Thursday, September 19, 2002
# Posted 7:13 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
What no one seems to have noticed is not that just Däubler-Gmelin's comparison is not just offensive, but also that it rests on a historical fallacy, namely that Hitler provoked WWII in order to distract the German public from domestic issues (just as Bush is allegedly doing now). In fact, Hitler was extemely popular at home, at least as far as a dictator can be. German credited him with pulling them out the Great Depression as well as restoring their national pride after an embarrassing defeat of WWI. Hitler then took advantage of his popularity to provoke a war that most Germans would have considered ludicrous if proposed by anyone with less credibility than Hitler.
While we happen to be discussing Germans and history, it is worth addressing another common misconception which has cropped up in two separate responses to my posts about Islam and democracy. According to the authors, Mike Daley and Michiel Visser, Hitler's ascent to power in the democratic Weimar Republic provides strong evidence for the argument that democracy rests on cultural foundations rather than legal or institutional ones. As Vissier sums it up, "democratic Germany produced Hitler".
Or did it? The word "produced" implies that Hitler actually won his power at the polls rather than taking it by deception and force. The story of Hitler's rise to power has been best told by Gordon Craig in his magisterial work entitled Germany, 1866-1945 and, in greater detail, by Henry Turner in Hitler's Thirty Days to Power. The authors are both historians, at Stanford and Yale respectively. I had the privilege of having Prof. Turner supervise my undergraduate thesis, and owe what I know of the German past to him.
A brief summary of Hitler's rise to power is as follows: The Nazi Party was a marginal force in German politics until the Great Depression. In 1933, the Party reached the height of its legitimate power when it won more than 30% of the vote in consecutive parliamentary elections. (Another common fallacy is that Hitler was elected to office by a majority). The Nazis refused to form a coalition government with any other party, however, since Hitler's goal was to achieve absolute power. When the Social Democratic (SPD) government of Chancellor Heinrich Brüning fell in 1933, the political chaos of the Weimar Republic reached new depths. With the SPD unable and the Nazis unwilling to govern (via coalition), it became impossible to elect a new government. Instead, President Paul von Hindenburg used his emergency powers to appoint a chancellor with the right to rule by fiat for 60 days. He then replaced this chancellor with another 60-day stand-in. With constant rioting in the streets and the economy a wreck, these delaying tactics failed to achieve the stability Hindenburg hoped for.
Desperate to form a legitimate government, Hindenburg turned to Hitler. In exchange for a promise to collaborate with other right-wing parties as well as hold elections elections within two months, Hitler won the right to rule by fiat for 60 days. That was all he needed. Hitler began to persecute his opponents and tried his best to rig the elections. The Nazis got close to 40% as a result. Then, by banning the Communist Party and locking the SPD out of parliament -- literally -- Hitler forced the passage of a bill which gave him the right to rule by fiat indefinitely.
Does this complex process demonstrate that democracy cannot succeed in the absence of strong cultural foundation? Or that a ruthless liar can take advantage of a profound crisis to destroy a democratic system of governments supported by a strong majority? You decide. (4) opinions -- Add your opinion
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