Pub. Date:
Taylor & Francis
Hitler's Germany: An Interpretative History

Hitler's Germany: An Interpretative History

by Roderick Stackelberg


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780415201148
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Publication date: 04/28/1999
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.25(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.75(d)
Lexile: 1490L (what's this?)

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Chapter One

Fascism and the conservative tradition

Fascist ideology, constituency,
and conditions for its growth

National Socialism may be best understood as a radical and peculiarly German form of fascism, a movement and ideology that gained millions of adherents in many European countries in the era of the two world wars of the twentieth century. The term "fascism" was first used in early 1919 by the former socialist Benito Mussolini who had left the Italian Socialist Party in protest against their anti-war policy in the First World War. The name was derived from the Latin fasces, the ceremonial bundle of rods and an axe that symbolized the unity and power of the Roman Empire. Mussolini turned his National Fascist Party into a militantly nationalist organization that attacked the "weakness" of liberal democracy. Its chief target, however, was the international socialist movement reinvigorated and radicalized by the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in late 1917. Movements similar to Italian Fascism emerged all over Europe in the years that followed, particularly in Germany, Spain, Portugal, Romania, Hungary, and Croatia, but also in Poland, western Europe, and even in the US, where, however, fascist ideas never became dominant. Fascist movements inevitably differed from one another because each was dedicated to the revival of its own particular national culture. Thus Italian Fascists evoked the glory of ancient Rome while German Nazis extolled the splendor of the medieval Hohenstaufen Empire as well as the mythical past of the Nordictribes who first settled northern Europe. But all fascist movements shared certain political values, beliefs, and methods, and common enemies.

Historical antecedents

Although fascism was a twentieth-century movement that developed in the specific circumstances of Europe after the First World War, its roots lie in the nineteenth century. To understand fascism, it is helpful to examine its historical antecedents and genealogy, which may be traced back to the great French Revolution that began in 1789. Out of this extraordinary convulsion there emerged the three major political ideologies that viewed the Revolution in very different ways and competed for power and dominance in European countries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These ideologies, though by no means monolithic or unchanging, may be broadly designated as conservative (or monarchist), liberal, and socialist, respectively. The strength of each ideology differed widely from country to country, as did its internal unity. In some countries, differences on specific policy priorities led to the formation of more than one political party within each ideological camp. Although these ideological movements and their political programs changed over time (which accounts for why the terms "conservative," "liberal," and "socialist" so frequently cause confusion today), each movement subscribed to certain fundamental goals and values that put it in conflict with the other two ideologies.

Monarchical conservatism

Today the term "conservative" is often used in a very general sense to describe a cautious political style. "Conservatism" as the designation for a broad ideological movement in nineteenth-century continental Europe means more than merely a cautious attitude toward political change, however; it stands for a substantive political doctrine and set of values that few conservatives share today. Nineteenth-century European conservatives viewed the French Revolution with loathing and disdain. In France conservatives sought to reverse the changes it had brought about and to restore the ancien régime (the pre-revolutionary monarchical system). In other countries conservatives sought to preserve the old order against the onslaught of revolutionary ideas. Conservatives favored a strong hereditary monarchy, aristocratic privilege (special rights for elite groups), and an established (i.e. state-supported) Church. They believed in a divinely appointed natural order of authority and subordination. They desired a strong state that would mold character and use censorship and surveillance to uphold timeless moral and religious standards. Quite unlike American and British conservatives today, who advocate a free market economy, nineteenth-century continental European conservatives favored an economy organized and regulated to enhance the power of the state. They valued unity, authority, order, hierarchy, duty, and discipline, for which a powerful monarch provided the best guarantee. The main support for monarchical conservatism came from aristocrats and untitled elites who benefited or hoped to benefit from their roles in a monarchical system, but conservatism also drew support from rural populations distrustful of changes in traditional practices or of challenges to traditional mores.


Liberals, on the other hand, supported the French Revolutionary call for individual liberty and limitations on the arbitrary power of the monarchical state. Liberalism is historically defined by three major commitments: commitment to civil liberties or human rights, including freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of worship; commitment to a constitutional and representative form of government (entailing a separation of powers and an elected legislature); and commitment to private property and free economic activity. England developed a liberal system after the defeat of Stuart absolutism in the late seventeenth century, and the United States has never known any other system (which is one reason why many Americans have difficulty understanding European monarchical conservatism and the system of aristocratic privilege). In France liberal institutions did not emerge until the Revolution. In Germany the liberal movement was much weaker and monarchical conservatism correspondingly stronger than in western Europe for reasons that will be examined in more detail in Chapter 2.

    Even in France the struggle of liberals against absolute monarchy was not definitively settled in the great Revolution, as conservatives sought to salvage or restore as much of the absolutist system as seemed feasible under the changed post-revolutionary conditions. The conservative restoration after the overthrow of Napoleon in 1815 extended the struggle into the nineteenth century and led to renewed revolutionary outbreaks in Europe in 1830 and 1848. Liberalism originally defined itself by its opposition to the overweening monarchical state, which had led John Locke to enunciate his famous liberal principle: "That government is best which governs least." For early liberals the sole function of the state was the protection of life, liberty, and property (or, in Thomas Jefferson's words, "the pursuit of happiness"). Liberals advocated individual rights, a secular (nonreligious) state, equality of opportunity for all citizens, and equality under law. They sought to replace the absolutist system of privilege based on birth with a system of opportunity based on talent or merit. They believed in the possibility, indeed the inevitability, of progress, both social and technological, through the use of human reason. Liberalism drew its main support from the rising middle class of business and professional people (the bourgeoisie) — people of "common" birth but often of considerable wealth or property who chafed under their lack of freedom and political representation in absolutist monarchies.


Toward the middle and late nineteenth century, as continuing industrialization led to the rapid growth of a new industrial working class and an organized labor movement, many self-styled liberals came to see socialism and the extension of democratic rights to the working class as a greater threat to their interests than weakened monarchical absolutism. The socialist movement formed the third great political ideology of the nineteenth century. Its modern origins may be located in the radical phase of the French Revolution. For socialists, equality, even more than liberty, became the overriding revolutionary ideal. It is partly in response to socialist pressures that many countries, including the United States, eventually introduced changes that transformed free-market liberalism into the modern liberal system sometimes referred to as the "welfare state" (which is one reason why the term "liberal" is today, in the US, associated with support for the welfare state, while supporters of nineteenth-century free-market principles are generally labeled "conservative." In the context of the great European ideologies of the nineteenth century, however, American "conservatives" are merely conservative liberals. Because most Americans support its liberal institutions [separation of powers and elected legislatures] the political debate in the US is almost entirely fought out within the liberal camp.)

    The defining characteristic of socialism, as formulated by its leading theoretician, Karl Marx, is the elimination of private property in the means of production (commerce, industry, finance, agriculture, and natural resources). It is this fundamental principle that distinguishes socialism from all forms of liberalism, including the "welfare state." According to socialist belief, only the socialization or nationalization (state ownership) of wealth-creating property can assure the equality of condition (i.e. economic equality) that the liberal principles of equality of opportunity and equality under law cannot guarantee because they do not prevent the strong from economically exploiting the weak in the free marketplace.

    Most continental European socialist parties in the nineteenth century called themselves "social democratic." From their point of view socialism was the most democratic system because it extended equal economic benefits to all members of society. Alter the Russian Revolution in 1917, the cataclysmic event that produced the first socialist state in history, hard-line socialists under Lenin adopted the label "communist" to distinguish themselves from social democrats who wanted to combine a socialist economy with a democratic form of government. Leninists believed that only an authoritarian political structure and one-party rule could successfully impose and defend a socialist economy under the conditions of early twentieth-century Europe. European Marxism was thus torn between the social-democratic and the Soviet communist models, and adherents of these two different forms of Marxism became bitter foes. In the Cold War between the liberal West and the socialist Soviet Union after the Second World War, European social democrats abandoned their commitment to socialism (the public ownership of the means of production) in favor of democratic process and welfare-state liberalism.

The left-right political spectrum

Historians usually describe the great nineteenth-century ideologies of conservatism, liberalism, and socialism with the help of a conceptual model that places these movements on a continuum from right to left in accordance to their preference for the hierarchical status quo (the right) or liberalizing and equalizing reform (the left). At the end of the twentieth century, with the eclipse of both the historical left (socialism) and the historical right (monarchical conservatism), the categories of "left" and "right" no longer seem as clearly definable as they were at the beginning of the century. The left-right distinction also seems dated today because of the new prominence of environmental issues, partially supplanting questions of economic distribution on which the left-right distinction has historically been based. A fundamental assumption of nineteenth-century industrial capitalism and its socialist critics — that continuous economic accumulation and expansion is possible — may no longer obtain today. Yet the left-right distinction retains its usefulness for understanding the fundamental goals and values of political movements in the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries.

    The left-right terminology originated in the National Convention of the French Revolution. The more revolutionary factions sat to the left of the presiding chair, the more conservative deputies sat on the right. Deputies on the left favored reforms leading to greater liberty and equality, deputies on the right preferred more traditional arrangements and less radical change. On the far left were movements that favored enforced economic equality; on the far right were royalists who wanted to restore aristocratic privilege and the absolute power of the monarchy.

    Equality was the fundamental value that determined the location of movements on the political spectrum. The greater the commitment to achieving full equality, the further to the left that movement was situated in the perception of contemporaries. The left advocated progress toward a more democratic society, the right stood for the maintenance or restoration of traditional hierarchies and social relations. On the extremes of the spectrum were those factions that advocated revolution — whether, on the left, to achieve equality and break down hierarchy or, on the right, to restore hierarchy and prevent equality.

    What complicates this conceptual model, however, is the contradiction between revolutionary ends and means that emerged in practice after the Russian Revolution in 1917. For Bolsheviks (communists) on the far left the commitment to egalitarian social revolution was so great that virtually any means — violence, demagoguery, terrorism, dictatorship — seemed acceptable for the achievement of their ends. This readiness to resort to extreme methods leads to the paradox, frequently observable in history, that the radical methods of revolutionaries of the left often undermined their proclaimed egalitarian and democratic goals.

Fascism as a movement of the far right

Because fascists, too, stopped at nothing in the pursuit of their ends, their methods and revolutionary rhetoric often resembled (sometimes deliberately so) those of their opponents on the extreme left. From the perspective of liberals, who value individual freedom and democratic process more than either economic equality or racial hierarchy, the similarities between extremist movements on left and right may even seem to outweigh the differences, and liberals often lump fascism and communism together under the heading "totalitarianism." Because fascists often appropriated the vocabulary of socialism to enhance their appeal to industrial workers, many scholars have chosen to describe the fascist program as a mixture of "right" and "left." In terms of their fundamental goals, nowever, the crucial determinant of location on the political spectrum if "left" and "right" are to retain their conceptual usefulness, fascism and communism belong on opposite extremes. It is helpful to conceptualize fascism as an extreme right-wing movement not only because it was dedicated to the destruction of Marxism and communism (after all, two movements of the extreme left, Chinese Maoism and Soviet Communism, could also be violently opposed to each other), but because of its fundamental opposition to the value of equality. Fascists regarded egalitarianism in any form, but particularly in the form of racial equality, as the source of the ruination of humankind. It was this opposition to equality and democracy that made fascists so congenial to the traditional right-wing elites on whose help they depended to obtain power. In the perception of its contemporaries, fascism was a movement of the far right.

    Location on the political spectrum is, of course, crucially dependent on the vantage point of the observer. Liberals of the Anglo-American and western European parliamentary tradition were perceived as "leftists" by continental European conservatives in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but they were perceived as "rightists" by socialists or communists. Liberals can legitimately lay claim to the center of the ideological spectrum, for although committed to equality of opportunity and equality under law, both of which were anathema to right-wing hard-liners, liberals oppose the infringement on personal liberty and freedom of choice that the left-wing effort to ensure full social and economic equality (through the abolition of private property, in the case of socialism or communism) necessarily entails. From the perspective of the far right before 1945, however, committed as they were to privilege on the basis of birth or race, liberalism and socialism appeared to be related by virtue of their commitment to some form of equality or democracy. It is no coincidence that Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy fought against both the liberal West and the socialist Soviet Union in the Second World War.

    After the destruction of European fascism in 1945, liberal and socialist societies were ranged against each other as mortal adversaries in a Cold War that ended with the collapse of communism in the 1990s. Because of the Cold War and its aftermath the historical affinity of liberalism and socialism as movements that emanated from the Enlightenment and the democratic revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is less obvious today than it was to earlier generations. Despite their fundamental difference in respect to private property, however, both movements shared a commitment to the "democratic" values of the French Revolution, though liberals exalted personal liberty while socialists gave precedence to social equality. Nineteenth-century liberals were not necessarily democrats, if democracy is defined by universal suffrage. But they certainly wished to "democratize" the absolutist monarchies of pre-revolutionary Europe.

    Fascism, on the other hand, may be viewed as the radical culmination of the movement to resist the emancipatory and egalitarian currents emanating from the French Revolution and accelerated by the Industrial Revolution. Throughout the nineteenth century, conservative elites, nostalgic for the social privileges of the prerevolutionary ancien régime, fought a rearguard battle against democracy, a struggle that became more radical as industrialization increased the pressures for democratic participation and reform. Against the revolutionary ideals of liberty and equality, aristocratic conservatives invoked the traditional institutions of a strong central monarchy and privilege based on birth.

    Continental European conservatives opposed the social consequences that industrialization invariably entailed: the transfer of wealth and power from the landed aristocracy to the industrial and commercial middle class, and the growth of an industrial working class increasingly conscious of its own specific interests. Of course, middle-class liberals and working-class adherents of socialism were increasingly at odds with each other as well in the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth centuries. But from the point of view of unreconstructed opponents of the French revolutionary tradition, both movements shared an invidious dedication to liberalizing or leveling change. Fascists, the radical twentieth-century heirs to the anti-revolutionary tradition, viewed liberals, despite liberal dedication to private property, as the culprits who unwittingly or deliberately opened the floodgates to the advancing Red tide.

The relationship of fascism to traditional conservatism

This ideal-type reconstruction of the genealogy of fascism in terms of the historical conflict between right and left cannot do full justice to a complex reality in which individuals frequently change their political allegiance, and political movements share overlapping characteristics and aims. Many early fascists, including Mussolini, came from the left and brought with them — despite their disillusionment with left-wing policies — a revolutionary mentality and populist sympathies. One must be careful not to tar nineteenth-century conservatism with the fascist brush, nor to exculpate fascists by equating their more radical aims and methods with those of traditional conservatives. Fascists were certainly not conservative in the sense of wishing to defend existing institutions or return to the failed nineteenth century; rather they worked with radical fervor for a change of course that would root out the corruptions of modernity (foremost among them the movements of the left) and prepare the ground for national and racial regeneration. But one can hardly make sense of fascism if one tails to place this movement in the historical context of the long struggle waged by European conservatives against democracy of both the liberal and socialist varieties. In an article in the Nazi Party newspaper Völkischer Beobachter on 6 June 1936 Hitler called himself "the most conservative revolutionary in the world."

    Fascists were quite different from traditional conservatives in morals and temperament, but they carried on the conservative campaign against democracy, albeit in very activist ways: they did so in the radical fashion required for success in an age of mass politics. It is no accident that in the countries where fascists came to power, they did so with the indispensable support of conservative elites. Fascists shared with traditional conservatives not only their opposition to liberal or social democracy, but also their attachment to authoritarianism, nationalism, militarism, the aristocratic concepts of rank, pedigree, and birthright, and the martial virtues of heroism, courage, duty, obedience, discipline, and self-sacrifice.

The relationship of fascism to communism

In their fundamental goals and values, fascists and communists were fundamentally opposed to each other. Just as twentieth-century communism is ideologically linked to the nineteenth-century socialist tradition, so fascism represents a radicalized strand of the European conservative tradition. The inherent elitism of aristocratic conservatism made it difficult for conservatives to gain the kind of mass support needed to continue to wield power in an age of representative government and popular suffrage. To compete successfully with the new middle- and working-class parties that emerged in Europe in the latter part of the nineteenth or early part of the twentieth centuries, conservative groups increasingly experimented with various techniques of mass appeal, some of them pioneered by the left-wing parties they opposed. In fascism, the most radical experiment in mass mobilization for anti-democratic ends, these techniques were perfected to an unprecedented degree. If they bore a strong resemblance to the techniques of the radical left, this is not surprising, for fascists set out to combat communists with their own weapons. To compete effectively with socialists and communists for worker support fascists sought to adopt socialist slogans and symbols for their own ends. Fascist mobilization of the masses through propaganda, mass rallies, paramilitary formations, and orchestrated violence transgressed against traditional standards of political conduct in much the same way that communist practices did.

The fascist constituency

Yet the segment of the population from which fascism drew its maximum support turned out to be not industrial workers (who were under-represented both in fascist parties and in their electoral constituencies), but rather the numerically large lower middle-class groups, such as white-collar employees and small proprietors, including peasant-farmers, who feared the loss of their property and status, such as it was, if the socialist labor movement should become dominant. The fascist mass constituency included malcontents from all classes, including non-unionized and unemployed workers, but fascism primarily attracted groups such as small shop owners, self-employedcraftsmen, and subsistence farmers who feared both organized labor and the competition of big business in an unregulated economy. To occupation groups whose livelihood seemed threatened in an increasingly industrial society, fascism seemed to offer a "third way" between a socialism that favored wage-earning workers and a liberal capitalism that favored the rich. While fascists defended property rights and a competitive economy, they rejected the capitalist ethos of valuing private profit above the good of the nation as a whole. Nonetheless, fascism gained at least the tacit support of economic elites fearful of the labor movement and liberalizing social change. Fascism appealed especially to groups to whom socialism and liberalism seemed only to offer the prospect of economic and social decline.


Through nationalism and racialism fascists sought to counter liberal and socialist appeals. Here, too, fascists were the heirs of a radical nationalism harnessed to the conservative cause in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Modern nationalism had originated as a democratic movement in the French Revolution. Democratic revolutionaries exalted the welfare of the nation above the narrow interests of the royal dynasty. But by the end of the nineteenth century nationalism had become a vehicle of conservative politics in Europe. The process by which nationalism, traditionally supported by liberals, was exploited by conservatives to weaken liberalism differed in each country, but was particularly pronounced in Germany and Italy, where national aspirations for unity had been frustrated for decades.

    Nationalism lent itself readily to the struggle against liberalism and socialism. From a nationalistic perspective these movements could be condemned as selfish, materialistic, and anti-national. Conservative nationalists accused liberals of giving the selfish profit motive and individual rights priority over the interests of the nation. Socialists, on the other hand, could be condemned for their selfish pursuit of the interests of a single class, the proletariat, and for their potentially treasonous advocacy of worker solidarity across national boundaries. Nationalists called for the subordination of individual and class interests to the interests of the national community.

    Nationalism and racism were particularly well-suited to mobilizing mass support for illiberal ends, because they diverted popular energies from demands for reform and structural social change. Nationalists denounced liberal and socialist advocates of reform for supposedly undermining the unity of the nation by pitting individuals against each other or inciting class against class. Nationalism provided a way of integrating lower income groups into an hierarchical social structure by offering them membership in a powerful national community as psychological compensation for the lack of material improvement in their lives. From the nationalist perspective the tycoon and the wage laborer, notwithstanding the differences in their material conditions, were by virtue of their common ethnic origins equally honored members of the national or racial community, each contributing their specific services (albeit for very different remuneration) to the overriding national cause. Distributional conflicts about property and income resulting from liberal or socialist reform efforts could be made to seem petty, selfish, and anti-national. In fascism the demagogic possibilities of nationalism were exploited to their fullest potential. Fascism generated a kind of egalitarian consciousness of national or racial comradeship to compensate for the lack of true social or economic equality.

Preconditions for the rise of fascism

The social and economic roots of fascism lie in the nineteenth century, but it is the specific conditions of the twentieth century that made possible its rise and triumph in Italy and Germany. Fascist movements of varying strengths emerged in all European countries in the 1920s and 1930s (and in the United States as well in the form of movements like the Ku Klux Klan and the ideas of radio preacher Father Coughlin). The only exception was the Soviet Union, which, however, underwent the ordeal of Stalinist dictatorship in the same period.

1 Thwarted nationalism

Three major factors fostered the growth of fascism in the era after the "Great War." The first factor was thwarted national aspirations. Fascism in Italy and National Socialism in Germany fed on the frustrations of nationalists who deplored the failure of their country to achieve the glorious objectives for which they had entered the war. Nowhere was disillusionment greater than in defeated Germany. But in Italy, too, which had fought on the victorious side, nationalist disillusionment with a peace settlement that failed to award Italy its promised territorial spoils in the Balkans promoted Mussolini's cause.

    Fascists and Nazis thought of themselves as continuing the war at home to a more successful conclusion. The enemies now were the internationalist, pacifist, and democratic forces that supposedly weakened and betrayed the nation in its contest with other nations. The war itself had provided a training ground for mobilizing the nation in a unified cause. The army, with its ethos of discipline and unquestioning obedience, served as the model for fascist organization. Disgruntled veterans returning from the front provided the manpower for fascist parties and paramilitary formations such as the Free Corps in Germany, Hitler's SA, and Mussolini's Fasci di combattimento.

2 A perceived threat from the left

The second and in some ways most important factor in the rise of fascism was the challenge posed by the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917. Fascism represented a violent backlash against the extraordinary threat that Marxist socialism seemed to present to traditional European institutions now that it enjoyed, for the first time in history, a national power base. Fascist parties were founded in the aftermath of the world war to offer workers an alternative to Marxist socialism and to lure them into the national camp; their proclaimed mission was to eliminate the radical left by "fighting fire with fire." It was mainly this anti-Marxist function that attracted the support of traditional conservatives and even some conservatively minded liberals, who in Italy and Germany gave the fascists the aid they needed to obtain power.

    Fascists were particularly valued as allies in situations where the left threatened to gain power. They also benefited from the popular perception that liberals and traditional conservatives were too squeamish and genteel for the task of combating the revolutionary threat from the left. Where conservative elites were deeply entrenched and strong enough to suppress the left on their own, as in southeastern Europe, fascists were dispensable and fascist parties were correspondingly weak. Fascism was also weak in countries with strong liberal systems, such as western Europe and the United States, where democratic institutions proved adaptable enough to meet the challenge of the radical left without surrendering to the radical right.

3 Economic difficulties

Neither thwarted nationalism nor militant anti-communism might have resulted in the triumph of fascism in Italy and Germany if it had not been for a third major precondition for fascist success: economic contraction and depression. It is unlikely that Hitler would have obtained power legally if the economy of Weimar Germany had not been gravely weakened by the Great Depression. Mussolini, too, benefited from the social strife that economic hardship precipitated in Italy after the First World War. The services of his strike-breaking squadristi would not have been needed in a time of labor peace.

    It is not surprising that the same conditions of scarcity and inequity that give rise to revolutionary movements on the left should also spawn counter-revolution on the right. Nothing radicalized members of the middle classes to a greater degree than the prospect of continued economic decline and the threat of a lower-class revolution. Just as economic crisis tended to radicalize wage-earning workers to the left, so people with status or property to defend were radicalized to the right. Fascism offered the promise of radical but non-Marxist solutions to the problems of capitalist economies at a time when the laissez-faire principles of classical liberalism seemed to hold out less and less hope for the "common man." If communists offered a way out of economic crisis through the abolition of private property, fascists offered a way out through the revival of national power.

Fascism defined

It may be useful at this point to risk a working definition of fascism, always bearing in mind that concrete manifestations invariably deviate to some extent from the "ideal type." The rise of fascism can be best understood in the context of the great social transformations brought about by the democratic and industrial revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and accelerated by the First World War. Fascism was a political movement (and later a system of rule) to generate mass support by radical and violent means for anti-democratic and counter-revolutionary ends. It gained its adherents mainly among those groups that stood to lose ground as a result of the continued growth of movements identifying progress not only with technological advance, which fascists favored as well, but with increased democratization and the more equitable distribution of material goods. Fascist ideology invoked the virtues of nationalism, authoritarianism, and militarism against the revolutionary values of liberty and equality.

    If, nonetheless, there were substantial differences among the various national versions of fascism, this is in large part due to the fact that it is in the nature of all nationalisms to glorify their own inherited institutions and traditions. As a radical defense of their ethnic customs and traditions against the challenges of modernity and contamination from outside, fascism always appeared to embody the cultural traditions of the country in which it took hold. Thus Italian Fascists looked to the Roman imperial past for inspiration, while National Socialists exalted Germanic tribalism, and leaders of the Ku Klux Klan idealized the "slave-holder democracy" of the pre-Civil War South. So strong are nationalist loyalties among fascists, in fact, that some French fascists joined the resistance when Germany occupied France in 1940.

    The radicalism of fascist movements was often linked to the scale of the perceived threat from the left. A form of racism and xenophobia was common to all fascist movements. Their search for ethnic purity led to their rejection of racial mixing and racial equality. But anti-Semitism often varied in proportion to the popular perception of Jews as leaders and beneficiaries of the progressive movements that fascists set out to destroy. Although the radical dynamic of fascism eventually led to the destruction of traditional institutions and class structure in the Second World War, this unintended denouement should not obscure the roots of fascism in the nineteenth-century opposition to liberal and social democracy. All fascist movements shared in common a determination to reverse the modern trend toward greater democratization. Insofar as traditional institutions, such as the aristocracy, proved inadequate to or uncooperative in this task, they, too, were sacrificed to fascist counter-revolution.

    Why did the most extreme and virulent fascist movement emerge in Germany? And why did this radical variant of fascism succeed in gaining power in Germany while fascist movements in most other countries did not? The peculiarities of German history may help to provide answers to these questions.

Table of Contents

Introduction: the problems of writing about National Socialism1
1 Fascism and the conservative tradition: fascist ideology,
constituency, and conditions for its growth12
2 The problem of German unity: absolutism and particularism24
3 The German Empire: the containment of democracy, social
imperialism, and the road to war33
4 Germanic ideology: nationalism, vulgarized idealism, and
5 The First World War: the crisis of imperial Germany54
6 The Weimar Republic and the weakness of liberal democracy63
7 The collapse of the Weimar Republic: the Great Depression
and the rise of the Nazis82
8 The Nazi consolidation of power, 1933-4100
9 Society, culture, and the state in the Third Reich, 1933-9119
10 Persecution of the Jews, 1933-39145
11 The origins of the Second World War156
12 The Second World War: from European to global war, 1939-41181
13 The Second World War: from triumph to defeat, 1942-5199
14 The Holocaust215
15 Continuities and new beginnings: the aftermath of National
Socialism and war233
16 The historians' debate: the place of Hitler's Reich in
German history and memory249
Select bibliography279

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