There have never been better slaves, never worse masters — Tacitus
The starting-point for a final discussion summing up certain essential findings of the studies in this volume presents itself at once. The attempt to unravel the psychologies of the leaders of the Third Reich has laid bare, to an extent exceeding all expectation, virtually the whole range of human weaknesses, shortcomings and inadequacies. The chronicler of this epoch stands almost helpless before the task of relating so much incapacity, so much mediocrity and insignificance of character, intelligibly to their extraordinary results. What confronts him is never greatness, rarely an outstanding talent, and in hardly one case a great obsession with a single goal. It is not even in the traditional sense a question of a base passion that is great by virtue of the intensity of the will at work behind it. On the contrary, it is in the overwhelming majority of cases petty weaknesses, egotisms, idiosyncrasies and impulses of an altogether insignificant, even if totally uninhibited character. The analysis of psychological elements in totalitarian forms of government, at least in the case of the leading National Socialists, is not, as has often been suggested, a task for demonology; it is rather a question of describing concrete individual failures. From Hitler to Heydrich, from Goebbels to Rosenberg, it was without exception from the starting-point of unconscious impulses or emotional disturbance that each of the figures sketched here pushed his way to power or allowed himself to be swept along by the movement that was already thrusting towards power. And the same is true of the mass of the nation itself, whose representatives in this sense the regime's leading men unquestionably were. Impelled towards politics in the first instance not by an overwhelming idea but by psychological conflict, whatever ideological constructions were erected to obscure this fundamental fact, they were all concerned not so much to realize a dream of the future as to work off an instinctual urge.
Nevertheless National Socialism, as we have seen, was not a self-enclosed will to power exclusively determined by the individual desires of its spokesmen; it did undoubtedly contain a utopian element. 'Gods and beasts, that is what our world is made of,' Hitler once exclaimed in one of his confidential disquisitions on the philosophy of power to his closest followers. (1) This lapidary sentence is probably the most succinct possible summary of the essence of National Socialism, behind all ideological and tactical masks. It points to the foundations of its claim to govern, its image of man, its racial and expansionist aims, and the ultimate ground from which the manifold ideological elements evolved. The domineering and hybrid features in the face of the Third Reich, the coldness of its personality, its artificial stimulation of emotion, but also its desolate, contorted grimaces, its brutality, and not least its peculiar neurotic obstinacy, are contained in the basic principle formulated by Hitler that man does not equal man but is divided into gods and beasts (2).
What did the gods look like—and possibly the beasts too, the ideal as well as the real? What interrelationships existed between them? Did the one need the other? By what signs can we recognize the man who establishes the modern rule of force—and the man with whose aid it can be established? Is there indeed such a thing as the type susceptible to totalitarian manipulation? These questions, which have been the subject of our investigation, reveal the concern of a 'burnt' age that has not merely learnt to fear the fire of totalitarianism, but seeks the necessary knowledge to counter its causes. Certainly, wide areas of the problem still lie in darkness or in the questionable zone of mass psychology. Nevertheless, elements may be gleaned from the study of the personalities of Hitler's followers, and from the shaping principles of National Socialism which circumscribe the type of National Socialist man and give him certain defining characteristics.
Every totalitarian government starts from a new image of man; this, by definition, is what distinguishes it from the classical forms of coercive government. Its revolutionary claims are not aimed solely at the reconstruction of the state; it not only prescribes new laws, demands new principles of order or new forms of mutual relationships, but also calls for a 'new man'. Unlike the great revolutions of past ages, it sets out to change not things but people, not structures but life itself: this is precisely what identifies it as totalitarian. Nothing demonstrates, in this strict sense, the totalitarian character of the Third Reich more unequivocally than the measures consistently taken on all social planes to mould a new human type, the creation of which National Socialism described as 'the task of the twentieth century'. (3) Hitler himself identified this project completely with the meaning of his struggle for power when he stated:
The selection of the new Fuhrer class is what my struggle for power means. Whoever proclaims his allegiance to me is, by this very proclamation and by the manner in which it is made, one of the chosen. This is the great significance of our long, dogged struggle for power, that in it will be born a new master class, chosen to guide the fortunes not only of the German people but of the world. (4)
In countless speeches and proclamations Hitler again and again conjured up the image of the 'new man', and the many people who acclaimed the regime, who applauded every step it made and every point in its programme, celebrated the development of this man as the dawn of 'the truly golden age'. (5) As always with the National Socialist Weltanschauung, which was marked by very few original ideas, here too the return to older concepts, in this case those of the social Darwinist school of the nineteenth century, is unmistakable. The specific contribution of National Socialism lay not on the ideological but on the executive plane, in the hair-raisingly literal consistency with which these planned games with human nature were pursued in practice.
Parallel with the programme for destroying alien or opposing races were the efforts to 'ennoble' the blood of the German people itself. Behind this lay the postulated type of the racially pure master-human with his particular creative and cultural abilities and capacity for leadership; the orthodox characteristics of the type were excepted for the higher and possibly the middle ranks of the National Socialist hierarchy, who were racially legitimized simply by their rank and their allegiance to the person of the Fuhrer. They represented the elite and the first stage towards that new species whose representatives were identical in appearance, expression and attitude. It was the greatness of the movement, Hitler proclaimed on one occasion, that
'sixty thousand men have outwardly become almost a unit, that actually these men are uniform not only in ideas, but that even the facial expression is almost the same. Look at these laughing eyes, this fanatical enthusiasm, and you will discover how a hundred thousand men in a movement become a single type.' (6)
Hitler saw the situation they were striving for, in which the whole nation would correspond to this image as the result of a long biological and educational process. In his secret speech to the officers' passing-out class of 1939 he spoke of a development extending over a hundred years, at the end of which a majority would possess those elite characteristics with whose aid the world could be conquered and ruled.
'Those who see in National Socialism nothing more than a political movement know scarcely anything of it,' he said on another occasion. 'It is more even than a religion: it is the will to create mankind anew.' (7)
It was no doubt merely in one of those moods of exaltation which would come over Hitler during his endless nocturnal monologues in his most intimate circle that he painted this new man as possessing demonic features like those of a beast of prey, 'fearless and cruel', as he said, so that he himself 'shrank from him'. (8) The revolutionary attributes with which, for a time at least, this redesigned human being was equipped also prove on closer examination to be rhetorical accessories; for what the top leadership forbade in the interests of the maintenance of power and self-preservation is also undesirable vis-a-vis the inner structure of totalitarian rule itself. Totalitarianism aims at producing not the revolutionary but the aggressive type, whose aggression can be directed and used as required. Recognition of one's own social and personal situation, which is one of the conceptual prerequisites for the true revolutionary, was consistently obscured by National Socialism and replaced by the element of 'convictions'; theoretical clarity was replaced by 'experience in faith' and by that 'blindness' which came in various verbal combinations according to the National Socialist hierarchy of values: blind loyalty, blind courage, or blind obedience. The character-training principles according to which the young elite of the coming Greater Germanic Reich were educated at the national political educational establishments or the SS 'Order Castles' aimed at producing an easily governed type: not absolutely fearless, but absolutely compliant; not cruel, but impersonal and perfectionist; at the same time bold when thrown into battle, disciplined, unselfish, and as willing to fulfil its function as it was inspired with the consciousness of its own masterhood. Robert Ley drew a vivid picture of the new man in his tract Der Weg zur Ordensburg (The Way to the Order Castle):
We want to know whether these men carry in them the will to lead, to be master, in a word to rule. The NSDAP and its leaders must want to rule. He who does not take up a total claim to leadership of the people, or is even willing to share it with others, can never become a leader in the NSDAP. We want to rule, to take pleasure in ruling, not in order to be a despot or to pay homage to a sadistic tyranny, but because we unshakeably believe that in all things only one man can lead and only one can bear the responsibility. To this one man power also belongs. Thus, for example, these men will learn to ride on horseback, not in order to pay homage to a social prejudice, but to have the feeling of being able absolutely to master a living being. We want these men to be capable of dealing with every situation and not to be intimidated by anything in the world. These men, whom the Order of the NSDAP is thereby bringing honour and power and giving everything which a real man can hope for from life, must on the other hand recognize and preserve in the depths of their hearts that they belong to this Order for better or for worse and must obey it utterly. So I want these men, who have the honour to become political leaders in Germany, and to whom the gates to the highest power and the highest leadership are opening—for they alone will one day rule Germany—to know and recognize that there is no more turning back for them. He who fails or actually betrays the party and its Fuhrer, he who is unable to master the baseness in himself, the Order will destroy. He from whom the party removes the brown shirt—this each one of us must know and recognize—will not thereby merely be deprived of an office, but he personally, together with his family, his wife, and his children, will be destroyed. These are the harsh and implacable laws of an Order. On the one hand men may reach to the skies and grasp whatever a man can desire. On the other hand lies the deep abyss of annihilation (9).
Supermanhood and depersonalisation, an autonomous sense of power and automatism, fearlessness and subservience, the type demanded reveals its true contours in such ambivalent states of consciousness. From the passage quoted we can analyse virtually the whole gamut of formulas for training the totally malleable functional man. The efforts of countless educational institutions were directed towards this end. At the same time the racial branch of the science of 'psychosomatics' evolved by National Socialism, which saw in the so-called optimum racial value the highest values both of character and intellect, led to systematic attempts to breed the new man. The beginnings of these attempts may be seen in the genetic and marriage laws as partly applied and partly planned for the post-war period (10).
Against the background of these projects for the achievement of the ideal type, the facts of real life stood out in complete contradiction. It requires careful search to find even a hint of this supposed purity of blood among the leadership of the Third Reich, whose dominant type was more like the racially hybrid product of an Alpine province. And if, in accordance with the racial guiding image, 'the healthy' was proclaimed as a 'heroic command', (11) here too the real situation was rather the diametrical opposite. Apart from the acutely neurotic personalities of almost all the leading National Socialists which we have seen in the course of the present study, a large proportion were also sick in the narrower clinical sense, including Goebbels, Goring, Ley, Himmler, and not least Hitler himself. Hitler got over such obvious discrepancies with the fiction that racial values showed not so much in outward appearances as in reactions to the National Socialist idea and its Fuhrer, undisturbed by the fact that this amounted to a denial of the whole racial theory. This, he proclaimed,
'is the infallible method of seeking the men one wants to find, for everyone listens only to the sound to which his innermost being is attuned'. (12)
Despite all assertions to the contrary—as for instance in a pamphlet entitled 'Our Fuhrer in the Light of the Racial Question', (13) which stated that the representative National Socialists were
'predominantly Nordic men with very good character indications for leadership'
— the extreme rarity of the 'figure typical of the species' within the so-called Old Guard is obvious. The explanation lies not only in the ideological poverty and admittedly propagandistic function of the party programme and outlook, but also in the movement's social origins.
The nucleus of the early membership was a militant minority of the disappointed and embittered of all classes. And even if hostility to 'the Jew' appeared relatively early, indeed was from the beginning one of the key slogans for attracting followers, it was a long time before the Nordic 'counter-figure' became the racially concrete, obligatory type: indeed, not only the biological but also the social and ideological 'whence' remained as much a matter of indifference to each individual as the 'whither' did to the movement as a whole. They were bound together solely by movement, by active protest, the same or similar origins of their basic 'anti' feelings, inability to surmount individually the military and political catastrophe of the nation. Fundamentally, beyond the basic maxim of 'hitting out', which drew its peculiar slogans from dubious Bavarian sources, there were no stricter ideological premises, even if members were required to believe that movement and hitting out were being performed 'for Germany', and Goring stated most significantly at Nuremberg that he had
'joined the party because it was revolutionary, not because of the ideological stuff' (14)
The so-called 'serious-minded group', who had some conceptions whatever its nature, of an attempt to reconstruct society always remained a minority, and in hardly a single instance did ideological aims provide the decisive incentive for any of Hitler's chief followers to join the party. In almost every case we can trace the extent to which personal difficulties of adaptation and inarticulate discontents, the whole great difficulty of living experienced by that generation, gave the decisive push towards politics, which in that restless epoch quickly became the classic 'profession' of the homeless and those lacking in capacity for human contact. It is precisely the exaggeratedly masculine bearing of the movement, its para-military forms of organization, that betray the instability of men who could only repress their consciousness of individual impotence within serried ranks. Like Babeuf, they could almost all say of themselves that the revolutionary times had 'ruined them terribly', so that they had become incapable of following any other profession than that of the politician. They were men with unbalanced natures, their systems of values perverted by the war and the post-war troubles, uprooted people in whom the 'national distress' combined with individual failure and in some cases with manifestly neurotic personalities. Hitler himself is still the most graphic example, but Hess must also be mentioned in this connection, as well as Rosenberg and above all the seething mass in the second rank, including the members of the Freikorps and the Nationalist associations who quickly joined the movement.
The blind desire for a radical reversal of existing conditions, in which the divergent expectations found their common denominator, was perfectly summed up by Gregor Strasser in the statement that National Socialism was 'the opposite of what exists today', while Hitler stressed:
'Those people will never come to us who see in the preservation of an existing social order the ultimate purpose of their lives' : rerum novarum cupidi. (15)
Consequently the decisive distinguishing feature during the early phase of the movement was the almost total lack of qualifications for joining. The very fact that they possessed nothing, no ties, no traditionally determined reservations of respect, no 'origins', no support of family, religious or social ties, and even refused to accept convention and morality in a total, nihilistic purification of existence, made them in part the material, in part the spokesmen of totalitarian aspirations. Lack of habitual attitudes was their essential attitude, and with it went the readiness to use force and take 'direct action'. If this constituted a firm cement within the movement because, as Hitler remarked, apart from common ideals nothing binds people together as firmly as 'common crimes' (16)—it appeared to those outside, who were also affected by the disaster, positive proof of the thoroughness of an indignation which, faced with a social order that had broken down, did not think of secret compromises but firmly burned its boats.
This combination of lack of ties and belief in force, which can be demonstrated in all the exponents of the National Socialist movement, is not merely among the most important conditions for Hitler's rise but is no doubt the crucial symptom of all pre-totalitarian phases. What came to light here, amid the breakdown of a traditional order, was the Machiavellianism of the little man who no longer acknowledged his responsibility to any authority for his words and actions. Faced with an existence that had lost its certainties, he at once took refuge in crime. The halo which increasingly surrounded criminality, even if it was decked out with ideology and presented as political combat, the admiration for 'great men' and leaders together with widespread contempt for all standards of conduct, were, on the psychological plane, simply an attempt to identify with historical greatness as such, which was thought also to be above the law and to know no hesitation but always inexorably to follow its chosen path. Behind such reactions it was easy enough to see the aim of regaining a self-confidence lost in the war and all the economic and social degradations that followed. However, the attack on morality as 'petty-bourgeois' disclosed the petty-bourgeois character of the attackers themselves. This curious blend of provincial narrow-mindedness and Caesarist dreams, so typical of the majority of the leading National Socialists, was vividly documented by Rudolf Hess in a letter from Spandau prison:
'My activities towards achieving mental balance (geistige Ausgleichstätigkeit) have recently moved between Heinrich Seidel's Leberecht Huhnchen and Ranke's Männer und Zeiten, that is to say between the atmosphere of Monsieur Petit when he was still planting his cabbages in a Paris suburb, and that surrounding Napoleon on the hill overlooking Austerlitz.' (17)
Furthermore, the National Socialist movement drew a thousandfold advantage from the radicalism of its image, which gave it such a striking resemblance to Sorel's 'politico-criminal associations'. The bourgeois politicians who reproached the movement with its chain of acts of violence were incontestably in the right; but the arguments they used proved again and again that they did not understand the panic aspects of a time in which the bourgeois world with its ideas of order and morality was heading towards its demise. Certainly the totalitarian tendencies of a society are closely linked with political, social and economic conditions, but primarily they are a psychological problem. By trying to fight them exclusively on the political, social and economic plane the 'non-psychologists of Weimar' failed to appreciate their real structure. The attraction of the NSDAP lay precisely in the fact that it assuaged the need for aggression felt by the masses who had been reduced to despair by defeat, the power vacuum of the post-war years, the inflation, and later the world economic crisis.
'The men I want around me are those who, like myself, see in force the motive element in history, and who act accordingly.' (18)
To see in force the motivating energy not merely of history but also of their own interests and in addition the cure for difficulties in life as a whole, became the characteristic reaction among ever-widening areas of the population, a reaction that, more powerfully than any events in the foreground, foreshadowed that crisis which might at any moment lead the country suddenly to embark upon a totalitarian adventure. The blind demand for happiness above all on the part of the petty bourgeoisie, frightened and declasse, its secularized longing for faith, its tendency to see behind all the blows of fate the machinations of dark powers and to blame its own failure on others, its sentimentality, and finally its need to capitulate before force: all this found satisfaction before the rostra of the National Socialist speakers, even if it was shamelessly manipulated.
It was above all the figure of Hitler that delivered these vague demands from apathy. He seemed like the synthetic product of all the collective malaise of those years, and in him the hundreds of rival nationalist groups, and later the inconstantly fluctuating masses, first found their uncontested leader and thereby their hopes, their enemies, their aims, and their orders to tactical action. He made it possible for them to overcome the consciousness of their own weakness by equating themselves with a supposedly elemental force. Thanks to his superior talents, confirmed both in the struggle for power within the party and in his power of suggestion over men and masses, he quickly succeeded in welding the diffuse reactions together. And while the former impulses and programme now visibly paled, he himself became the most effective content of a movement that was fundamentally devoid of any programme.
'Everything,' Hans Frank asserted later, 'came exclusively from Hitler himself.'
Even more succinctly the SA leader August Schneidhuber stated in a memorandum that the party's power to attract the masses
'is not due to organizers, but solely to the password "Hitler", which holds everything together'. (19)
The structure of command and submission imposed upon the party by Hitler naturally altered the principle of absence of specific qualities in the new elite. At the moment when his figure assumed the semi-mythological features of the 'Fuhrer', the activism which till then had been its only characteristic was augmented by the demand for absolute obedience, upon which, according to Franz L. Neumann, all charismatic domination is based. (20) Until shortly before his death, even from the cell of his underground bunker system, Hitler was able to compel the strictest obedience. The members of his closest circle had to purchase their position at the cost of a thousand insults, constant sacrifice of their honour, and anyone still capable of a stab of indignation hid it even from himself, like Goebbels, with the formula that it was the greatest good fortune of a contemporary to serve a genius (21). What is again and again manifest among the figures surrounding Hitler is an empty but dogged will to power, which is so often combined with extreme servility. Even Goring who, not without reason, boasted of having been
'the only man in Germany besides Hitler who had authority of his own derived from no one else',
had to admit:
'When a decision is to be taken none of us counts for more than the stone on which he is standing. The Fuhrer alone decides.' (22)
And where Hitler did not simply punish opposition by expulsion or liquidation, as in the case of Gregor Strasser or Ernst Rohm, he adopted in varying degrees a demonstrative indifference or refusal of access to his presence. The effects of such measures can be seen, for example, in the cases of Rosenberg, Frank or Ribbentrop, of whose suffering and despair when they were no longer praised, esteemed or consulted by Hitler enough is known to make it clear that the character of Hitler's compulsive power over men's minds can only be understood in religious terms. It is reported of Himmler, Goring and Ribbentrop that after outbursts of criticism from Hitler they became so ill that they had to retire to bed, and when Frank exclaimed,
'Our constitution is the will of the Fuhrer,'
this was undoubtedly also true in the physiological sense as well. The lack of independence and poverty of personality of so many of his leading supporters was a prime means of preserving an attachment to Hitler's person through all humiliations, and a general search for a father figure found its deepest satisfaction in the consciousness of Hitler's close presence. The stringency and caprice with which he treated his entourage merely confirmed and strengthened this feeling. Ribbentrop protested at Nuremberg that the idea of killing Hitler would have appeared to him like patricide. (23) And there is Frank's grotesque but revealing declaration shortly before his execution that he was preparing to take his leave of this earth in order to follow the Fuhrer. (24)
Whatever these facts tell us about Hitler's monstrous power over men's minds, they also reveal something of the mechanics of selecting the elite. Only the man who was prepared for Byzantine submission was ordained to enter the most intimate circle of the night-time table talks at which Hitler, full of contempt for the people—the scum — communicated his cynical principles of government. The top echelons of totalitarian movements have been compared to secret societies that establish themselves in the full light of publicity, (25) and what we know of the conspiratorial remoteness of these conversations supports this. Whereas the catalogue of 'granite principles' and the assurance of Hitler's own desire for peace or protestations of the regime's intention to establish order created a false impression of firm-principled benevolence upon the outside world, here, in his solitary monologues, Hitler revealed himself for what he was. His tactical opportunism, his disloyalty towards ideas and principles, his peculiar mixture of fanaticism and calculation, which coloured the most passionate outbursts of rage with a cunning purposefulness and set up his own claim to power as an indispensable maxim, all this was as manifest in these conversations as his barbarian hatred of culture, his grandiose plans for world conquest, his projects for racial 'weeding' or the reorganization of society. The purposes of the leadership, Hitler commented, must
'never burden the thoughts of the simple party comrade', and he spoke of the 'quite special secret pleasure of seeing how the people around us fail to realize what is really happening to them'.
The new social order, which he announced to the initiates, envisaged four classes: the National Socialist high aristocracy 'tempered by battle'; then the hierarchy of party members forming 'the new middle class'; then 'the great mass of the anonymous, the serving collective, the eternally disfranchised'; and finally
'the class of subject alien races; we need not hesitate to call them the modern slave class.' (26)
The cold, unscrupulous logic in the exploitation of human passions, illusions and expectations, the objectivity, totally devoid of any values, in the monstrous planning, have helped to obscure the realization that Hitler and the whole National Socialist elite were themselves caught up in the dark corners of irrationality. It is certainly true that blind hatred is incapable of producing that technical perfection which characterized the execution of Hitler's murderous plans; but that sobriety was confined exclusively to method and did not reach down to the murky bed of emotional fixations. The conversations referred to above make this abundantly clear. Every time Hitler himself or the participants in his table talk imagine themselves high above the despised multitude in their ruthless Machiavellianism, the craziness of their next remark sends them crashing down to their true level. There is little that typifies the National Socialist variety of the totalitarian character more aptly than this coexistence of Machiavellianism and addiction to magic, cold calculation and dull-witted superstition, total freedom from prejudice and total mysticism (27).
These intermingling elements marked not only the thought and action of the group at the top, but also the atmosphere of the whole movement. The type of National Socialist functionary who forced his way into key positions in the seizure of power in 1933-4 possessed for the most part an exceptional knowledge of how to impose his own demands, eliminate opponents or rivals, conquer zones of influence, or get a firm grip on office. The acuity which marked his analyses of situations and reactions from the point of view of power tactics, however, was in astonishing contrast to the vagueness of his ideological premises. His image of man, based half on the Naumburg cathedral 'figures of the founders', on Cesare Borgia and untroubledly combining lip service to ancient German nobility with robust self-seeking, bears witness in its own way to the same state of affairs. It is also one more proof that the ideological propositions were mere camouflage. In fact they were nothing else than the 'great landscape painted on the background of our stage' of which Hitler spoke. (28) In the lower and middle levels of the party hierarchy everyone was out for the naked satisfaction of his desires and the service of personal interests. The perpetual struggle for self-assertion, the compulsion to seek a complete understanding of power, consumed intellectual energy and resulted in the ideological indifference that was satisfied, beyond the most general terms of fatherland, honour, blood or loyalty, with the most blatant contradictions .
Certainly every revolutionary movement derives part of its dynamic from the principle of the carrière ouverte aux talents, but this does not adequately explain the phenomena of the initial phase of the Third Reich. Power was not so much conquered as looted. Hitler himself in no way opposed these activities on the part of his followers; he didn't 'give a damn'.
'Do anything you like, but don't be caught at it!' he said, but not without justifying this view in terms of power politics. 'Only he who can so link his own advance with the general cause that one cannot be separated from the other, upon him alone can I rely.' (29)
The parasitical supermen whose petty-bourgeois greed for possessions was unmasked in this hunt for posts, livings and pensions proved, for the same reasons, absolutely incapable of coping with the real tasks they had shouldered. Those who, from the executive government down to the district presidents' offices and town halls and also in the Gau and Kreis offices of the NSDAP, threw their weight about with the crude affectation of power, had for the most part nothing with which to meet the administrative demands of their office but their revolutionary right and their long-frustrated desires. Goebbels aptly remarked of such ideologically disguised self-indulgence that these men needed only
'the old jus primae noctis in order to possess greater power than the most absolute princes of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries'. (30)
There were few exceptions; among those who followed the rule were countless second and third-rate names, but also figures like Mutschmann, Bruckner, Forster, Streicher, and Lutze. Some of them had to be dismissed for obvious incapacity or transferred to purely nominal positions; the majority, however, found themselves protected by Hitler, even against sometimes violent resistance from within their own ranks. Indeed, according to a statement by one of those closest to him,
'the "hard men", who were unpopular or hated by the people, enjoyed Hitler's highest confidence';
as an old revolutionary he always favoured the more ruthless. (31) Goebbels, who in his way was undoubtedly one of the exceptions, passed a devastating judgement on this old party elite towards the end of the war:
At best these are average men. Not one of them has the qualities of a mediocre politician, to say nothing of the calibre of a statesman. They have all remained the beer cellar rowdies they always were. And in the course of twelve years of easy living many of them have destroyed with drink the little bit of intelligence that once brought them into the movement. This gang of spiteful children, each of whom intrigues against all the rest, whose only thought is of their personal welfare and their standing with the Fuhrer, and who call the sum of all these actions of their 'ruling' — today they do and leave undone what they like, now that the Fuhrer no longer leads them on a tight rein. (32)
However, the type of the brown-shirted official, once his interests had been satisfied, did not figure for long as an elite element. These lethargic figures, indistinguishable from each other, their faces expressing nothing but dull brutality, seemed to remind the party far too much of its past, when it was devoid of all ideological principles. After the Rohm affair the figure of the SA leader, which had for so long served as a model for the elite, quickly lost its exemplary character. Meanwhile efforts were begun for the first time, especially by Himmler, to bring the human type of the Third Reich into line with ideals, to create the 'order of good blood', the founding of which the Reichsfuhrer of the SS had described as the 'unshakeable overall goal' of his efforts. (33) Consequently the type of petty-bourgeois manqué, as represented especially by the functionaries of the Political Organization, soon saw itself dismissed and its solid, calculating worldliness replaced by the figure of the SS man, marked at first by rather high-flown, austere ideas. Deliberately basing himself upon the traditions of existing orders, Himmler set his whole sectarian ambition upon producing the National Socialist and Nordic ideal type by selection, training and breeding. In one of his countless communiques on this subject he demanded that the SS man should possess
'the tradition of authentic soldierliness, the refined outlook, demeanour and good breeding of the German nobility, the knowledge and ability and the creative energy of the industrialist, and the profundity of German scholarship, all founded in racial pre-selection, combined with the ability to satisfy the demands of the present time'. (34)
The increasing exercise of the SS terrorist and police functions, inevitable in a totalitarian regime, quickly reduced these demands to empty claims that served as a romantic embellishment to the business of common murder practised by modern executioners of a tyrant's commands. A high SS leader described this double function in the following words:
The selection of the new stratum of leaders is being carried out by the SS — positively through the National Political Educational Establishments (Napola) as a preliminary stage, through the Castles of the Order as the true universities of the coming National Socialist aristocracy, and through the ensuing practical political training; negatively through the elimination of all racially and biologically inferior elements and the radical extirpation of all incorrigible political opposition. (35)
Not the least of the effects of the contradiction between claims and function of the SS was the remarkably heterogeneous character of its members. The question of whether and to what extent the methods of totalitarian systems actually require the type of the split personality cannot be examined further here. Nevertheless the SS, as the pioneering advance guard of National Socialism, owes to this type so much of the cold perfectionism of its vision of the future that such a link seems highly probable. Split psychology has already been analysed in connection with the various phenomena of 'double-think' and 'double-behaviour' relating to the Communist world. Figures like Rudolf Hoss, Otto Ohlendorf or Adolf Eichmann represented, each in his own horrifying way, this type of the totally malleable man able to bring utterly incompatible elements into equilibrium without a hint of inner discomfort. The daily practice of murder and an almost tender family relationship, discussions of the technical improvement of the 'fuel capacity' of the incineration ovens and the almost legendary musical evenings by candlelight, senseless harshness and brutality towards the victims and a strict code of decent behaviour which, for example, could become deeply indignant over theft among the Jewish inmates of the camps: all this went side by side, and Rudolf Hoss's declaration in his posthumous notes that he also had 'a heart' and was 'not wicked' is all the more horrifying because in a sense it is the truth. Extreme docility towards those above and unyielding harshness towards those below, uncertainty in making personal decisions and resolute cold-bloodedness in carrying out orders, sentimentality in private life and lack of feeling in official duty, the ability to split oneself and yet remain in harmony with oneself: these and numerous similar antitheses provide the starting-point for a psychological study of this type. Its need for something to lean on, which was the expression of an inadequacy of personality, was further reinforced by the deliberately fostered awareness of a constant threat, so that a sense of security, where it was present at all,—depended on blind obedience.
'Human emotions,' Rudolf Hoss commented, came to seem 'a betrayal of the Fuhrer'. (36)
Contrary to the widespread idea that the power structures of totalitarian systems are monolithically compact, they are for the most part structurally chaotic. Behind the facade of conspiratorial solidarity they seethe with rivalries, hostilities, intrigues, as previous chapters of this book have amply demonstrated. The basic feeling of insecurity, especially in the higher ranks, drives each individual to basically futile efforts to secure his own position, efforts that are not merely tolerated but actually fostered by the top leadership. For where all jurisdictions become unimportant by comparison with the jurisdiction of the single leader, everyone is able to create his own sphere of influence, to the best of his ability, the process being adequately held in check by the ambition and envy of rivals and also, if necessary, by shifting the centres of gravity of power. Even today it is sometimes difficult to disentangle the bizarre confusion in the relationships of the leading forces in the Third Reich and to decipher the various motives which lay behind the mutual aversions and ever-changing alliances. In the savage struggles for power before Hitler's throne everyone was at some time or other against everyone: Goring against Goebbels, Goebbels against Rosenberg, Rosenberg against Ley (he is out 'to cheat me of my life's work behind my back' (37)) and Bormann, Bormann against Frank, Frank against Himmler, and all against all. The constant and often grotesque feuds over authority within the fields of foreign policy or propaganda clearly show the results of this 'multi-Caesarism'. Charles Dubost, the deputy chief prosecuting counsel at Nuremberg, was reminded of 'the minor courts of the Italian Renaisssance'. (38)
Hitler always fostered this anarchy of rivalries; from the outset of his career, it was one of his most successful devices for his own tactical success within the party. It was not least because of these rivalries that he remained to the end, as regards the question of power, the exclusive point of reference, the dynamic centre of the movement, the effective axis of a great centripetal force which determined the running of the satellites and established the system of counterbalances between them. Every change, every phase of movement, of rise or fall, took its orientation from him, 'their light was the reflection of his light'. (39) In relation to the figure of Hitler we can see more clearly than anywhere else the basic psychological fact that bound together his whole following, regardless of their outward differences: their personal emptiness, their lack of any firm individuality, of any human stature. The elements of the man willing to put himself at the disposal of totalitarianism may all be traced back: his poverty of personality, his lack of background, his weak contact with others and his emotional instability, his aggressive prejudices, his subservience to his impulses, his split mind, and his deification of the leader matched by his contempt for humanity.
All this is reflected not only in the lack of direction peculiar to most of the careers outlined in this book up to their meeting with Hitler, but also in the most idiosyncratic predilections. For example, in the widespread search for historic precursors, Himmler saw himself as the reincarnation of Heinrich I and rather liked to be referred to as 'the Black Duke' by his own rank and file, and Rosenberg had himself celebrated as the spiritual successor of Henry the Lion, Frederick the Great and Bismarck. (40) Why do the Germans love Hitler?' Robert Ley exclaimed in 1942 during a speech at the Sportpalast, and replied with a phrase which by no means applied to himself alone:
'Because with Adolf Hitler they feel safe — it's the feeling of safety, that's it!'
The strong gestures and the big words, which they all knew how to employ, long disguised the fact that they were all of them nothing but projections of Hitler's will.
In particular the generation that went through it all was repeatedly tempted to measure the individual importance of Hitler's followers by the power of the regime. It was the trials to which they were all subjected that first disclosed the truth, that their stature was entirely borrowed from Hitler. Before the bar of the court they all (with a few exceptions such as Goring and Speer) appeared a disrupted, faceless herd of nonentities to whom not even the millions of victims which their rule had cost could lend a fleeting weight. These men, who had subjugated first a nation, then a continent, and had challenged the world, had never been more than excrescences of their Fuhrer Hitler. They were by no means great and cruel, as a superficial assessment had supposed. Also the judgements, for the most part polemically coloured, which have attributed to them intellectual rigidity or even stupidity, miss the core of the problem, for the indifference with which they accepted the most contradictory propositions of National Socialist ideology was due less to lack of intellectual ability than to the cynicism of practitioners of power who did not believe in ideologies but simply used them. Intelligence tests at Nuremberg showed in the majority of cases an above-average IQ. (41) In reality they were neither important nor primitive, but simply empty, open to alien purposes, and ready to let themselves be abused; washed-out characters, human husks, on whose weakness Hitler's domination was built.
'Everything was contained in a mightier destiny which swept me along with it,' stated one of the accused. (42)
The course of the trials confirmed what has already been hinted: they did not even feel sworn to an idea, so that everything — violence, war and genocide — finally assumed the character of an error, a terrible misunderstanding, from whose consequences they wanted to slink away with a shrug of the shoulders. The predominant type, as it emerged above all in the secondary Nuremberg trials, lacked even unmitigated criminality; he had preserved the petty-bourgeois attitudes and impulses of his origin; his fanaticism was expressed in unthinking efficiency. Pedantic, with a murderous 'love of his job' he always did only what he conceived as his duty, and, like Himmler or Hoss, was completely incapable of understanding his terrible reputation. Instead of the 'beast from the depths' which the whole world expected, there rose from the benches of the accused merely dull 'normality'. During the first few years after the collapse of the regime, still at a loss for an explanation of its essential nature, people spoke of a 'Faustian crisis', thereby construing National Socialism as a phenomenon of superhuman revolt. Such phrases betray a fundamental misconception. (43) Not Faust but Wagner was the symbolic figure of the crisis.
The aim of this book in portraying the leading actors of those years is not, however, to create a group of scapegoats to carry the historical failure of a whole nation into the desert of oblivion. This collection of portrait studies from recent history must be supplemented by reference to a guilt that is not covered by the behaviour of the top National Socialist figures.
'Hitler,' Hans Frank averred at Nuremberg, 'was the Devil. Thus he led us all astray.' (44)
Such turns of phrase do not reduce the general guilt; for the truth is that a people must first be in a condition to be led astray before it can abandon itself to the totalitarian adventure. In the realm of historical errors there is no 'Devil' who, under self-critical examination, does not reveal the physiognomy of the man in the street. The National Socialist leaders were fundamentally nothing more than particularly well-marked examples of a type that was to be met throughout society, and in this sense the face of the Third Reich was the face of a whole nation. For it is never the artist with the gold paint but always the worshipper who makes the idol. Nothing would be more dangerous, a historian remarked recently,
'than now, when the mendacious legend of Hitler has been destroyed, to cultivate a new legend against Hitler at the cost of truth and justice. Not least important in this connection is that the whole guilt should not be attributed to him and National Socialism.' (45)
First among the conditions that made the events of those years possible was not the very real distress of the 1920s and early 1930s; this was the symptom rather than the cause of the failure. The preconditions of totalitarian rule in a Country are to be sought at a deeper level, for they are 'the result of man's faulty understanding of himself'. (46) One does not have to support the view that German history represents a single consistent path to National Socialism in order nonetheless to see the elements of this failure foreshadowed in the chain of evolution that passed through various periods of historical development, some of them prolonged. Again and again we find ourselves thrown back, as the individual chapters of this book have clearly shown, upon the traditional German lack of a proper attitude to politics, in particular upon that fatal German concept of education which excluded politics, which made it the despised business of dubious characters or a matter for 'strong men'. It was an idea which compensated for lack of civil liberty by a retreat to 'inner freedom' and cultivated both a misguided political abstinence and a political consciousness saturated with heroic concepts. Not the parliamentary committee with its need to compromise but Durer's 'The Knight, Death and the Devil' appeared in this political consciousness as the symbol of day-to-day political action. It celebrated its weakness of orientation as 'depth' or 'soul' and held itself up to the world as the 'German way and mission'. It understood the state not as a system of checks and balances for the protection of individual liberties but as an absolute quantity with extensive claims to submission, as a sacred entity, holy not only as a kind of German Roman Empire, but absolutely holy. These and many other intellectual circumstances, which have been discussed in the appropriate chapters, helped to create that ideological climate without which Hitler's efforts would have been in vain. (47)
This, then, is the point at which the much-discussed 'over-coming of the past' enters the picture; it covers more than the recollection and analysis of those thirty years. A long and wretched tradition of German intellectual history, which managed to assert itself alongside humane developments and finally against them, ended in that phenomenon which we call National Socialism. Whole generations of university teachers, literary pseudo-prophets and presidents of nationalist societies helped to create the atmosphere in which hostility to reason, brutalization of life and corruption of ethical standards required only to be crystallized in a political outlook and expressed by an eloquent speaker in order to unfold their destructive violence.
Hitler is now forgotten and the sterile philosophy with which he caused such turmoil has perished with him. Even the traces of his rule now terrify only a few. Of the documents that bear witness to the psychic power which he exercised little is left but the impression of his voice, which arouses in the survivors a feeling of embarrassment rather than fascination. In Hannah Arendt's words:
This impermanence no doubt has something to do with the proverbial fickleness of the masses and the fame that rests on them; more likely it can be traced to the perpetual-motion character of totalitarian movements which can remain in power only so long as they keep moving and set everything around them in motion. Therefore, in a certain sense, this very impermanence is a rather flattering testimonial to the dead leaders in so far as they succeeded in contaminating their subjects with the specifically totalitarian virus; for if there is such a thing as a totalitarian personality or mentality, this extraordinary adaptability and absence of continuity are no doubt its outstanding characteristics. Hence it might be a mistake to assume that the inconstancy and forgetfulness of the masses signify that they are cured of the totalitarian delusion ....The opposite might well be true. (48)
It is not easy to find evidence in the political reality of the present that would contradict the basically sceptical tone of these comments. It is true that the Hitler regime compromised itself to an extent surpassing all historical experience and to the majority of the nation, especially after its fall, revealed features that leave no room for sentimental attachments that would lead to its being seen in a favourable tight. This cuts the ground from under that disastrous tendency to denigrate the present in the name of an idealized vision of the remembered past, which contributed so much to the emotional vacuum surrounding the Weimar Republic and finally made its existence impossible. Also we rarely meet any more those romanticized, aggressive ideas of flight into imaginary realms of the more distant past or future, which for so long left their disastrous mark on German political consciousness. The dream of the 'Third Reich' which, in many guises and under many names, has again and again excited the imagination of the nation, has perished along with the horrifying reality of its final form. The Germany of the post-Hitler era has adopted an up-to-date attitude of which earlier generations always seemed incapable and the lack of which was one of the chief weaknesses in the political life of the German people. The present Germany would deserve greater approbation if it showed more inclination to overcome the recent past by understanding what made it possible than to suppress it. The free examination of the content of German historical, political and social consciousness—free from both reaction and uncritical extenuation; clarification of the relationship between intellect and power, society and liberty; the problems of authority, obedience, the responsibility of citizenship, civil standards, and resistance to tyranny, and the structure of the modern constitutional state: all these and numerous similar problems posed by the experience of National Socialist rule have only begun to be examined, and it is not an encouraging sign that all these concepts have come to sound old-fashioned. True, Hitler is dead. But in spite of everything he was too large, too undeniably a symptom and consequence of specific faulty developments in our German history, too much 'within ourselves' for forgetfulness to be enough. The totalitarian infection survives its active phase in many, often apparently insignificant, manifestations. The world-wide political developments of the post-war period have given the German people, at least in the Federal Republic, a period of grace during which its changed consciousness has not been put to the test. Nevertheless it is possible that the new 'political rationality' of the German people, not infrequently pointed out with pride, is merely the reflection of 'rational' circumstances. The proof has yet to be given, but who can be blamed for awaiting it with trepidation?