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5 January 2021updated 01 Sep 2021 4:15pm

From the NS archive: Hitlerism analysed

18 November 1933: The passionate sincerity and callousness to human suffering of Nazism.

By Anonymous

In this unsigned assessment of the historian Calvin B Hoover’s book, “Germany Enters the Third Reich”, the reviewer was faced with history unfurling before their eyes. By 1933, the excesses of national socialism were not fully revealed but, nevertheless, were present in embryonic form. Hoover shows “the movement as a nationwide outbreak of German revivalism, which is striving in a kind of semi-religious frenzy for a ‘rebirth’ of the German people and through it of the Nordic race”. This fervour is marked by “its passionate sincerity and its utter disregard of law, as well as its callousness to human suffering. When the soul of the German nation is at stake, the sufferings of Jews, Liberals, Socialists and other contemptible Gentiles count for little.” Hitler himself, meanwhile, has no equal in his skill of inducing the German people to deceive themselves.

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It happens but rarely that the same author is capable of depicting understandingly the problems of two great foreign nations, who have little in common but the fact that both have passed through a violent social upheaval. Professor Calvin B Hoover has achieved this difficult feat. After having given us in The Economic Life of Soviet Russia, the most detached scientific analysis of Russia’s social system, he now presents us with Germany Enters the Third Reich.

The new book has many of the sober qualities of its predecessor: it differs from it in one important aspect. It is not a painstaking survey of the results of a great social upheaval; it is, in part at least, the story of an eyewitness watching a momentous break with its past of a great nation. The revolutionary changes of the Hitler regime have not been achieved by an insurgent mass rising from below. They were engineered by a government which reached power in a semi-legal fashion by a curious combination of intrigue, electioneering, terrorism and shifty law-abiding legalism. Professor Hoover shows quite clearly that there was no physical revolution facing the armed forces of a government fighting for power. An armed government used force and terror against the masses who could not fight. “There was no immediate danger whatsoever from Communism at the moment when Nationalism came to power”; an assertion borne out by General Goering as a witness at the Reichstag’s fire trial, stating that the position of Communism at that time was so desperate that, “They had to do something [set the Reichstag on fire] in order to keep the thoroughly frightened sheep in line.”

Professor Hoover describes in four shortish chapters the economic system of Germany (which had become pseudo-capitalist), the attitude of the German peoples to it (which had become thoroughly sceptical), the collapse of Marxian Socialism (which had become a mere fetish to the organised working class no longer interested in abstract theories), and the end of the Weimar Republic (which, however, did not begin with the fall of Dr Brüning, but rather with his coming to power through anti-parliamentarian intrigues).

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It is a marvellous performance for an outsider coming to live in a strange country to make such contacts within a very short time, as to enable him to unravel the network of personal intrigues as well as to understand the impersonal currents which ushered in the third Empire. He is surprisingly fair in appraising values, though he does not perhaps make sufficient allowance for the difficulties of a Republic, born from defeat, which was not allowed to organise its army on a democratic basis, which was overburdened with debts, and humiliated during the first half of its existence.

In a second edition, which ought to bring up the story from July 1933 on, Professor Hoover might widen the historical chapters of his book. He might show the origin of the Hitler creed in Austria in the Nineties of the last century, and its indebtedness to the pan-German writers as well as to the neo-Prussian romanticists like Moeller van den Bruck. The mention of these desiderata in no way detracts from the value of the book. There is an almost passionate rhythm hidden in its soberly written pages; for it was history which has been lived through. The future historians will have to use the chapters “National Socialism comes to Power” and “National Socialism in Action” as a basis for their inquiries.

In the chapters “Principles of National Socialism” and “Economic Aspects of National Socialism”, Professor Hoover has tried to see the world with the eyes of the Nazis. He represents the movement as a nationwide outbreak of German revivalism, which is striving in a kind of semi-religious frenzy for a “rebirth” of the German people and through it of the Nordic race. Hence its passionate sincerity and its utter disregard of law, as well as its callousness to human suffering. When the soul of the German nation is at stake, the sufferings of Jews, Liberals, Socialists and other contemptible Gentiles count for little. The movement stands for some sort of emotional, ill-defined, rather ascetic Socialism, it is permeated by Communistic instincts; it hates individualism, which, by preventing individuals from “sharing”, atomises the nation. For this reason it will not suffer the schemes industrialists and feudalists entertained when they put Hitler in power; though quite likely the leader may “temporise” here as well as in external affairs. “Events have demonstrated that Hitler takes his doctrines and his programme seriously.” On the other hand, “Hitler has never hesitated to give almost any assurance to anyone whenever necessary in order to win a difficult position or to gain time.” “Hitler has always claimed that the people who said he had promised this or that misunderstood him. It may be that this is so, for Hitler has hardly any equal in his skill in inducing people to deceive themselves.”

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These quotations are from the concluding chapter, “International Consequences”. Hitler is evidently treating the foreign offices of the world to that passionate but equivocal sincerity which has been so successful at home.

Read more from the NS archive here and sign up to the weekly “From the archive” newsletter here. A selection of pieces spanning the New Statesman’s history has recently been published as Statesmanship” (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

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