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6 German National Socialism Many who use the term fascism are referring not to the Italian movement led by Mussolini but to German National Socialism, or the "Nazis" (as their foes soon termed them, from the pronunciation of the first two syllables of national in German). Most theories and interpretations of fascism refer primarily to Germany, not to Italy or other countries. After 1933 the Nazi regime quickly seized primacy as the most dynamic new force in Europe, promoted an enormous and terrible war, conquered much of the continent and dominated most of the rest, and became arguably the most destructive single regime in modern history, before undergoing total defeat and destruction in 1945. Adolf Hitler and Nazism have haunted the historical imagination ever since, even among those who are not generally interested in history. An enormous scholarly and nonscholarly literature now exists which has explored many different aspects of Hitler, National Socialism, and the history of modern Germany. Much of this literature seeks to explain what made possible "the German catastrophe," as a leading German historian entitled a book published in 1946. During the Second World War, a determinist and Manichaean literature developed among Germany's foes, attempting to trace the roots of National Socialism far back into German history, making it the natural outcome of powerful influences in German development.1 After more sober research following the war, it became evident that matters were not so simple. Modern Germany has been in fact a highly complex and often contradictory country, subject to the most diverse influences, most of which were not necI . Much later. in his widely acclaimed book The Germans (New York. 1984). Gordon Craig. the dean of American Germanists (and himself no determinist). indicted the modern German intellectual tradition of romanticism as responsible for a general intellectual climate of nonempiricism and antiliberalism. 147 148 PART I: HISTORY essarily related to National Socialism. It can readily be argued, of course, that from Prussia and from the Second Reich of 1871 Germany inherited a tradition of militarism, authority, and discipline, that German national government did not become fully democratic until 1919, and that by the late nineteenth century nationalism was assuming great intensity in a variety ofdifferent organizations. All of these are essentially correct. It is equally correct that Germany became one of the world's most dynamic centers of modern capitalism, technology, and culture, that its middle classes were large and not lacking in political organization, that its cultural and artistic avant-garde was among the most advanced in the world, that its social democratic movement was proportionately the largest in the world, and that the more racist and anti-Semitic of its political groupings were doomed to political defeat and ever-declining influence in the years before World War I, while its more liberal political parties were gaining strength. Thus, although there existed certain strong influences of ultranationalism , ethnocentrism, and authoritarianism, the general movement of most of German political, social, and cultural life took an opposite direction during the two generations before 1914. The keys to understanding the German catastrophe do not lie in grasping any innate or inevitable tendencies in German life or in defining deterministic political and cultural influences, but in understanding the interplay of destructive ultranationalist tendencies with the unique chain of crises and traumas which afflicted German society in the two decades between 1914 and 1933. This "concatenation of crises" involved a sequence of traumas unparalleled in the history of other European countries during that generation. The onset of a massive war in 1914 was followed by great human losses and suffering, a sort of wartime dictatorship, and some remarkable military victories followed by sudden and inexplicable collapse, albeit in the face of great odds. After military defeat came a harsh and humiliating peace, accompanied by convulsive political change following the collapse of the imperial government, together with the threat (and partial reality) of social revolution accompanied by an unprecedented brutalization of public life and mass violence. This occurred within a framework of great loss of national wealth, unemployment, and decline of living standards. Temporary political stabilization was followed within a year by new efforts at violent political rebellion from the right and left, and three years later by a partial foreign military invasion that led to unimaginable hyperinflation, temporary economic collapse, and the destruction of savings, with further attempted armed revolts from right and left. Even the five years of democratic stabilization (1924-29) were a period of considerable social and...


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