The Dynamics of Nazism
Fred Weinstein’s book, The Dynamics of Nazism, was written from the view that “the inner significance of Nazism” has hitherto not been understood by scholars and so remains incomprehensible. Weinstein insists that all previous psychological and sociological studies have failed to capture the true nature of Nazism. Invariably, the problem of these earlier studies was that they attempted to construe Nazism as a manifestation of some theoretical construct, and it simply cannot be so regarded. The assumptions that Nazism was the inevitable consequence of German history, or that it was a product of German middle-class authoritarianism were, therefore, not valid. Such assumptions were invalid because, Weinstein argues, the events leading to the Holocaust were not inevitable, and the German people were heterogeneous and not homogeneous. Weinstein’s belief that all other studies have failed to understand Nazism was his justification for his book. Weinstein’s effort, therefore, was to elucidate that inner dynamic which would make Nazism unequivocal. The author hoped to do this through an integration of psychoanalysis with “organized collective behavior.”
In attempting to understand Nazism, Weinstein first explored the theme of the heterogeneous nature of German society—the thesis that the German people acted as individuals responding to particular situations, rather than as a uniform mass. The easiest way to demonstrate such a thesis is by describing individuals. This was the approach taken by Weinstein.
Adolf Hitler’s view of art was not necessarily supportive of prevailing schools of art. For example, Gottfried Benn was a spokesman for German Expressionism in the early 1930’s. He was pleased with Hitler’s control of Germany, for he thought that Hitler would see a new birth of man “pouring ancestral vitality through the eroded spaces of Europe.” Benn was pleased with a new regime that would perceive man and life as essentially “irrational” and support “heroic strivings in behalf of the race.” Benn was mistaken, however, in assuming that Hitler would favor only a creative and heroic life. Hitler wanted, as well, uniformity and obedience. Thus, the Nazis attacked both Expressionism, for its anarchism and selfishness, and Benn, as the spokesman of this view. Benn soon recognized the Nazis and Hitler as a “horrible tragedy.” Benn’s situation, however, was quite typical. Hitler’s accession to power was greeted everywhere—even among many artists and intellectuals—with an enthusiasm born of hope of renewal and rebirth. In the midst of the tragedy of the Great Depression of the 1930’s, Hitler’s rise was, at least at first, described by the intellectual community with much praise and with the anticipation of moral and spiritual regeneration.
Having initially reacted toward Hitler, as in the case of Gottfried Benn, with support, the response of the intellectuals and artists varied when, subsequently, they discovered that Hitler had established a totalitarian and despotic regime. Benn was forced to recognize that he had made a mistake. The philosopher, Martin Heidegger, however, made no such acknowledgment. On the contrary, in 1933 Heidegger joined the Nazi Party, withdrew in early 1934, but remained supportive. In 1935, he praised “the inner truth and greatness of this movement” and repeated this statement in print as late as 1953, long after the end of the “Thousand Year Reich” and the Holocaust. Benn had come to despise Nazism, Heidegger continued his support.
A very different response to Hitler may be seen in the activities of the constitutional theorist, Carl Schmitt. Deeply dissatisfied with Hitler’s assumption of power in 1933, Schmitt decided to work in behalf of the Nazis and support their government. The Nazis did not reciprocate this support. Nevertheless, Schmitt remained a member of the Nazi Party from 1933 to 1937. It is important to note that neither Benn, nor Heidegger, nor Schmitt ever publicly attacked Nazism or Hitler.
Other responses to the Nazis also varied considerably. Ernst Jünger, the analyst of technology, started with some support of the Nazis in the 1920’s and publicly opposed the Nazis in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Wilhelm Stapel, an anti-Semitic Protestant Clergyman, was very enthusiastic about the Nazis, supporting their racism with his own. The Nazis did not, however, regard him as sufficiently racist and, by 1945, Stapel was reconciled to Nazi defeat. Edward Spranger, philosopher and academician, was very quickly disappointed in the Nazis as he saw university life threatened by their regime. The psychologist, Carl G. Jung, is another example; although claiming that he was not anti-Semitic (he later said “I slipped up”) Jung presented a defense of German over Jew and a justification for a barbarism among the Nazis with which he was reconciled. His other mistake was in assuming that all people including Nazis were “constrained by morality.” This description could be expanded, but enough has been said to reveal the heterogeneous character and motives of the German intellectual community.
In addition to the heterogeneous character of German intellectuals, it is clear that many held values also held by the Nazis. Many glorified war, believed in a life of action and strife, were nationalists, and shared a common rhetoric with the Nazis. The intellectuals and the German people were powerfully influenced by Hitler’s effective rhetoric and appeals to traditional values in a time of confusion and uncertainty. Weinstein holds that Hitler’s speeches were less anti-Semitic than they were focused on tradition and solving economic and political problems. Finally, it is also true that many intellectuals and ordinary people believed in Nazism simply because they wanted to believe in it. They were, therefore, disposed to remain hopeful and optimistic about Nazism in spite of its affronts to human dignity and values, its cruelty, and its despotism. For example, while the physicist Leo Szilard had no illusions about the Nazis and lived with his baggage packed, Michael Polanyi, the physical chemist, remained optimistic about the Nazis for a time, as did the physicist, Max Planck and the existentialist philosopher, Martin Buber. It is clear that the brilliance in many fields of the German intellectual community,...
(The entire section is 2596 words.)