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Adolf Hitler's Views and Opinions of Democracy

Adolf HitlerAdolf Hitler was born in Austria in 1889 and, as a teen, lived a poor life in Vienna. He served as a lance corporal for the Bavarian military during the first World War, and received two Iron Crosses for bravery. After the war Hitler breathed life into the German Worker's Party, renamed it the National Socialist German Worker's Party, and in 1920 released the 25-Point program, a list of Party demands. In 1923 Hitler and the Nazi Party attempted to take over the Bavarian government by force. Hitler was arrested and imprisoned; he served only nine months of a five-year sentence and spent his free time writing Mein Kampf, his manifesto/autobiography. In 1932 the National Socialist German Worker's Party (the German abbreviation being NSDAP or Nazi) won 30 percent of the popular vote in the presidential election. (Grobman 28) Hitler made a deal with the victor, Paul von Hindenburg, and became Chancellor of Germany in January 1933. When Hindenburg died in 1934, Hitler consolidated his power, becoming both President and Chancellor. After becoming comfortable at the helm, Hitler began implementing his dictatorial policies, some of which involved the elimination of trade unions, severe limitations on freedom of expression, and radical racist policies, particularly against the Jews. Hitler called for the invasion of Poland in 1939, an event which sparked World War II. The German army made impressive gains in the early 1940s, but by 1944 Hitler realized that Germany was no match for the United States and its Allies. He committed suicide with his wife in the spring of 1945. (Grobman 32)

An accurate understanding of Hitler's views of democracy is possible when democracy itself is defined in its broadest terms. A political order is a democracy when there exists elected officials, free and fair elections, inclusive suffrage, the right to run for public office, freedom of expression, the right to alternative information and associational autonomy (the right to form interest groups). (Dahl 221-222) Likewise, a political order devoid of one or more of these facets is not a democracy. Popular sovereignty (or lack thereof) is the most vital characteristic in regards to democracies and other political orders, as it is what fundamentally sets democracy apart from other political orders. (Christiano 3)

Setting the stage

Hitler found no appeal in Western democracy partially because of its slow pace. Likewise, he found great appeal in his National Socialist State and the swift pace of its legislative process: "The essence of leadership as conceived by the National Socialist State is the capacity to form rapid decisions." (Hitler, My New Order 228)

"One works best when alone." This adage, commonly attributed to Hitler, perfectly sums up his views of democracy and parliamentary-style government. He believed that individuals operating in a democracy are not brought to their fullest potential due to the ultimatums and compromises (both in principle and practice) that commonly occur:

...democracy will in practice lead to the destruction of a people's true values. And this also serves to explain how it is that people with a great past from the time when they surrender themselves to the unlimited, democratic rule of the masses slowly lose their former position; for the outstanding achievements of individuals...are now rendered practically ineffective through the oppression of mere numbers. (Rauschning 785)

After the failed attempt in 1923 to gain power by force, Hitler realized that it was more feasible to build the Nazi party up "within the framework of the Constitution." (Bullock 130; [edition is 1962 unless otherwise noted]) Said Hitler in 1925: "If out-voting them takes longer than out-shooting them, at least the result would be guaranteed by their own constitution...Any lawful process is slow...Sooner or later we shall have a majority — and after that, Germany." (Bullock 130) [1] This ideology is the core of Hitler's German-style democracy: where a leader is chosen democratically, then assumes full power and responsibility over the people. (Fischer 170) Hitler's tactics for gaining power changed, but the purpose of his mission, to overthrow the Weimar Republic, remained steadfast. To Hitler, no cost was too high for triumph; in overthrowing the Republic in 1933, Hitler made good on his vow to "destroy democracy with the weapons of democracy." (Grunfeld 109)

Hitler did succeed in destroying democracy in Germany; in 1933 he was actually elected democratically. But once he was given the power to rule by decree and suppressed all opposition, his government was no longer democratic. In Mein Kampf, Hitler states his intent for the Nazi Party: "The NSDAP [Nazi] Party must not serve the masses, but rather dominate them." (260; [edition is 1942 unless otherwise noted]) Hitler likewise stressed that the leader of the ruling party should dominate the nation: "The Furher is the supreme judge of the nation; there is no position in the area of constitutional law in the Third Reich independent of this elemental will of the Furher." (Noakes and Pridham)

Hitler's definition of democracy

Hitler, in speeches in Nuremberg and Munich, has given us definitions of democracy, yet these definitions are nowhere near explicit or conclusive. "Democracy in our eyes is a regime that is supported by the will of the people." (My New Order, 554) It is unclear as to whom Hitler means by "our eyes..."; one can assume he is talking of the German people. Furthermore, according to Webster, a regime is simply "a form of government or administration". Hitler's definition, in turn, becomes simple and obvious; the above definition taken literally does not waver from the consensus definition mentioned in the introduction; in fact it is broader, leading one to suggest that the word "regime" had negative connotations that were lost in the English translation.

Fortunately, Hitler has given us a more intricate definition of democracy, even likening it to an aqueduct or blood vessel: "Democracy is the canal through which bolshevism lets its poisons flow into the separate countries and lets work there long enough for these infections to lead to a crippling of intelligence and of the force of resistance." (My New Order, 405) This critical definition also hints at Hitler's opinions of Jews, as explained later in this article.

Socialism

Hitler had a deep hatred of the Social Democratic party, which he believed "fostered class conflicts at the expense of national unity." (Bullock 42) In Mein Kampf, he outlines his distaste of the Social Democratic movement, being turned off by their hostility towards the maintenance of Germanism in Austria (31) and their opposition to social demands by the working class. (35-36) The Social Democratic Party remained antagonistic and disparaging to Hitler; he believed that "...the working men were the victims of a deliberate system for corrupting and poisoning the popular mind, organized by the Social Democratic Party's leaders, who cynically exploited the distress of the masses" for their political gains. (Bullock 38) Hitler was also critical of the Social Democrats for their dependence on internationalization and foreign trade. With this in mind, it is no wonder that Hitler believed that Jews were the leaders of Social Democracy and therefore to be hated. (Hitler, Mein Kampf 43)

Hitler was not a socialist in the strict sense of the word; this can be shown by his definition of 'socialist', which differs from the norm:

Whoever is prepared to make the national cause his own to such an extent that he knows no higher ideal than the welfare of his nation; whoever has understood our great national anthem, Deutschland, Deutschland, über Alles, to mean that nothing in the wide world surpasses in his eyes this Germany, people and land, land and people — that man is a Socialist. (Bullock 76)

Hitler's meaning of socialism, therefore did not refer to a specific economic system, but to "an instinct for national self-preservation" (Fischer 125) or nationalism. Concerning the Socialist aspects of the 25-Point program, Hitler made promises "because in 1920, the German working class and the lower middle classes were saturated in a radical anti-capitalism; such phrases were essential for any politician who wanted to attract their support." (Bullock 75)

Nationalism and German culture

Hitler had an overall disregard for the masses and refused to accept trade unions or the working classes. Once Hitler was in power, he broke all promises he had made to the workers. Hitler and the Nazi Party did away with collective bargaining and the right to strike. He replaced trade unions with an organization called the 'Labor Front', but this organization was fundamentally a tool of the Nazi Party and did not operate in the workers' favor. According to the law that created the Labor Front, "Its task is to see that every individual should be able to perform the maximum of work." (Kangas 13)

Hitler, it can be argued, saw German culture as a collective body, not as individual members. This German culture or Aryan race was not exclusive of the boundaries of Germany, nor were the boundaries of Germany exclusive of the 'Aryan race'. To Hitler, the ideal Aryan would sacrifice his individualistic freedoms for the conservation of the community. (Kangas 24) "The main plank in the Nationalist Socialist program is to abolish the liberalistic concept of the individual and the Marxist concept of humanity and to substitute for them the folk community, rooted in the soil and bound together by the bond of its common blood." (Bullock 228 [1971]) [2] Likewise, in Hitler's 25-Point program, he stresses common (national) interest over personal gain: "The [National Socialist] Party...is convinced that our nation can achieve permanent health only from within on the basis of the principle: The common interest before self-interest." (Hitler Historical Museum 4)

This 'folk community' and 'common blood' he talks of suggests that his philosophy of nationalism or 'statism' was really racism in disguise (Kangas 23) as this excerpt from Mein Kampf conveys: "The German Reich as a state must embrace all Germans and has the task, not only of assembling and preserving the most valuable stocks of basic racial elements in this people, but slowly and surely of raising them to a dominant position." (Mein Kampf 398 [1962]) In describing the Aryan race, Hitler could find no wrong. He attributed the world's progress in science, technology, and art almost exclusively to Aryan and traced the successes of foreign countries to Aryan subjugation of those countries. (Mein Kampf 164-165) He talked of the "dark shroud of a new barbarian era" (216) that would cover the earth if the Aryan race ceased to exist. To prevent a halt in world progress, Hitler believed that it was imperative of the Aryan race to remain pure. "Those who do not wish that the earth should fall into such a condition must realize that it is the task of the German State in particular to see to it that the process of bastardization is brought to a stop." (226) By 'bastardization', Hitler doesn't refer to children born to unwed mothers; he speaks of the interbreeding of the races, particularly people of Aryan and Jewish descent. Furthermore, Hitler was decidedly against the pan-German movement in Austria (in which the German language was imposed upon Slavs) because he believed the people of Germany were citizens by blood, not language or culture. (Staudinger 47)

Parliament and internationalization

Hitler, February 1945In Hitler's eyes, internationalization was inseparable from democracy. (My New Order 96-97) Before Hitler came to power, democracy in Germany preached reliance on the outside world; he clashed with this view as he was adamantly opposed to internationalization. He considered economic independence a "natural corollary of any national state." (Staudinger 42) But Germany in the early 1930s, or any other nation for that matter, wasn't completely economically independent — food, for instance, was imported from neighboring countries. A self-sufficient country was Hitler's goal, one where "national production and consumption would be brought into a dynamic balance." (Staudinger 45)

Hitler despised the parliamentary establishments of democracies. In his 25-Point program, he criticized the corrupt nature of representatives: "We oppose the corrupting parliamentary custom of filling posts merely in accordance with party considerations, and without reference to character or abilities." (Hitler Historical Museum 11) [3] He was indeed well aware of the resistance he faced in implementing this mission: "We want to liberate Germany from the fetters of an impossible parliamentary democracy — not because we are terrorists, not because we intend to gag the free spirit. On the contrary, the spirit has never made themselves its master." (My New Order 149-150)

Hitler believed that Germany's parliamentary government system (of 1918-1933) did not consist of a well-informed, intelligent group of people, nor did it attempt to make itself such. "The aim [of the modern democratic parliamentary system] rather is to bring together a group of nonentities who are dependent on others for their views and who can be all the more easily led..." (Mein Kampf 60) Conversely, Hitler believed that an ideal form of government does not make it hard for gifted people to succeed and reach high, influential positions. (252) Likewise, he believed that a council which advises a leader on how to act, but doesn't actually vote on matters was superior to the democratic principle of 'majority rule.' (252)

Capitalism, the basic tenet of a free market in a democracy, was predictably scorned by Hitler. He was publically critical of capitalists, whom he believed controlled the masses. In a 1940 speech in Berlin, Hitler outlined what he considered to be the hypocrisy of capitalists: "The masses of the people do not interest [capitalists] in the least. They are interested in them...only when elections are being held, when they need votes." (My New Order 881) During the 1940s, wartime rationing was in effect in Germany; Hitler derided the profiteers and capitalists who hoarded goods and sought to impose restrictions in order to ensure equal distribution of goods. (885) Prior to the War, Hitler and the Nazi Party demanded that large industries share profits to more equally distribute income. (Hitler Historical Museum 19) This demand, however, was never formally carried out by the Party. Hitler was also critical of foreign countries, namely the United States, where he believed "the selfishness of a relatively small stratum rules under the mask of democracy." (My New Order 885)

The 25-Point program

The Nazi Party's 25-Point program mentions Hitler's desire to limit freedom of expression, especially in the area of newsprint. He masks this limit of freedom with a demand for a "legal warfare on deliberate political mendacity and its dissemination in the press." (Hitler Historical Museum 28) The 25-Point program insisted that editors of newspapers being published in German must be German citizens. Likewise, "no non-German newspapers may appear without the express permission of the State. They must not be printed in the German language." (Hitler Historical Museum 29) After Hitler came to power, he put serious restrictions on the freedoms of the press, and of speech.

Hitler's regime had a monopoly on German propaganda; this significantly aided in the elimination of public criticism of the Nazi party and its causes. Hitler has been called the "ablest propagandist of modern history." (Miller and Minsky 9) This is ironic because he attributed his ideas of mass propaganda to the Social Democrats, whom he detested. (Bullock 44) In deliberately vague propaganda (Grunfeld 112), Hitler and Goebbels (Germany's Propaganda Minister) sought to make the word Jew a bad name and succeeded by stressing the ties between communism and the Jewish race. German propaganda in the 1930s associated the Jew with internationalism (the polar opposite of Hitler's nationalism) and communism, a governmental system many Aryan Germans already despised. Hitler also made democracy a bad name; during a Nuremberg speech he declared that "democracy is the foul and filthy avenue to communism." (Miller and Minsky 10) Thus, democracy, communism and Jew became closely associated among the German people — one could not say one without recalling the other terms.

Hitler frequently entertained the idea of "people breeding" and was generally opposed to reproductive freedoms: "The folkish philosophy of life must succeed in bringing about that nobler age in which men no longer are concerned with breeding dogs, horses, and cats, but in elevating man himself." (Mein Kampf 228) His elevation of man was limited to Aryans and based on the assumption that the Aryan race was inherently superior to all others. "The folkish state must make up for what everyone else today has neglected in this field. It must set race in the center of all life. It must take care to keep it pure." (227) Hitler was opposed to racial intermarriages, believing it led to a degeneration of the racial stock. (160-168) In 1935, the Nuremberg racial laws prohibited Germans (Aryans) from marrying Jews or from engaging in sexual relations with them. (Fischer 391)

Religious freedom was mentioned in the 25-Point program; Hitler demanded freedom for all religions "provided they do not threaten [the State's] existence nor offend the moral feelings of the Germanic race." (Hitler Historical Museum 31) This left religious beliefs in Germany open to interpretation. As an afterthought, Hitler cited that the National Socialist Party "combats the Jewish-materialistic spirit" (Hitler Historical Museum 32) which is contradictory to the party's demand for religious freedom. Hitler remained contradictory to this demand with his State endorsement of the Gottgläubig (God-Believing) Movement, a minimalist alternative to Christianity (Fischer 359), and the ruthless persecution of the Christian clergy during World War II. (Fischer 358-364)

The Jews

The Jews were a major theme in Hitler's speeches and texts; he portrayed Jews as being responsible for most of the problems and evils in Germany as well as the world. He blamed them for inflation, political instability and unemployment. During the Third Reich, Jews were strongly urged to emigrate and were excluded from prominent professions, civil service and the arts, and their property was systematically taken by the State. (Fischer 282, 390-391)

In terms of democracy, Hitler believed that "...democracy is fundamentally not German: it is Jewish...this Jewish democracy with its majority decisions has always been without exception only a means toward the destruction of any existing Aryan leadership." (My New Order 21) Hitler attributed the Jews' democratic success in their ability to make public opinion serve their own interests. "And [this] can be achieved by the man who can lie most artfully, most infamously..." (21), thus, the Jew.

Hitler even blamed the Jews for losing World War I: "Hitler, like too many of his countrymen...accepted the stab-in-the-back myth, according to which Germany had been defeated in World War I not by the Allies in the field but by Jews and other traitors at home..." (Brogan 511) Furthermore, Hitler blamed the Jews for hindering Germany's progress towards achieving the perfect race.

[The Jews'] ultimate goal is the denaturalization, the promiscuous bastardization of other peoples, the lowering of the racial level of the highest peoples as well as the domination of his racial mishmash through the extirpation of the folkish intelligentsia and its replacement by the members of his own people. (Grobman 23)

Hitler maintained that the only by remaining racially pure could a people defeat the Jew. (Mein Kampf 185) "Never in this world can the Jew become master of any people except a bastardized people." (185) To maintain Germany's racial purity Hitler sought to eliminate Aryan intermarriage between Jews and other races (Grobman 23), and a law was passed in 1935 forbidding such practices (Fischer 391).

Eventually, in the "Final Solution" he sought to eliminate German Jews altogether (Fischer 497-499). Hitler rationalized his racist actions by taking the role of a doctor who eliminates the "germ" or "parasite" that is the Jew. (Rosenbaum 212; Mein Kampf 172-173) Hitler further rationalized his conduct by appealing to a higher power: "And so I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator. In standing guard against the Jew I am defending the handiwork of the Lord" (Mein Kampf 46)

In conclusion

In light of Hitler's anti-democratic stance, substantial contradictions arise. He named his party the 'National Socialist Party', yet he conveniently ignored the fact that socialism and communism both stem from Marxism, a political philosophy he hated. (Miller and Minsky 15) Furthermore, the phrase National Socialist implies conflicting ideologies: the right wing nationalist and the left-wing socialist. There were indeed socialist clauses in the 25-Point program, yet most of them were not implemented after Hitler came to power. (Grunfeld 112) Hitler can be viewed a hypocrite concerning his chief ally during World War II: he, known as the "prophet of Aryan greatness" (Brogan 512), took Japan as his country's main ally. This may have been surprising, given Japan's lack of Aryans. Hitler was drawn more to Japan's strict military operations and extreme nationalism than to their racial makeup.

Hitler, the quintessential anti-democrat, ascended to power as swiftly as few politicians before him. He was ominously close to succeeding in World War II and subsequently in foisting his views and policies on an unprepared world. Had he succeeded, unfortunately "all [of his] crimes, as he himself said, would have been validated." (Grunfeld) Conversely, the democracies (and the men and women who took part in them) that helped win World War II became stronger and received a sustaining burst of political validation and support.

Footnotes

[1] see also: Ludecke, Kurt G, I Knew Hitler: The Story of a Nazi who Escaped the Blood Surge 217-218 [1938]

[2] see also: My New Order 408

[3] see also: http://www.abelard.org/hitler/hitler.php

Related article

Works Cited

Brogan, Hugh. "Hitler's War on the World". Reviews in American History 23.3 (1995): 510-515.

Small Image Bullock, Alan. Hitler: A Study in Tyranny. New York: Harper & Row, 1962.

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---. Mein Kampf. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1962.

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Kangas, Steve. "Myth: Hitler Was a Leftist.", 1996. http://www.huppi.com/kangaroo/L-hitler.htm

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Noakes, J., and Geoffrey Pridham. Small ImageNazism 1919-1945 : State, Economy and Society, 1933-1939 : A Documentary Reader . New York: University of Exeter Press, 1995.

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For further reading

Ian Kershaw's Small ImageHitler: 1889-1936 Hubris or Small ImageHitler: 1936-1945 Nemesis