The Ideology of Nazism
This is the second of a six-part series looking at the rise and fall of the Nazi regime, which came to power ninety years ago with Adolf Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933. The first article focused on how the Nazi Party emerged in the context of Germany after the First World War. This article examines the ideology of Nazism. The third article analyses how Nazism interacted with Christianity. The fourth article will trace the Nazi path to power. The fifth article explores how the Nazis consolidated power within Germany and began their war to expand the Reich. The sixth article will look at Operation BARBAROSSA, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, which ultimately brought about Hitler’s defeat and downfall, and whether it could ever have gone another way.
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THE INTERNATIONAL DIMENSION
Hitler had adopted antisemitic ideas by around 1910, and throughout the rest of his life hatred of Jews would remain the central and absolute constant of Hitler’s worldview. Ideologies do not emerge or operate in a vacuum, however. What began to focus Hitler’s hatred into a political ideology and program was the First World War. Hitler’s first recorded political statement in September 1919 included a reference to Jews as “a racial tuberculosis” and blamed them for Germany’s defeat, a defeat whose consequences it was his life’s mission to overturn.The genocidal logic was evident enough in Hitler’s thinking in 1919—“the irrevocable removal of the Jews in general” was posited in this first statement as a necessary part of Germany’s revival—but he had not conceived the “Final Solution” yet. Yet even Hitler’s antisemitism, this most fundamental building-block of his ideology, was moulded over time, evolving with the circumstances. Hitler viewed Jews through a Marxian prism in the 1919-21 period, accusing them of being the “financiers”, “capitalists”, and “profiteers” who benefited from Germany’s misery, and called for the “elimination” of Jews from the economic life of Germany. Events in Germany and abroad, particularly in Russia and Italy, reshaped Hitler’s vision.
Russia had a significant impact in myriad ways on the evolution and rise of the Nazis. The establishment of the Bolshevik state, as with all genuine Revolutions, had a “tremendous impact everywhere [it] had a shared universe of discourse”,which is to say Europe and her daughters. The impact had a two-fold practical effect: the menace of Revolution to the East and its internal agents and sympathisers in the West created a political environment where forces offering protection against Communism had the support—however grudging—of large sections of the population, especially among the middle classes; and Lenin’s state provided the model of a powerful one-party system that could maintain domestic order through Terror and propaganda while staving off foreign threats, which inspired emulators even among those who had anti-Communism as a prominent element in their own ideologies, the two most notable cases being the Italian Fascists under Benito Mussolini and Hitler’s Nazis.
Another Russia angle: in late 1918, when the German army pulled out of the occupied areas in the East, it took with it some of its collaborators, particularly among Baltic Germans and Ukrainians. A number of these citizens of the fallen Russian Empire would gather into the Aufbau Vereinigung (Reconstruction Organisation) that forged relationships with elements of the Völkisch movement in early 1921. These Aufbau-Völkisch networks played a part in the Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch and in Hitler’s Munich Putsch, but the relationship largely ended in late 1923 when most Russian émigrés decided this flirtation with the German extreme-Right was a dead-end in bringing down the Bolsheviks and getting home. A notorious exception is Alfred Rosenberg.
Watching the Russian civil war, which Lenin’s coup wilfully ignited in November 1917,Hitler turned away from the Marxism that had marked his earlier ideological orientation and rhetoric. By 1922, Jews remained Germany’s primary antagonist in Hitler’s imagination, indeed a cosmic menace that stood behind all the others, but Bolshevism displaced finance capitalism as the framework within which this threat operated—and this soon enough fused into the concept of “Jewish Bolshevism” (or “Judeo-Bolshevism”). Marxism’s emphasis on “class struggle” came to be seen as antagonistic to Hitler’s aim of a united German nation, and Marxism’s divisiveness was not considered to be a coincidence, but a result of the fact it was a Jewish-controlled movement and Jews everywhere sought to undermine the “ethnic unity” of the states where they lived. Though completely sincerely believed, this prism had the additional advantage of providing a universal scapegoat: all dissent from the Nazis—the only true representatives of all Germans, in Hitler’s mind—and all disorder in Germany could be explained as resulting from Jewish plots.
Mussolini’s “March on Rome” brought the Fascists to power in Italy in late October 1922 and had an enormous influence on Hitler. It expanded Hitler’s sense of the possible. The month after Mussolini took power, the Nazis began planning their own coup d’état, and Mussolini became an overt inspiration for the Nazi movement over the next year.As well as affecting Nazi tactics, Mussolini’s triumph helped, as Hitler’s biographer, Ian Kershaw, explains, shift Hitler’s “self-image”: he was beginning to think that he “was not just the ‘drummer’ preparing the way for a future ‘great leader,’ but [that he] was himself that great leader of the future Germany”. As early as December 1922, the search for “Germany’s Mussolini” in Nazi propaganda—the “heroic” great man who would lead the nation out of its morass—was orienting itself to the idea that Hitler was that man.
This change would embed itself and the Nazi Party became a leader-worship cult. Thus, despite the heterogeneity among the Nazi leadership even after the 1934 purge, when speaking of official Nazi ideology, we are, after 1922-23, referring to Hitler’s personal ideology.
THE RELATIONSHIP WITH FASCISM
Mussolini, a much more intellectual figure than Hitler, a socialist and journalist in origins, had been a paid agent of Britain’s MI5 during the Great War, agitating for Italian involvement on the Allied side. By 1918, Mussolini saw socialism as a failed endeavour, and began looking to the past, at the Romans, with Caesar Augustus as his model, and beyond that to the Greeks, to forge an elite caste in the present that could bring Italy out of the doldrums. Marxism might have a universalist stance, but the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels contains a pervasive sense of “race” hierarchies and antisemitism. Mussolini added to that by reading Plato and Friedrich Nietzsche, and came under the influence of Gabriele D’Annunzio, the celebrated poet and playwright appointed head of a brief fascist statelet in Fiume (now Rijeka, in Croatia) at the end of the war, which received approval from none other than Lenin.
There were some ideological similarities between Fascism and Nazism. The Protestant Reformation had cast the medieval period as a cultural and intellectual graveyard overseen by the ruthless dead hand of the Roman Church. The more radical philosophers of the Enlightenment, and the French Revolution they spawned, agreed there had been a “middle age” of darkness, but rather than seeking to get back to the light of the Early Church as the Protestant Reformers had, the philosophe fixed on Classical Greece and Rome as their exemplars.It was this Enlightenment framework Italian Fascism drew upon. Mussolini, though treading carefully in public in such a deeply Catholic country, created a “fusion of ancient and modern”, the Roman salute and the airplane, “that consciously sought to erase the entire span of Christian history”. Hitler followed this same model in working “to combine the glamour and the violence of antiquity with that of the modern world”, as historian Tom Holland writes. “There was no place in this vision of the future for the mewling feebleness of Christianity”. Even here, though, there was some distinction: Hitler agreed that the advent of Christianity had been a terrible wrong turning for humanity, but Hitler’s personal religious views were complicated and ambiguous, while Mussolini was simply an atheist.
Hitler shared Mussolini’s admiration for Nietzsche’s philosophy, which rejected the effort to reconcile Christian ethics and Darwinism (an effort Charles Darwin himself took part in). For Nietzsche, life was a struggle for survival, making strength the highest virtue and those who prevail “good” by definition. Nietzsche argued that in defying this reality, by showing compassion and preserving the “surplus of defective, diseased, degenerating, infirm, and necessarily suffering individuals” who “should have perished”, by treating such people as having the same worth as the “higher orders of men”, Christians had worked to “shatter the strong, … to cast suspicion on the delight in beauty”, and thereby caused a “deterioration of the European race” that harmed of all humanity.
In Nietzsche’s conception, unless the Christian shackles were taken off the “blond beast”, unless his weaknesses—among which Nietzsche ranked pity and guilt—were eliminated, he would become the prey in the jungle of life. This view went hand-in-hand with Nietzsche’s worship of the ancient Greek ideals that saw physical and moral beauty as synonymous. Hitler shared this outlook and his obsession with “public health”—the presentation of Jews and the disabled as diseases—drew upon it. Nietzsche’s valorisation of violence and war as part of this struggle blended with a fervent opposition to democracy, a system that maliciously raises up the feeble in mind and body to be treated as equals of the intelligent and the strong.Nietzsche’s ideal form of government was a small elite—a “master race”—led by a “superman”. What prevented this, Nietzsche contended, was a Christian morality that encouraged a slave insurrection against the natural order; this began with the Jews, and represented an “almost voluntary degeneration and stunting of man”. Hitler was in accord with all of this, convinced that national salvation could only be achieved through a charismatic leader possessing untrammelled power to enact purifying violence that cleansed degenerate elements within and brought lesser peoples abroad into their proper place of servitude.
Once again, however, Mussolini and Hitler differed somewhat: Mussolini embraced Nietzsche’s atheistic ethic wholesale, while Hitler—though supportive of Nietzsche’s assault on Christianity’s foundations and especially its clergy—despised attempts to deny “the idea of a supreme force”.Nonetheless, after Hitler emerged from prison at the end of 1924, he became a regular visitor to the Nietzsche Archive in Weimar and ensured pictures of himself staring in rapture at a bust of Nietzsche were published in official propaganda (see above). Nietzsche’s phrase, “Lords of the Earth”, recurs frequently in Mein Kampf and became common among Nazis. When Hitler met Mussolini for the first time in September 1937, he presented Il Duce with leather-bound volumes of Nietzsche’s complete works. Nietzsche was quoted in Hitler’s declaration of war against America in December 1941.
Operationally, as mentioned, Hitler drew inspiration from Mussolini’s seizure of power and once in power Hitler shared aspects with Mussolini, notably the intention to create a “totalitarian” system,which would displace God with the state as the supreme source of authority on all things; a belief that the Roman Catholic Church was the greatest impediment to this; and a consequent felt need to proceed cautiously in public. In aesthetics it might be said that Fascism and Nazism are most synergistic.
Overall, however, the resemblances between Nazism and Fascism are, if not quite coincidental, more the result of a common circumstantial orientation than any deep connection, and Nazism certainly should not be viewed simply as a derivative of Italian Fascism. Indeed, in the final analysis, “the specific differences between Italian Fascism and National Socialism … outweigh the similarities”.This was especially true ideologically. Take nationalism, obviously central to both, as an example: the manner of German nationalism’s creation made it easier for Hitler to formulate nationalism in terms of biological racism and make this the overriding framework of the Nazi movement, which was, in its conception and emphasis, quite alien to Italian and other fascist movements, where the ethnic component was one strand in a more cultural nationalism.
Mass-mobilisation is often (correctly) remarked upon as a key feature of Nazism. The fact Fascism in Italy did “develop into a genuine mass movement before the takeover of power”, albeit to a more limited extent than Nazism in Germany, obscures how unusual this feature was, and once in power the initial enthusiasm for Fascism “rapidly waned”, leading to Mussolini ruling as a much more dispositionally conservative, even opportunistic, autocrat. By contrast, in Germany, popular enthusiasm for the Nazis remained and continued to escalate after they were in power: “outside the repressed and powerless adherents of the former working-class movements, sections of Catholicism, and some individuals among the traditional élites, [Hitler remained] a highly popular leader both among the ruling groups and with the masses”.Hitler was unleashing, as much as he was driving, policy. The Nazi regime also did not veer from its ideology in power and had, as will be discussed in more detail below, in-built mechanisms that pushed it to ever-greater radicalism.
In short, the German context and Hitler, his beliefs and personality, made Nazism unique.
SCIENCE AND MODERNITY
In this matrix, where the “Nazis commonly cast themselves as both revolutionary and an extension of the German past”,.
The eighteenth-century Enlightenment had philosophically attacked the notion of man’s divine origins, scorning the Book of Genesis account wherein mankind descends from a single point, with all peoples thus related to one another and of equal worth since they were created in the image of God.Once that universalist assumption was eroded, the way was clear for ideas like polygenesis to gain traction, and for “races” to be categorised and ranked. Darwinism, swiftly understood popularly from the 1860s onward in Social Darwinist terms as “the survival of the fittest”, reinforced this intellectual trajectory: the belief that humans were merely material—animals like any other, divided into better and worse “races”, locked in eternal combat where weakness would result in extinction—was, by the end of the nineteenth century, regarded as Science, which displaced religion as guidance for large sections of the Western intelligentsia. The Nazis may have extended this outlook, but their innovations were of degree, not of kind.
Relatedly, it is notable that the Fascist and Nazi leaders emerged out of the literary-artistic world—Ezra Pound hailed Mussolini as the ideal “artist-dictator”—because this avant-garde milieu was one of the places where idealistic, self-conscious elitism, strongly tinged with racism, was most powerful: these were people who saw themselves as victors in the Darwinian contest, possessing intellectual and creative talents denied to everyone else, a racial and cultural supremacy that allowed them to rise above the received wisdom of Christianity and the drab, vulgar, material answers to the human condition given by industrialisation, and gave them the right dispense with the wishes of “the masses” as they charted a spectacular course for humanity’s future.
When Heinrich Himmler said, “There is nothing particular about man. He is but a part of this world”, he was reflecting the assumptions of the great and the good of the era. The Science would be trusted and social policy made on the basis of its findings, most obviously with the eugenics movement: if man was just a part of nature and nature was a ceaseless struggle for survival, the weak and the defective would have to be eliminated, and “superior races” could hardly be allowed to “pollute” their bloodlines by “mixing” with “inferior” peoples. As we will see, the idea of nature an eternal struggle—for internal racial “purity” and dominance over other peoples—was fundamental for Hitler, embedding genocide and war at the core of Nazism. Eugenics was, in the most sinister sense, the “optimistic” response to the widespread idea, propounded by philosophers like Arthur de Gobineau and popularised by Houston Stewart Chamberlain (Richard Wagner’s posthumous son-in-law), that “the white race” had “degenerated” and was probably lost.This is why eugenics was championed by the liberal and progressives intellectuals of the early twentieth century, of whom Chamberlain was one: they saw it as part of a package, with causes like women’s suffrage, to improve the lot of the human species.
The Nazi implementation of eugenics in such a stark way gives a glimpse in microcosm of how the regime worked in two ways. First, the Nazi eugenics program was of a piece with a pivotal attraction the Party had to people, especially the young: the notion that the Nazis did, while others merely thought and spoke.Nazism had a great attachment to the theatrical, but not for its own sake. The purpose of the spectacular was to facilitate mass-mobilisation by basically creating a live-action Wagnerian drama that people could get passionately involved in. The action, not the spectacle, was the point. Second, Hitler was the enabler, not the author, of the initial eugenics program, and this pattern of Hitler approving the initiatives of others was persistent in the Nazi regime’s actions. Hitler’s practical role was lifting the legal restraints on eugenics, allowing the proposals put forward by the educated and well-meaning members of the German Doctors’ Association to pass through the neutered Reichstag. With eugenics, as with everything else, there was a ratchet effect of radicalisation over time, as agents of the state sought to outdo each other in service of the Führer. The Nazis took American anti-miscegenation laws as an inspiration, and carried their hideous logic all the way through. At Nuremberg, the Nazis defended themselves by saying they had done little more than put everyone else’s ideas into practice. “National Socialism is nothing but applied biology”, as Rudolf Hess put it. It was not an intellectual reassessment but the shock of the Holocaust, and the embarrassment decent people felt after 1945 at just how close to the truth Hess had been, which caused eugenics to lose its hold over Western intellectuals—and even then it took several decades in places like the American South for the mainstream to decisively repudiate these ideas.
The resistance to the idea Nazism had a scientific orientation often takes the form of arguing it was an “anti-rational” movement.It is a weak argument verging on being a non-sequitur. To simply designate Nazism as an “irrational” ideology is on the level of declaring Hitler to be “mad”; it can be held to explain everything, and is equally useful at explaining nothing. The relevant question around “rationality” with extremists is how they act within the framework of their ideology, and on that basis the Nazis were quite rational. This can be seen in the way the Nazi regime prioritised resources on “the Jewish Question” over the war effort, something so senior a Nazi as Hermann Göring, responsible for the military, complained about as early as 1940. This continued even as the Red Army closed in. In material terms, it seems highly irrational to divert resources to murdering defenceless Jews while Stalin’s criminal army is rampaging over the borders, posing an imminent existential threat. But for the Nazis, who believed they had been drawn into the war by Jewish aggression, the extermination of European Jewry was not merely “revenge”, though it certainly was that. The Holocaust was believed to be the only possible route to survival, since all the enemies ranged against Germany—capitalist and Bolshevik alike—were agents of the Jews. It can be said emotional and non-rational elements played a part in the spectacle and theatrics of Nazism, and among the “ordinary” Germans involved that is true. But, as discussed above, even there the Nazi leadership had a rational instrumental purpose, making it more the synthesis of apparent opposites we see elsewhere in Nazi ideology—the fusion of ancient and modern, “Left-wing” and “Right-wing” economics (redistribution and private property), etc.. This all somewhat irrelevant when it comes to the Nazis’ relationship with Science, however.
The Nazis were working from ideas that were the mainstream scientific consensus of the time, and where the ideas were altered or extended the Nazis were, in their own perception, doing so in accordance with the scientific method.This was not just a public presentation. “A movement like ours … must stick to the spirit of exact Science. … Science cannot lie”, Hitler said in private conversations. In this conviction, Hitler saw himself, as on so much else (see below), following the Roman Empire, where “scientific research was encouraged”. Hitler admired Science for its refusal to stay stationary, its restless onward march, its willingness “to revise one or another notion” as new evidence came in, and hated the way some Christians seized on these revisions to attack Science, or denied scientific findings because they did not “make men happy”. Hitler saw the “intellectual elite of Europe” as having become “stuffed with false ideas”, but he was confident that the way to untangle the mess they had made and get to truth was through more Science. Hitler was sure Science would continue to erode Christianity and it was merely a matter of time before “the moment [arrived] when Science can answer all the questions”. Then-modern Science allowed the Nazis to excogitate the details of their race theory, and the basic project—an intricate hierarchy of peoples—is an easily-recognisable legacy of the Enlightenment mania for categorisation. That these things are now in disgrace among scientists and intellectuals does not change the history of the time, where such things were understood as cutting-edge knowledge and the Nazis saw themselves as helping push back this frontier for the good of Germans most immediately and ultimately all of mankind.
Since antisemitism was the central ideological commitment for Hitler throughout his entire career, the place of Jews in this racial schema was of utmost importance. Unlike other untermenschen (sub-humans), who were regarded with contempt, the Jews—occupying the lowest rung of the Nazi racial hierarchy—were also feared as a dangerous contaminant that poisoned the blood of the übermensch (superior people).In generating an antisemitic craze that incited a popular view of Jews as internal parasites feeding off the body of the nation, the Nazis were clearly able to draw on Germany’s Christian inheritance. The difference was that the old religious understanding of Jews as the murderers of God had been supplanted by a scientific, racialised understanding.
The Enlightenment had reformulated the old Christian attack on Jewish particularism: gone was the charge that Jews’ refusal to accept that their covenant had been superseded was preventing the Second Coming; now, Jews were attacked for being insular and backward, anti-universalist barriers to Progress. The revival of Greek philosophy, especially Aristotle, gave the Enlightenment philosophes their warrant for racial hierarchies: Jews were posited as a lower, less freedom-loving “race”, holding back the nations where they lived.It was this notion the Nazis were building on when casting Jews as an internal impediment to German greatness that had to be removed.
Both Nazism and Communism marked entire categories of people for extermination, but the Nazis’ biological definition of its Jewish enemy was more ideologically absolute than the Soviet war on kulaks or Pol Pot’s campaign against intellectuals, where the enemy was defined in brutally arbitrary social terms.One practical difference this made is that even sincere conversion no longer protected Jews or their descendants: in medieval Europe, conversos and their children like Tomás de Torquemada could rise to be Grand Inquisitor; for the Nazis, a convert like Edith Stein, a Carmelite nun, still carried the “plague” of “Jewish blood” and she was murdered at Auschwitz. In many ways, the Nazis regarded Jewish converts who passed as “Aryan” as more dangerous than Hassidic Jews who “flaunted” their “alienness” since they could corrupt German blood without even being noticed. As ever, the Jews could not win: they were simultaneously accused of assimilating too well and not enough.
There was one further key difference between Christian and Enlightenment antisemitism: “If, for Christians, the crime of the Jews was that they had killed Christ, for the new anti-Christians it was rather that they had nurtured him”.Hitler was broadly of this view, with a twist: “It is the Jew Paul who must be considered as the father of all this”, the one who had caused “the destruction of a worldview based on blood”. Hitler believed Jesus had been an Aryan rebelling for his people against the domination of Jewish finance capitalists in the Holy Land, and blamed Saint Paul, who did indeed conceive of himself as a Jew, for corrupting Jesus’ message and hijacking the Christian movement, transforming it into one of egalitarian universalism that would succeed where the Judean revolts had failed. The Nazis believed that Pauline “Jewish Christianity”—nothing less than the Bolshevism of the first century—had destroyed Rome from within by promoting race-mixing and religious fanaticism, while the Germanic invasions from outside, so far from being “Barbarian” destruction, represented renewal, the re-Nordification of a territory made rotten by Christianisation. History, then, was the record of “a Jewish conspiracy employing Christianity to get the dregs of mankind to rise up against their Roman masters”. (As will be explained in the next article, Hitler believed this continued into his own day, with the “Jewified” Catholic Church trying to destabilise his regime.)
In believing it was Paul, not Jesus, responsible for creating the sick, victim-obsessed version of Christianity that had vampirically sucked the life from the naturally-ordered Roman Empire, Hitler was again following Nietzsche,as he was in his devotion to the Enlightenment myth that Jewish-created Christianity had “doomed to greyness” a previously-wise civilisation. If Hitler was to have a thousand-year Reich based on Classical precepts that did not follow Rome in being undone from within by a creed that “constantly provokes the revolt of the weak against the strong”, the emergence of another Saint Paul would have to be prevented. The Jews would be annihilated for birthing Christianity and the “threat” that they might do so again.
CLAIMING THE CLASSICS
As alluded to above, the backward-looking component of Nazism was focused on the ancient Greeks and the Romans. These ancient civilisations had identified “the only valid rules” by which to live, so the Nazis believed, and Christianity—a non-German, Eastern, Semitic creed—had wickedly severed the connection between the Nordic German people and their true heritage.The French Revolution and the Bolsheviks had appropriated Christian morality—concern for the weak and the universal dignity of man—to justify a savage campaign against the churches, which stood accused of complicity in the repression and exploitation of the deposed autocracies. For the Nazi revolution, it was precisely these foundational assumptions Christianity had inculcated—regarded as unnatural and anti-scientific—that were to be torn up by the roots. “Recovering” the history of the Classical world would provide the scaffolding for a new moral vision based on the Nazis’ all-pervading race theory. But there was a problem.
How could Hitler, working in a territory famously excluded from the Roman Empire, be heir to Greco-Roman civilisation? Hitler squared this circle in two broad ways. First, Hitler drew politically close to Mussolini, fostering a sense of commonality and by implication appropriated Italy’s Roman heritage. Rejuvenating a popular enthusiasm about the ancient past was seen as part of the way to mobilise the masses in the present: by bringing attention to “the heroic spirit of Rome”, Hitler believed Mussolini “could fire his nation with the idea of a modern Empire”, an example he intended to follow.Still, Hitler had a historical inferiority complex about Italy: not only were the Romans “erecting great buildings when our forefathers were still living in mud huts”, but Mussolini’s Fascists had taken power while his party remained a fringe sect. This somewhat cringing relationship lasted after the Nazis took power, with Mussolini very publicly acting as a mentor to Hitler and looking down on the German regime, until 1936 when Il Duce threw in his lot with the Third Reich. Second, there were ideological-historical gymnastics.
In claiming the Greco-Roman heritage, Hitler had difficulties in, so to say, both directions. There were German figures Hitler revered, including the first King of Germany Rudolf von Hapsburg (r. 1273-91) and most especially the Prussian King “Frederick the Great” (r. 1740-86),as well as some non-Germans like the Emperor Charlemagne (r. 800-14), the Russian Tsar Pyotr I or “Peter the Great” (r. 1682-1725), and Napoleon Bonaparte, but the great problem was that they were all from the Christian era. On the other hand, there was the flamboyant paganism of senior Nazi officials like Himmler and Rosenberg, which was an immediate political problem, since it highlighted the anti-Christian nature of the Nazi movement that Hitler was trying to conceal, and it was also an ideological problem because, rather than the Roman Imperial ancient past, these officials were obsessed with “nationalist” antiquity. Himmler focusing his excavations within Germany, and “enthusing over every potsherd and stone axe he finds”, as Hitler put it, was seen as positively counterproductive, “call[ing] the whole world’s attention to the fact that we have no past”.
Hitler had no time for paganism and was privately contemptuous of the “mysticism” of Himmler, the most powerful pagan figure in the Nazi regime and the primary practical architect of the Holocaust,regarding paganism as a baffling step backwards in an era where Science had advanced so far. “We might just as well have stayed with the [Roman] Church. At least it had tradition”, Hitler mused at one point, contemplating with horror that he might “some day be turned into an SS saint”. Still, Himmler was generally left to his ideological preoccupations. One notable exception, where Hitler drew a line, was Atlantis: it was not permitted to be part of Nazi official propaganda.
On the eve of war, Himmler and his Ahnenerbe (Ancestral Heritage), basically a think tank, tried to “prove” that the Indo-Germanic Aryans had originally come from Atlantis by looking for Atlantean traces in Tibet, where this “purest of races” had apparently relocated after the destruction of the island by a divine thunderbolt as punishment for “race mixing”. The Völkisch interpretation of the Atlantis conspiracy theory, a version of which was held to by the Thule Society that incubated many of the early Nazi leaders (including Himmler), was only the latest spin on a myth that had recurred with varying degrees of intensity since Plato’s fourth-century BC dialogue inventing Atlantis was returned to Latin Christendom in the sixteenth century AD.Rosenberg, another Thulist, showed some interest in the Aryan Atlantis myth after he discovered it in a 1922 book by Karl Georg Zschaetzsch, and could not resist mentioning it in his own book, The Myth of the Twentieth Century (1930), usually designated as “a canonical text of National Socialism” second only to Mein Kampf, though never officially published by the NSDAP, and regarded by Hitler—as was Rosenberg generally—with scorn. (One reason Hitler objected to Rosenberg’s tome was that he believed National Socialism should be described as “the Science of the Twentieth Century”.) Reading the room, as we would now say, Rosenberg quickly fell in line with the Nazi scholarship that rejected the Atlantean hypothesis, never again mentioning it in writing and never mentioning it at all in his voluminous public statements. Himmler not only continued his search for Atlantis, but brooded on even stranger ideas, such as that Aryans had been frozen in Himalayan glaciers and then thawed out.
Where Hitler partly overlapped with the Nazi pagans was in enshrining the pre-Christian Nordic history of the German volk, a term meaning “people” or “ethnic group”, with strong positive cultural connotations, conjuring up a romanticised folk past in which Germans had been a united, anti-individualistic, egalitarian, autarkic people, bound by blood and language under a powerful leader they all obeyed in a struggle for collective survival against rival tribes.Unlike Himmler’s focus on the Iron Age, however, when the Germanic tribes were clearly distinct from the Greco-Roman world, Hitler pushed the focus back to the Bronze Age to link Germans with the Greeks and Romans. (This was not just an ideological distinction about the past; it reflected a difference about the future, with Himmler attracted by the idea of an agrarian utopia, and Hitler striving for mechanised modernity.)
In Hitler’s view, “the [ancient] Greeks had reached the peak of perfection in every field”, especially “their view of life”, where physical beauty and health was equated with moral worth.Annexing the Greek heritage was therefore crucial, and Hitler would do so on Greek terms. The basis of the Athenian “Democracy” was not the individual rights paradigm of modern democracy, but that its inhabitants were autochthonous, literally produced by the earth and blood of their territory, and the Nazis would claim direct lineage from this. Hitler advocated a Nordicist theory wherein an Indo-Germanic (Indogermanisch) tribe originating somewhere between Scandinavia and northern Germany had settled Europe, and from these people—pure, Nordic Aryans—had come the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Germans. Rather than a product of the Mediterranean world, then, Greece had been settled from the Germanic north, and the suggestion that Europe had been settled by people coming from Asia to the south was said by the Nazis to be a story originating in the Jewish Tanakh (what Christians call the Old Testament) and thus self-evidently false: the swastika in India and the fire rituals of Zoroastrians in Iran were evidence of expansion by people from the north, not the “antiquated hypothesis of the Asiatic migration”. In this telling, the division was not between German and Greco-Roman, but between the Indo-Germanic Aryan, the Leistungsmensch (man of achievement), and the Asiatic/Oriental or Semitic, the Darbietungsmensch (man of mere execution, and therefore submission).
Nazi scientists and historians were set to work. Since only Indo-Germanic Aryans produced anything worthwhile,the evidence of creative and heroic qualities in Greek and Roman civilisation were in themselves held to demonstrate their Nordic origins. A vast index was created of figures—real and fictitious—from the Classical world, categorised by whether they had blond or brown hair, purporting to demonstrate that the blond “master race” of Greeks and the Roman elite were of Nordic stock, which is why they had conquered the world, prevailing in the timeless “war of blond against brown”.
Hitler’s recasting of ancient Greeks as Aryans was specifically true of Sparta, seen as an archetypal state the Nazis were trying to build: militarist and proto-totalitarian in structure, pure in its will to dominate, disdainful of luxury and “decadence”, and ruthlessly eugenicist in ethos, determined to eliminate the weak and glorify the body beautiful and the virile.The Spartans’ “destruction” of “sick, frail, [and] deformed children” was believed by Hitler to be “a thousand times more humane than the pathetic insanity” of the Christian society he was living in that “attempts to preserve the lives of the sickest subjects at any price”. It was this attention by Sparta, referred to by Hitler as the “first racialist state”, to ensuring its racial fitness, which allowed “the subjugation of 350,000 Helots by 6,000 Spartans”. Directly drawing on the Spartan example, at the Fourth Party Congress in Nuremberg in August 1929, Hitler told his audience that if Germans produced a million babies per year, and the state “dispose[d] of 700,000 to 800,000 of the weakest”, this would bring “an increase in strength”. The “dangerous thing”, Hitler went on, would be to “interrupt the process of natural selection” by continuing with a situation where “degenerates are artificially pampered with great effort”.
Speaking to the then-chief of the SA, Otto Wagener, in 1931, Hitler explained that his enthusiasm for eugenics flowed directly from the combined lessons of ancient Greece and modern Science. “[I]n life, only a process of selection can prevail”, Hitler said: whether plants or animals like humans, “the stronger, the better survives”.The German race would be strengthened by selectively breeding its “stronger” and “better” members, i.e. those with more “pure” Indo-Germanic heritage, gradually removing those with racially mixed ancestry from the gene pool and producing a “superior racial stock”. Such selection was “a natural course”, as “Darwin correctly proved” and the Spartans knew, Hitler went on, concluding by lamenting that healthy people no longer killed “weaklings, runts, [and] sick individuals”. At this stage, Hitler was still pretending that he had no intention to kill people he found inconvenient to his project, but his definition of “people” did not include the unborn or young babies: “when a child is born, it is not really fully matured … the infant does not actually take its place in human society until several months after its birth” [italics added].
Germans as descendants of ancient Greeks was a major theme at the 1936 Olympics. Modern Greeks were dismissed by the Nazis as racial degenerates, polluted by miscegenation with Turks and others, less able to claim native status in their own country than the Germans who had “pure” descent from the Indo-Germanic race that had brought civilisation to the Greek Peninsula. This was the justification for the Nazi conquest of Greece in April 1941. The “Aryan Greeks” theme would become even more prominent in Nazi propaganda a few months later, after the invasion of the Soviet Union, which was compared to the Battle of Thermopylae—both supposedly stories of smaller “Aryan” forces (the 300 Spartans and the Germans) holding off “Asiatic” hordes (the Persians and the Russians).
The appropriation of Classical antiquity allowed Hitler to do something politically that was authentically Roman: to claim he was returning to the true past of his people while implementing a revolutionary program.Greater legitimacy is always accorded to that which is believed to be restored from history, as compared to an untried, novel proposal. By resting on Greco-Roman history, Nazism sought to directly usurp its prestige—not to claim a symbolic successorship, but a material descent in blood and soil—that would facilitate the creation of a Nazi New Man and offer a similarly “glorious” future, alongside a cautionary tale about how even the greatest civilisations decline without sufficient attention to the “racial struggle” for “purity”. (It also inscribed the idea that if total victory was impossible, it was better to leave behind monuments as splendid as the Roman ruins and end in a spectacular cataclysm like Leonidas’ Spartans that remained in memory as a heroic legend to inspire future generations.) On the path to power, this vision allowed Hitler to use his terrible charisma to appeal to Germans in a spirit of sunny optimism, promising them a utopian future as a prosperous, united, and powerful people returning to a blueprint that had brought them to such heights before—and to appeal to their basest instincts by focusing on the internal enemies, the Jews and Marxists, who were blocking the way.
Once in power, the Nazis did not pursue the path of a “normal” dictatorship, exacting obedience and fostering political apathy, nor did they experience the traditional disappointment and waning enthusiasm as revolutionary promises prove difficult and time-consuming to deliver. On the contrary, the Nazis set about spreading their message further, using the apparatus of the state now in their hands, and politicising more people, trying to restructure their identities in accordance with their myth-history of the Germans’ Greco-Roman past. From the first months in power, this racialist history became ubiquitous in the schools, media, state institutions, and “civil society” organisations that Nazified themselves rather than dissolve.The message of the world as an eternal racial conflict in which Germans had to “fight for their existence” was intended for the whole population, not a cloistered elite of True Believers. And it worked. One of the most educated populations on the planet, staffing the most high-functioning state on the Continent, actively assisted the Nazis along a path of “cumulative radicalisation” that took on messianic and apocalyptic characteristics. Germans were to be bound to Hitler by the “negative” proposition that the Nazi state was the volk’s only protection from external enemies, internal traitors, and racial “pollutants” like Jews and the disabled that intended or entailed their annihilation, and the “positive” promise that through the kind of sacrifice and violence displayed by the heroes of the Classical world these enemies could be utterly destroyed, ushering Germans into a future of glory and peace.
WAR AND CONQUEST
By the time of Mein Kamp’s publication in July 1925, and probably for a while before, Hitler’s “ideology was formed in full”, Kershaw writes, adding: “It is seldom that a politician holds with such tenacity to a core body of ideas over such a lengthy period of time”.All of the threads adumbrated above are brought together in Mein Kampf. Hitler’s book is saturated with antisemitism—there is a scarcely a page that does not mention Jews—and the anti-Bolshevik theme is firmly attached to “the Jewish Question”. “Should the Jew, with the aid of his Marxist creed, triumph over the peoples of this world”, Hitler wrote, it would be the end of mankind, leaving the planet to rotate in space “devoid of human life, as it did millions of years ago”. The whole of world history is presented as a racial struggle between Aryans and inferior peoples, with Jews as an internal cancer—a lesson that has to be brought to the German masses to awaken them to action. The “solution” Hitler proposes the Germans adopt once awakened is vague, but the exterminationist logic is implicit. The use of Greek and Roman symbolism in Western democratic states is declared an insult, since such Classical cultures understood the proper order of nature was a mercilessly maintained racial hierarchy, where lesser peoples were reduced to helotage, and the state focused on inculcating physical strength, beauty, and a willingness to endure hardship in the “master race”, a process that necessitated purging the weak in mind and body.
The final piece of Nazi doctrine was expansionism and, axiomatically, war. Counterfactuals about how Nazism might have evolved had it pursued more limited aims and avoided a reckless bid for world domination that started a global conflagration entirely miss the point: “war was not accidental to Nazism. It lay at its very core.”
That Hitler had “revisionist” aims for Europe’s borders is plain enough in Mein Kampf, and the pan-German irredentism that shapes the attacks on the Versailles Treaty—“a scandal and a disgrace … an act of highway robbery against our people”—left little doubt where Hitler would start.It is explicitly stated that Austria “must be restored to the great German Fatherland, and not on economic grounds. … People of the same blood should be in the same Reich.” The Sudetenland, where the Catholic Church is accused of helping the “Czechisation” and “Slavisation” of ethnic Germans, is clearly on the menu, as is Poland, in the full knowledge—indeed, hope—this would mean a war with France, since “the Polish State [is] completely in the hands of the French”.
The other vital piece of Hitler’s foreign policy was to neutralise the British threat, partly by presenting his war on France—“the implacable enemy of Germany”—as a favour to Britain, destroying the hegemonic Continental power, the emergence of which being the very thing Britain had gone to war to prevent in 1914, and removing any potential French naval threat to Britain in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, the vital ligaments of the British Empire. Hitler writes admiringly of Britain, blaming inflamed domestic popular sentiment because of the war and French machinations for the Versailles settlement, which Hitler did not believe the British elite wanted. So far from wanting war with Britain, Hitler wanted an alliance with Britain, which he believed had been foolishly spurned by past German leaders. The terms of this alliance would be Britain dropping its long-standing balance-of-power policy to let Germany dominate the European Continent, and in exchange Germany guaranteeing Britain’s Empire, starting by humbling France.
It was only once all Germans were united in one state that they would have the “right to engage in a colonial policy”, wrote Hitler.The details of the Nazi colonial project are vaguer in Mein Kampf: taking territory from Russia and using the Slavic untermensch in the conquered areas to enrich Germany and ensure its dominance over the European Continent was clearly the plan, but this was little more than a restatement of Germany’s strategic aims, infused with same racialism and Social Darwinism, that dated back several decades and led to the First World War. Even when the idea of expansion into the East, denoted by the term Lebensraum, became a staple of Hitler’s speeches from 1928, it was mostly because the word was familiar and reliably popular with Germans, rather than the reflection of any detailed planning. The crystallisation of the Lebensraum concept into Operation BARBAROSSA, the war of annihilation (Vernichtungskrieg) against the Soviet Union, was the culmination of Hitler’s vision, uniting all of his ideological and strategic strands: it would secure German hegemony in Europe, acquire the “living space” to house the expected population explosion once the race was “purified” and ensure they were not “packed together like the coolies in the factories of another continent”, capture the natural resources to make the Reich economically self-sufficient, and allow the destruction of the Jews and the Bolsheviks (seen as one and the same threat).
To implement his ideological vision, Hitler had to get to power. The Nazis tried a Bolshevik-style coup in 1923 and failed. After Hitler’s release from prison and the re-founding of the Party in 1925, he decided the Nazis would take the legal path to power by competing in elections. How Hitler sought to sell the ideological program described here to an overwhelmingly Christian population, and how the Nazi regime dealt with the churches and believers once in power, will be the subject of the next article.
Ian Kershaw (2008), Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, pp. 90-91.
Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, pp. 89-90.
Frank McDonough (2003), Hitler and the Rise of the Nazi Party, p. 52.
Hitler and the Rise of the Nazi Party, p. 37.
The phrase is from the late Bernard Lewis, who noted that this applied with the French, Russian, and Iranian Revolutions. Most other changes of power in a state that call themselves “revolutions”—especially in the Arab world, where ‘revolutionary’ “is the only generally accepted title of legitimacy”—are better described as “a coup d’état or a putsch” that leave the fundamental structures of the state and society untouched.
Richard Pipes (1990), The Russian Revolution, p. 399.
The Russians who founded the Aufbau and got involved with the Völkisch movement are often called “White émigrés”, but it is important to distinguish them from the so-called “White” movement, the anti-Bolshevik Volunteer Army that fought the Reds in the civil war. The “Whites” had an Allied orientation and were fighting for the whole of Russia; the nationalist and separatist movements had a German orientation. The only all-Russia party aligned with the Germans was the Bolsheviks, whom the Germans had helped into power in the first place. See: Evan Mawdsley (1987), The Russian Civil War, pp. 53-4.
Pipes, The Russian Revolution, pp. 394-99.
Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, p. 52.
Everything in the Nazi imagination—anti-war sentiment and pacifism, objections as the dictatorship consolidated to infringements on freedom of the press, the continued existence of prostitution despite the legal ban, sectarian animosity between Catholic and Protestant, even modernism in the art world—could be explained as resulting from Jewish schemes to undermine the unity of the German nation. See: Hitler and the Rise of the Nazi Party, p. 60.
On 2 October 1923, Hitler gave an interview to The Daily Mail, in which he reflected this new thinking: “If a German Mussolini is given to Germany … people would fall down on their knees and worship him more than Mussolini has ever been worshipped”. See: Peter Longerich (2019), Hitler: A Biography, p. 116.
Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, p. 52.
Hitler and the Rise of the Nazi Party, pp. 44-5.
D’Annunzio (1863-1938) nominally ruled Fiume from 12 September 1919 to 30 December 1920, and after that more or less retired from public life. Mussolini was not immensely keen to acknowledge his debt to D’Annunzio, but Mussolini did encourage the writing of a biography of D’Annunzio entitled The John the Baptist of Fascism, and D’Annunzio was even less pleased at the idea he was the mere forerunner, while Mussolini was the Messiah. In terms of D’Annunzio’s relationship to fascism, one of his biographers puts it this way: “though d’Annunzio was not a fascist, fascism was d’Annunzian”. See: Lucy Hughes-Hallett, (2013), The Pike: Gabriele d’Annunzio, Poet, Seducer, and Preacher of War, chapter one.
Tom Holland (2019), Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind, p. 460.
Dominion, pp. 534-35.
Dominion, p. 535.
Christianity was “the worst of the regressions that mankind can ever have undergone”, Hitler said, blaming it on “the Jew” Paul. “The only thing that would be still worse would be victory for the Jew through Bolshevism.” See: R. H. Stevens and Norman Cameron [translators of Martin Bormann's book] (1953), Hitler’s Table Talk: His Private Conversations, 1941-44, p. 244.
Tim O’Neill (2021, July 14), ‘Hitler: Atheist, Pagan, or Christian?’, History for Atheists. Available here.
Friedrich Nietzsche (1886) [translated by Helen Zimmern, 2004], Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, pp. 82-4.
Yvonne Sherratt (2013), Hitler’s Philosophers, pp. 25-6. Alfred Bäumler, an Austrian-born philosopher and professor, was the primary Nazi interpreter of Nietzsche, writing a 1931 book, Nietzsche, der Philosoph und Politiker (Nietzsche, the Philosopher and Politician).
Beyond Good and Evil, pp. 113-14.
Beyond Good and Evil, p. 84.
Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, pp. 352-53.
Richard Steigmann-Gall (2003), The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919–1945, p. 255.Hitler’s Philosophers, pp. 26-7. Hitler’s war declaration against the U.S. cast it as a “blood sacrifice”, an idea Hitler “was adamant came directly from his reading of Nietzsche” [Hitler’s Philosophers, p. 27].
Hitler’s Philosophers, pp. 26-7. Hitler’s war declaration against the U.S. cast it as a “blood sacrifice”, an idea Hitler “was adamant came directly from his reading of Nietzsche” [Hitler’s Philosophers, p. 27].
The word “totalitarian” originated in Italy in 1923. Mussolini’s regime never even came close to this “ideal”. While Hitler’s did “better”, the nearest to genuine totalitarianism was in the Soviet Union from the mid-1930s.
It is in the 1920s and very early 1930s that Hitler generated a lot of the quotes held to “prove” he was a Christian and/or that Nazism was a Christian movement. For example, in 1928, Hitler ostentatiously purged a Nazi Party official who attacked Christianity, and declared, “Which faith conquers the other is not the question; rather, the question is whether Christianity stands or falls … We tolerate no one in our ranks who attacks the ideas of Christianity … in fact our movement is Christian”. In context, it is clear that what Hitler is doing—other than trying to appease a Christian population—is to try to avoid schism within the Nazi Party along sectarian lines, between Catholics and Protestants. See: The Holy Reich, pp. 60-1.
Hitler and the Rise of the Nazi Party, p. 53.
Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, p. 349.
Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, pp. 33-4.
The Holy Reich, p. 138
As will be discussed in detail in the next article, even when the Nazis made an effort, in their early years in power, to convince Christians they could maintain their faith and be National Socialists, the “Positive Christianity” on offer was stripped of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. Its Jewish origin was, of course, a problem for the Nazis, but the Adamic myth—the proposal that “Aryans” and Jews were kin, equally valuable in the eyes of the Creator—was intolerable.
Ann Thompson (1987), Barbary and Enlightenment: European Attitudes towards the Maghreb in the 18th Century, p. 64.
Mike Hawkins [ed.] (1997), Social Darwinism in European and American Thought, 1860–1945: Nature as Model and Nature as Threat, p. 9.
John Carey (1992), The Intellectuals and the Masses: Pride and Prejudice Among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880-1939, chapters four and nine.
Hitler and the Rise of the Nazi Party, p. 55-6.
As Ian Kershaw puts it, Hitler was able to “open up hitherto unimaginable opportunities; to make the unthinkable seem realizable”.
Hitler and the Rise of the Nazi Party, p. 56-7.
This does not in any way mean Hitler was not responsible for the actions of the Nazi state or that he opposed them. Quite the reverse. Precisely by laying down the broad guidelines under which policy was carried out, Hitler “opened the door to the wildest initiatives from agencies of Party and State” [Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, p. 63]. Hitler could and did end any policy, proposed or enacted, that he did not like or that caused him political trouble. And it was the incentive structure Hitler presided over—having subordinates compete to fulfil his aims—that purposefully ensured the escalating radicalisation of the Nazi regime. The attempt, most infamously by David Irving, to invoke the nature of the Nazi state to exculpate Hitler for the Holocaust is an inversion of the truth—usually, and certainly in Irving’s case, a wilful one. “Hitler’s role was decisive and indispensable to the unfolding of the ‘Final Solution’. … [W]ithout Hitler, the creation of a program to bring about the physical extermination of the Jews of Europe is unimaginable” [Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, p. 111].
Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, pp. 40-4.
For the most detailed account of this, see: James Q. Whitman (2017), Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law.
Richard M. Lerner (1959), Final Solutions: Biology, Prejudice, and Genocide, p. 21
Dora Apel (2004), Imagery of Lynching: Black Men, White Women, and the Mob, p. 126.
Daniel Gasman (1971), The Scientific Origins of National Socialism, p. xiii.
Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, p. 64.
Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, pp. 110-11.
Jeffrey Herf (2006), The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda During World War II and the Holocaust, pp. 218-19. As Hitler put it in February 1942: “The more we render the Jew incapable of harming us, the more we shall protect ourselves from this danger.” See: Hitler’s Table Talk, p. 314.
For a longer discussion of Nazism’s relationship with Science, see: The Scientific Origins of National Socialism.
Hitler’s Table Talk, p. 61.
Hitler’s Table Talk, p. 313.
Hitler’s Table Talk, p. 84.
Hitler’s Table Talk, p. 86.
Hitler’s Table Talk, p. 315.
Hitler’s Table Talk, p. 323.
Hitler’s Table Talk, p. 59.
Carl Müller Frøland (2017), Understanding Nazi Ideology: The Genesis and Impact of a Political Faith, p. 120.
Dominion, p. 547.
Bernard Lewis (1986), Semites and Antisemites: An Inquiry into Conflict and Prejudice, pp. 88-92.
Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, p. 23.
Semites and Antisemites, pp. 81-4.
Semites and Antisemites, p. 116.
Semites and Antisemites, pp. 90-1.
Semites and Antisemites, p. 87.
Dominion, p. 546.
Paul (or Saul of Tarsus) is famous as the missionary to the Gentiles, and the key way he opened the early Jesus Sect up to pagan converts was by advocating—over the fierce objections of other leaders of the proto-Christian movement, notably Jesus’ brother James and Cephas/Peter—that the Jewish dietary restrictions and specifically circumcision were unnecessary (Galatians 2). The God of Israel had specified, “ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you” (Genesis 17:11), but Jesus had said: “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many” (Mark 14:24 and Matthew 26:28). In other words, Jesus’ sacrifice—the marks on his flesh as the nails were driven into him on the Cross—had paid this debt for all humanity. The new covenant, Paul explained, was “written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on … the heart” (2 Corinthians 3:3). What is crucial, however, is that Paul never conceived of himself as “converting”: to him, Jesus was the fulfilment of the Messianic promise made by the One God of Israel he had always worshipped. See: Paula Fredriksen (2018), When Christians Were Jews: The First Generation, pp. 23-9.
Hitler followed Enlightenment figures like Edward Gibbon in equating the “Christianisation” of Rome with “destruction”. (The reality is rather the reverse: the advent of Christianity provided a bond that not only held together the remnant of the Empire in the East, but ensured Roman life-ways continued in the West.)
Johann Chapoutot (2016), Greeks, Romans, Germans: How the Nazis Usurped Europe’s Classical Past, p. 307-10.
Greeks, Romans, Germans, p. 354.
Tim Murphy (2001), Nietzsche, Metaphor, Religion, p. 134.
Hitler’s Table Talk, p. 244. Hitler was also a believer in the specific Enlightenment myths that Christians “systematically destroyed all the monuments of these ancient civilizations … [and] destroyed the library at Alexandria”. See: Greeks, Romans, Germans, p. 311.
Hitler’s Table Talk, p. 238.
Greeks, Romans, Germans, p. 308.
The quote is from an SS weekly magazine, Das Schwarze Korps. See: Greeks, Romans, Germans, p. 181.
Dominion, pp. 451-54, 533.
Albert Speer (1969), Inside the Third Reich, p. 97. [Translated by Richard and Clara Winston, eighth edition, 2003.]
Greeks, Romans, Germans, pp. 74-5.
Hitler (and Goebbels) admired Frederick II as the model of a Great Man, a ruler who had taken a backward Prussia and shaped it up into a powerful, modern state that became a dominant force in Europe and ultimately the dominating element of the united German nationalist polity. The Nazi leadership simply disregarded the evidence that Frederick was homosexual. In the bunker at the end, Hitler had a copy of Thomas Carlyle’s The History of Friedrich II of Prussia, Called Frederick the Great, composed in six volumes between 1858 and 1865, which Goebbels had been reading aloud to him [Antony Beevor (2002), Berlin: The Downfall 1945, p. 204]. When news reached Berlin that U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt had died on 12 April 1945, Goebbels excitedly telephoned Hitler to tell him “this is the Miracle of the House of Brandenburg”, referring to the moment in January 1762 when Frederick, seemingly on the point of defeat by the Russians in the Seven Years’ War, was rescued by the most spectacular freak accident: Russian Empress Elizaveta (r. 1741-62) suddenly died and was replaced by her nephew, Tsar Pyotr III, a German-born Prince who was besotted with Frederick [David Stafford (2007), Endgame, 1945: The Missing Final Chapter of World War II, chapter one]. Within days, Pyotr had called off the war against Prussia and reoriented Russia’s entire foreign policy in a pro-German direction. Frederick was saved, but Pyotr was doomed. The Russian elite was furious at Pyotr’s about-face, seeing it (not unreasonably) as treachery—a serving of Prussia’s interests, not Russia’s—and in combination with Pyotr’s domestic missteps, notably seizing lands from the Russian Orthodox Church under the banner of an Enlightenment-inspired secularisation campaign, it meant there was nobody to defend the Tsar six months later when he was deposed and killed, leaving his wife, Ekaterina II or “Catherine the Great” (r. 1762-96), as Empress. Interestingly, a similar series of events would play out when Ekaterina’s son, Pavel, became Emperor: his Germanizing ways domestically combined with an abrupt shift in foreign policy—from fighting the institutionalised Revolution under Napoleon to siding with the French—to bring about his downfall in a blood-stained coup five years after he took the throne.
Peter Watson (2010), The German Genius: Europe’s Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution, and the Twentieth Century, chapter 33.
Greeks, Romans, Germans, p. 74.
Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, pp. 74-77, 105-09.
Inside the Third Reich, p. 147.
The understanding of Koine Greek in the Latin West had declined in the third century when the Roman Empire verged on collapse, declined still further after the collapse of the Empire in the West and Justinian’s attempted reconquest, and had nearly died by the seventh century. The only complete text of Plato’s available in Latin Christendom for the next half-millennium was the Timaeus (written c. 360 BC), one of the two dialogues that does mention Atlantis, but the appearance is fleeting. More of Plato’s works were returned to the Latin West during the twelfth-century renaissance, amid the Papal Revolution and the progress of the Crusaders in recovering Iberia, but the Critias (also from c. 360 BC), the Plato dialogue that fleshes out the Atlantean myth, was not translated into Latin and disseminated widely until the sixteenth century. The translation was made by Janus Cornarius (1500-1558), a close friend of Erasmus’, the heterodox Dutch Catholic priest and trailblazing Christian humanist scholar. It was the Cornarius translation of the Critias that the English proto-Enlightenment philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626) relied upon to write his utopian novel, New Atlantis (1626).
Greeks, Romans, Germans, p. 35.
Rosenberg was somewhat tentative in his mention of Atlantis in The Myth of the Twentieth Century: it appears in just one section, albeit very early in the book, where he says that modern technology had allowed geographers to reconstruct disappeared lands in a way not previously possible. As such, says Rosenberg, “the old legends of Atlantis may appear in a new light”: “It seems far from impossible”, Rosenberg goes on, that the Aryan Atlantean race had originated on this island in the Atlantic before “sen[ding] its children out into the world as seafarers and warriors”, before adding cautiously: “even if this Atlantis hypotheses should prove untenable, a prehistoric Nordic cultural centre must still be assumed”.
Martin Kitchen (2008), The Third Reich, p. 52.
Rosenberg’s Der Mythus des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts was published by Hoheneichen, which was owned by the Nazis’ central publishing house, Eher Verlag, but Mythus was pointedly never issued by Eher Verlag itself and never incorporated into the official Nazi canon, being treated as a private work. See: The Holy Reich, p. 92. Privately, Hitler was even more candid: “I must insist that Rosenberg’s Myth of the Twentieth Century is not to be regarded as an expression of the official doctrine of the Party.” See: Hitler’s Table Talk, p. 422.
In private, Hitler dismissed Rosenberg, both for his pagan beliefs and for Mythus, describing it as “stuff nobody can understand” written by “a narrow-minded Baltic German who thinks in horribly complicated terms”. See: Inside the Third Reich, p. 150.
Greeks, Romans, Germans, pp. 35-6.
Hitler and the Rise of the Nazi Party, p. 61.
Peter Longerich (2012), Heinrich Himmler: A Life, pp. 100-03. Himmler envisioned the extension of this Völkisch peasant order into the conquered zones in the East [pp. 629-30].
Inside the Third Reich, pp. 150-51.
Greeks, Romans, Germans, pp. 24-8.
Greeks, Romans, Germans, p. 55.
Greeks, Romans, Germans, p. 23.
Figures claimed as Aryan on the basis of apparently having blond hair and/or blue eyes included: Cato, Sulla, and Julius Caesar. See: Greeks, Romans, Germans, pp. 60-4.
Greeks, Romans, Germans, p. 57.
Greeks, Romans, Germans, pp. 216-19.
The quote is from Hitler’s unpublished 1928 Zweites Buch (Second Book). See: R. Weikart (2009), Hitler’s Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress, p. 184.
As Tom Holland has explained, the view of Sparta as “racist” is not just mistaken, but misses the point of what made the Spartans stand out in their own time: it is precisely that the Spartans were not racist—that the people they had reduced to helotage were other Greeks—that was considered so shocking. Had the Spartans imposed this wretched fate on some non-Greek people, the rest of the Greek city-states would have had much less to say about it.
Greeks, Romans, Germans, p. 223.
Hitler’s Ethic, p. 184.
Hitler’s Ethic, p. 185.
Hitler’s Ethic, p. 185.
The invasions of Rome by Hannibal and Attila were also used to demonstrate an eternal racial war between Oriental-Semitic and Indo-Germanic peoples. See: Greeks, Romans, Germans, pp. 92-3, 396.
As Octavian/Augustus constructed his autocracy, it was presented as a return to the traditions of the Roman Republic. Three centuries later, Diocletian would present things the same way when he effectively re-founded the Roman Empire after its near-collapse, setting aside the Augustan settlement in favour of a much more militarised autocracy. In a world where “progressives” did not exist—where the population regarded res novae (lit. “new things”, political innovations) with the suspicion appropriate to all proposals for change—the only way to present a revolution was as a restoration.
Giovanni Botero (1589), Della ragion di Stato (The Reason of State), translated by Robert Bireley (2017), pp. 50-1.
Greeks, Romans, Germans, pp. 393-96.
Hitler and the Rise of the Nazi Party, p. 65.
The Nazification process—independent organisations being brought under the control of the totalitarian state—was called Gleichschaltung (lit. “Coordination”).
Greeks, Romans, Germans, pp. 37-40.
The buy-in to Nazism’s more lurid doctrines and the excesses of the Führer cult might not have been total, but there was enough ideological overlap to keep most Germans behind Hitler and the Party essentially down to the end. Among the old bureaucratic and military elite, who were the most “sceptical” in this regard, the buy-in was strong enough that they organised and implemented a genocide. See: Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, p. 355.
Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, p. 101.
Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, p. 90.
Notably, Mein Kampf remained relatively obscure—it sold less-than 10,000 copies in its first year—until after Hitler took power in 1933, partly explaining why people, in Germany and abroad, misread Hitler’s intentions. A similar process occurred in Iran: Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini published Islamic Government in 1970 making entirely plain what his governing program was, but it was generally not discovered by the key observers until after the Islamic Revolution had taken power in 1979. The exception was the CIA, which had the book brought to it during the crisis in 1978 and rejected it as a forgery or provocation—a summary in microcosm of the Agency’s abysmal performance during that world-historical episode.
Adolf Hitler (1939), Mein Kampf: The Stalag Edition: The Only Complete and Officially Authorised English Translation Ever Issued, p. 77.
Mein Kampf, p. 90.
Mein Kampf, p. 440.
Mein Kampf, pp. 458-59.
Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, p. 36.
Mein Kampf, p. 526.
Mein Kampf, pp. 108, 124-25.
Mein Kampf, p. 743.
Mein Kampf, pp. 692-99.
Mein Kampf, p. 16.
Hitler and the Rise of the Nazi Party, pp. 53-4.
Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, pp. 53-5.
Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, p. 90.
The Intellectuals and the Masses, chapter nine.