chapter  4
24 Pages

National Socialist ideology and leadership

Any attempts at providing a coherent account of Nazi ideology proves difficult. Indeed, despite the vast material that continues to accumulate on Nazism there remains precious little in the way of unanimity about Nazi ideology's actual components. Arguments continue to rage over its degrees of consistency and doubts linger as to whether Nazism possessed any form of coherent ideology at all. Certainly, some authors have developed this last theme to suggest that a real ideology as contemporary political science understands the word never existed. Differing political orientations and social perceptions have provided considerably divergent and conflicting theses. Kershaw aptly delineated the complexities when he remarked that:

Studies of Nazi ideology have been regarded by some as genuinely revolutionary in content, and branded by others as quintessentially counter-revolutionary. Leading historians have seen Nazism as dynamic nihilism devoid of ideological commitment, and Hitler as an opportunist without principle or ideology seeking power for power's sake, while others have distinguished Nazism from Italian and other forms of fascism on the grounds of its theoretical basis in a doctrine of race and have interpreted Hitler as a politician driven by a remarkably consistent and coherent, if hateful and repulsive ideology.l

Early contemporaneous judgements were often highly dismissive in tone. According to the Rauschning thesis (written in the late 1930s), Nazism represented nothing less than a revolution of nihilism:4

Ultimately, the onset of the global economic crisis in the late 1920s enabled Hitler to use his essentially nationalist propaganda to exacerbate middleclass fears while seemingly respecting institutional legality and the principle of free elections. In these contests he demanded restrictions on any anticapitalist agitation, favoured an openness towards conservatism and the Catholic Church and placed the party's emphasis on its anti-Marxist rhetoric. II These moves elicited complaints from Otto Strasser that Hitler was betraying socialism in favour of reaction and tension once again mounted between the wings. It must be remembered that Hitler's position was still not unassailable in the very early 1930s. His failure to defeat

Hindenburg for the presidency in 1932 did offer his opponents an opportunity, although admittedly a small one, to intensify their criticisms of party policy and direction.