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History Repeats Itself: National Socialism – Past and Present (The Psychology of Nazism)
PSYCHOLOGY OF NAZISM
The automatization of the individual in modern society has increased the helplessness and insecurity of the average individual. Thus, they are ready to submit to new authorities which offer them security and relief from doubt. There are special conditions that are necessary to make this offer accepted; it will show that for the nucleus, the lower middle class of the Nazi movement, the authoritarian mechanism is most characteristic.
In discussing the psychology of Nazism, we have first to consider a preliminary question–the relevance of psychological factors in the understanding of Nazism.
In the scientific and still more so in the popular discussion of Nazism, two opposite views are frequently presented: the first, that psychology does not explain an economic and political phenomenon like Fascism, the second, that Fascism is wholly a psychological problem.
The first view looks upon Nazism either as the outcome of an exclusively economic dynamism, of the expansive tendencies of imperialism, or as an essentially political phenomenon, the conquest of the state by one political party backed by industrialists and Junkers; in short, the victory of Nazism is looked upon as the result of a minority’s trickery and coercion of the majority of the population.
The second view, on the other hand, maintains that Nazism can be explained only in terms of psychology, or rather in those of psychopathology. Hitler is looked upon as a madman or as a “neurotic” and his followers as equally mad and mentally unbalanced.
According to this explanation, as expounded by L. Mumford, the true sources of Fascism are to be found “in the human soul, not in economics.” He goes on: “In overwhelming pride, delight in cruelty, neurotic disintegration, in this and not in the Treaty of Versailles or in the incompetence of the German Republic lies the explanation of Fascism.”
In our opinion, none of these explanations, which emphasize political and economic factors to the exclusion of psychological ones, or vice versa, is correct. Nazism is a psychological problem, but the psychological factors themselves have to be understood as being molded by socio-economic factors; Nazism is an economic and political problem, but the hold it has over a whole people has to be understood on psychological grounds. What we are concerned with here is this psychological aspect of Nazism, its human basis. This suggests two problems: the character structure of those people to whom it appeals and the psychological characteristics of the ideology that makes it such an effective instrument with regard to those very people.
In considering the psychological basis for the success of Nazism this differentiation has to be made at the outset: one part of the population bows to the Nazi regime without any strong resistance, but also without becoming admirers of the Nazi ideology and political practice. Another part is deeply attracted to the new ideology and fanatically attaches to those who proclaimed it. The first group consists mainly of the working class, (L. Mumford, Faith for Living, Seeker and Warburg, London, 1941, p. 118) and the liberal and Catholic bourgeoisie. In spite of an excellent organization, especially among the working class, these groups, although continuously hostile to Nazism from its beginning up to 1933, did not show the inner resistance one might have expected as the outcome of their political convictions. Their will to resist collapses quickly and since then, they cause little difficulty for the regime (excepting, of course, the small minority which fought heroically against Nazism during all these years). Psychologically, this readiness to submit to the Nazi regime seems to be due mainly to a state of inner fatigue and resignation, which, is characteristic of the individual in the present era even in democratic countries. In Germany, one additional condition was present as far as the working class was concerned: the defeat it suffered after the first victories in the revolution of 1918. The working class had entered the post-war period with strong hopes for the realization of socialism or at least for a definite rise in its political, economic, and social position; but, whatever the reasons, it had witnessed an unbroken succession of defeats, which brought about the complete disappointment of all its hopes. By the beginning of 1930, the fruits of its initial victories were almost completely destroyed and the result was a deep feeling of resignation, of disbelief in their leaders, of doubt about the value of any kind of political organization and political activity. They remained members of their respective parties and, consciously, continued to believe in their political doctrines; but deep within themselves, many had given up any hope in the effectiveness of political action.
An additional incentive for the loyalty of the majority of the population to the Nazi government became effective after Hitler came into power. For millions of people Hitler’s government then became identical with “Germany.” Once he held the power of government, fighting him implied shutting oneself out of the community of Germans; when other political parties were abolished and the Nazi party “was” Germany, opposition to it meant opposition to Germany. It seems that nothing is more difficult for the average man to bear than the feeling of not being identified with a larger group. However much a German citizen may be opposed to the principles of Nazism, if he has to choose between being alone and feeling that he belongs to Germany, most persons will choose the latter. It can be observed in many instances that persons who are not Nazis nevertheless defend Nazism against criticism of foreigners because they feel that an attack on Nazism is an attack on Germany. The fear of isolation and the relative weakness of moral principles help any party to win the loyalty of a large sector of the population once that party has captured the power of the state. This consideration results in an axiom which is important for the problems of political propaganda: any attack on Germany as such, any defamatory propaganda concerning “the Germans” (such as the “Hun” symbol of the last war), only increases the loyalty of those who are not wholly identified with the Nazi system. This problem, however, cannot be solved basically by skilful propaganda but only by the victory in all countries of one fundamental truth: that ethical principles stand above the existence of the nation and that by adhering to these principles an individual belongs to the community of all those who share, who have shared, and who will share this belief.
In contrast to the negative or resigned attitude of the working class and of the liberal and Catholic bourgeoisie, the Nazi ideology was ardently greeted by the lower strata of the middle class, composed of small shopkeepers, artisans, and white-collar workers.
Members of the older generation among this class formed the more passive mass basis; their sons and daughters were the more active fighters. For them the Nazi ideology, its spirit of blind obedience to a leader and of hatred against racial and political minorities, its craving for conquest and domination, its exaltation of the German people and the “Nordic Race”, had a tremendous emotional appeal, and it was this appeal which won them over and made them into ardent believers in and fighters for the Nazi cause. The answer to the question why the Nazi ideology was so appealing to the lower middle class has to be sought for in the social character of the lower middle class. Their social character was markedly different from that of the working class, of the higher strata of the middle class, and of the elite before the war of 1914. In fact, certain features were characteristic for this part of the middle class throughout its history: their love of the strong, hatred of the weak, their pettiness, hostility, thriftiness with feelings as well as with money, and essentially their asceticism. Their outlook on life was narrow, they suspected and hated the stranger, and they were curious and envious of their acquaintances, rationalizing their envy as moral indignation; their whole life was based on the principle of scarcity, economically as well as psychologically.
To say that the social character of the lower middle class differed from that of the working class does not imply that this character structure was not present in the working class also. But it was typical for the lower middle class, while only a minority of the working class exhibited the same character structure in a similarly clear-cut fashion; the one or the other trait, however, in a less intense form, like enhanced respect of authority or thrift, was to be found in most members of the working class too. On the other hand, it seems that a great part of the white-collar workers, probably the majority, more closely resembled the character structure of the manual workers (especially those in big factories) than that of the “old middle class,” which did not participate in the rise of monopolistic capitalism but was essentially threatened by it.
Although it is true that the social character of the lower middle class had been the same long before the war of 1914, it is also true that the events after the war intensified the very traits to which the Nazi ideology had its strong appeal: its craving for submission and its lust for power.
In the period before the German Revolution of 1918, the economic position of the lower strata of the old middle class, the small independent businessman and artisan, was already on the decline; but it was not desperate and there were a number of factors which made for its stability.
The authority of the monarchy was undisputed, and by leaning on it and identifying with it, the member of the lower middle class acquired a feeling of security and narcissistic pride. In addition, the authority of religion and traditional morality was still firmly rooted. The family was still unshaken and a safe refuge in a hostile world. The individual felt that he belonged to a stable social and cultural system in which he had his definite place. His submission and loyalty to existing authorities were a satisfactory solution of his masochistic strivings; yet, he did not go to the extreme of self-surrender and he retained a sense of the importance of his own personality. What he was lacking in security and aggressiveness as an individual, he was compensated for by the strength of the authorities to which he submitted himself. In brief, his economic position was still solid enough to give him a feeling of self-pride and of relative security, and the authorities on which he leaned were strong enough to give him the additional security, which his own individual position could not provide.
The post-war period changed this situation considerably. In the first place, the economic decline of the old middle class went at a faster pace; this decline was accelerated by the inflation, culminating in 1923, which wiped out almost completely the savings of many years’ work. While the years between 1924 and 1928 brought economic improvement and new hopes to the lower middle class, these gains were wiped out by the depression after 1929. As in the period of inflation, the middle class, squeezed in between the workers and the upper classes, was the most defenseless group and therefore the hardest hit.
Besides these economic factors, there were psychological considerations that aggravated the situation. The defeat in the war and the downfall of the monarchy was one. While the monarchy and the state had been the solid rock on which, psychologically speaking, the petty bourgeois had built his existence, their failure and defeat shattered the basis of his own life. If the Kaiser could be publicly ridiculed, if officers could be attacked, if the state had to change its form and to accept “red agitators” as cabinet ministers and a saddle maker as president, what could the little man put his trust in? He had identified himself in his subaltern manner with all these institutions; now, since they had gone, where was he to go?
The inflation, too, played both an economic and a psychological role. It was a deadly blow against the principle of thrift as well as against the authority of the state. If the savings of many years, for which one had sacrificed so many little pleasures, could be lost through no fault of one’s own, what was the point in saving, anyway? If the state could break its promises printed on its bank notes and loans, whose promises could one trust any longer?
It was not only the economic position of the lower middle class that declined more rapidly after the war, but its social prestige as well. Before the war, one could feel himself as something better than a worker. After the revolution, the social prestige of the working class rose considerably and in consequence the prestige of the lower middle class fell in relative terms. There was nobody to look down upon any more, a privilege that had always been one of the strongest assets in the life of small shopkeepers and their like.
In addition to these factors, the last stronghold of middle-class security had been shattered too: the family. The post-war development, in Germany perhaps more than in other countries, had shaken the authority of the father and the old middle-class morality. The younger generation acted as they pleased and cared no longer whether their actions were approved by their parents or not. The reasons for this development are too manifold and complex to discuss here in detail. Only a few shall be mentioned. The decline of the old social symbols of authority like monarchy and state affected the role of the individual authorities, the parents.
If these authorities, which the younger generation had been taught by the parents to respect, proved to be weak, then the parents lost prestige and authority too. Another factor was that, under the changed conditions, especially the inflation, the older generation was bewildered and puzzled and much less adapted to the new conditions than the smarter, younger generation. Thus, the younger generation felt superior to their elders and could not take them, and their teachings, quite seriously any more. Furthermore, the economic decline of the middle class deprived the parents of their economic role as backers of the economic future of their children.
The older generation of the lower middle class grew more bitter and resentful, but in a passive way; the younger generation was driving for action. Its economic position was aggravated by the fact that the basis for an independent economic existence, such as their parents had had, was lost; the professional market was saturated, and the chances of making a living as a physician or lawyer were slight. Those who had fought in the war felt that they had a claim for a better deal than they were actually getting. Especially the many young officers, who for years had been accustomed to command and to exercise power quite naturally, could not reconcile themselves to becoming clerks or traveling salesmen.
The increasing social frustration led to a projection, which became an important source for National Socialism: instead of being aware of the economic and social fate of the old middle class, its members consciously thought of their fate in terms of the nation. The national defeat and the Treaty of Versailles became the symbols to which the actual frustration, the social one, was shifted.
It has often been said that the treatment of Germany by the victors in 1918 was one of the chief reasons for the rise of Nazism. This statement needs qualification. The majority of Germans felt that the peace treaty was unjust; but while the middle class reacted with intense bitterness, there was much less bitterness at the Versailles Treaty among the working class. They had been opposed to the old regime and the loss of the war for them meant defeat of that regime. They felt that they had fought bravely and that they had no reason to be ashamed of themselves. On the other hand, the victory of the revolution, which had only been possible by the defeat of the monarchy, had brought them economic, political, and human gains. The resentment against Versailles had its basis in the lower middle class; the nationalistic resentment was a rationalization, projecting social inferiority to national inferiority.
This projection is quite apparent in Hitler’s personal development. He was the typical representative of the lower middle class, a nobody, with no chances or future. He felt very intensely the role of being an outcast. He often speaks in Mein Kampf of himself as the “nobody,” the “unknown man” he was in his youth. Nevertheless, although this was due essentially to his own social position, he could rationalize it in national symbols. Being born outside the Reich, he felt excluded not so much socially as nationally, and the great German Reich to which all her sons could return became for him the symbol of social prestige and security.
The old middle class’s feeling of powerlessness, anxiety, and isolation from the social whole and the destructiveness springing from this situation was not the only psychological source of Nazism. The peasants felt resentful against the urban creditors to whom they were in debt, while the workers felt deeply disappointed and discouraged by the constant political retreat after their first victories in
1918 under a leadership, this had lost all strategic initiative. The vast majority of the population was seized with the feeling of individual insignificance and powerlessness, which we have described as typical for monopolistic capitalism in general.
Those psychological conditions were not the “cause” of Nazism. They constituted its human basis without which it could not have developed, but any analysis of the whole phenomenon of the rise and victory of Nazism must deal with the strictly economic and political, as well as with the psychological, conditions. In view of the literature dealing with this aspect, there is no need to enter into a discussion of these economic and political questions. The reader may be reminded, however, of the role, which the representatives of big industry and the half-bankrupt Junkers played in the establishment of Nazism, without their support Hitler could never have won, and their support was rooted in their understanding of their economic interests much more than in psychological factors.
This property-owning class was confronted with a parliament in which forty per cent of the deputies were Socialists and Communists representing groups, which were dissatisfied with the existing social system, and in which were an increasing number of Nazi deputies who also represented a class that was in bitter opposition to the most powerful representatives of German capitalism. A parliament which thus in its majority represented tendencies directed against their economic interest deemed them dangerous. They said democracy did not work. Actually, one might say democracy worked too well. The parliament was a rather adequate representation of the respective interests of the different classes of the German population, and for this very reason the parliamentary system could not any longer be reconciled with the need to preserve the privileges of big industry and half-feudal landowners. The representatives of these privileged groups expected that Nazism would shift the emotional resentment, which threatened them into other channels and at the same time harness the nation into the service of their own economic interests. Overall, they were not disappointed. To be sure, in minor details they were mistaken. Hitler and his bureaucracy were not tools to be ordered around by the Thyssens and Krupps, who had to share their power with the Nazi bureaucracy and often to submit to them. Nevertheless, although Nazism proved to be economically detrimental to all other classes, it fostered the interests of the most powerful groups of German industry. The Nazi system is the “streamlined” version of German pre-war imperialism and it continued where the monarchy had failed. (The Republic, however, did not really interrupt the development of German monopolistic capitalism but furthered it with the means at her disposal.)
There is one question that many a reader will have in mind at this point: How can one reconcile the statement that the psychological basis of Nazism was the old middle class with the statement that Nazism functions in the interests of German imperialism? The answer to this question is in principle the same as that which was given to the question concerning the role of the urban middle class during the period of the rise of capitalism. In the post-war period, it was the middle class, particularly the lower middle class, which was threatened by monopolistic capitalism. Its anxiety and thereby its hatred were aroused; it moved into a state of panic and was filled with a craving for submission to as well as for domination over those who were powerless. These feelings were used by an entirely different class for a regime, which was to work for their own interests. Hitler proved to be such an efficient tool because he combined the characteristics of a resentful, hating, petty bourgeois, with which the lower middle class could identify themselves, emotionally and socially, with those of an opportunist who was ready to serve the interests of the German industrialists and Junkers. Originally he posed as the Messiah of the old middle class, promised the destruction of department stores, the breaking of the domination of banking capital, and so on. The record is clear enough. These promises were never fulfilled. However, that did not matter. Nazism never had any genuine political or economic principles. It is essential to understand that the very principle of Nazism is its radical opportunism. What mattered was that hundreds of thousands of petty bourgeois who in the normal course of development had little chance to gain money or power, as members of the Nazi bureaucracy now got a large slice of the wealth and prestige they forced the upper classes to share with them. Others who were not members of the Nazi machine were given the jobs taken away from Jews and political enemies; and as for the rest, although they did not get more bread, they got “circuses”.
The emotional satisfaction afforded by these sadistic spectacles and by an ideology, which gave them a feeling of superiority over the rest of mankind, was able to compensate them, for a time at least, for the fact that their lives had been impoverished, economically and culturally.
We have seen, then, that certain socioeconomic changes, notably the decline of the middle class and the rising power of monopolistic capital, had a deep psychological effect. These effects were increased or systematized by a political ideology, as by religious ideologies in the sixteenth century, and the psychic forces thus aroused became effective in a direction that was opposite to the original economic interests of that class. Nazism resurrected the lower middle class psychologically while participating in the destruction of its old socioeconomic position. It mobilized its emotional energies to become an important force in the struggle for the economic and political aims of German imperialism.
In the following pages, we shall try to show that Hitler’s personality, his teachings, and the Nazi system express an extreme form of the character structure, which we have called “authoritarian” and that by this very fact he made a powerful appeal to those parts of the population, which were, more or less, of the same character structure.
Hitler’s autobiography is as good an illustration of the authoritarian character as any, and since in addition to that it is the most representative document of
Nazi literature we shall use it as the main source for analyzing the psychology of Nazism. The essence of the authoritarian character has been described as the simultaneous presence of sadistic and masochistic drives. Sadism was understood as aiming at unrestricted power over another person more or less mixed with destructiveness; masochism as aiming at dissolving oneself in an overwhelmingly strong power and participating in its strength and glory. Both the sadistic and the masochistic trends are caused by the inability of the isolated individual to stand alone, and his need for a symbiotic relationship that overcomes this loneliness.
The sadistic craving for power finds manifold expressions in Mein Kampf. It is characteristic of Hitler’s relationship to the German masses that he despises and “loves” in the typically sadistic manner, as well as to his political enemies towards whom he evidences those destructive elements that are an important component of his sadism. He speaks of the satisfaction the masses have in domination. “What they want is the victory of the stronger and the annihilation or the unconditional surrender of the weaker.”
“Like a woman, … who will submit to the strong man rather than dominate the weakling, thus the masses love the ruler rather than the suppliant, and inwardly they are far more satisfied by a doctrine which tolerates no rival than by the grant of liberal freedom; they often feel at a loss what to do with it, and even easily feel themselves deserted. They neither realize the impudence with which they are spiritually terrorized, nor the outrageous curtailment of their human liberties for in no way does the delusion of this doctrine dawn on them.”
He describes the breaking of the will of the audience by the superior strength of the speaker as the essential factor in propaganda. He does not even hesitate to admit that physical tiredness of his audience is a most welcome condition for their suggestibility. Discussing the question which hour of the day is most suited for political mass meetings, he says: It seems that in the morning and even during the day men’s will power revolts with highest energy against an attempt at being forced under another’s will and another’s opinion. In the evening, however, they succumb more easily to the dominating force of a stronger will. For truly every such meeting presents a wrestling match between two opposed forces. The superior oratorical talent of a domineering apostolic nature will now succeed more easily in winning for the new will people who themselves have in turn experienced a weakening of their force of resistance in the most natural way, than people who still have full command of the energies of their minds and their will power. Hitler himself is very much aware of the conditions, which make for the longing for submission and gives an excellent description of the situation of the individual attending a mass meeting.
The mass meeting is necessary if only for the reason that in it the individual, who in becoming an adherent of a new movement feels lonely and is easily seized with the fear of being alone, receives for the first time the pictures of a greater community, something that has a strengthening and encouraging effect on most people. If he steps for the first time out of his small workshop or out of the big enterprise, in which he feels very small, into the mass meeting and is now surrounded by thousands and thousands of people with the same conviction … he himself succumbs to the magic influence of what we call mass suggestion. Goebbels describes the masses in the same vein. “People want nothing at all, except to be governed decently,” he writes in his novel. They are for him, “nothing more than the stone is for the sculptor. Leader and masses is as little a problem as painter and color.”
In another book Goebbels gives an accurate description of the dependence of the sadistic person on his objects; how weak and empty he feels unless he has power over somebody and how this power gives him new strength. This is Goebbels’s account of what is going on in himself: “Sometimes one is gripped by a deep depression. One can only overcome it, if one is in front of the masses again. The people are the fountain of our power.”
A telling account of that particular kind of power over people, which the Nazis call leadership, is given by the leader of the German labor front. In discussing the qualities required in a Nazi leader and the aims of education of leaders, he writes:
We want to know whether these men have the will to lead, to be masters, in one word, to rule … We want to rule and enjoy it . . . We shall teach these men to ride horse-back … in order to give them the feeling of absolute domination over a living being.
The same emphasis on power is also present in Hitler’s formulation of the aims of education. He says that the pupil’s “entire education and development has to be directed at giving him the conviction of being absolutely superior to the others.”
The fact that somewhere else he declares that a boy should be taught to suffer injustice without rebelling will no longer strike the reader as strange. This contradiction is the typical one for the sadomasochistic ambivalence between the craving for power and for submission.
The wish for power over the masses is what drives the member of the “elite,” the Nazi leaders. As the quotations above show, this wish for power is sometimes revealed with an almost astonishing frankness. Sometimes it is put in less offensive forms by emphasizing that to be ruled is just what the masses wish. Sometimes the necessity to flatter the masses and therefore, to hide the cynical contempt for them leads to tricks like the following: In speaking of the instinct of self-preservation, which for Hitler as we shall see later is more or less identical with the drive for power, he says that with the Aryan the instinct for self-preservation has reached the most noble form “because he willingly subjects his own ego to the life of the community and, if the hour should require it, he also sacrifices it”.
While the “leaders” are the ones to enjoy power in the first place, the masses are by no means deprived of sadistic satisfaction. Racial and political minorities within Germany and eventually other nations, which are described as weak or decaying, are the objects of sadism upon which the masses are fed. While Hitler and his bureaucracy enjoy the power over the German masses, these masses themselves are taught to enjoy power over other nations and to be driven by the passion for domination of the world.
Hitler does not hesitate to express the wish for world domination as his or his party’s aim. Making fun of pacifism, he says: “Indeed, the pacifist-humane idea is perhaps quite good whenever the man of the highest standard has previously conquered and subjected the world to a degree that makes him the only master of this globe.” Again he says: “A state which in the epoch of race poisoning dedicates itself to the cherishing of its best racial elements, must some day be master of the world.”
Usually Hitler tries to rationalize and justify his wish for power. The main justifications are the following: his domination of other peoples is for their own good and for the good of the culture of the world; the wish for power is rooted in the eternal laws of nature and he recognizes and follows only these laws; he himself acts under the command of a higher power, God, Fate, History, Nature; his attempts for domination are only a defense against the attempts of others to dominate him and the German people. He wants only peace and freedom.
An example of the first kind of rationalization is the following paragraph from
Mein Kampf: “If, in its historical development, the German people had possessed this group unity as it was enjoyed by other peoples, then the German Reich would today probably be the mistress of this globe.” German domination of the world could lead. Hitler assumes, to a “peace, supported not by the palm branches of tearful pacifist professional female mourners, but founded by the victorious sword of a people of overlords which puts the world into the service of a higher culture”.” In recent years his assurances that his aim is not only the welfare of Germany but that his actions serve the best interests of civilization in general have become well known to every newspaper reader.
The second rationalization, that his wish for power is rooted in the laws of nature, is more than a mere rationalization; it also springs from the wish for submission to a power outside oneself, as expressed particularly in Hitler’s crude popularization of Darwinism. In “the instinct of preserving the species.”
Hitler sees “the first cause of the formation of human communities.” This instinct of self-preservation leads to the fight of the stronger for the domination of the weaker and economically, eventually, to the survival of the fittest. The identification of the instinct of self-preservation with power over others finds a particularly striking expression in Hider’s assumption that “the first culture of mankind certainly depended less on the tamed animal, but rather on the use of inferior people”. He projects his own sadism upon Nature who is “the cruel Queen of all Wisdom” and her law of preservation is “bound to the brazen law of necessity and of the right of the victory of the best and the strongest in this world.”
It is interesting to observe that in connection with this crude Darwinism the “socialist” Hitler champions the liberal principles of unrestricted competition. In a polemic against cooperation between different nationalistic groups he says: “By such a combination the free play of energies is tied up, the struggle for choosing the best is stopped, and accordingly the necessary and final victory of the healthier and stronger man is prevented for ever.” Elsewhere he speaks of the free play of energies as the wisdom of life.
To be sure, Darwin’s theory as such was not an expression of the feelings of a sadomasochistic character. On the contrary, for many of its adherents it appealed to the hope of a further evolution of mankind to higher stages of culture. For Hitler, however, it was an expression of and simultaneously a justification for his own sadism. He reveals quite naively the psychological significance, which the Darwinian theory had for him. When he lived in Munich, still an unknown man, he used to awake at five o’clock in the morning. He had “gotten into the habit of throwing pieces of bread or hard crusts to the hide mice which spent their time in the small room, and then of watching these droll little animals romp and scuffle for these few delicacies.” This “game” was the Darwinian “struggle for life” on a small scale. For Hider it was the petty bourgeois substitute for the circuses of the Roman Caesars, and a preliminary for the historical circuses he was to produce.
The last rationalization for his sadism, his justification of it as a defense against attacks of others, finds manifold expressions in Hitler’s writings. He and the German people are always the ones who are innocent and the enemies are sadistic brutes. A great deal of this propaganda consists of deliberate, conscious lies. Partly, however, it has the same emotional “sincerity ” which paranoid accusations have. These accusations always have the function of a defense against being found out with regard to one’s own sadism or destructiveness. They run according to the formula: It is you who have sadistic intention. Therefore, I am innocent. With Hitler, this defensive mechanism is irrational to the extreme, since he accuses his enemies of the very things he frankly admits to be his own aims. Thus, he accuses the Jews, the Communists, and the French of the very things that he says are the most legitimate aims of his own actions. He scarcely bothers to cover this contradiction by rationalizations. He accuses the Jews of bringing the French African troops to the Rhine with the intention to destroy, by the bastardization which would necessarily set in, the white race and thus “in turn to rise personally to the position of master”.” Hitler must have detected the contradiction of condemning others for that which he claims to be the noblest aim of his race, and he tries to rationalize the contradiction by saying of the Jews that their instinct for self-preservation lacks the idealistic character which is to be found in the Aryan drive for mastery.
The same accusations are used against the French. He accuses them of wanting to strangle Germany and to rob it of its strength. While this accusation is used as an argument for the necessity of destroying “the French drive for European hegemony,” he confesses that he would have acted like Clemenceau had he been in his place. The Communists are accused of brutality and the success of Marxism is attributed to its political will and activist brutality. At the same time, however, Hitler declares, “What Germany was lacking was a close cooperation of brutal power and ingenious political intention.”
The Czech crisis in 1938 and this present war brought many examples of the same kind. There was no act of Nazi oppression, which was not explained as a defense against oppression by others. One can assume that these accusations were mere falsifications and have not the paranoid “sincerity” which those against the Jews and the French might have been colored by. They still have a definite propaganda value, and part of the population, in particular the lower middle class that is receptive to these paranoid accusations because of its own character structure, believed them.
Hitler’s contempt for the powerless ones becomes particularly apparent when he speaks of people whose political aims, the fight for national freedom, were similar to those, which he himself professed to have. Perhaps nowhere is the insincerity of Hitler’s interest in national freedom more blatant than in his scorn for powerless revolutionaries. Thus, he speaks in an ironical and contemptuous manner of the little group of National Socialists he had originally joined in Munich. This was his impression of the first meeting he went to: “Terrible, terrible; this was club-making of the worst kind and manner. And this club I now was to join? Then the new memberships were discussed, that means, my being caught.” He calls them “a ridiculous small foundation,” the only advantage of which was to offer “the chance for real personal activity.” ” Hitler says that he would never have joined one of the existing big parties and this attitude is very characteristic of him. He had to start in a group, which he felt to be inferior and weak. His initiative and courage would not have been stimulated in a constellation where he had to fight existing power or to compete with his equals.
He shows the same contempt for the powerless ones in what he writes about Indian revolutionaries. The same man who has used the slogan of national freedom for his own purposes more than anybody else has nothing but contempt for such revolutionists who had no power and who dared to attack the powerful British Empire. He remembers, Hitler says, some Asiatic fakir or other, perhaps, for all I care, some real Indian “fighters for freedom”, who were then running around Europe, contrived to stuff even otherwise quite intelligent people with the fixed idea that the British Empire, whose keystone is in India, was on the verge of collapse right there … Indian rebels will, however, never achieve this … It is simply an impossibility for a coalition of cripples to storm a powerful State … I may not, simply because of my knowledge of their racial inferiority, link my own nation’s fate with that of these so-called “oppressed nations”.
The love for the powerful and the hatred for the powerless which is so typical of the sadomasochistic character explains a great deal of Hitler’s and his followers’ political actions. While the Republican government thought they could “appease” the Nazis by treating them leniently, they not only failed to appease them but also aroused their hatred by the very lack of power and firmness they showed.
Hitler hated the Weimar Republic because it was weak and he admired the industrial and military leaders because they had power. He never fought against established strong power but always against groups, which he thought to be essentially powerless. Hitler’s, and for that matter, Mussolini’s, “revolution” happened under protection of existing power and their favorite objects were those who could not defend themselves. One might even venture to assume that Hitler’s attitude towards Great Britain was determined, among other factors, by this psychological complex. As long as he felt Britain to be powerful, he loved and admired her. His book gives expression to this love for Britain, when he recognized the weakness of the British position before and after Munich his love changed into hatred and the wish to destroy it. From this viewpoint “appeasement” was a policy, which for a personality like Hitler was bound to arouse hatred, not friendship.
So far, we have spoken of the sadistic side in Hitler’s ideology. However, as we have seen in the discussion of the authoritarian character, there is the masochistic side as well as the sadistic one. There is the wish to submit to an overwhelmingly strong power, to annihilate the self, besides the wish to have power over helpless beings. This masochistic side of the Nazi ideology and practice is most obvious with respect to the masses. They are told repeatedly: the individual is nothing and does not count. The individual should accept this personal insignificance, dissolve himself in a higher power, and then feel proud in participating in the strength and glory of this higher power. Hitler expresses this idea clearly in his definition of idealism: “Idealism alone leads men to voluntary acknowledgment of the privilege of force and strength and thus makes them become a dust particle of that order which forms and shapes the entire universe.”
Goebbels gives a similar definition of what he calls Socialism: “To be a socialist“, he writes, “is to submit the I to the thou; socialism is sacrificing the individual to the whole.” Sacrificing the individual and reducing it to a bit of dust, to an atom, implies, according to Hitler, the renunciation of the right to assert one’s individual opinion, interests, and happiness. This renunciation is the essence of a political organization in which “the individual renounces representing his personal opinion and his interests…” He praises “unselfishness” and teaches that “in the hunt for their own happiness people fall all the more out of heaven into hell.” It is the aim of education to teach the individual not to assert his self. Already the boy in school must learn “to be silent, not only when he is blamed justly but he has also to learn, if necessary, to bear injustice in silence“. Concerning his ultimate goal he writes: “In the folkish State the folkish view of life has finally to succeed in bringing about that nobler era when men see their care no longer in the better breeding of dogs, horses and cats, but rather in the uplifting of mankind itself; an era in which the one knowingly and silently renounces, and the other gladly gives and sacrifices.”
This sentence is somewhat surprising. One would expect that after the description of the one type of individual, who “knowingly and silently renounces”, an opposite type would be described, perhaps the one who leads, takes responsibility, or something similar. Instead of that, Hitler defines that “other” type also by his ability to sacrifice. It is difficult to understand the difference between “silently renounces,” and “gladly sacrifices.” If I may venture a guess, I believe that Hitler really intended in his mind to differentiate between the masses who should resign and the ruler who should rule. But while sometimes he quite overtly admits his and the “elite’s wish for power, he often denies it. In this sentence, he apparently did not want to be so frank and therefore substituted the wish to rule by the wish to “gladly give and sacrifice.”
Hitler recognizes clearly that his philosophy of self-denial and sacrifice is meant for those whose economic situation does not allow them any happiness. He does not want to bring about a social order, which would make personal happiness possible for every individual; he wants to exploit the very poverty of the masses in order to make them believe in his evangelism of self-annihilation. Quite frankly, he declares: “We turn to the great army of those who are so poor that their personal lives could not mean the highest fortune of the world…” This whole preaching of self-sacrifice has an obvious purpose: The masses have to resign themselves and submit if the wish for power on the side of the leader and the ” lie” is to be realized. However, this masochistic longing is also to be found in Hitler himself. For him the superior power to which he submits is God, Fate, Necessity, History, and Nature. Actually all these terms have about the same meaning to him, that of symbols of an overwhelmingly strong power. He starts his autobiography with the remark that to him it was a “good fortune that Fate designated Braunau on the Inn as the place of my birth.” He then goes on to say that the whole German people must be united in one state because only then, when this state would be too small for them all, necessity would give them “the moral right to acquire soil and territory”.
The defeat in the war of 1914-18 to him is “a deserved punishment by eternal retribution.” Nations that mix themselves with other races “sin against the will of eternal Providence” or, as he puts it another time, “against the will of the Eternal Creator.” Germany’s mission is ordered by “the Creator of the universe.” Heaven is superior to people, for luckily one can fool people but “Heaven could not be bribed.”
The power, which impresses Hitler probably more than God, Providence, and Fate, is Nature. While it was the trend of the historical development of the last four hundred years to replace the domination over men by the domination over Nature. Hitler insists that one can and should rule over men but that one cannot rule over Nature. I have already quoted his saying that the history of mankind probably did not start with the domestication of animals but with the domination over inferior people. He ridicules the idea that man could conquer Nature and makes fun of those who believe they may become conquerors of Nature “whereas they have no other weapon at their disposal but an idea.” He says that man “does not dominate Nature, but that, based on the knowledge of a few laws and secrets of Nature, he has risen to the position of master of those other living beings lacking this knowledge.” There again we find the same idea: Nature is the great power we have to submit to, but living beings are the ones we should dominate.
I have tried to show in Hitler’s writings the two trends that we have already described as fundamental for the authoritarian character: the craving for power over men and the longing for submission to an overwhelmingly strong outside power.
Hitler’s ideas are more or less identical with the ideology of the Nazi party. The ideas expressed in his book are those, which he expressed, in the countless speeches by which he won mass following for his party. Tins ideology results from his personality which, with its inferiority feeling, hatred against life, asceticism, and envy of those who enjoy life, is the soil of sadomasochistic strivings; it was addressed to people who, on account of their similar character structure, felt attracted and excited by these teachings and became ardent followers of the man who expressed what they felt. Nevertheless, it was not only the Nazi ideology that satisfied the lower middle class; the political practice realized what the ideology promised. A hierarchy was created in which everyone has somebody above him to submit to and somebody beneath him to feel power over; the man at the top, the leader, has Fate, History, Nature above him as the power in which to submerge himself. Thus the Nazi ideology and practice satisfies the desires springing from the character structure of one part of the population and gives direction and orientation to those who, though not enjoying domination and submission, were resigned and had given up faith in life, in their own decisions, in everything.
Do these considerations give any clue for a prognosis with regard to the stability of Nazism in the future? I do not feel qualified to make any predictions. Yet, a few points, such as those that follow from the psychological premises we have been discussing, would seem to be worth rising. Given the psychological conditions, does Nazism not fulfill the emotional needs of the population, and is this psychological function not one factor that makes for its growing stability?
From all that has been said so far, it is evident that the answer to this question is in the negative. The fact of human individuation, of the destruction of all “primary bonds,” cannot be reversed. The process of the destruction of the medieval world has taken four hundred years and is being completed in our era. Unless the whole industrial system, the whole mode of production, should be destroyed and changed to the pre-industrial level, man will remain an individual who has completely emerged from the world surrounding him. We have seen that man cannot endure this negative freedom; that he tries to escape into new bondage, which is to be a substitute for the primary bonds, which he has given up. However, these new bonds do not constitute real union with the world. He pays for the new security by giving up the integrity of his self. The factual dichotomy between him and these authorities does not disappear. They thwart and cripple his life even though consciously he may submit voluntarily. At the same time he lives in a world in which he has not only developed into being an “atom” but which also provides him with every potentiality for becoming an individual. The modern industrial system has virtually a capacity to produce not only the means for an economically secure life for everybody but also to create the material basis for the full expression of man’s intellectual, sensuous, and emotional potentialities, while at the same time reducing considerably the hours of work.
The function of an authoritarian ideology and practice can be compared to the function of neurotic symptoms. Such symptoms result from unbearable psychological conditions and at the same time offer a solution that makes life possible. Yet, they are not a solution that leads to happiness or growth of personality. They leave unchanged the conditions that necessitate the neurotic solution. The dynamism of man’s nature is an important factor that tends to seek for more satisfying solutions if there is a possibility of attaining them. The aloneness and powerlessness of the individual, his quest for the realization of potentialities, which developed in him, the objective fact of the increasing productive capacity of modern industry, are dynamic factors, which constitute the basis for a growing quest for freedom and happiness. The escape into symbiosis can alleviate the suffering for a time but it does not eliminate it. The history of mankind is the history of growing individuation, but it is also the history of growing freedom. The quest for freedom is not a metaphysical force and cannot be explained by natural law; it is the necessary result of the process of individuation and of the growth of culture. The authoritarian systems cannot do away with the basic conditions that make for the quest for freedom; neither can they exterminate the quest for freedom that springs from these conditions.
Excerpt from The Fear of Freedom, 1942. Erich Fromm, (Pp.177 – 207)