Case Study: Germany 1919 - 1945, how Hitler Gained and Maintained Power

(Remember that part of the point of the case study is to related the case to some of the theories and ideas discussed in the course; right now, this is mostly descriptive - xmarquez xmarquez May 31, 2011)

Hitler's Rise to Power

The Nazi regime was the most brutal and destructive political party in the 20th century. Not only because of the role it played in instigating World War Two and the Holocaust, but also because of the affect it had on the German economy and society. Hitler's rise to power was a result of both cultural, and economic reasons. These reasons will be discussed in more detail below.

The Economy
Between 1919 and 1933 the German economy was very weak; there was hyperinflation, and the currency was practically worthless (Acemoglu & Robinson, 2006). This was a result of signing the Treaty of Versailles (1919), and the Great Depression (1929) - these two economic factors aided Hitler in become Reich Chancellor on the 30th of January, 1933. Hitler formed the Nazi Party in 1920 but initially it generated little support. In the 1924 elections, for example, the party won only 3% of the public votes (see the Interactive Timeline for a brief summary of Hitler's regime)(Gellately, 2001). However, when the Great Depression was in its element in 1929 there were approximately 6 million registered unemployed people, and the economic situation was bad and quickly worsening as there was a loss of business confidence and investment (Gellately, 2001). Inflation kept changing to the point that employees had to be paid daily to keep up with it, and the German mark was practically worthless.

The German population was looking for a stable and strong government to pull them out of this slump, but the Weimar government of the day was unstable and collapsing internally (Gellately, 2001). In Germany, between 1919 and 1933, there was a drive to establish democracy and liberalise the country. The German population looked at the terrible condition the country was in, and made associations between that and democracy, putting the Weimar government way out of favour. In contrast to the Weimar government, Hitler's Nazi regime looked strong, effective, and efficient. These are qualities the German population were looking for in a political regime.

The German population saw integrated economies as a threat to local agriculture and industry as opposed to an opportunity for exportation and development, and with a failing economy the German people looked for a strong protectionist, nationalist government (BBC, 2011). This is keeping with the Game theory, the way in which people study the situation to make preferences over different regimes (Acemoglu & Robinson, 2005). People naturally prefer more income to less, and while traditionally someone is expected to choose democracy to nondemocracy, the German population experienced a hard economic situation during a time of democracy. Therefore, they see non democracy as a way to increase personal wealth (Acemoglu & Robinson, 2005). While they wanted a protectionist, nationalist economy, they ended up with the most extremist nationalist leader in the 20th Century.

The Culture
Hitler was a charasmatic leader who established a cult-like personality around himself, making his political party leaders and the rest of the state dependent on him. He created both internal and external enemies for the German population: the Jews, the political leaders, and the communists. He appealed to the German's patriotism by demanding a master race, and the purification of Germany of all mixed and non-German blood.

Robert Gallately (2001) argues that the German culture played a role in allowing the Nazi party to come to power, and to maintain that power. He argues that the secret police had less power than was previously thought because of a lack of funding and being understaffed, but were so successful at maintaining order because of the collaboration of the German population (Gallately, 2001). He argues that the Gestapo would use racism, patriotism, and political conviction to encourage the masses to collaborate (Gallately, 2001). And while fear did play a role, it is not the only thing that should be tasken into consideration. Hitler used nationalism as a tool to prop itself against in his attempt at gaining support in order to accumulate power (Wintrobe, 1990).

The Treaty of Versailles, signed in 1919 to signify the end of World War One was a great rally point for Hitler and his cause. When the treaty was signed, Germany had to accept responsibility for the war, have severe border concessions, and pay for the destruction they had caused (BBC, 2011). This ruined both German morale and the German economy. When appealing to the middle classes, Hitler used this embarrassment and appealed to their patriotic nature to support an extreme nationalist party, to restore Germany's name to her former pride and prestige. He claimed that the political leaders who signed the treaty had betrayed the German people, and used it as a rally point against the communist competitors (Connor, 1989). The Nazi party isolated itself from the international arena and promoted itself on its ability to function on its own, to restore that pride that was lost. The party created enemies, both internally and externally, that the German population must overcome to create a Master race (Connor, 1989). As Hitler created a fear of the enemy he made his followers dependent on him to keep them safe and lead them to achieve their goals of purification. This united the German population and created a common cause and purpose. It makes politics more than just values, but a way of life and a way of thinking. The Nazi party was the most extreme nationalist cause, yet its revolutionary and powerful style would have appealed to some Germans. This is why, even after World War Two a large portion of Germany's population still supported Hitler (Wintrobe, 1990).

The Pivotal Event
On the 27th of February, 1933, the Reichstag building was set on fire, this was a pivotal event in the creation of Nazi Germany (Gellately, 2001). Hitler and his party claimed this was an arson attack by the competing communist party, and the leaders of that party were thrown into concentration camps for plotting against the German government. At this time, Hitler urged the president to adopt the 'Rule by Emergency' doctrine (or the Reichstag Fire Decree) which is often used in totalitarian regimes as a stepping stone to dismantle any democratic practices that exist (Gellately, 2001). By declaring a state of emergency civil liberties were suspended and all communist party leaders were quickly thrown into jail or concentration camps. With empty communist seats in parliament the Nazi party became the majority party. Hitler was soon after voted in, and given the right to pass any laws (the Enabling act), effectively making him Dictator of Germany. From then, his power and legitimacy increased and he began pursuing his ideological goals in ernest.

Germany as a Totalitarian Regime

Characteristics of a Totalitarian Regime
Hitler came to power through the decay of a democratic regime. Totalitarian regimes have a few characteristics; 1) A charismatic cult leader who is seen as the person who embodies the hope and will of the nation, 2) a radical ideology which inspires a revolutionary way of thinking, 3) the organization and control of party leaders who in turn spread the party message, 4) mass mobilization and indoctrination, 5) the use of the secret police, terror, and abandoning all civil freedoms and rights (Marquez, 2011). The objective of totalitarian regimes is to maximize power through high levels of repression, and to maintain a high level of public loyalty. Totalitarian ideologies are not simply to rule the country, but are intent on world domination and spreading their ideology world-wide. This can be seen by Hitler's attempted expansion into France, Belgium, etc. and the removal of the Jewish population in these areas.

When Hitler came into power in 1933, he quickly disbanded other political parties and their right to stand for and run for elections. In fact, the heads of opposition parties were harassed and put into concentration camps because of their opposing ideas and the threat they posed to Hitler. Further, voting ballots that were left blank or spoiled in protest, were simply counted as a vote for Hitler (Gerth, 1940). Political institutions were established, however they were far from democratic as all instructions and advice given by Hitler was followed without doubt. In February of 1936 an act was passed that stated the Gestapo were officially above the law, which resulted in inhumane activities without repercussions (Gellately, 2001). These heteronymous norms gave the Gestapo great power, which they used and abused at the misfortune of the Jewish population (Marquez, 2011). This is similar to South Africa in the 1950s where the apartheid regime massively repressed political and civil rights, had tight control over the media, and the police had the power to arrest people without trial and hold them indefinitely (Daron & Robinson, 2005).

Under Hitler's reign, civil and political liberties were dismissed as there was massive harassment, fear, and restrictions on speech and religion among other things. There was also strict control of the media and education, and intense propaganda. Hannah Arendt (1951) st
Fig. 1, Before: Unemployment, hopelessness, desolation, strikes, lockouts. Today: Work, joy, discipline, comaradarie. Give the Führer your vote!
ates perfect repression of the population would be 'the permanent domination of each single individual in each and every sphere of life.' This is what the Nazi party tried to establish, they spread from the national government to infiltrate all areas of local government and life, in order to maintain loyalty and subservience.

Hitler was known as the father of the nation who was all knowing, all powerful and all seeing. He promoted the Nazi ideology that Germans were ultimately superior which led to the Holocaust, otherwise known as 'the Final Solution to the Jewish Problem' (Arendt, 1951). He was considered God-like because of his apparently huge array of talents and abilities. His speeches and persona were inspiring, with a high level of passion and emotion that had not been seen in German politics until then, (see Adolf Hitler's passionate speech in 1933). Naziism was a far-right form of politics that believed in, and promoted, the supremacy of the Aryan race, and that German's were the purist Aryan nation. They aspired to create a new world order, and saw the Jews as the greatest threat to the Aryan race that needed to be overcome through extermination.

How Hitler Maintained his Power

When Hitler came into power he began to restrict the population in terms of expression, censorship, public demonstrations and meetings for the 'good of the German people' (Gerth, 1940). Hitler used a trilogy of fear, lies and economic benefits to maintain his power over the German population.

Effect on Society
The purpose of these tactics is to reduce the populations knowledge and break down all trust in society. People become iscolated as they are unsure if they are the only ones that are discontent, or if others feel the same. With a danger of arrest, punishment, or even death it becomes a lot easier to simply keep quiet. Ideological control destroys all knowledge and trust between civilians, especially with the presence of the secret police and neighbors and friends go missing overnight to never bee seen again (Marquez, 2011). Children were encouraged to tell the secret police if their parents said something at home, and were brought up to praise and admire Hitler. Where it existed, civil society was based around the regime, and many fundamental rights such as the freedom of speech and assembly were abolished (Gerth, 1940). Hitler youth was comprised of creating German boys who were trained for the army, and healthy German girls who can give birth to the superior master race. Youth are often attracted to this charasmatic leadership, and although membership in the Hitler Youth was compulsory from the age of ten, it became quite popular because of Hitler's charismatic and kind persona (History Place, 1999).

Hitler created a mythical ideology around him, and established himself as the father figure of Germany through demonstrations, public speeches, media and fear. The newspapers, films, music, schools and radio were riddled with Nazi propaganda, a department lead by Joseph Goebbels the Minister of National Enlightenment (BBC, 2011). Propaganda posters with slogans such as 'the Party is Hitler, but Hitler is Germany and Germany is Hitler!' were seen all over the country, to always reinforce the message that Hitler is great and is doing what is best for the nation (Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2011). They would portray messages about the dirtiness and subhuman state of Jews, and the superiority of the Master race and Germany. Hitler understood that it was important not that the population believed his messages, but that they acted like they did. This is why Hitler would have mandatory celebrations or parades to force people to show their support, and retain this facade. The infamous book burnings of books that were not in keeping with the Nazi ideas (as shown in figure two) is an example of this extreme propaganda and censorship.

Fig. 2, Nazi's Infamous book burning


The power of repression in a totalitarian state is that those who fear the regime imitate it and conform to the ideals. There were high levels of repression as personal freedoms were taken away, and a feeling of fear took over. Hitler's regime enforced and maintained its control through terror (via concentration camps, secret police, executions, and public arrests). The regime influenced all aspects of society and were constantly in the minds of the population, ordering and structuring everyday life. Hannah Ar
Fig. 3, Hitler gives a speech to a crowd at Dortmund

endt argues that the secret police became the 'central coercive institution' in totalitarian regimes because of the close relationship between the Nazi party and the secret police. The Gestapo, who had no limits to their powers, terrorised the non-believers into compliance (Arendt, 1951). This was a regime that used fear as a weapon to force loyalty, and was successful at doing so.

The Inner Circle
The Dictators Dilemma arises as dictators repress and force the population to attend public demonstrations and constantly show their support. The dilemma the dictator faces is whether support is genuine, or whether it is done out of fear. Repression gives incentive to lie thus the dictator becomes unsure as to who are his actual supporters and who aren't, and is simultaneously in a permanent state of fear himself (Marquez, 2011). The fear of a coup was minimized by the way Hitler treated his closest supporters and maintained their loyalty (Gerth, 1940). The winning coalition was made up of Hitler’s ‘inner circle’ a group of followers that were chosen on his personal discretion and preference (Gerth, 1940). They are given tasks and could use their discretion as to how much authority is needed to complete them. Members of the inner circle are constantly fearful that they might lose the leader’s confidence, so must all ways demonstrate their absolute devotion and trust in his abilities (Gerth, 1940). Exclusion from the inner circle is interpreted as unfaithfulness to the leader, so the weaker their position become the more they will proclaim their support and wonderment of Hitler (Gerth, 1940). This is in keeping with the loyalty norm; that current supporters are unsure whether they will be included in the winners coalition and as a result they will be more faithful to their leader (Marquez, 2011). Once inside the inner circle, the elites maintain loyalty because they were aware that if they didn't, they would most likely be killed. There was a similar situation in Libya where the winning coalition knew they would be worse off or killed if Gadaffi lost power and therefore continued to be loyal although the regime was crumbling (Marquez, 2011).

The International Arena
The international context of Germany in the world economy contributed to the Nazi party’s success. In the West, the United States was becoming increasingly more influential and prominent, while in the East there was a growing threat from the Soviet forces. Germany saw itself in the middle of powerful enemies, all biding their time to attack (see figure four). Kinser and Kleinman (1969) call this the 'paranoid ethos', an idea that was picked up by Hitler in explaining Germany's defeat in WW1. This paranoid ethos places Germany in the middle of a hostile and vengeful international arena, this theme was used to encourage Germans to unite, and scared them into acting as one autonomous body. Hannah Arendt (1951) claims that this atonomous body is the establishment of a classless society, where all lines were blurred and the German population were reduced to 'the masses'. This fragmentation of people isolates the population and breaks down communication ties. It makes it impossible to trust another citizen, and this paranoia and fear that Hitler created was a strength of his regime (Arendt, 1951). The Nazi Party's slogan Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer (One people, One nation, One leader) illustrates this idea of independent governance. People that did not speak German, or were not an image of the of a true German were arrested, humiliated, or killed as demonstrated by the mass murder of Jewish people, gypsies, the handicapped, and homosexuals.

Fig. 4, How German politicians wanted to portray the outside world


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