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Ideology – Propaganda and Control Activity

Ideology – Propaganda and Control?
Do Now –
What do you See?
What do you Think?
What do you Wonder with this poster?
Der Führer. 1930s. The German text translates to ‘Long live Germany!’
Nazi Ideology – what was it?
Nazi ideology was first outlined in the 25 points drawn up by the Party in 1923. Review these 25 points.
1. What key ideas about Nazism can you learn from this programme?
2. How were these ideas implemented upon German society once the Nazis ascended to power?
The Key Aspects of Nazi Ideology – Aims and Objectives?
1. Use the information below to create a mind map that summarises the key aspects of Nazi ideology.
What was National Socialism?
During his time in prison Hitler started writing a book, Mein Kampf (My Struggle). The bulk of the book outlines some
of Hitler’s political ideas, his views on race and Germany’s future role in world affairs.
The British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper has observed that it is easy to criticize Mein Kampf because it is ‘a horrible
book…filled with obscene hatred. It has no form, no style and the mind that it reveals is ugly and narrow’. But it is
also an important book, because it reveals a great deal about Hitler’s mind and outlook, and the ideas that formed the
basis of National Socialism. Indeed, Hitler’s main ideas did not change. What he wrote as his philosophy in 1924 he
started to implement largely as policy when he became supreme ruler of Germany.
Hitler wanted to project himself as an original political thinker and National Socialism as a movement that had a
systematic, developed ideology. In reality, neither was true. Hitler was not an original political thinker and most of his
ideas were taken from a number of 19th century or early 20th century writers. But he was a politician who had a
particular view of the world. This is usually called his ‘world view’ or Weltanschauung (‘the way one sees the world’).
In Mein Kampf, Hitler set down many of the beliefs that made up his world view.
Mein Kampf
As Hitler set the tone of Nazi ideology, it is important to understand the expression of his ideas first. While Hitler
would deliver countless speeches between 1919 and 1945, the essence of his outlook was expressed most clearly in
Mein Kampf.
Following the failure of the Munich Putsch in November 1923, Hitler was tried for treason and sentenced to five years
in prison. H served only nine months, in Landsberg Prison, where he was given access to books and was allowed
frequent visits from his party comrades. It was during this time, and during the following year at the Haus Wachenfeld
near Berchtesgaden, that Hitler wrote his autobiographical treatise, Mein Kampf, or ‘My Struggle’. Hitler had originally
wanted to call his book ‘Four and a Half Years of Struggle against Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice’.
In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote at length on wat were to become the main themes of Nazism – race, Lebensraum, the
need to destroy France before Germany considered expanding eastwards, and the authoritarian nature of a future
Nazi government, which, of course, would be led by a dynamic Führer. Of prime importance were Hitler’s lengthy
descriptions of the race issue, the superiority of the Aryan race, and the corrupting influence of the Jews.
Mein Kampf is a turgid read. Hitler may have been a spellbinding speaker, but he was not a stylish author. The work
deals not only with the Nazis’ political ideals, but also meanders across a range of bizarre topics. Hitler writes about
boxing, the theatre, the cinema, comics, art, sex, marriage and prostitution. In one section, he devotes 10 pages to a
detailed discussion of syphilis. These tangents, nonetheless, link back to his central preoccupation: race.
Some historians, particularly those of the earlier intentionalist school, such as Karl Dietrich Bracher and Eberhard
Jäckel, regard Mein Kampf as a blueprint for all future Nazi programs and policies. While Hitler outlines his thinking
and rationale in this work, I is merely an articulation of these ideas, not a political program. In practice, the regime
was more pragmatic in its outlook, adapting and responding to developments in a manner that drew on these ideas.
Interestingly, Hitler also wrote a second book in 1928, but it was not published until after World War II. According to
Adam Tooze, a historian of Nazi economics, this second book, which focused on foreign policy, was not published at
the time because the publisher feared that the new work would detract from Mein Kampf.
The Impact of 1918
Germany was fundamentally shaken by the impact of 1918-19 as it tried to come to terms with defeat, humiliation,
the ‘stab in the back’, foreign occupation, a ‘foreign’ constitution, the Treaty of Versailles and social disintegration. In
this chaotic environment, a host of extra-parliamentary groups, patriotic societies, student bodies and paramilitary
forces such as the Freikorps appeared. They published newspapers, journals, novels and philosophical works that
expressed their views. They organised politically to oppose the recently established Weimar Republic. Volkisch
thought, racism, anti-Semitism and the re-reading of Nietzsche were prevalent, in varying degrees, among these
many groups. They shared a hostility towards Marxism and communism, a commitment to an often poorly described
idea of German socialism based on the premise of race, and a belief that a national renewal or resurrection was
necessary in order to restore Germany socially and culturally, and to return the nation to its rightful place on the world
It was against this backdrop of ultra-nationalism that the German Workers’ Party was founded by Anton Drexler in
January 1919. At first it was little more than a talking society, with fewer than 60 members. Its members railed
against Jews, communism and the peace, while calling for the foundation of a new people’s community
(Volksgemeinschaft). At this early stage Ernst Röhm, Alfred Rosenberg, Rudolf Hess and Hans Frank, al figures who
would later become prominent in the Nazi party, were associated with the group, which held its gatherings in beer
halls and meeting rooms. It was at one of these meetings, in August 1919, that Hitler came to the party. Sent by the
army as an intelligence officer to monitor the new group, he intervened in a debate and was asked by Drexler to join.
With the army’s approval, he did so. Despite the myth promoted by Hitler himself, he was not the party’s seventh
member, but he was an early member of its organizing committee. In early 1920, the same year the group changed
its name to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, Hitler became the group’s chief of propaganda, and in
1921 its chairman and Führer, a position he would hold until 1945.
Social Darwinism
A central theme of Hitler’s thinking was also the idea of struggle. In the 19th century the naturalist Charles Darwin
(1809-82) had explained how, in the world of nature, some species with favourable variations survived better than
others when the environment changed. Darwin called this ‘natural selection’.
Social Darwinism was a concept that emerged later in the 19th century. It suggested that what applied to nature could
also apply to human society – that the strong prevail over the weak, and that superior races prevail over inferior
races. This concept, with its them of struggle and survival of the fittest, appealed to Hitler. ‘The idea of struggle is as
old as life itself,’ said Hitler in 1928. ‘Struggle is the father of all things…He who wants to live must fight and who
does not want to fight in this world where eternal struggle is the law of life has no right to exist.’
Hitler had a racist view of world history, and the dominant theme running through Mein Kampf is his concept of race.
The protection and expansion of the German race was the highest priority of the state. To Hitler, the Aryan (believed
to be an earlier Indo-European race from which the existing Nordic peoples, including the Germans, were
descended) was the master race (the Herrenvolk), and other races were inferior. The Aryan was the creative force in
human history. ‘Civilisation,’ wrote Hitler, ‘as almost exclusively the product of the Aryan creative power…it was the
Aryan alone who founded a superior type of humanity’. He also believed that civilisations decline and fall only when
they fail to maintain the purity of their race. ‘Whenever Aryans have mingled their blood with that of an inferior race,’
he wrote, ‘the result has been the downfall of the people who were the standard-bearers of a higher culture’. In
Hitler’s thinking, the Jews represented a threat to the purity of the Aryan race. To protect the German race, Hitler
believed that the state must not only deal with inferior races, but also intervene in the lives of ordinary people and
control what they are allowed to do. There is no freedom in Hitler’s world. Marriage, for example, was only allowed
between pure, healthy Germans. In Hitler’s savage vision, the sick, the unhealthy and the weak would be banned
from having children, in order not to infect the race.
Anti-Semitism, hostility or prejudice against Jews, had been a feature of European life for centuries. Until the
nineteenth century, anti-Semitism, in a prominently Christian Europe, had generally been religious in its nature. Jews
were habitually identified as being responsible for the killing of Jesus Christ and singled out for their adherence to a
non-Christian faith. Vilified and ostracized, Jews had been targeted by governments and communities across Europe
since the Roman period. In the Middle Ages they were accused of causing the Black Plague and of sacrificing
Christian children. In the late nineteenth century they were the victims of government-inspired pogroms in Russia.
Jews were an easy target for those who believed they were suffering in an unjustifiable manner. Jews were often
forced to live in separate communities, and restricted in their rights and occupations. In these early forms of hostility
and persecution of Jews, the central idea was religious. On conversion to Christianity, an individual Jew generally
ceased to be a target of persecution.
By the late nineteenth century, as ideas of Social Darwinism spread and cultural difference came to be understood –
erroneously – as based on race, the nature of anti-Semitism began to change. Jews came to be considered a racial
group. Their difference was not considered the result of their religion or culture, but rather, a feature of their race that
was determined permanently by genetics. A Jew’s conversion to Christianity, therefore, would not change their
perceived nature.
This sense of Jews as another race was widespread in Europe by the late nineteenth century. In Vienna, where Hitler
lived between 1907 and 1913, anti-Semitism, for example, was rife. The Christian Democrat and populist mayor Karl
Lueger was obsessed by Jews, and identified them as both overly wealthy and influential, and as potential
revolutionaries. Historian Michael Burleigh describes Vienna before World War I as ethnically deeply divided:
…Hitler was also affected by many of the passionately argued causes and hatreds of that polyglot city in those times,
where violence among students from different national backgrounds was commonplace and chairs and inkwells were
hurled around in the fractious parliament. One of these hatred-provoking beliefs was that ethnic Germans were being
swamped by the Slavic majority of the multi-national Austro-Hungarian Empire; another was that assimilated Jews
were too conspicuously predominant, while unassimilated eastern Jews, fleeing successive pogroms in the Tsarist
empire, were part of the Slavic inundation. A sense of German beleaguement was exploited by Pan-German
politicians, who wanted the ethnic German Austrians to break out of what they regarded as the multinational ‘zoo’ of
the Hapsburg empire, to join up with their mighty Teutonic northern neighbor…
Michael Burleigh, The Third Reich: A New History, Pan Books, London, 2001, p.87
The extent to which Hitler’s racial thinking was shaped by his time in Vienna is the subject of debate among
historians. Burleigh, as noted above, sees a very direct link with Vienna, while Brigitte Hamann, in her book Hitler’s
Vienna, argues that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was more a product of the immediate post-World War I period. Regardless
of the contributing influence, these notions of racial anti-Semitism and racial struggle formed the cornerstone of Nazi
ideology as it emerged in the 1920s.
Volkisch ideas
Another important influence on the development of Nazi ideology was volkisch nationalism. By the late nineteenth
century, many educated Germans were coming to accept the idea that they were heirs to a homogenous culture that
separated them from what were sometimes referred to as ‘superficial’ civilisations, such as Britain, France and the
United States. This thinking resulted in the glorification of patriotic history and the idolization of national heroic
figures. The words ‘volk’ and ‘volkisch’ became connected with this national solidarity and the collective mission to
reach this destiny. The nation had been blessed with a mysterious essence, which was in danger of being corrupted
by decadent influences such as socialism and cosmopolitan ideas, epitomised by the Jews.
The volkisch movement in Germany was fragmented. In the main, there seemed little interest in creating a political
movement, let alone creating a state. It is therefore better to think of volkisch thought as a cultural movement that
promoted its central ideas through a range of methods. These included novels that celebrated the purity of the
German peasant, and journalism that attacked foreign influence. There were also historians and thinkers who wrote
about the volk in occult and pseudo-anthropological terms. Examples of such writers include the Austrians Guido von
List and Lanz von Liebenfels. The central theme of their thinking was ‘the imminent regeneration of the German
people through otherworldly powers once they have thrown off the literally sub-human influence of feminists,
socialists, homosexuals and Jews’. Volkisch ideas were seen in the host of social and political leagues that appeared
in Germany after 1870, such as the Agrarian League and the Colonial Society. They all thought that biological ideas
of Aryan supremacy were developed and expressed.
At the heart of Hitler’s world view was a deeply felt sense of nationalism. Hitler’s idea of nation was closely linked to
the idea of race. German-ness was no simply about the German country. Germany was the German volk, which
included those that lived beyond Germany’s borders. Hitler believed that Germany and the German people had lost
their position of greatness and he was determined to restore this. Hitler spoke of a need for national revival, and to
achieve this a revival of the national will was needed. In this sense the Nazi movement was ultra-nationalist. As part
of this intense nationalism, the Nazis defined the targets for the German people to concentrate their hatred and fear
upon. There were the Jews who threatened the racial purity of the German state, and there were the communists
who sought to destroy the German state. Hitler and the Nazis gave many Germans what they wanted – someone to
blame and someone to look to for salvation.
Democracy and the State
Nazism was a movement that was anti-liberal and anti-democratic. Hitler expressed his contempt for the idea of
parliamentary democracy and the Weimar Republic. He wrote in Mein Kampf that Germans had been betrayed by
the democracy imposed on them in 1918. Democratic ideas, personal freedom, the concept of equality and the rights
of the individual played no part in Hitler’s world view. The emphasis was on the nation, with the individual finding true
fulfilment only by submitting to the will of the nation.
In place of democracy, Hitler believed in the will of a leader who could interpret the needs of the people. In his world
view Germany needed a strong leader who would emerge unchallenged by the restraints of democracy and
parliament, a leader who would lead the nation to its historic destiny and rule absolutely and without restraint, with
the unquestioned loyalty of the nation. In Germany this concept became known as the ‘leader principle’ or
Führerprinzip. The Nazis did not invent the term, but it came to represent the way the state would operate under
At the core of National Socialism was its opposition to communism and its message of class conflict. Communist
Russia had become a reality in 1917 and Hitler saw in communism an international movement seeking to spread its
influence throughout the world. A communist government was set up in neighbouring Hungary in 1919, and at the
same time the communist-led Spartacist uprising had taken place in Berlin. Hitler was witness to a brief communist
takeover in his own state of Bavaria, followed by violence on the streets of Munich, which left over 1000 dead.
Hitler also linked his hatred of communism with his hatred of the Jews. In Hitler’s mind, Russia was the centre of a
Jewish conspiracy, and although only a handful of the leaders of the Russian Revolution had a Jewish background,
the Nazis presented the communist takeover of Russia in 1917 as a Jewish world conspiracy.
The Quest for Living Space (Lebensraum)
In Hitler’s vision, the Germans were destined to create a greater Germany, uniting all the Germanic-speaking peoples
of Europe to form a greater Reich or nation, populated by racially pure Germanic peoples. It was the destiny of the
German people (the Volk) to create this great Germanic Reich that would dominate Europe. Hitler believed Germany
had to acquire territory to assure the future survival of the German people, and this meant a deliberate policy of
expansion into Eastern Europe, with the ultimate aim being the destruction of the Soviet Union. This vast heartland of
Europe, which Germany would conquer ‘by the power of triumphant sword’, was to be Germany’s Lebensraum or
living space. The master race would dominate, the inferior races (Untermenschen, or subhumans) would become
slaves of Germans, and this vast Reich would last for a thousand years.
Key Nazi Publications
From the 1920s the Nazi Party published a broad range of periodicals. Many of these first appeared before the
seizure of power, and in some cases continued to be published throughout the war. Among the most significant of
these periodicals were:
 The Völkischer Beobachter, published daily from 1923
 The NS-Briefe, a party newspaper, initiated by Gregor Strasser and edited by Joseph Goebbels
 NS Monatshefte, a monthly journal, first published in 1930 and edited by Alfred Rosenberg
 Der SA Mann, the weekly newspaper of the SA
 Der Angriff, a Berlin-based party newspaper published from 1937
 Das Schwarze Korps, the weekly newspaper of the SS, published from 1935
 Der Stürmer, a weekly newspaper that emphasized anti-Semitic themes, published by Julius Streicher from
In the case of Nazism these ideas were expressed in a variety of forms. Most obviously, because by 1921 he was the
party leader, Adolf Hitler’s speeches and his political autobiography Mein Kampf are important expressions of Nazi
ideology. However, as many historians now argue, the Nazi movement was not simply Hitlerism. These ideas were
also shaped by a range of other figures, including those who had contributed to the 25 Point Program, such as
Gottfried Feder and Dietrich Eckart, as well as the brothers Gregor and Otto Strasser, Heinrich Himmler, Alfred
Rosenberg, Walther Darré, Hans Gunther, Julius Streicher and Joseph Goebbels. Each of these figures, and
countless others, contributed to the development of Nazi ideology through speeches, books and Nazi publications.
Importantly, the tone of Nazi ideology was set by Hitler, but, as historians of the Functionalist/Structuralist schools
note, there were competing and often differing groups within the party. These factions, as Joseph Nyomarkay notes,
‘did not organise against Hitler, but instead strove to the last minute of their existence to gain his support. Their
objective was not to challenge Hitler’s leadership, but to capture him for their respective point of view. As the source
of authority, the leader could not be challenged, he could only be claimed.
This characteristic distinguished Nazism from Marxist political movements, which were based on claims of orthodoxy
determined by adherence to party ideology, not the authority of the leader.
Key historical perspectives: Was Nazism a distinct ideology?
National Socialism developed many of the forms of an ideology. However, historians such as Martin Broszat have
argued that Nazism lacked a distinct ideology and view Nazism as merely a branch of Fascism, sharing a Europewide militarism, hatred of communism and stressing centralism within the state.
Other historians (Hugh Trevor-Roper, Alan Bullock), whilst accepting that Nazi ideology was not clearly defined,
argue that the ‘Führer principle’ was of particular importance to German fascism, and, above all, stress that Hitler
provided Nazism (Mein kampf) with a unique racial and anti-Semitism programme, which was absent in Italian
fascism. Yet the Nazis’ Twenty-Five Points of 1920 were a curious mixture of nationalist and socialist elements. It
soon became clear that Hitler was not particularly committed to the socialist element.
Key historical perspectives: German anti-Semitism
The historian Daniel Goldhagen (Hitler’s Willing Executioners) has sparked great controversy by arguing that the
German people were, and had been for centuries, virulently and uniquely anti-Semitic and that ordinary Germans did
not just stand by whilst the Jews were persecuted but took pleasure in attacking the Jews, including their murder in
the Second World War.
Many historians (particularly Ruth Bettina Birn) have criticized Goldhagen for selective use of evidence and argue
that Germans pre-1933 had not been particularly anti-Semitic. Omer Bartov, among many other academics, has
raised doubts about Gldhagen’s research, pointing out that Goldhagen’s thesis is based on a study of only those
Germans who served as policemen during World War II, a narrow cross section of the population. The fact that, in
1933, Hitler turned down demands from the SA for more than a one day boycott of Jewish shops for fear of a hostile
response both inside and outside Germany suggests that Hitler doubted that anti-Semitism had wide support among
The debate between Goldhagen and Browning is a fascinating one you might be interested in.
Ian Kershaw on Nazi ideology
Ian Kershaw is one of the world’s leading experts on Nazi Germany. His two-volume biography of Hitler, Hitler 18891936: Hubris and Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis, is considered by many to be the finest work that has bene produced on
the life of the Führer. Kershaw has said that he owes a great debt to the German historian Martin Broszat, who
encouraged him to pursue research into how ordinary Germans felt about and coped with the Nazi regime.
In this extract, Kershaw discusses the role of ideology in Nazi Germany and the impact of changing perspectives in
this area.
…Perhaps the most significant shift in perspective, compared with the position in the early or mid-1980s is the
seriousness with which Nazi racial ideology is now viewed as a key motivating force of action. Given the ragbag
nature of Nazism’s assemblage of phobias and prejudices, it has always proved tempting to see ideology as no more
than an amalgam of ideas at the service of propaganda and mobilization. In some ways this has become almost
reversed: propaganda and mobilization are now seen to have served a racial ideology of central importance to the
‘cumulative radicalisation’ of the regime…
…More recent studies have…seen no need to pose a contradiction between the instrumentalisation of ideas and the
genuine motivational force of an ideology of racial purity and racial conquest which underpinned the regime’s
ceaseless dynamic. The ideology of race was sucked in by a generation of well-educated Germans who came to
maturity during the years after the First World War, and later came to prominence in the leadership of the SS, police
and security apparatus, the ideological executive of the regime and most important motor of race policy…[New
studies have also] shown how vital Hitler’s pathological anti-Semitism, his own ‘mission’ to ‘remove’ the Jews from
Germany, then from Europe, was to the shaping of the ‘racial state’, fueling the aggression of the activists, and
providing legitimization for those directing and planning race policy. Not least, it is plain that Hitler’s authorization was
crucial at decisive junctures…
Ian Kershaw, The Nazi Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives or Interpretatins, Arnold, London, 2000,
1. What conclusion does Kershaw draw about the change in the way Nazi racial ideology is viewed by historians?
2. How is the role of racial ideoogy in the Nazi regime now viewed?
3. What comment does Kershaw make about ‘well-educated’ Germans?
4. To what extent is Hitler’s role in racial ideology now seen as crucial?
Conclusions – Ideology Sims/Diffs