Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Authority Amongst Many: The Polycratic Nature of Nazi Germany

This is a paper I have completed for a course this summer, on the many faceted authoritarian structure of the German political landscape from 1933-1945, the time of Hitler and the Nazi party.


Germany under the leadership of Adolf Hitler from 1933 through 1945 is a fascinating study of political authority and control. While the popular image of this time in Germany is one of German citizens huddled in obedient masses whilst Nazi storm troopers lumbered across Europe, it is ill suited to a historical reality. What is apparent in an analysis of this time of German history is that power and authority were distributed far and wide, with both the enduring bureaucracy of the state and the ascendant National Socialists Party functioning simultaneously under the umbrella of allegiance to a single leader, Adolf Hitler.

(More after the jump, References included)
The Nazi state was not a totalitarian dictatorship, but what has been described as a ‘Dual State’ by the political scientist Ernst Fraenkel[1]. In the 1930s Fraenkel defined a dual state as a state existing with a ‘normative’ legal system that continued to grow and exist within a rising ‘prerogative state’ of party authority and extra legal control[2]. In the case of Germany, an established civil service functioned prior to First World War, continued to function during the Weimar republic, and was readily adopted as the nation evolved under the National Socialist Party during the 1930’s. Hitler was handed the reins of power through constitutional and legal means, with no bloody coup de tat or revolution required. The Fuher, leader of the German nation and Volk, took power with peace by consensus. The only instance of violent action taken against domestic enemies that would warrant comparison was the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ in 1934. Even this bloody predawn period was but a minor political skirmish when compared to neighboring nations in Europe. The peace which accompanied this rise to power lent enormous credibility to Hitler and in turn, his Nazis, on foreign and domestic fronts. The ‘normative’ state maintained responsibility and persisted in following the bureaucratic and legal codes which had so long bound it to being a servant of the people. The sweeping changes that swept German society were most often perpetrated by the ‘prerogative state’ of the Nazi party. Simultaneous in operation, the Nazi party was a second government with neither constitutional nor judicial restraint. The party of the swastika rapidly armed itself with the SS, administered judicial decisions through the Gestapo, and restrained real and alleged enemies of the state within concentration camps[3]. In addition, the party provided education for children of all ages, supplied entertainment and propaganda, and avenues for those of ambition to advance within the party structure. While many of these functions of state were handled previously by the normative state[4], the prerogative state existed to work outside of the legal structure to better accomplish party goals in addition to the normative state. It was not until April of 1942 that Hitler announced to the Reichstag his authority over all judicial decisions.[5] With such overlapping fields of authority between the normative and the prerogative, there were of course numerous turf wars, jurisdictional disagreements and an increasing level of discord. One prominent example is that of the schism between the Chamber of Culture under the propaganda ministry of Goebbels, and the National Socialist Party’s Cultural Association under Alfred Rosenberg. While Goebbels preferred pragmatic approaches that showed results even if not pure in ideology, Rosenberg held ideological sanctity above all else.[6] The history of this period is rife with antagonism of the elite within the state and the party, as men with large ambitions and heavy responsibilities sparred for glory on the stage of Germany performing before Hitler. It is a testament to how proficiently the existing bureaucracies functioned, that so little disruption occurred in the German civil life over this time.

 “The linchpin of the entire Nazi system of rule was Adolf Hitler, who made or approved all final decisions on matters of strategy and policy.”[7] Stackelberg informs us. Like Ian Kershaw, I find comparisons to the neighboring tyrant of the Soviet Union to be helpful in understanding how Hitler led.[8] Joseph Stalin came from within a system of rule which preexisted his ascent, a committee man, chief oligarch, man of the machine’[9] Stalin was the man who controlled all else by his position within the party, the secretariat. This position would be more analogous in German history to Bormann[10], who controlled the entry to the Fuher, rather than Hitler. Where Stalin was intimately familiar with the machinations of bureaucracy and administration, Hitler would have found it difficult to have been further removed. It is apparent from all sources that Hitler was very much adverse to administrative details of office, becoming increasingly difficult to receive a decision from as the war waxed on. In the words of Wiedmann, we find a critical component which helped maintain Hitler’s position in Germany: “He [Hitler] took the view that many things sorted themselves out on their own if one did not interfere”[11] It is understood that Hitler’s legitimate authority was based on charismatic grounds[12], rather than the more common rational or traditional grounds in which the authority of a head of state finds purchase.  Waber distills the concept of ‘charisma’ as ‘the gift of grace’[13], and it was supposed widely among Germany and in propaganda that Hitler had only the betterment of the German people in store if he was followed. Grace is understood to be a benevolent action from a greater power, typically referred to in the Christian faith, in this context, describing the leader as the very gift of God. The personal loyalty to Hitler among so many Germans is nearly unrivaled in modern history, and it was something cultivated diligently by Hitler.  To quote Kershaw, “The function of Hitler’s ‘charismatic’ Fuher position could be said to have been threefold: That of unifier, of activator, and of enabler in the Third Reich.”[14] Hitler was the unifier of the nation in several ways. Within the party, the class system was all but eliminated; an individual was either German or not German. Hitler was also able to exploit and extend popular sentiment regarding the purging of those deemed asocial. Through the war effort, numerous common enemies were exploited for the population to struggle together against. Hitler also unified the political and legal process, disbanding a complicated Reichstag in favor of a single party. Hitler was an activator in that he gave the ability and the authority of party goals to men in positions able to accomplish those goals, from road construction to the purges. Hitler was also in a position to enable the actions, and especially the excesses and barbarism of the Nazi movement. Many evils were committed in the name of the Fuher, and although it is uncertain that all the actions were a direct consequence of his directives, his approval was the goal for which they were initiated.

            There exists a historical puzzle for which we have no good answer, perhaps because there was never intended to be one. In the event of Hitler’s death, who would have been his successor? In answering this, we find what would have been the end result of the Nazi rule, even if the war had turned differently. The Nazi movement, being a charismatic leadership movement, was incapable of self reproduction in a way that the Soviet Communist party was not.[15] In Hitler alone would the party, and in consequence Germany, succeed. Due to the failings of the Weimar Republic, Kershaw supposes the German people sought salvation in a “leader who possessed personal power and was prepared to take personal responsibility, sweeping away the causes of the misery” [emphasis Kershaw][16]. Where Germans had grown fond of a monarch, they had been handed a dysfunctional republic bases on unwanted democracy. In response, the Volk sought out a new leader to restore the economy and German pride. In Hitler was found their leader, a man who in short order had restored economic growth and expanded the borders of Germany. Hitler’s primary authority stemmed from his ability to affect changes already desired by the German people, and he was perceived as the executor of the national will rather than a dictator. While party excesses and turf wars were perceived at local levels, Hitler was held and seen as above the fray, The Fuher was the one man in leadership who was of and worked for the people, who would move Germany into its rightful place of distinction both at home and abroad. His continued successes both foreign and domestic only gave more credibility to the infallibility of Hitler[17].  The German people were both collaborative and coerced in its support of the Nazi party and state regime. It was coercive in that many considered to be ‘asocial’ were sent away to the concentration camps for destruction. It was collaborative in that many Germans assisted through denunciations[18] in order further personal ambitions, and approved of purges that were taking place. The Nazi adherence to Social Darwinism further plagued the expansion of Germany. Divided fiefdoms resulted from German occupation, and were never intended to resolve themselves into systemic governing bodies. Within the conquest, there was no system of reproduction of authority; it was based exclusively on personal control through personal loyalty.[19] Indeed, even within Germany the strife between the Party, the State, and the struggles amongst factions were perceived as healthy and good, as the strong would ultimately take control and move Germany even further into the future. Hitler benefited from this infighting, as every faction claimed to be ‘working toward the Fuher[20]’ in their objectives. This left Hitler above all, and it was Hitler alone who was understood to have the best interest of the Germany people at heart. In the propaganda, and indeed, the hearts of many Germans[21], the Fuher was the one man who would outlast the squabbles and miseries of the transition, and who would secure a stronger and more prosperous future for Germany. One of the more remarkable aspects of Hitler’s duration as Fuher is how reluctant he became in issuing new directives. Stackelberg indicates he became increasingly fond of letting his subalterns create new initiatives to accomplish party goals, only to retroactively approve those that worked and later punish those that did not.[22] This created an environment where ambitions men in Germany ‘worked toward the Fuher’ based not on specific directives, but based on the propaganda and party rhetoric as they understood it. Barbarous consequences would result, and although they were not all the direct result of Hitler, the one man in Germany who was in a position to put a stay to the atrocities committed was Hitler[23]. In his absence of leadership, or as a result of his spoken and unspoken desires, both the normative and the prerogative states left behind a deep trail of destruction. By continual and persistent reinforcement of the m­urderous measures of the party in early years, the policies which resulted in millions of deaths would only become the common denominator as the years wore on.
             
            The notion of Hitler representing the national community and being a moderating presence in Germany was widely accepted by the German people, who readily accepted the propaganda of Hitler and his Nazi party in order to fulfill a decade’s long desire for a charismatic and unifying leader. The legal method of takeover resulted in a dual state of governmental chaos and conflict. Although Hitler was often entirely absent from direct leadership, the ideals of the party that he accelerated into power brought disastrous consequences to Europe. Nazi Germany was not a totalitarian monolith, but a nation with many leaders holding the fiat power of life and death over far too many beneath them and the encouragement to act with decisive strength toward a barely understood goal. ‘Working toward the Fuher’ was the single most damaging internalization[24] by a population in European history.


[1] Stackelberg, Roderick, Hitler’s Germany. London: Routledge, 2009, p. 150.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Stackelberg, Roderick, Hitler’s Germany. London: Routledge, 2009, p. 156.
[4] Ibid, p. 151.
[5] Ibid, p. 150.
[6] Stackelberg, Roderick, Hitler’s Germany. London: Routledge, 2009, p. 151.
[7] Ibid, p. 153.
[8] Ian Kershaw, “Hitler as Dictator: ‘Working Towards the Führer’: Reflections on the Nature of the Hitler Dictatorship”, in Leitz, The Third Reich, pp. 232.
[9] Moshe Lewin, Buraucracy and the Stalinist State (Unpublished); As quoted in: Ian Kershaw, “Hitler as Dictator: ‘Working Towards the Führer’: Reflections on the Nature of the Hitler Dictatorship”, in Leitz, The Third Reich, pp. 232.
[10] Stackelberg, Roderick, Hitler’s Germany. London: Routledge, 2009, p. 152.
[11] Frize Wiedmann, Der Mann, Der Feldherr warden wollte (Kettwig: Velbert, 1964), 69; trans. Jeremy Noakes and Geoffrey Pridham, eds, Nazism 1919/1945. A Documentary Reader (thereafter Noakes and Pridham, Nazism) (Exeter: Exeter University Press, 1984, ii. 207-8. As quoted in: Ian Kershaw, “Hitler as Dictator: ‘Working Towards the Führer’: Reflections on the Nature of the Hitler Dictatorship”, in Leitz, The Third Reich, pp. 232.
[12] Max Weber, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization (New York: Oxford University Press, 1947), pp. 328.
[13] Ibid, pp. 360.
[14] Ian Kershaw, “Hitler as Dictator: ‘Working Towards the Führer’: Reflections on the Nature of the Hitler Dictatorship”, in Leitz, The Third Reich, pp. 246.
[15] Ian Kershaw, “Hitler as Dictator: ‘Working Towards the Führer’: Reflections on the Nature of the Hitler Dictatorship”, in Leitz, The Third Reich, pp. 243.
[16] Ian Kershaw, “The ‘Hitler Myth’: Image and Reality in the Third Reich”, in Crew, Nazism, pp. 201.
[17] Stackelberg, Roderick, Hitler’s Germany. London: Routledge, 2009, p. 155.
[18] Ibid p. 156.
[19] Ian Kershaw, “Hitler as Dictator: ‘Working Towards the Führer’: Reflections on the Nature of the Hitler Dictatorship”, in Leitz, The Third Reich, pp. 251.
[20] Stackelberg, Roderick, Hitler’s Germany. London: Routledge, 2009, p. 153
[21] Ibid. p. 157.
[22] Ibid. p. 152.
[23] Stackelberg, Roderick, Hitler’s Germany. London: Routledge, 2009, p. 153
[24] Ibid, p. 156.

3 comments:

Sra. Madera said...

Well done. So do you see any correlation to the current state of our nation and our leadership?

Palm boy said...

Some, but no overwhelming preponderance that leads me to believe we are on the same trajectory.

Jez said...

But wouldn't a dual state reinforce the idea of total control? Yes, maybe disordered, but total all the same? The blurred lines between normative and prerogative could argue between a regime that was sinister, chaotic and in which power was concentrated to exercise totality. I totally agree with all of this, but just want some more clarification as to how the normative and prerogative can be used to argue against totalitarianism as opposed to for.