Some Thoughts on the Political Structure of Nazi Germany

The chaotic nature of the Third Reich was a direct consequence of Nazi ideology. The notion of “will to power,” which the Nazis misappropriated from philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, made competition the fundamental element of social, economic, and political relationships. Central to Nazi ideology was the spencerian notion of “survival of the fittest” which necessitated persistent struggle. It is important to realize, however, the distinction the Nazis’ made between the chaotic nature of everyday life and bureaucracy, and the stabilizing energy and force of the Fuhrer.

Once in power, the Nazis expanded this principle to bureaucratic administration. Thus the intense individual and interdepartmental rivalries which developed within the Nazi bureaucracy was not inadvertent. Such competition disabled any single person or agency to acquire too much power, and as final arbiter of such disputes, enabled Hitler to remain at the top of the hierarchical pyramid. In addition, this chaos allowed Hitler to present himself as the primary source of stability to the German people. In “The ‘Hitler’ Myth,” Ian Kershaw observes that “Hitler was able to offer a positive pole in the Third Reich, transcending sectional interests and grievances through his necessary aloofness from the ‘conflict sphere’ of daily politics, separating him from the more unpopular aspects of Nazism.” (Crew 203)

Nazism in practice, was largely adherent to its theoretical form. Their slogan “ein Volk, ein, Reich, ein Fuhrer” symbolized the party’s efforts to portray the people, state, and leader as one entity, which stood as a bulwark against the forces of disunity. Routine turmoil, which characterized administration in Nazi Germany was not anathema to party ideology. It reaffirmed the notion of “survival of the fittest,” and at the same time enabled the Nazis to portray Hitler as having transcended such ordinary competition. Hitler thus stood at the top of the social hierarchy. And while in the Third Reich, failure flowed down the hierarchical pyramid, success flowed to the top. Even before becoming chancellor, Hitler had increasingly intertwined the Nazi movement and ideology with himself. As Ian Kershaw notes:

“No one was more aware of the functional significance of his popularity in binding the masses to him, and hence to the regime, as Hitler himself,” and that “[Hitler] commented that the ruler who was dependent only upon executive power without finding ‘the way to the people’ was destined to failure” (Crew 202)

Through the conscious construction of such institutionalized competition in the party and bureaucracy, Hitler and his immediate circle both retained absolute authority, and displayed to the German people a clear example of “survival of the fittest” in action. The monumental, omnipotent image the regime displayed to the German people and the world was not a facade which hid administrative turmoil beneath the surface, but rather symbolized the supreme power and unity of the state and Fuhrer with the people. Hitler, with the help of his propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and such propagandists as Leni Riefenstahl, was able to increasingly depict the nation’s fate as being in his hands alone. And as Kershaw observes, “the more [Hitler] succumbed to the allure of his own Fuhrer cult and came to believe in his own myth, the more his judgement became impaired by faith in his own infallibility.” (Crew 208)

Hitler had used chaos as a means to both reaffirm party ideology and maintain absolute authority. This chaos enabled Hitler to become an almost mythic figure. His subordinates saw in Hitler the “driving force and untiring motor of the great achievements of the National Socialist State,” and “one of the greatest figures in German History.” (Crew 208) The administrative chaos which Hitler had enabled in order to transcend it and portray himself as the leader who would drive Germany into the future, served also to place in Hitler’s hands the actual fate of the German people, which he ultimately drove into the ground.



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