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Roots of Totalitarianism

ISSUE:  Autumn 1942

Germany the Aggressor Throughout the Ages. By F. J. C. Hearnshaw, E. P. Dutton & Co. $3.00. The Roots of National Socialism. By Rohan D’0. Butler. E. P. Dutton & Co. $3.00. Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism. By Fran/. L. Neumann, Oxford University Press. $4.00. Geopolitics: The Struggle for Space and Power. By Robert Strausz-Hupe G. P. Putnam’s Sons. $275.

National Socialism, most deadly challenge to the democratic way of life, has been in turn defined as the most blatant version of “Prussianism’s predatory passions,” as “the last stage of Capitalism,” and as the militant reaction of a proud people who want to avenge their defeat and to renew a drive toward world conquest which they failed to achieve a generation ago. Each of these interpretations and many more signify an important aspect of the picture. Only when woven together into a comprehensive view can they fully reveal the nature of this total revolution.

Hearnshaw’s study, “Germany the Aggressor Throughout the Ages,” seemingly follows the black-white pattern of literature born of war hysteria. Yet despite its provocative title the book is more than the story of the perpetual “aggressor throughout the ages.” The renowned British historian is too responsible a scholar to give such a crude record of Germany’s case. He is factual and suggestive in his analysis, balanced and intelligent in his judgment, witty and clear in his style, and a master of precise condensation. True, his sketch of Europe’s bloody history from Roman days to 1939 with almost exclusive emphasis on the bloody part presents the Germans “as Esau among nations,” a militant and aggressive people. But throughout his study and even in his sharp epilogue, “Germany contra mundum,” the author tries to find reasons for such “lust for conquest.”

If the English have outgrown their primal bellicosity while the Germans have remained fundamentally pagan, Hearnshaw rightly attributes this difference to three factors in Germany’s plight: historical geography, belated national unification, and final control by autocratic Prussia whose “raison d’etre always has been aggression.” Mark mentality, created by an utter lack of natural boundaries, is to Hearnshaw the key to an understanding of disturbing Prussianism; in such an interpretation he hardly differs from leading German historians, such as Otto Hintze. He also sees the discrepancies between Prussia and the smaller German states. But he does not sufficiently bring out the basic dualism which has prevailed throughout German history and which has cut the country into two distinct cultural areas showing a different degree of participation in European traditions. The Western and Southern part of Germany became the central stage of European history and civilization, while East Elbia definitely remained European hinterland—outpost or even outsider of the continent. Since the days of the Reformation, up to the Versailles of 1919, Germany’s weight persistently tended toward the East, thus withholding from her the balancing influence of the more Europeanized areas of German civilization.

This crucial shift of stress is taken as a starting point in the study made by Rohan D’O. Butler of “The Roots of National Socialism.” The need for a thorough analysis of the forces behind the movement has been strongly felt now that surface studies of on-the-spot observers and armchair strategists swamp the market and often cloud the real issues. The difficulties in such a study are obvious. It presupposes a sound knowledge of Germany’s complex intellectual history and strange mental climate. At the same time only a student who is profoundly versed in Western thought can translate this German outlook into a meaningful challenge for the Anglo-Saxon world. Such a combination is rare, but Butler possesses the essential qualities.

His critical survey of Germany’s intellectual history since the rise of Prussia is sound in content, yet not dry or overstuffed; lively in style, but never sensational; dispassionate in presentation and therefore doubly effective in its indictment. The gallery of leading political thinkers (from the Romantics to Rosenberg) represents to the author a persistent strain of thought which increasingly separated Germany from Western civilization. Though Butler shuns simple generalizations he finds a distinctive “outlook on Society” characteristic of German thought and of its most representative historical school. Having been denied the experience of national existence for too long, the Germans seem to waver between unrealistic anarchic individuality and limitless admiration for the absolute, powerful State. In fact, these two reactions are closely akin.

While Butler’s basic interpretation will be fully acceptable and while the book easily stands out as a reliable guide through the labyrinth of German thought, one may well argue about numerous details. Butler’s emphasis on political thought necessarily hinders his doing justice to poets such as Kleist and Rilke, whom he quotes. Carl Schmitt, crown jurist of the Third Reich, would have merited a close scrutiny. More dangerous are misinterpretations of crucial exponents such as Gorres, Lassalle, Lamprecht, Friedrich Naumann, and above all Leopold von Ranke, whose whole life work testifies to a full-fledged European concept of a Christian Western World.

Historians often lay more stress on the effects of thought and action than on the intentions which originally motivate them. Such an approach makes history seemingly more conclusive and inevitable, since it cuts out all those elements of the past which are not meaningful to the present. But only in retrospect does history follow one single track. Actually history at any time is polyform, full of divergent trends and possibilities.

The nineteenth century especially has often been pressed into the straitjacket of a few isms, a simplification which fails to express its complexity. At the base of any approach to German intellectual history is found the deep antagonism which has prevailed between the political powers and the cultural life in German history. The source and impact of this conflict becomes evident only if its sociological implications are fully understood. Only then are the roots of National-Socialism laid bare.

Such a comprehensive sociological analysis is presented in Franz Neumann’s scholarly work, “Rehemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism.” The author won a reputation in the Weimar Republic as an expert, especially in the field of labor and social legislation, and has since then widened his domain of research through his work at the London School of Economics and at the Institute of Social Research in New York.

Behemoth, the land monster of the Jewish eschatology, popularized by Hobbes as depicting “a non-state, a chaos, a situation of lawlessness, disorder and anarchy” is properly recalled by the author as being revived in the twentieth century land monster, National Socialism. The main body of the book serves as material proof of this thesis. After a short and concise introduction on the structure and collapse of the Weimar Republic, Neumann discusses the political pattern of national socialism, makes a thorough inquiry into the totalitarian monopolistic economy, and analyzes the new society of the ruling class and the ruled class. In these 400 pages an impressive amount of concrete material (largely derived from original German sources) is brought together which will make the book extremely valuable even for those who may not fully accept its interpretations.

On the basis of such substantial analysis the author comes to the conclusion that National Socialism is incompatible with any political philosophy, rational or anti-rational. The inquiry equally denies that Nazi Germany is a state, if a state is characterized by the rule of law or at least by the unity of the political power that it wields. A non-state, a rule of lawlessness and anarchy, the Third Reich thus becomes truly Behemoth. It is nothing but “a form of society in which the ruling groups control the rest of the population directly without the mediation of that rational though coercive apparatus hitherto known as the state.” The rule of National-Socialism, formally operating under the so-called leadership principle, is actually divided into four co-existing hierarchical powers: Bureaucracy, Army, Party, and Industrial-Agrarian Leadership, held together only by “profits, power, prestige, and, above all, fear.” Such differentiations notwithstanding, the book is based upon a pre-eminently economic interpretation.

Mr, Neumann emphasizes that National Socialism has accepted and strengthened the prevailing class character of German society and is the final expression and instrument of an imperialistic, monopolistic economy that, having passed through a democratic phase, cannot exclude the masses from consideration. It thus “took the form of totalitarian dictatorship that has been able to transform some of its victims into supporters and to organize the entire country into an armed camp under iron discipline.”

If one accepts such an analysis, then one will also follow his conclusion that a definite downfall of National Socialism can not be guaranteed by its military defeat alone, but only by a concurrent destruction of monopolistic capitalism. Such a thesis clearly indicates the specific place which this book commands in present-day discussions.

The most popular interpretation of 1942 is based on “geopolitics.” Here again one single factor of totalitarian dynamics, significant, though, in a specific phase of dictatorship’s everchanging strategies, was suddenly declared the open sesame to National Socialism’s secret drives. Soon a flashy journalism raised Professor-General Haushofer to the role of the “man behind Hitler.” It was imperative to delineate this much advertised “new science of power politics” and to give it a critical airing. Strausz-Hupe’s competent treatise “Geopolitics: The Struggle for Space and Power,” accomplishes that task.

His opening panorama of geopolitics’ many forerunners since the end of the eighteenth century proves how much of its scientific knowledge is not new and how much of it is even borrowed from Anglo-Saxon political geographers. Ratzel and Kjellen, Admiral Mahan, and above all Mac-kinder, to mention only a few, laid the essential basis for “the global scheme of political strategy” which is called geopolitics today. It was, however, Haushofer who, in the defeated Germany of the Armistice Period, gave political meaning to theoretical concepts, who organized a school of fanatic disciples around him (among them Rudolf Hess), who created a dynamic style and an impressive vocabulary, and who finally raised geopolitics to a Weltanschauung with the all-embracing claim typical of a newly discovered science.

The book gives plentiful evidence of the extraordinary influence of the geopolitical experts in shaping German propaganda abroad and in planning the “New Order” in Europe. Above all, it shows clearly that “Geopolitics poses instability as the fundamental principle of international relations,” and is, in fact, as unprincipled and cynical as Nazi leadership.

The author, however, does not stop at denouncing German geopolitics as “a propaganda vehicle for German military imperialism”; he warns at the same time against the continued neglect by the Western World of considering politics in its spatial relations. “The Nazis profited greatly from the international amnesia that had blotted out awareness of the geographic issues of world politics.”

To have made such a first attempt to distinguish clearly between the myth and the reality of geopolitics gives this study its specific value in a continuing discussion which often is lacking in balance between unqualified praise for the newly discovered discipline of untold secret weapons and a sweeping condemnation of the mythmaker’s devilish machinations. Only such a sober analysis can definitely establish the power, peril, and pitfalls of geopolitics and of its chief exploiter, the Third Reich.


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