Hitler and Nationalism

Austria , 20th April 1889 a son was born to a poor peasant family near the town of Braunau. He was Adolf Hitler, son of the Austrian state but would later consume the fate of the German Nation. In order to understand the construction of Adolf Hitler’s view of Nationalism, one must analyze how the environment and incidents that would form Hitler’s own idealogy and principles. The question of nationalism, if not so clearly was seen lingering in Hitler’s mind even in his childhood. The area of Austria where Hitler grew up is close to the German border. Many Austrians along the border considered themselves to be German-Austrians. Although they were subjects of the Austrian Hapsburg Monarchy and its multicultural empire, they expressed loyalty to the German Imperial House of Hohenzollern and its Kaiser. In defiance of the Austrian Monarchy, Adolf Hitler and his young friends liked to use the German greeting, "Heil," and sing the German anthem "Deutschland Uber Alles," instead of the Austrian Imperial anthem. 1 Hitler's father had worked as an Austrian Imperial customs agent and continually expressed loyalty to the Hapsburg Monarchy, perhaps unknowingly encouraging his rebellious young son to give his loyalty to the German Kaiser. There was also a history teacher at school, Dr. Leopold Pötsch who touched Hitler's imagination with exciting tales of the glory of German figures such as Bismark and Frederick The Great. For young Hitler, German Nationalism quickly became an obsession. Adding to all this, was another new interest, the operas of German composer Richard Wagner. Hitler saw his first opera at age twelve and was immediately captivated by its Germanic music, pagan myths, tales of ancient Kings and Knights and their glorious struggles against hated enemies. But now, for young Hitler, the struggle with his father was about to come to a sudden end. In January, 1903, Hitler's father died suddenly

Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Berlin; 1932. Pg. 18

of a lung hemorrhage, leaving his thirteen year old son as head of the Hitler household. Although he would later shift his thoughts to pursuing his dreams as an artist painter, he would continually expressed his dire passion for the German culture and the constant self arguments why other ethnic European would not be the same with Germans. This would later be his fundamental idea of nationalistic racism and ethnocentric which he would impose in his newly Third Reich. As a young man, Adolf Hitler was greatly interested in History. In Mein Kampf he would affirmed it saying, ‘ By far my best subjects were geography and, even more so, general history. These were my two favourite subjects, and I led the class in them’. 2 The Old Austria was a multi-national State. In those days at least the citizens of the German Empire, taken through and through, could not understand what it meant to be and individual within such a state. Thus, the question of ‘nationalizing’ a people as believed by Hitler was first and foremost one of establishing healthy social conditions that would harness a feeling of comfort for the society as well as loyalty to the state. This healthy social conditions such as provision of regulated working hours and good education system to Hitler are the basic foundations of building a nationalistic people. The German people must first gain their primary needs of self-sufficiency before a bigger external agenda could be motivated. Only then, will it be possible for the society to feel proud of being a citizen of such country. Hitler said in his own words, ‘I can fight only for something that I love. I can love only what I respect. And in order to respect a thing I must at least have some knowledge of it’. As Hitler moved to Vienna, he has always considered the city as a great achievement thanks to the contributions of the German people. The city was lavish with arts, poetry, theatres and sciences once brought by the German people themselves. The conflict of nationalism between the Germans and the Austrians thus began to take shape in Hitler’s understanding. He considered it was almost useless and utterly catastrophic for a state to cater to several nations whilst maintaining equal status. He said that ten

Ibid. pg. 20

million people cannot permanently hold together a state of fifty millions composed of different and conflicting nationalities, unless certain definite pre-requisite conditions are at hand while there is still time to avail of them. It goes without saying that in such circumstances the country must be governed and administered by strictly adhering to principle of uniformity. Uniformity in nationalism Hitler thought constitute of homogenous ethnicity, cultural similarity and common purpose is the glue to the German society. Thus when a state is composed of a singular ethnic population, the natural inertia of such a population will hold the institution together and maintain its existence through thick and thin in a longer period. Even if the government had been badly managed and continuous maladministration, as long as the same population built it upon it will continue to work.3 It was not until Hitler got out of the first world war did he radicalized his ideas and concept of nationalism. Seeing with his own eyes how his beloved German empire was defeated and subject to humiliation, he was determined more than ever to restore the hopes and glory of the German people. He would profess that the people of germany should not bear the embarrassment and that they should join together to reshape a nationalist country. This was the seeds in which he planted for his brain-child ideology, National Socialism the living embodiment of Hitler’s idea of nationalism. Another yet disturbing principle behind Hitler’s idea of nationalism was the racial sentiment that was embedded in it. When the German Empire collapsed, Hitler believed that the Jews were behind it. The Jew were to be blamed to have devised the plan to corrupt and manipulate the social fabrication of the German people. From this, his racial hatred to the Jews accompanied by non Germans was to fuel his myth of the Aryan Supremacy because it will justify both anti-Semitism and expansionism. The Aryan race mostly inherited by the true German people were superior to other race and this encouraged Hitler’s idea of expanding the state over weaker states.


Ibid, pg. 50

Totalitarian ideologies such as Nazism represent extreme forms of nationalism. Hitler preached, "Your life is bound up with the life of your whole people; the nation is not merely the root of your strength, it is the root of your very life." He asked his people to acknowledge their profound dependence upon the nation. He declared, "Our Nation is not just an idea in which you have no part; you yourself support the nation; to it you belong; you cannot separate yourself from it." Hitler insisted that people identify themselves entirely with the nation; that it was not possible to exist in a condition of separation from one's nation. Hitler proclaimed: Our future is Germany. Our today is Germany. And our past is Germany. Let us take a vow this evening, at every hour, in each day, to think of Germany, of the nation, of our German people. You cannot be unfaithful to something that has given sense and meaning to your whole existence. He declared that Deutschland uber Alles (Germany above all) is a profession of faith which "fills millions with a great strength, with that faith which is mightier than any earthly might." Nazism was based on the belief that one should be deeply devoted, loyal and faithful to one's nation4. Hitler presented himself as a model of faith and devotion. His oratory revolved around persuading others to share his faith and devotion; to love Germany as deeply as he did. Hitler's promise was that Germans would become endowed with "great strength" by virtue of devotion to and faith in Germany. On the other hand, Hitler explained to his people: "You are nothing, your nation is everything." In other words, the strength that the individual could expect to obtain by virtue of identification with Germany required an extreme form of self-negation. In order to embrace and partake of the omnipotence of the nation—to internalize its strength—one had to become "nothing." Hitler's Nazism was an orgy of nationalistic self-glorification and simultaneously an orgy of self-abnegation. What was glorified was the nation or collective. What was abnegated was the actual

Richard Koenigsberg, NATIONALISM, NAZISM, GENOCIDE, Online Publication Date: 26-Oct-2005.

person, who traded in his or her individuality for the sake of being "at one" with the omnipotent nation. Rudolf Hess often introduced Hitler at mass-rallies declaring, "Hitler is Germany, just as Germany is Hitler." Hitler reveled in his identification with Germany. Indeed, at the core of Nazism was this mystical sense of "oneness" between self and nation. From this perspective, Nazism did not differ from ordinary nationalism that posits that the life of the individual and national life are intimately bound. What Hitler did was to carry through the idea of "identification with one's nation" to an extreme conclusion. Nazism revealed the heart of darkness or monumental destructiveness contained within the idea of "love of country’’. Nazism was not some terrible accident, which fell upon the German people out of a blue sky. One historian has called it the reductio ad absurdum of the German tradition of nationalism, militarism, worship of success, and force, as well as the exaltation of state. Yet the conditions which Hitler exploited were not confined to one country, although they were stronger in Germany than anywhere else. Adolf Hitler's own thought was a mixture of racism, anti-Marxism, and the idea of struggle (which we also found in Italian fascism). As an ideology, Hitler's National Socialism is a systematic interpretation of the world of human behavior and of history, which aims at a unified outlook and behavior-pattern. Resembling a religion, an ideology demands commitment and faith. Thus it could be better understood as a maelstrom of prejudices, passions, hatreds, emotions, resentment, biases, hopes, and attitudes that, when combined, most often resembled a religious crusade wearing the mask of a political ideology.5


Joachim Fest, Hitler (New York; Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974), pg. 205

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