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The Nazi Disease

In response to:

Hitler's Master Builder from the January 7, 1971 issue

To the Editors:

In his penetrating analysis of Albert Speer’s book, Inside the Third Reich (“Hitler’s Master Builder,” NYR, January 7) Professor Barraclough makes a passing remark about Oswald Spengler, stating that he “had been an unrelenting opponent of the Nazis.” This statement is, I believe, an error.

I have before me a book Spengler published in 1933, several months after the Hitler take-over: Jahre der Entscheidung, First part: Deutschland and die Weltgeschichtliche Entwicklung (C. H. Beck’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, München, 1933). The body of this book which is the development of a lecture of 1929 was terminated before Germany changed over to the Nazi regime, but the Introduction is dated July, 1933. This text reflects clearly Spengler’s enthusiasm for the new regime. I am giving here the translation of some characteristic passages:

Nobody could desire the national upheaval of this year more than myself. I hated the dirty revolution of 1918 from its first day on, as the treason of a section of inferior value of our people against the strong, unused section that had resurrected in 1914 because it had a future and it wanted to attain this future. (page VII)

The national resurrection of 1933 was something very powerful and will remain as such in the eyes of the future, due to the elemental superpersonal forcefulness through which it was accomplished and in view of the mental discipline with which it was carried through. This was thoroughly Prussian, like the rising of 1914 that accomplished a sudden transformation of the minds. (page VIII)

We need an education towards a Prussian attitude as it existed in 1870 and in 1914 and as it slumbers in our minds as a constant potentiality. (page X)

The only reservation expressed by Spengler in his Introduction toward the happenings of 1933 concerns the “excessive noise” devoted to a mere take-over of power, whereas in his opinion it would be preferable if celebrations were reserved to “real and definite successes, that can only be successes in foreign affairs. There are no other that count.” As all foreign political successes of Hitler came only later, there is no doubt how Spengler must have looked upon them. From the outset he made no error in appraising the aims of the Nazi regime that, for him, had to be the reincarnation of the old Prussian aims to be successful—and this was to be the actual line Hitler took. Spengler certainly did not repeat the mistake of so many commentators of those days who regarded Hitler simply as the product of reactionary Bavarian mentality because of his Munich debuts.

Spengler himself in his Introduction clearly admits the aim of his life-work: to contribute to the revival of Prussian spirit in Germany. It is undoubtedly too much to expect absolute objectivity from any historian, but it would mean paying him too much honor if one tried to classify Oswald Spengler with historians of the Arnold Toynbee category whose historical syntheses evolve from an ever-searching open-minded approach to world events.

Paul Winkler

Paris, France

Geoffrey Barraclough replies:

Mr. Katz certainly makes things complicated; but I think the confusion is in his mind, rather than in mine. To take but one example, I certainly did not say (nor even suggest) that “the tangled streets of Germany’s medieval cities” were “the” (or even a) “cause of National Socialism.” It is surely one thing to trace back “the germs of all future evil” to “the tangled forests… where the primitive Germans foregathered” (the thesis that National Socialism was implicit in German history from the start) and to point out (a statement of fact) that three contemporaries of Hitler, very different in other respects, were (among other things) romantic medievalists and devotees of the mountains.

Whether Mr. Katz likes it or not, the similarities in outlook of Germans as “diametrically opposed to one another” as Speer, Hans Scholl, and Reck-Malleczewen are a matter for careful reflection. He seems to think they are something I have just thought up and that they involve me in contradiction with what I wrote in 1969. On the contrary, one of the central themes of my 1969 article was to discuss the “factors which linked individuals as different” as Krupp, Goerdeler, and Beck, and my conclusion there, as in my article of January 7, 1971, was that they “sprang from the same intellectual soil as the Nazis.” The view, in any case, was not and is not novel; it had already been learnedly and persuasively adumbrated by George K. Romoser.

Mr. Katz would do well to remember that in prewar Germany only 5 percent of the population enjoyed a higher education. This might have prevented him from confusing two things I tried to hold separate: (i) the attitude of “ordinary” Germans, trades unionists and the like, which (as he rightly says) I believe was “not really as Nazistic as is often supposed”; (ii) the attitude of the educated professional and upper middle classes (the so-called Bildungsschicht) who also did not need to be “Nazistic” (many, perhaps most, were not, as the example of Reck-Malleczewen shows), but who were so confused and compromised by their “common spiritual ancestry” that they were unable (as I indicated in the case of the Scholls and the “Weisse Rose”) to conduct effective political opposition or to propound a coherent way out.

Of this confusion there is no better example than Spengler, of whom Mr. Winkler writes. Like the Nazis, Spengler was bitterly hostile to Weimar, and his book, The Hour of Decision, was hailed as an enthusiastic affirmation of the Nazi regime when it appeared in 1933. Oddly enough, contrary to Mr. Winkler’s view, it was not. Spengler had no use for Hitler. He refused Goebbels’s “invitation” to contribute to Nazi electoral propaganda (a peculiarly courageous act) and before the end of 1933 was complaining of “unmeasured attacks” in “the national press.” His old associate, Schlubach, repudiated him (“I can follow you no longer”) and Frau Förster-Nietzsche wrote that she had been “informed that you are taking an attitude of strong opposition to the Third Reich and its Führer.” If Mr. Winkler has any doubts about Spengler’s attitude, he should read his letters, published in German in 1963 and in English in 1966, but the opening pages of Reck-Malleczewen’s diary (pages 11-14) should be enough.

None of this implies, of course, that Spengler’s equivocations did not contribute to the success of the Nazis, just as did those of generals like Hammerstein, diplomats like Hassell, and administrators like Goerdeler, who later forfeited their lives in opposition. But it does indicate one of the central problems historians of Nazi Germany have to face. It does not mean (as Mr. Katz apparently thinks I believe, though I was careful to point out the opposite) that National Socialism was a necessary outcome of German history; but it does mean that we shall fail to understand its success unless we are prepared to examine how far and in what ways it had roots in German history, and what it shared in common with other groups whose attitudes prepared the way for the Nazi takeover.

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