The task which I have to fulfil is an unpolitical one. I felt comfortable in my work so long as my person and also my work were valued solely according to my specialist achievement.
— Albert Speer in a memorandum to Hitler
The processes of a people's demoralisation usually take place imperceptibly, concealed in the social structure. It is only in great upheavals that the seemingly firm shell of a society's self-assurance is broken and in the real state of its general consciousness laid bare. In the course of its breathtaking advances during the past hundred years technology has developed, along with its own ideology, its own morality, based upon earlier ideas of the autonomy of the scientific spirit. Not only technology itself but all technological work came to be held exempt from value-judgement, and just as there were supposed to be no 'evil' discoveries or inventions, so the technological genius remained untouched by the moral aspect of any relationship in which it might be involved. The fundamental and tacit assumption developed that technology does not serve any alien power; it is now itself power. Having long outgrown its original function as a tool, it is now no longer an instrument of power but the bearer of power.
Behind such convictions an ethical subjectivism was at work which looked down contemptuously upon public affairs and saw morality exclusively in the context of private life. Profoundly involved in the world of ends, its vision and thought were concentrated solely upon its self-given aims and left the management of the state to whoever wanted to bother with it. The satisfaction of personal good conduct within the narrowly restricted zone of individual action went hand in hand with renunciation of any knowledge of the effective environment within which all activity takes place. This attitude, which might be justified in an orderly world based upon unified convictions and criteria, became involved with the maelstrom of problems raised by the modern totalitarian systems beneath the surface of all traditional ideas. It became clear that there was something unsatisfactory about the sort of political naivety that went with keeping oneself to oneself, doing whatever duty or professional code seemed to require, and taking no responsibility for the framework of force within which even strictly specialized activities must operate; (1) the more so since totalitarian regimes specifically counted on that naivety and depended on it for a good deal of their success.
The self-chosen isolation of the technological mind is one of the keys to its total readiness to serve, and the specialist who sees himself solely as a function in an environment which he neither sees nor wishes to see as a whole meets totalitarianism halfway. Hitler's vision of the future as a termite state (2) originated in this picture of the totally isolated man concerned exclusively with his limited objectives, and he carried this vision to its logical conclusion: an elite consciousness perpetually susceptible of being thus perverted. The first stages were seen in 1933, when countless people placed their technological and organizational skills at the service of the new masters without the slightest trace of disquiet, enabling the transition to the Third Reich to take place without friction in key social sectors — a striking illustration of that 'clicking into place' of the bureaucratic mechanism which Max Weber has described in his writings as the prerequisite for the seizure of power in a modern society.(3) It was a crucial step in the establishment of National Socialist power.
As almost no one else under the Third Reich, Albert Speer, Hitler's architect and later Minister of Armaments, represented this type of the narrow specialist and his technocratic amorality, until both met their refutation in him. For it was not so much ambition, the lure of an exalted career, and the almost unlimited creative possibilities open to a court artist which kept him for so many years tied to a regime whose methods were bound to be repulsive to a man of his origins and character. It was predominantly his belief that the terrorism, of which he was well aware, the persecution of minorities, arbitrary decisions, concentration camps, aggression against other countries were not his business; all this was 'politics', whereas he was an architect, a technologist, an artist. Even at Nuremberg he still maintained that his 'task was a technological and economic one', not political, and to the question did he not, as an educated man, realize that the forcible transportation of foreign workers was contrary to the law of nations, he replied that he was an architect and all he knew about law was what he read in the papers.(4) It was entirely in keeping with this that although he regularly and credibly, before the Tribunal, repudiated the use of violence, he based this repudiation not upon humanitarian considerations but upon the practical point that it hindered his constant ministerial efforts to increase output.(5)
To see a figure like Albert Speer as an example of the work-obsessed artist's alienation from the world and his times would be a fundamental misunderstanding of the problems involved. For all his exceptional gifts, he was no génie bête', nor was he insensitive, unimaginative, or deaf to conscience. On the contrary, he was intelligent, life-orientated, and no doubt also sensitive, but imbued with the traditional anti-social indifference of the artist and technologist, which left him dead to all challenges of political origin. At the same time he sought to keep the imperious demands of the regime at a distance by pointing out that his was a non-political profession, and no doubt this was partly why he refused honorary rank in the SS. (6) Towards the end of the war, however, when he found himself faced with the self-destructive extremism of Hitler, Bormann and Goebbels, this argument manifestly would not do. For a time Speer tried to avoid a decision: his memoranda from that time ceaselessly reiterate that he wants to keep out of politics and emphatically document the untenable situation of a man who has sought to evade the consequence of a political policy which he has simultaneously played a prominent part in and ignored. It is true that he later stated privately at Nuremberg that in the end it was Hitler who transgressed against the principles of selfless expertise and pursued only his own self-interest and desire for fame; (7) but this was the fallacy that, in a far more dishonest form, permeated the apologia put out by Hitler's bourgeois-conservative partners. From the day he set out to gain dominion over Germany until his withdrawal into the concrete cavern deep under the Reich Chancellery, the slogan 'a war of ashes', and his end in 200 litres of blazing petrol, Hitler was always consistent, never once deviating from his chosen path. Albert Speer, on the other hand, broke away at the turn of the year 1944-5, when in joining the resistance movement and the preparations for the assassination of Hitler he sought to correct the fallacy of his life: that one can simultaneously sit at the table of power and not sit at it.
This equivocation is typical of Speer's actual position among Hitler's henchmen. He always seemed a stranger, as though he had wandered in by mistake among all these Machiavellian or booty-hungry petty bourgeois, and even his appearance showed how far he was from the type that embodied the National Socialist movement at all levels: the brown-uniformed political leader who, with broad neck and seat, stood firm in his own toughly trained fat and noisily, humourlessly and violently pursued his own interests along with those of the 'National Revolution'. Education, intelligence and also unusual firmness of character made Speer a genuine exception. Although his career contained all the preconditions that lead to corruption of character, he maintained his personal integrity to the end as well as a readiness to say what he thought. The historian H. R. Trevor-Roper, for all the harshness of his general evaluation, says it is a 'mystery' that Speer, after so many personal triumphs, never renounced his objective and critical-intellectual attitude. (8) With some justification he has been credited with the rare virtue of civil courage, (9) which emphatically distinguished him from Hitler's muted and subservient entourage. In fact Hitler's stuffy demonism invariably tried its power in vain against Speer's practical expertise and clear-headedness.
Speer's exceptional quality comes out in an account by one of his former colleagues, Dietrich Stahl, of their first meeting in autumn 1944.
'For the first time,' Stahl stated at Nuremberg, 'I found to my complete surprise a leading and responsible man who saw the real situation soberly and clearly, and who not only had the courage to say things that put his life in danger but was also prepared to take resolute action.' (10)
Despite a rationalism that was fired by concrete objects rather than ideologies, Speer was capable of the sort of enthusiastic belief out of which devotion to high (and often horrible) ideals grows. He never, of course, lent himself to the undignified Byzantine fawning that Hitler increasingly demanded and which his company of favourites all readily offered. He seemed always to be conscious that he was not like the rest of them, and nothing demonstrates his position as an outsider among Hitler's henchmen more clearly than Goring's remark at Nuremberg: 'We ought never to have trusted him!'(11) It was undoubtedly the whole range of these qualities and circumstances that gained him the respect of many, including many opponents. Thus for example the conspirators of 20th July 1944 placed Hitler's minister on their cabinet list, although he had never sought contact with them, and even in the cross-questioning by the chief American prosecutor at Nuremberg, Justice Robert H. Jackson, an element of personal respect comes through. (12) Speer was almost the only one of the accused to confess his own failure, without prevarication and without transparent excuses, openly to admit his responsibility, and to answer with a simple 'No!' the question: did he wish to plead that he was carrying out the Fuhrer's orders?
'In so far as Hitler gave me orders and I carried them out, I accept responsibility for them; however, I did not carry out all his orders.' (13)
Unlike the majority of his fellow-accused, he declared a residue of loyalty to Hitler, in spite of all the contradictions in their relationship, and even after their bitter clashes during the last months In fact he owed a great deal to Hitler, who had taken an intense personal liking to the young architect after meeting him through Goebbels. Speer came of an old family of master-builders, had joined the NSDAP in 1931, and in addition to a few minor undertakings as a private architect, had carried out two commissions for the Berlin Gauleiter's office the following year. (14) At the beginning of 1933 the technical arrangements for the staging of the major rally of 1st May on the Tempelhofer Feld were entrusted to him. Here he first showed his skill in improvisation, using rapidly erected flag-poles and, in the final display in the evening, inventive lighting effects to create the atmospheric pageantry desired by his employers. He thereby gave to National Socialist mass rallies a style he continued to develop for the demonstrations at the harvest festivals on the Buckeberg, during the Tannenberg celebrations, and finally during the parades that formed part of the Reich Party Rallies. He showed exceptional insight into mass psychology in perfecting the NSDAP's style of public parade, which had hitherto relied too much on sheer size and concentration of effort. He combined block-line buildings, stairways, pylons, walls of banners and the famous domes of light — circles of searchlights around the arena that created a moving spatial effect as they shone up under the night sky — with arrangements of human masses to create a monumental liturgy which stylized petty-bourgeois longing for the impressive and perfectly mirrored the psychology of the movement. He still has his imitators, particularly in the communist world.
These successes launched Speer on a soaring career which brought him, still under thirty, a multitude of offices and commissions. In 1934 he was commissioned to design the Reich Party Rally grounds at Nuremberg. The same year he became head of the 'Beauty of Work' Department, and at the beginning of 1937 he was appointed General Architectural Inspector for the Reich capital, responsible, as Hitler stressed, for systematically 'turning Berlin into a real and true capital of the German Reich'. (15) Together with Speer, Hitler, now catching up with his earlier dreams of becoming an architect, planned the redesigning of the other German cities with huge buildings and parks in an imitative style in which pseudo-classical elements, excessive in size, and lack of charm combined to create a solemn emptiness. The Konigsplatz in Munich or the New Reich Chancellery, said by a contemporary to be 'the first state building to have foreshadowed — the shape of all future buildings', as well as countless sketches, designs and half-finished works, gave and still give an oppressive idea of these plans. (16) Speer proved a brilliant executant of the line inspired by Hitler, that of insane monumentality. The same writer speaks of 'buildings of faith', in which 'the Fuhrer's word is converted into a "word of stone"'. Speer willingly transferred his personal admiration for his patron and Fuhrer to the latter's architectural ideas, of which it might rightly be said, as the wife of party architect Paul Ludwig Troost said of Hitler's views on art in general, that he had got stuck at the year 1890. (17) Hitler's taste for the pompous decadence of a painter like Hans Makart was in keeping with his liking for the vapid classicism of the Vienna Parliament Building which, together with the Opera House and the insignificant but ostentatious buildings on the Ringstrasse, he recalled as the most powerful architectural impressions of his youth in Vienna. He could stand and admire them for hours, he wrote. (18) The ornate and forced, the smooth, undemanding and technically precise, Richard Wagner and the allegory 'The Sin' by Franz von Stuck, a student of Piloty, were pointers to his artistic taste, which, with the vengefulness of the failed art student, he elevated to a norm both in governmental cultural politics and in official buildings. (19)
At times there were evidently open differences of opinion between himself and Speer; for when Wilhelm Furtwangler once remarked that
'it must be wonderful to build in such a grand style according to one's own ideas',
Speer is said to have replied ironically,
'Just imagine someone saying to you: it is my unshakeable wish that henceforth the "Ninth" shall only be performed on the mouth organ.' (20)
All planning was monotonously and indistinguishably determined by 'gigantic' proportions, after the traditional ambition of dictators to create in huge buildings monuments that would outlast the short-lived dominion of their own persons. This aim rings out over and over again in Hitler's speeches. At the Reich Party Rally of 1937, he stated:
Because we believe in the everlasting continuance of this Reich, in so far as we can reckon by human standards, these works too shall be eternal, that is to say they shall satisfy eternal demands not only in the grandeur of their conception but also in the lucidity of their ground plans, the harmony of their proportions.
Therefore these buildings are not to be conceived for the year 1940, nor for the year 2000, but are to tower up like the cathedrals of our past into the millennia to come.
And if God perhaps makes today's poets and singers into fighters, then at least he has given these fighters architects who will see to it that the success of their fight receives everlasting substantiation in the documents of a unique great art. This state shall not be a power without culture nor a force without beauty. (21)
Such considerations were reflected in the designs prepared under Hitler's sustained and fervent influence. He once said that if the First World War
'had not come he might have been — indeed probably would have been — one of Germany's leading architects, if not the leading architect'.(22)
The extant plans show every sign of arrogant megalomania. A domed hall was to be erected a hundred feet high to seat 100,000. Among the party buildings designed to give the city of Nuremberg
'its future and hence everlasting style' was a congress hall for 60,000, a stadium 'such as the world has never seen before',(23)
and a parade ground for a million people. The excavations alone would have called for 40 miles of railway track, 600 million bricks would have been required for the foundations, and the outer walls would have been 270 feet high. Hitler paid particular attention to the durability of the bricks and other materials, so that thousands of years later the buildings should bear witness to the grandeur of his power as the pyramids of Egypt testified to the power and splendour of the Pharaohs.(24)
'But if the movement should ever fall silent,' he declared as he laid the foundation stone for the congress hall at Nuremberg, 'then this witness here will still speak for thousands of years. In the midst of a sacred grove of ancient oaks men will then admire in reverent awe this first giant among the buildings of the Third Reich.' (25)
And he remarked effusively to Hans Frank,
'They will be so gigantic that even the pyramids will pale before the masses of concrete and colossi of stone which I am erecting here. I am building for eternity, for, Frank, we are the last Germans. If we were ever to disappear, if the movement were to pass away after many centuries, there would be no Germany any more.'
The desire to convey to those distant millennia the impression of his own greatness, when 'perhaps the Huns or the barbarians will rule over Europe', also revealingly prompted him to order a sketch to be made showing-the projected congress hall as a vast ruin. (26)
In spite of the growing number of offices he held in the progress of his career, Speer's position and influence were based exclusively on his close personal relationship with Hitler; and in the knowledge that he had no institutional power but only a position of confidence, he kept well out of the rivalries of the leading office-holders. His ambition remained non-political, and up to 1942, when he was appointed a minister, he had 'never made a speech in his life'. (27) At the same time he was by temperament more unselfish than the warring holders of top-level power, more attracted by the tasks than the power.
During all these years Hitler's relations with Speer had a remarkably sentimental character in striking contrast to the coldness and self-interest of his other human contacts. Perhaps he saw in the young architect, with his energy, brilliance and ability to achieve extraordinary results with apparent ease, his other self, freely developed and without the twists placed by a malevolent destiny to which, in his all-pervading self-pity, he still ascribed the failure of his early ambitions. In an essay written in 1939 Hitler paid Speer an unusual compliment; he described him as 'an architect of genius' and along with his 'artistic talent' praised especially his 'unparalleled organizational ability'.(28) It has rightly been pointed out that Speer was one of the few exceptions to Hitler's deeply rooted suspicion of men of middle-class origin, and Speer himself stated,
'If Hitler had had friends, I should have been his friend.'(29)
Moreover he was not untouched by the numerous expressions of personal favour Hitler so openly showed him. He clearly revered Hitler at this time and, in his unworldliness as an artist and technologist, saw no reason to distrust his emotions. In so far as reality contradicted the somewhat fanciful ideas he had of it, he simply shut it out. There was nothing of which, in his mixture of political innocence and restricted specialist outlook, he was less aware than that he had become the accomplice of a criminal regime and that Hitler's friendship was a highly dubious distinction. In his first public speech, on 24th February 1942, he declared almost dejectedly that he was making a great sacrifice.
'Until recently I have been moving in an ideal world.' (30)
He was thirty-six when, after the mysterious death of Fritz Todt, he took over the Ministry for Armament and Munitions. He had already from time to time been concerned with problems of organization and transport, and he set about his new tasks energetically and with unorthodox solutions, quickly overcoming the first critical hold-ups in the mechanism of the German armaments industry. Improvising with typical courage, he bridged over transport links that had been destroyed, rebuilt factories, established new industries, went personally to the front to find out for himself the advantages or weaknesses of the weapons and equipment used by the troops, and, as Goebbels noted in his diary, 'rode rough-shod over the high military gentlemen'.(31) He combined an unbureaucratic breadth of vision with an 'instinct for the right way' which he recognized he possessed. (32) He reshaped his ministry according to his own unconventional ideas, replacing the hierarchy of civil servants by the so-called 'typical Speer set-up', a qualified group of relatively independent experts with initiative, vigour and specialized knowledge. His efforts quickly bore fruit. He not only succeeded, despite air raids of increasing violence, in keeping the transport system as a whole functioning right up to the end of the war, but production rose from month to month and, in face of all difficulties, reached its peak in summer 1944. Aircraft production climbed from 9,540 frontline machines in 1941 to 34,350 machines in 1944, and production of heavy tanks rose from 2,900 to 17,300. (33) Admittedly not all the statistics published by Speer are reliable; at the end of 1943, when the Red Army had just crossed the Dnieper, Goebbels asked suspiciously what had happened to all the extra production.(34) But Speer's successes spoke for themselves, and Hitler said his youngest minister was at the same time his 'most efficient minister.'(35) Without the efforts of Speer, who by 1943 had concentrated more than 80 per cent of German industrial capacity in his hands, Hitler would unquestionably not have been able to continue the war so long and might possibly, as Speer himself conjectured, have had to admit defeat as early as 1942 or 1943. (36)
This consideration clearly demonstrates the whole dubious nature of these efforts, and undoubtedly Speer gradually came to see this dichotomy, even if, in his technocratic self-assurance, he may not have sensed it personally. In his speeches at this period he forever quotes production figures, output, productive capacity, as though intoxicated by these deceptive credit balances, and the pseudo-military jargon in which he described industrial production — 'the mobilisation of output reserves', 'the breaking down of bottlenecks', and so on — played with figures that were entirely detached from political reality and left no room for intrusive thought.(37) Not until spring 1944, when he was ill for several months, does he seem to have broken away from his specialist fixations and cast off the habit of thinking exclusively in terms of achievement and efficiency. For it was obviously these months that released in him those elements of inner conflict which from now on never left him. According to his own statement, he had already, at the height of his success in summer 1940, recognized the first signs of the inner flaws and despicable characteristics of National Socialist rule: its boastful arrogance, its greed, and the excesses of the bad winner.(38) Nevertheless he had kept up his expert's indifference, had continued to satisfy his ambition in the midst of people whom he was beginning to despise, and to build for the regime the temple of its millennial expectations. Now he began to discover that the economic and technical power at his disposal brought with it political responsibility. He may have come to this point through the realization that in the meantime every increase in production consumed the nation's basic substance and could only be maintained for a limited time. Moreover, at this stage of a war that was being waged by ever more total methods, he must have been persuaded predominantly by concrete facts; he must have had a technocrat's concern over the past and threatened destruction of so many factories, mines, roads, bridges and transport installations. Doubt was increased still further when he saw Hitler, after summer 1944, begin
'to lay the main blame for the course of the war upon the failure of the German people and in no case upon himself',
and under the slogan 'victory or annihilation' take steps to convert the increasingly senseless prolongation of the war into preparations for total self-destruction. With this discovery Speer entered the 'crisis of his life'.(39)
Loyalty struggled with his sense of responsibility. He had a lot to thank Hitler for. The distinction of personal affection, the generous provision of artistic opportunities, influence, fame: all this had meant a great deal to him. But he had always preserved an idealistic readiness to place the cause above persons, and his sober, calculating temperament was permeated by a very German, romantically tinged enthusiasm that felt behind trite, sentimental sayings the whole weight of a categorical imperative. His later memoranda to Hitler prove this very clearly; in one of them he confessed that he could work only with a feeling of inner decency, with conviction and faith, (40) preconditions which Hitler now palpably placed in question. For a short time he attempted to blur the alternatives and avoid a decision between personal emotional attachments and the interests of the country and its people, for example in his Memorandum of 20th September 1944. But a few weeks earlier he had already begun to circumvent the measures which Hitler had ordered for the destruction of areas threatened by the advancing enemy. (41) In an effort to make the Fuhrer more reasonable and alert him to the breakdown of the war effort now inevitable for economic and technical reasons, Speer wrote innumerable memoranda. In one dated 30th January 1945 beginning 'The war is lost' he tried to combat the illusions of the fantasy world of the Fuhrer's headquarters. He made a comprehensive analysis of the situation, but without achieving anything more than the henceforth unconcealed hostility of Bormann and also of Goebbels, who for a long time had stood by him.(42) Hitler, on the other hand, in view of the opening sentence, refused to read the memorandum at all.(43) Speer slipped into disfavour and thereupon, with typical independence, he began systematically to work against Hitler's plans for the annihilation of Germany. In spring 1945 the conflict took a dramatic turn. On 18th March, when Speer handed in to the Fuhrer's headquarters a memorandum predicting 'with certainty' the imminent 'final breakdown of the German economy' and stressing that it was the Fuhrer's responsibility to ensure the conditions for the continued existence of the German people, there was a violent quarrel. The crux of it was summed up by Speer in a subsequent letter to Hitler:
When I handed you my memorandum on 18th March I was firmly convinced that the conclusions which I had drawn from the present situation for the preservation of our national strength would definitely meet with your approval. For you yourself once stated that it is the task of the government, in the event of losing a war, to preserve the nation from a heroic end.
Nevertheless you made statements to me in the evening from which, if I have not misunderstood them, it emerges clearly and unambiguously that if the war is lost the nation too will be lost. This fate is inescapable. It would not be necessary to take any account of the basis which the nation needs for its survival on the most primitive level. On the contrary, it would be better to destroy even these things. For the nation would have proved itself the weaker and then the future would belong exclusively to the stronger nation of the East. Those who remained after the struggle would in any case only be the inferior; for the good would have died. After these words I was deeply shaken. And when a day later I read the demolition order and shortly after that the evacuation order, I saw in them the fist steps towards the carrying out of these purposes.(44)
While Hitler's egocentricity clearly took the form of disappointed hatred of his own people, Speer went to work openly against his plans. Although his authority to give orders was expressly withdrawn, he travelled to zones near the front, convinced the local authorities of the senselessness of the orders they had received, had explosives immersed in water, and supplied the controllers of important undertakings with submachine guns with which to protect themselves against the demolition squads. When eventually called to account by Hitler, he repeated that the war was lost. Hitler gave him twenty-four hours to think it over. But instead of an assurance that he had regained his faith in victory, Speer handed him a detailed memorandum analysing their mutual relationship and demanding withdrawal of the demolition order of 19th March.(45) Nevertheless, he finally succeeded in propitiating Hitler to the extent of regaining his official powers. Exploiting the general confusion of orders, Speer then issued numerous instructions, some in the name of other authorities such as the Army High Command or the Reich Railways, some in his own name, which he withheld from Hitler and which at times merely served the purpose of intensifying the chaos and paralysing the work of destruction. At the same time he took steps to circumvent the intention of leading officials to escape responsibility by fleeing abroad. (46) Finally, in his 'despair', as he said, he evolved a plan to kill Hitler, along with the self-centred company that had buried itself in the bunkers of the Reich Chancellery in a mood of apocalyptic doom, by feeding poison gas into the under-ground ventilation system. Hitler, in Speer's view,
'had originally been called upon by the people', and 'he had no right to gamble away their destiny along with his own'.(47)
But a last-minute alteration to the ventilation shaft carried out on Hitler's own instructions frustrated this plan. Once again Hitter had escaped an attempt on his life.
And yet this was not the end of their curious relationship. Many factors were involved. According to Speer's own confession, he feared to appear a coward; at the same time, no doubt, some isolated impulses of loyalty remained; and finally there was the psychological phenomenon that every period of enlightenment was succeeded by a relapse into the protective darkness of the old blind faith. In any case on 23rd April 1945 Speer, filled with 'conflicting emotions', as he himself stated, flew into encircled, burning Berlin in order to say farewell to his colleagues and 'after all that had happened, to place myself at Hitler's disposal'.(48) Unhesitatingly, he admitted what he had done to circumvent the order of 19th March. But instead of the expected outburst of rage, Hitler remained calm and seemed impressed by Speer's candour. He let him go unharmed, though his name disappeared from the cabinet list which Hitler drew up a few days later as part of his will.
'They were all under his spell,' Speer said of Hitler's leading henchmen, 'They obeyed him blindly, with no will of their own, whatever the medical term for this phenomenon may be.' (49)
But he was the exception, the only man in Hitler's immediate entourage who refused to sacrifice either his own will or the guidance of his own reason and character, as the majority did so eagerly. The apologetic nature of the memoirs and autobiographical notes the others wrote at this time set forth the thesis of Hitler's compulsive power and the ostensibly irresistible magic of his will. Speer's example proves that it was rather the weakness and insignificance of the men who made up his entourage that ensured the 'Fuhrer' his unchallenged superiority right to the end.
However, in spite of all his distinguishing qualities, human and moral, Hugh R. Trevor-Roper has called Albert Speer
'the real criminal of Nazi Germany, for he, more than any other, represented that fatal philosophy which has made havoc of Germany and nearly shipwrecked the world. For ten years he sat at the very centre of political power but he did nothing.' (50)
But this judgement is as mistaken about the structural characteristics of a highly industrialised society as it is about the nature of totalitarian regimes and the individual's power to work against them. In fact, until 1942 Speer neither sat at the real centre of political power in any relevant sense, nor did he 'do nothing'. But he did represent a type without which neither the National Socialist nor any other variety of modern totalitarianism could have succeeded: the expert who sought to guarantee himself an irreproachable existence by retreating into the ostensibly unpolitical position of his profession, confining himself to his work in order to glorify his inaction as 'doing his duty'. In so far as such men, however influential, kept their distance from the events of the day, wore no uniform, indulged in no acts of violence, promulgated no laws, and arrested no one, they remained from a technical legal point of view free from tangible guilt. Nevertheless, having regard to their positions and potentialities, they did not do enough to prevent the establishment and spread of violence; they are open to the reproach of having refused to accept responsibility for what was going on. For a plea of duty amounts to very little in a state where uniforms are worn, acts of violence performed, and people arrested and killed. He who can appeal only to his own irreproachable behaviour cannot claim, however much personal satisfaction he may derive from doing so, that he has emerged from times like this uncorrupted. Furthermore, heroes are rare and in bad times weakness and blindness are for many a technique of survival. Such people are not on that account criminals.
Albert Speer admitted this failure. It took him a long time to appreciate this personal guilt, not merely from a specialist's traditional contempt for politics, but also because of the exceptional complexity of moral insights in a world of partial and divided responsibilities. Nevertheless he did not evade the final confrontation, and if he had greater power than others he also showed greater resolution.
He was sentenced at Nuremberg to twenty years' imprisonment. But his attempt to escape responsibility behind his role as a technocrat was not mentioned in the explanation of the verdict; for this is not a matter that lies within the jurisdiction of the criminal code, but one of conscience. Both under interrogation and through his defence counsel, he kept returning in a strangely compulsive manner to the problem of responsibility, which he emphatically admitted in a kind of belated reckoning up to be his 'self-evident duty':
In my view there are two kinds of responsibility in the life of the state. One kind of responsibility is for one's own sector; for this one is, of course, entirely responsible. But over and above this I am of the opinion that for quite decisive matters there is and must be a collective responsibility, in so far as one is one of the leaders, for who else should bear responsibility for the course of events? (51)
Speer was found guilty on the grounds of his participation in the forced labour programme.
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