Throughout my life, I have wondered why the well-educated, civilized German people of the 1930s embraced the ideology of the Nazis, and led the world into the largest war it has known
to date, committing unspeakable atrocities.
Since childhood, I had been taught that the Nazis were madmen who had fallen backwards into power, or that they had somehow tricked the German people, or that they were some fluke of history. Hours and hours of watching
“The World at War”, and later, an endless stream of History Channel documentaries, didn’t seem to validate these theories, as there were always unspoken hints that the German people had avidly supported the warlike and brutal Nazis.
But what would cause a civilized, educated, developed, Western nation to engage in such barbaric behavior???
Finally, I have found some answers in the documentary, Nietzsche and the Nazis, written and narrated by Stephen Hicks, Ph.D.
Dr. Hicks starts by debunking what he calls "Five Weak Explanations for National Socialism"
He then gives his theory that Nazism has its basis in Philosophy. Every political movement requires a cultural groundwork, and this framework is shaped by a society’s intellectuals via books, magazines, radio broadcasts,
university lectures, and sermons. He lists a number of German Nobel prize winners and other opinion shapers who supported Nazism, and notes that many of them are even now considered brilliant icons in their respective fields.
- The Germans lost WWI.
- Germany's economic problems during the 1920s.
- There is something innately wrong with Germans.
- Nazism can be explained by the emotional deficiencies of its leadership.
- The Nazis were a product of modern communication technologies.
These intellectuals believed that the world was in a crisis, and that they were idealistic crusaders with a moral cause.
He reminds us that the Nazis were democratically elected by a highly-educated, well-read, politically aware population, and argues that the German people knew exactly what they were voting for.
Dr. Hicks then goes onto define what Nazism is; originally a philosophical movement opposed to capitalist, liberal Democracy, it later attempted to reconcile Nationalism and Socialism, eventually creating its 25 point doctrine, which had as its main
- Socialism over Capitalism (14 of the 25 points are socialist economic demands, "Money has made slaves of us")
- Collectivism over Individualism ("The common interest before self-interest")
- Nationalism based on race and culture (7 of 25 points)
- Strong Centralized government
According to the narrator, Nietzsche believed that all humans are biologically pre-disposed to be either masters or slaves, and that these two groups choose different, competing, adversarial moral codes to increase their chances of survival and reproduction.
The "slave" cultural code encourages humility, poverty, patience, meekness, forgiveness, weakness, self-sacrifice, charity, safety, self-restraint, shame, altruism, dependence, and obedience.
The "master" cultural code encourages pride, self-esteem, wealth, ambition, boldness, vengeance, justice, profit, challenge, pleasure, sensuality, independence, risk, individualism, self-admiration, and indulgence.
Nietzsche believed that while the Jews were the slaves of the Egyptians, they developed a “slave” cultural code so that they could survive. This “slave” cultural code was later adopted, with few changes, into Christianity. To survive, a slave must be obedient to his master, learn to forgive, and consider meekness as a virtue. A master, on the other hand, would develop a very opposite moral code which included self-determination, vengeance, and pride.
Nietzsche reasoned that great societies made great achievements because they followed a “master” moral code, and were usually composed of an aristocracy supported by slaves. Conversely, societies that followed a “slave” moral code were inferior.
He argued that Judeo-Christian morality, Democracy, Republicanism, Socialism, and Communism represent the "slave" morality, and that Rome and Greek civilizations had "magnificent men" because of their adoption of the "master" moral code.
Although the old religions had served man for millennia, the fall of feudalism and the rise of science had made the old religions obsolete, and new moral codes were needed, and would apparently be supplied by a new “overman” (superman, “Zarathustra“).
Nietzsche and the Nazis
Dr. Hicks gives an analysis of the agreements and disagreements between National Socialism and the philosophy of Nietzsche. He argues that the Nazi’s took some of Nietzsche’s quotes out of context, that Nietzsche was not a racist, that Nietzsche had a low opinion of the modern German people, was very disappointed at their rising anti-Semitism, and that he had a very high opinion of modern Jewish people, seeing as how they had prevailed against the world
However, Dr. Hicks finds much in common between the Nazis and Nietzsche. In particular they both believed in Collectivism, Conflict (constant war), Irrationalism, and both were anti-Democratic, anti-Capitalist, and anti-Liberal.
A Subtle Warning
Dr. Hicks argues that we should not write off the Nazis as madmen or as a historical oddity.
They appealed to millions and attracted some of the best minds of their time, and
continue to have a great appeal today (apparently, “Mein Kampf“ was a best-seller in Turkey in 2005)
He argues that the best way to defeat them in the future is by understanding their ideology so that we can defeat them intellectually, and not have to fight them again on the battlefield.
Dr. Hicks says that the philosophical antidote to Nazism is to understand and recognize both Nazi and Anti-Nazi Principles:
|Nazi Principles||Anti-Nazi Principles
|War and Conflict||Productivity, peaceful trade
|Instinct and Passion||Reason
Finally, Dr. Hicks ends by saying that the Nazi's knew what they stood for. Do we?