November 18, 2016

1932. "The Nazi Mind: A Study in Nationalism"

"The Nazi Mind: A Study in Nationalism" by Harold Callender
Nazi party members with Adolf Hitler in Munich, Bavaria at the inauguration of the party's national headquarters at the "Brown House" in December 1930 (source)
This article is part of a series of posts on how The New York Times covered the rise of fascism in Europe in the years leading up to World War II.

From The New York Times, January 3, 1932:

What Is Happening in Germany Is but the Exaggeration Of a Political Phenomenon Common to All Countries
Berlin – In the short space of less than two years a new and turbulent force—organized revolutionary nationalism—has swept over Germany from the Rhine to the Vistula and completely altered (at least for the moment) the face of German politics.

Only eighteen months ago the Reichstag, split into a score of party groups, was carrying on national affairs in the fumbling, bickering, ineffectual manner which democracies put up with in normal times but quickly dispense with in emergencies. Dr. Bruening decided an emergency had arrived and forced an election. Then there suddenly appeared upon the Chancellor's right a formidable group of Nazis, waving their mystic swastika and shouting for revolution, and everything was changed. To check them the Bruening Government, backed by President von Hindenburg and the Socialists, stiffened into something very like a dictatorship. But the Nazis kept advancing and are still doing so.

•      •      •

The Nazis are the perhaps inevitable result of two dominant factors in the German situation which the outside world—much surprised by the unexpected emergence of Hitler—has not yet fully appreciated.

One of these factors is wounded national pride, the painful sense of Germany's having been tried, condemned without a hearing, fined, dismembered and reduced to the dishonorable status of an outcast who must live perpetually under the suspicious eye of a well-armed policeman lest he run amuck and endanger his neighbors' lives and possessions. This is the way most Germans, moderates as well as extreme nationalists, interpret the history of the last thirteen years; it is also the way the French interpret it, except that they regard the sentence and the surveillance as being justified.

The other disturbing factor is the economic pinch under which Germany has labored, particularly during the last two years. It is easy to demonstrate that this is not entirely attributable to reparations; indeed, some of the most ardent nationalists, in their eagerness to incriminate the Socialists, say privately that reparations have been of secondary importance and that government extravagance and graft have been a far greater evil—and here, too, they are in full agreement with the French.

But reparations have played their part and consequently it is impossible to dissociate this second factor from the first. In the German mind the two are inextricably mingled and the conviction prevails that reparations are the principal if not the sole source of Germany's troubles. Hence the dispossessed of the middle class, impoverished by the inflation and deprived of jobs by the industrial let-down, and farmers unable to pay interest on their mortgages, flock to the Pied Piper of revolutionary nationalism, who has suddenly become the militant leader of a new kind of proletariat which is desperate and rebellious but not ready—at least not yet—to throw in its lot with the working class proletariat of the extreme Left.

A few far-sighted economists, notable J. M. Keynes (in his book, "The Economic Consequences of Peace") predicted as early as 1919 the economic and social havoc that was to come—in consequence, as they contended, of the system imposed upon Europe at Versailles. Similarly, any one with a sense of national psychology might have foreseen, not precisely brown-shirted and swastika-waving Nazis but a vigorous resurgence of nationalism in Germany such as has taken place. If you subject a great nation to such conditions as were imposed upon Germany—however justified you may be in doing so—you may reasonably expect it to react in some such way as Germany has done.

•      •      •

In the first decade of the nineteenth century, when Germany had been conquered and dismembered by Napoleon, a philosopher like Goethe could take it with calm stoicism, but among the youth of Germany there burned a bitter resentment and resolve to free and unite their country. The universities seethed with nationalism just as they do today. German political unity was long in coming, but a new empire arose in 1871 and had to be reckoned with in 1914-1918. Now that this empire has been laid low, a new impetus to German nationalism has been supplied by the territorial losses, the military prohibitions and the economic burdens which the republic that succeeded it has had to bear.

Thus the injury to German national pride caused by the peace treaty, and the impoverishment and demoralization of the German middle class caused by the social crisis to which the machine age (which created that class) has brought us, have combined to produce the phenomenon called National-Socialist. The first part of its name reflects an angry nationalism borne of a decade of brooding over defeat; the second part—so far as it is more than a name—reflects the vague grudges of the new middle class proletariat against those to whom rent and interest have to be paid, against industrial magnates who have managed to remain rich or to become rich during the hard years since the war, against trusts and big cities and Jew and mass production and banks. In the Nazi movement are united the nationalistic ardor of a humiliated people and the revolt of a dispossessed class. Hence its powerful appeal to millions of voters; hence, too, its lack of a precise program and its lack of inner unity.

In the medley of resentment, prejudice and idealism that go to make up the Nazi movement are mingled something of the old German dream of racial and national unity which has never been realized (not even in the empire that Bismarck built); a wistful longing for social stability and economic justice; a revulsion against the industrial civilization which has revolutionized German life and which seems to many Germans to have resulted in chaining their country to Western finance as though she were a sort of financial colony of the creditor powers. Territorial grievances, nationalization of trusts, denunciation of the "serfdom of interest," anti-Semitism—all crop up repeatedly, with varying emphasis, in the pamphlets and manifestoes of the party and in the speeches of its leaders, which represents a chorus of half-formulated discontent rather than a program of action.

The movement and the feelings that have generated it are not nearly so strange and exotic as the foreign observer might at first be inclined to assume. Nationalism is not a German invention; its appearance in Germany in this singular form is due to the country's special situation. No nation is immune to nationalistic excesses; indeed, in the field of economics they are epidemic just now. Hence as one recovers from the initial impression of their oddity, one realizes that the Nazi ideas are not by any means indigenous to the Bavarian Highlands or the Eastern Marches.

•      •      •

Consider first of all the question of race. Since several million people who speak German and are more or less "Nordic" in race have lately been cut off from the Reich and annexed to nations ruled by Poles, Czechs and French (the Nazis do not mention the case of the South Tyrolean Germans annexed by Italy because the Fascists across the Alps are the Nazis' political models), it is an opportune moment to hold up ideals of racial unity. Numerous German organizations, commercial and scholastic as well as political, are "gross-deutsch" in scope—that is, they include Austria, Danzig and the German parts of Czechoslovakia. The Reich is commonly regarded as the centre of a greater Germany which is already united with it culturally and one day must be united politically.

This is, of course, the Nazis' view. But they go much further. They emphasize and propagate the contention of certain anthropologists that the "Nordic" race—"the race of our Germanic ancestors" is responsible for most of the creative talent that has appeared in Europe and the New World, and even in ancient India, Greece and Persia. So it is one of the many missions of the Nazis to keep the race as "Nordic" as possible by preventing the contamination (or rather the further contamination) of its superior blood. To this end they would expel all non-Germans who have settled in Germany since 1914 and admit none in future (though one might have expected them to welcome "Nordics" whether German or not).

Moreover, they would allow only persons "of German blood" to become citizens. They do not say how much "German blood" (or do they mean "Nordic" blood?) would be regarded as a minimum, or how these racial qualifications would be determined. What would happen, for instance, to the millions of Germans between the Polish border and Hamburg who are as much Slavic as German? Or to the millions in Bavaria and Central Germany who are not "Nordic" at all but belong to the race that the anthropologists classify as Alpine? On one point at least the Nazi platform is quite clear: no Jew could be admitted to the "Nordic" fellowship, hence no Jew could be a German citizen under the "Third Reich."

In one Nazi pamphlet one finds the republic indicted for not championing the "Nordics." "It is to the interest of the present holders of power," one reads, "to oppress and weed out the Nordic man. All the measures against the National-Socialist party and its leaders are to be considered from this racial standpoint."

If all this seems a bit fanciful, it is not at any rate original with the Nazis. In the Nazi library is a book written by an American ("The Great Passing of the Great Race" by Madison Grant) which sets forth precisely this contention about the "Nordic" race, the contention that those who have blond hair, blue eyes, fair skins and long heads belong to an inherently superior breed. This idea—in conjunction with economic considerations—was advanced in support of our present immigration law, which favors the more or less Nordic peoples of the north of Europe at the expense of the non-Nordics of the south and east. "It was America," said Adolf Hitler, the Nazi leader, to the present writer recently, "that taught us that a nation should not open its doors equally to all nations."
The New York Times, January 3, 1932, p. 21
In the field of economics the Nazi creed is much less precise; but here, too, it is merely an extreme and German version of ideas and impulses that are well-nigh universal just now. Nazi speakers, notably their economic expert, Dr. Wagner, talk vaguely of virtually severing commercial relations with the Western World. This sounds somewhat drastic, but it is a point of view which should not be at all puzzling to Senator Reed Smoot or Winston Churchill or Lord Beaverbrook.

Has not America imposed increasingly severe tariff penalties upon foreigners who want to trade with us and upon our own citizens who want to buy foreign goods? What do the British protectionists demand but that England should stop importing from foreign lands to the extent that she can supply her needs from the empire? Is not Central Europe a maze of formidable tariff barriers which choke international trade and prevent European recovery? Economic nationalism is the mania of the hour and nearly every nation is intently engaged in the restriction of trade.

But, because of Germany's unique position as a debtor nation, this economic nationalism has taken on in Germany a special form and intensity. In academic and business circles a lively debate goes on over the question, "Autarkie oder Weltwirtschaft?"—which may be translated, "Self-sufficiency or world economy?" Most business men apparently regard it as impossible for Germany to dispense with much of her world trade, but the more daring (and more youthful) spirits among the nationalists have been captivated by the idea of a great adventure—a great gamble—in economic independence. Is not Russia trying it and getting away with it? they ask. Russia, to be sure, is not a great industrial nation like Germany, which can feed only about two-thirds of its people from its own soil; but might not Germany, in close conjunction with Russia and the other agricultural States to the east and south, work out an economic system which would enable her to thumb her nose at her creditors in the West, as Russia did?

Why does Germany export in such immense quantities? Because she must pay reparations, debts and interest. About half her export balance goes to satisfy her political and private creditors. To put it another way—the way the Nationalists prefer to put it—the only thing that really forces her to pay her creditors is the circumstance that she is enmeshed in the economic system of the Western World. If she could withdraw from that system and become independent of it, she would be in a position to say to her former enemies: "Come on with your fleets and armies and try to collect if you like; we are going to pay no more."

This imagined declaration of economic independence is couched in just these terms by Ferdinand Fried, one of the leading apostles of economic nationalism, in his book, "Das Ende des Kapitalismus." Many doubt that such a course is possible, or that Germany would gain more than she would lose if it were possible, but they often agree that it would be fine if it were. There is already a considerable literature on the subject, notably in the monthly issues and special supplements of the magazine, Die Tat.

While repudiating reparations, Hitler says he would favor recognizing Germany's private debts; but the ideas of Die Tat represent broadly the extreme economic nationalism to which the Nazis incline. When Nazi speakers talk of Germany's withdrawing unto herself and leading a sort of cloistered economic life so far as the Western World is concerned, they simply express in political platform terms what the editors of Die Tat have more fully and more lucidly formulated.

•       •       •

Such a conception of Germany's future presupposes a revolution in her economic policy, a subordination of private interests and rights to the State and the creation of a sort of half-socialist, half-capitalist system. It is based upon the belief that Western capitalism is doomed and that Germany might as well pull out while the going is good. Hence these neo-Marxists advocate collaboration with Russia, State control of industry and foreign trade (which already exists to a great extent) and nationalization of trusts and monopolies. They would leave the smaller industries in private hands but under such State supervision as would make possible nationally planned production in cooperation with the agricultural States to the east. They have abandoned all hope of reducing world tariffs through conferences in Geneva and regard internationalism and economic liberalism as illusions to be gotten rid of.

The Nationalist-Socialist movement is national enough, but how far is it socialistic? This is a question that the present writer has put to numerous persons inside and outside the Nazi organization. The answer is that few Nazis, even among the leaders, have thought the subject through; but the party's program calls for nationalization of trusts, municipalization of department stores (to be let to small shopkeepers), abolition of ground rents, unearned income and the "slavery of interest payments"; and those leaders who discuss economic reforms in any definite way express ideas which closely resemble, when they are not identical with, those sketched above.

Possible the Nazis who are more nationalist than socialistic, or those who are not socialistic at all, may make short shrift of these socialistic notions if the party ever comes into power; it probably would depend upon economic circumstances as to which group got the upper hand. For there are anti-capitalistic and pro-capitalistic streams in the Nazi movement, and its leaders may be obliged one day to decide—at the risk of a party split—whether that dream State they call "the Third Reich" is really going to be socialistic or not.

•       •       •

Nazi intolerance, as manifested in campaigns against university professors who disagree with them, is no more peculiar to the German Nazis than their racial creed or their economic nationalism. Those who study American history will find that once, when we were at war with Germany, several American States were so patriotic as to outlaw the teaching of the German language and that many a professor lost his job because of his unorthodox political opinions.

The French are much concerned about the Nazi movement, which strikes them as a queer Teutonic thing. But they should find it fairly comprehensible if they would only regard it as the German equivalent of their own Nationalist-Royalist band which lately distinguished itself by howling down speakers at the disarmament meeting in the Trocadero Palace in Paris.

Léon Daudet and Charles Maurras are intellectuals and men of letters, hence there can be no comparison as to the literary quality between their paper L'Action Française and Hitler's Völkischer Beobachter; but the temper of the two movements is strikingly similar. If a German Nazi met a French Camelot du Roi each ought to recognize the other as his spiritual brother. Both movements are bitterly anti-democratic, anti-republican and extremely nationalist, the main difference being simply one of geography. And in England Lord Rothermere, for instance, has shown marked sympathy for the Nazis because they promise to keep bolshevism away.

When one visits the new European frontiers which remain dangerous "sore spots" because of national suspicions, when one observes that national economic barriers that shackle trade or studies of racial theories that emphasize differences and nurture antagonisms, one is forced to realize that the Nazi mentality is not a matter of nationality—that nationalism, so to speak, is an international phenomenon.