Tuesday, August 28, 2001

Rethinking History: Were the Nazis Really Nationalists?

By: Robert Locke

IT IS AN OPEN SECRET among people who realize the importance of ideology that the great hidden issue being debated in America today is nationalism vs. globalism. This debate has a logical (or illogical) core and a penumbra of emotional associations. Attacks on nationalism as an ideal are made not only in the form of actual assertions of principle, but in the form of ugly archetypes that are used to manipulate opinion. The advantage of an archetype is that it carries an emotional, and thus persuasive, charge without actually asserting facts or principles that would be subject to counter-argument. Balkan nationalism has been used in recent years, but the tacit bogeyman is always the same: the Nazis. Therefore it is fair to ask whether the Nazis were really nationalists. It is very arguable that they were not. Having a correct analysis of what they really were is essential to us because the ideological settlement that emerged from WWII is the foundation of our present political order, a fact that remains despite the end of the Cold War.

Any analysis of an historical ideology must look at two things: first, what does the ideology claim in theory, and second, what do its believers actually do in practice? By the first criterion, the Nazis were clearly not nationalists. Their professed ideal was not German nationhood but the Aryan Master Race (whatever that is). Hitler did not take Germany seriously as a nation qua nation, but merely as a vehicle for his racial fantasy. He explicitly says in Mein Kampf that the nation is just a vehicle for the fulfillment of the destiny of the race. It is an arbitrary historical accident that can be discarded at any time if it fails to serve that purpose. The Bolsheviks said the same things about the USSR as a vehicle of class struggle. The Left today seems to feel the same way about America as an arbitrary vehicle for realizing liberalism that can be disposed of when its highest form, globalism, is secure. Worse, the "capitalism is everything" faction of the Right likewise views America as merely a vehicle for imposing free markets on the world. Thus nationhood is a moderating ideal that restrains the extremes of ideology.

The Nazis did several things that clearly show that when forced to choose between Germany and the Aryan race, they set a higher value on the latter. Hitler could never bring himself, for example, to rule Scandinavia, for which he felt an unrequited racial affection, with the iron fist that was applied to other conquered territories. His admiration for Britain's imperial racial ascendancy and his belief that Anglo-Saxons were Aryans led him to seek friendship with Britain up to the point of quite possibly costing him the war at Dunkirk. He intended to eventually incorporate, under conditions of full citizenship, those sections of the Low Countries that he felt were racially suitable, though these people were not Germans.

Hitler also held Germany and its culture in contempt in a number of ways, unlike an authentic nationalist like Churchill, who genuinely loved the Britishness of Britain and at most made fun of its foibles. He despised Germans' Christianity, their bourgeoisness, their intellectualism, their cultural refinement, and their traditional sexual values which interfered with his racial stud farms. He openly complained about the defects of Germany in these areas in the table talk that has come down to us. In the context of German history, Bismarck, who sought to weld a nation out of a culture divided into squabbling principalities, was a nationalist. He took the idea of a German nation seriously, and did what it took to create one. Hitler was something else entirely.

The fact that Germany was to Hitler merely a means to an end, worthless in itself, was shown by his odd behavior, unique in the annals of modern warfare, when it was clear that Germany would lose. He gave the order, aborted by Albert Speer, that the nation essentially be burned to the ground. His openly stated justification, beyond the military excuse of presenting scorched earth to the enemy, was that Germany had been found weaker than the Slav enemy and deserved to perish on grounds of the Nazi doctrine of survival of the fitter nation. It is inconceivable to imagine a French, Polish or Japanese patriot, to name three militarily-overrun nations famed for their authentic nationalism, doing such a thing. These nations are what nationalism looks like, because they take their nationhood, its concrete content, its well being, and its survival seriously. Hitler isn't, because he didn't. It is worth pointing out that the conservative nationalist aristocrats who tried to assassinate him seem to have considered him a traitor; I would agree.

More surprisingly, it is even questionable whether Hitler was a real racist. There is for a start the fact that his "Aryan" race, though all Aryans are white, doesn't coincide with the observable biological fact of the white race or any coherent subdivision thereof. Blond-and-blue Poles, Jews and Russians, whose racial credentials wouldn't have been questioned for a second in the Jim Crow South or Apartheid South Africa, were lumped with Africans as "slave races." (I gloss over the fact that in Nazi mythology, the Jew is not technically a slave race but inhabits the unique category of the culture-destroying race or negative ubermensch.) This was, of course, because they occupied territory the Nazis wished to invade. Nazi doctrine also expressed doubts about the oddest people: the French, for example, were supposedly "mongrelized" and racially inferior to the Dutch, who counted as Aryan, but were not so inferior as to deserve extermination, only conquest. And the two European nations in whom the casual eye (not to mention the history of African slave importation into Sicily and the anti-Moorish Reconquista) detects the greatest deviation from the Aryan ideal? Hitler took Italy for his ally and gave military and ideological aid to Spain.

Then of course there is the alliance with Japan, in which the Nazis supported a yellow power against the French, British and Dutch empires in the far East, two of which nations had admittedly impeccable Aryan credentials in the Nazis’ eyes. Not to mention the United States, a racially-mixed power (albeit with a racial ascendancy admired by Hitler) but surely more Aryan than the Japanese. Hitler destroyed the British and French empires, the two most extensive exercises in white colonial ascendancy then existing. So the Nazis were at best wildly hypocritical in their professions of racism. It would be more accurate to describe them not as white supremacists but as supremacists of a pseudo-race cobbled together out of ethnic, national, linguistic and geographic characteristics. Japanese "Yamato" ideology worked in a similar way, and Japan to this day professes a racial purity that the variety of features on the Tokyo subway belies.

One must remember that white supremacism was in Hitler’s day respectable and to some extent constituted an attempt to assimilate Nazi goals to those of the established powers. At that time, the British and French empires were still functioning and America was practicing Jim Crow segregation. The Nazis had every reason to pretend to be doing the same even if they were doing so at best in a highly equivocal way.

So what did the Nazis really believe in, if not the nationalism and racism that is the received explanation of the liberal historical consensus? It is arguable that what they really believed in is war. Primed by the Marxist ideal of progress only through struggle, brutalized to madness by the trenches of WWI, warped by a lumpen Darwinism, they made it their highest end. Seen from this perspective, Hitler's three puzzling decisions that cost him WWII have a twisted but comprehensible consistency. He let the British escape at Dunkirk so they could fight another day. He insisted on subjugating the Ukraine rather than taking it as an ally against the USSR because he intrinsically preferred social relations based on domination. And he declared war on the US because he wanted world war Gotterdammerung as an end in itself.