later legend. Too few Germans subsequently remembered that it was Bismarck who was responsible for defining politics as 'the art of the possible.' He always insisted that his technique was to calculate the way events were going, then take advantage of them for his own purposes. He himself put it more poetically: 'A statesman cannot create anything himself. He must wait and listen until he hears the steps of God sounding through events; then leap up and grasp the hem of his garment'. Bismarck knew that he could not force events into any pattern that he wanted. If, then - to adopt another of his favourite metaphors - the art of politics consisted in navigating the ship of state along the stream of time, in what direction was that stream bowing in nineteenth-century Germany? For more than a millennium before the century began, Central Europe had been splintered into myriad autonomous states, some of them powerful and well organized, like Saxony and Bavaria, others small or medium-sized 'Free Cities', or tiny principalities and knighthoods which consisted of little more than a castle and a modestly sized estate. These were all gathered together in the so-called Holy Roman Reich of the German Nation, founded by Charlemagne in 800 and dissolved by Napoleon in 1806. This was the famous 'thousand-year Reich' which it ultimately became the Nazis' ambition to emulate. By the time it collapsed under the weight of Napoleon's invasions, the Reich was in a parlous condition; attempts to establish a meaningful degree of central authority had failed, and powerful and ambitious member states such as Austria and Prussia had tended increasingly to throw their weight around as if the Reich did not exist.
When the dust settled after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo in 1815, the European states set up a successor organization to the Reich in the form of the German Confederation, whose borders were roughly the same and included, as before, the German and Czech-speaking parts of Austria. For a while, the police system established across Central Europe by the Austrian Chancellor Prince Metternich successfully kept the lid on the boiling cauldron of liberal and revolutionary activity stirred up amongst an active minority of educated people before 1815 by the French. Yet by the middle of the 1840s, a new generation of intellectuals, lawyers, students and local politicians had grown dissatisfied with the situation. They came to believe that the quickest way to rid Germany of its many great and petty tyrannies was to sweep away the individual member states of the Confederation and replace them with a single German polity founded on representative institutions and guaranteeing the elementary rights and freedoms - freedom of speech, freedom of the press and so on - which were still denied in so many parts of Germany. Popular discontent generated by the poverty and starvation of the 'Hungry Forties' gave them their chance. In 1848, revolution broke out in Paris and bashed across Europe. Existing German governments were swept away and the liberals came to power.
The revolutionaries quickly organized elections in the Confederation, including Austria, and a national parliament duly assembled at Frankfurt. After much deliberation the deputies voted through a list of fundamental rights and established a German constitution along classic liberal lines. But they were unable to gain control over the armies of the two leading states, Austria and Prussia. This proved decisive. By the autumn of 1848, the monarchs and generals of the two states had recovered their nerve. They refused to accept the new constitution, and, after a wave of radical-democratic revolutionary activity swept across Germany the following spring, they forcibly dissolved the Frankfurt Parliament and sent its deputies home. The revolution was over. The Confederation was reestablished, and the leading revolutionaries were arrested, imprisoned or forced into exile. The following decade has been widely seen by historians as a period of deep reaction, when liberal values and civic freedoms were crushed under the iron heel of German authoritarianism.
Many historians have regarded the defeat of the 1848 Revolution as a crucial event in modern German history - the moment, in the historian A.J.P. Taylor's famous phrase, when 'German history reached its turning-point and failed to turn'. Yet Germany did not embark upon a straight or undeviating 'special path' towards aggressive nationalism and political dictatorship after 1848. There were to be many avoidable twists and turns along the way. To begin with, the fortunes of the liberals had undergone a dramatic transformation once more by the beginning of the 1860s. Far from being a complete return to the old order, the post-revolutionary settlement had sought to appease many of the liberals' demands while stopping short of granting either national unification or parliamentary sovereignty. Trial by jury in open court, equality before the law, freedom of business enterprise, abolition of the most objectionable forms of state censorship of literature and the press, the right of assembly and association, and much more, were in place almost everywhere in Germany by the end of the 1860s. And, crucially, many states had instituted representative assemblies in which elected deputies had freedom of debate and enjoyed at least some rights over legislation and the raising of state revenues.
It was precisely the last right that the resurgent liberals used in Prussia in 1862 to block the raising of taxes until the army was brought under the control of the legislature, as it had, fatally, not been in 1848. This posed a serious threat to the funding of the Prussian military machine. In order to deal with the crisis, the Prussian King appointed the man who was to become the dominant figure in German politics for the next thirty years - Otto von Bismarck. By this time, the liberals had correctly decided that there was no chance of Germany uniting, as in 1848, in a nation-state that included German-speaking Austria. That would have meant the break-up of the Habsburg monarchy, which included huge swathes of territory, from Hungary to Northern Italy, that lay outside the boundaries of the German Confederation, and included many millions of people who spoke languages other than German. But the liberals also considered that following the unification of Italy in 1859-60, their time had come. If the Italians had managed to create their own nation-state, then surely the Germans would be able to do so as well.
Bismarck belonged to a generation of European politicians, like Benjamin Disraeli in Britain, Napoleon III in France or Camillo Cavour in Italy, who were prepared to use radical, even revolutionary means to achieve fundamentally conservative ends. He recognized that the forces of nationalism were not to be gainsaid. But he also saw that after the frustrations of 1848, many liberals would be prepared to sacrifice at least some of their liberal principles on the altar of national unity to get what they wanted. In a series of swift and ruthless moves, Bismarck allied with the Austrians to seize the disputed duchies of Schleswig-Holstein from the Kingdom of Denmark, then engineered a war over their administration between Prussia and Austria which ended in complete victory for the Prussian forces. The German Confederation collapsed, to be followed by the creation of a successor institution without the Austrians or their south German allies, named by Bismarck for want of a more imaginative term the North German Confederation. Immediately, the majority of the Prussian liberals, sensing that the establishment of a nation-state was just around the corner, forgave Bismarck for his policy (pursued with sublime disdain for parliamentary rights over the previous four years) of collecting taxes and funding the army without parliamentary approval. They cheered him on as he engineered another war, with the French, who rightly feared that the creation of a united Germany would spell the end of the predominance in European power-politics which they had enjoyed over the past decade and a half.
The crushing of the French armies at Sedan and elsewhere was followed by the proclamation of a new German Empire, in the Hall of Mirrors at the former French royal palace of Versailles. Built by Louis XIV, the 'Sun King', at the height of his power nearly two hundred years before, the palace was now turned into a humiliating symbol of French impotence and defeat. This was a key moment in modern German and indeed European history. To liberals, it seemed the fulfilment of their dreams. But there was a heavy price for them to pay. Several features of Bismarck's creation had ominous consequences for the future. First of all, the decision to call the new state 'the German Reich' inevitably conjured up memories of its thousand-year predecessor, the dominant power in Europe for so many centuries. Some, indeed, referred to Bismarck's creation as the 'Second Reich'. The use of the word implied, too, that where the First Reich had failed, in the face of French aggression, the Second had succeeded. Among the many aspects of his creation that survived the fall of Bismarck's German Reich in 1918, the continued use of the term 'German Empire', Deutsches Reich, by the Weimar Republic and all its institutions was far from being the least significant. The word 'Reich' conjured up an image among educated Germans that resonated far beyond the institutional structures Bismarck created: the successor to the Roman Empire; the vision of God's Empire here on earth; the universality of its claim to suzerainty; in a more prosaic but no less powerful sense, the concept of a German state that would include all German speakers in Central Europe - 'one People, one Reich, one Leader', as the Nazi slogan was to put it. There always remained those in Germany who thought Bismarck's creation only a partial realization of the idea of a true German Reich. Initially, their voices were drowned by the euphoria of victory. But with time, their number was to grow.
The constitution which Bismarck devised for the new German Reich in 1871 in many ways fell far short of the ideals dreamed of by the liberals in 1848. Alone of all modern German constitutions, it lacked any declaration of principle about human rights and civic freedoms. Formally speaking, the new Reich was a loose confederation of independent states, much like its predecessor had been. Its titular head was the Emperor or Kaiser, the title taken over from the old head of the Holy Roman Reich and ultimately deriving from the Latin name 'Caesar'. He had wide-ranging powers including the declaration of war and peace. The Reich's institutions were stronger than those of the old, with a nationally elected parliament, the Reichstag - the name, deriving from the Holy Roman Reich, was another survival across the revolutionary divide of 1918 - and a number of central administrative institutions, most notably the Foreign Office, to which more were added as time went on. But the constitution did not accord to the national parliament the power to elect or dismiss governments and their ministers, and key aspects of political decision-making, above all on matters of war and peace, and on the administration of the army, were reserved to the monarch and his immediate entourage. Government ministers, including the head of the civilian administration, the Reich Chancellor - an office created by Bismarck and held by him for some twenty years - were civil servants, not party politicians, and they were beholden to the Kaiser, and not to the people or to their parliamentary representatives. With time, the influence of the Reichstag grew, though not by very much.
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What People are Saying About This
"Richard J. Evans's The Coming of the Third Reich is an enormous work of synthesis—knowledgable and reliable..."—Mark Mazower in the New York Times Book Review
"[A] first-rate narrative history that informs and educates and may inspire readers to delve even deeper into the subject."—Booklist
“The generalist reader, it should be emphasized, is well served. …The book reads briskly, covers all important areas—social and cultural—and succeeds in its aim of giving “voice to the people who lived through the years with which it deals.”—Denver Post
“One finally puts down this magnificent volume thirsty, on the one hand, for the next installment in the Nazi saga yet still haunted by the questions Evan poses and so masterfully grapples with.”―Abraham Brumberg, The Nation
“This first part of what will be Evans’ three-volume history of Hitler’s regime is the most comprehensive and convincing work so far on the gall of Weimar and Hitler’s rise to power.”―Foreign Affairs
Meet the Author
Richard J. Evans was born in London and educated at Oxford University. He has taught at Columbia University and Birkbeck, University of London, and since 2014 has been the Regius Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Cambridge. His many publications include an acclaimed three-volume history of the Third Reich and a recent collection of essays, The Third Reich in History and Memory. A Fellow of the British Academy and the Royal Society of Literature, he is a past winner of the Wolfson History Prize, and was twice a History Honoree at the Los Angeles Times Book Awards. In 2012 he was appointed Knight Bachelor in the Queen’s Birthday Honors List, for services to scholarship.
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This is a well-written and informative book that I would recommend over some lengthy 'and drier' volumes on the subject 'e.g. The Rise and Fall of Nazi Germany'. Richard Evans' book follows the rise of German fanatical nationalism from the early Weimar years to the Nazi's assumption of state power in 1933. However, he starts his analysis by examining the roots of authoritarian politics 'monarchist, nationalist, authoritarian, conservative' in Wilhelmine Germany. In essence, like so many other nations in the early 20th Century Germany faced a bewildering array of change in lifestyle, technology, and economics. And like many nations to the present, many people clung to the reassuring steadiness of conservatism in turbulent times. Where social democrats and moderates were interested in promoting personal freedoms and rights, the conservatives opted to focus on retaining economic and political power combined with financial and social stability. In a country torn apart by an undeclared civil war in 1918-1919, the choice was a difficult one. And it was a compromise - superficial moderate social democrat rule reliant on dangerously ambivalent and authoritarian military support. And yet, this need not have led to Nazi Germany. The one man who would lead Germany down that path spent the early Weimar years observing the anarchic, democratic, and economic disasters unfolding before his eyes. Convinced 'like many other Germans' that Germany's greatness was being subsumed by malign foreign influences, he decided to join in the political fray. Shortly after joining the German Worker's Party, he discovered 'and practiced' his tremendous public-speaking abilities. As the party's main draw at all its assemblies, Hitler demanded and won uncontested leadership of the party, thus instituting 'the leadership principle' which Germany itself would hold a decade later. Since most Germans wouldn't have been to a Baptist sermon, Hitler's emotional and dramatic speeches were a unique, entertaining, and compelling performance. His was a searingly ruthless nationalistic and ethnic belief, though. Evans recounts how Hitler, like any good professional speaker, adjusts his message according to his audience. Speaking with workers, he promised more jobs and to free up those held by anti-Germans 'i.e. communists, Jews, etc.'. When speaking with business leaders, he offered control over many workers and a competing dogma to worrisome communism. When speaking with the middle classes, he offered a return to stability, prosperity, and German greatness. But unlike most modern-day politicians, he also had a violently effective weapon immediately at hand, the Brownshirts, to follow his orders. 'This tradition was common among political parties at the time, though.' And though bent on authoritism, Hitler used all the modern technology available to successfully spread his gospel - airplanes, radio, films. And he needed to do so, as it turned out that the earliest enthusiastic Nazi supporters were located in hard-to-reach conservative rural areas and small towns across Germany. Hitler also realized the importance of pageantry and ritual, such as awe-inspiring assemblies and dramatic torchlight parades, keying in on many people's psychological need of being part of something greater than themselves. And Hitler successfully used these tactics throughout his rise from political oblivion to the threshold of power. However, after the Nazis' great election victories in the early 1930's, the Communists and Social Democrats caught on by successfully copying the Nazi's PR tactics. At this point, Hitler began to intrigue with Weimar officials to inveigle his way into power, despite holding less than a majority in the Reichstag. After some near-run victories by the Communists, the Weimar leaders sought Hitler's support in forming a gov't. Hitler refused to accept anything less than the leading position - the Chancellorship - which he won.