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review 2017-12-26 15:56
The enabling image
The Hitler Myth: Image and Reality in the Third Reich - Ian Kershaw

This is a book that, having read Ian Kershaw's massive two-volume biography of Adolf Hitler (which he wrote afterward), I didn't think I needed to read. Now I realize how wrong I was; this is one of the absolute must-reads for anyone seeking to understand how the Third Reich functioned.

 

Kershaw's focus in this book is on Hitler's popularity and its role in legitimizing the regime. Using Max Weber's formulation of "charismatic authority," he examines the rise of the "leadership cult" around Hitler, and how it became an important instrument in Nazi rule. This was hardly an original invention of Hitler's, but drew upon leadership cults in German culture from imperial times. Conservative Germans disaffected from the Weimar Republic longed for a strong man to restore Germanys their imperial greatness, while the miseries of the Great Depression led many to seek someone who could deliver Germany from its travails. Hitler's public persona was crafted to satisfy this demand, and was the key ingredient in the Nazis's rise to power.

 

Hitler maintained this aura as chancellor through careful image management. An important aspect of this was the awareness that its maintenance required association with positive developments. Because of this his appearances were rationed, tied to announcements of economic progress and foreign policy triumphs. By contrast the party itself soon came into popular disrepute through its conspicuous displays of petty corruption. Not only did Hitler rise above this, but his popularity ensured his indispensability to the party -- in short, they needed him in order to maintain their authority.

 

For all of Hitler's (and Joseph Goebbels's) success in maintaining his popularity, Kershaw sees it as contingent upon circumstances. The gap between economic promises and results was ignored as Hitler scored foreign policy triumphs, while general uneasiness about the outbreak of the war in 1939 was soon dispelled by the military triumphs in Western Europe. Yet Kershaw portrays Hitler as falling victim to the classic flaw of believing his own press, with the failure to bring about a popularly-anticipated end to the war, coupled with the surprise attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, as signaling the beginning of the decline of his stature. With the German people increasingly exposed to the failings and brutality of the Nazi regime, Hitler's popularity plummeted to the point when, by the end of the war, they regarded themselves as much as victims of it as were the rest of Europe.

 

Kershaw's book is a fascinating study of the role the Hitler image played in Nazi Germany. His analysis helps to explain much about his role for the German people during those years, and how Germans rationalized the terrible developments of those years. If there is a flaw, it's that Kershaw doesn't tie his findings into broader discussions of leadership beyond Weber; his argument about how Germans saw Hitler as unaware of Nazi corruption, for example, was squarely in a tradition of "the courtiers, not the king" rationalizations which have a long tradition in Western history. Nevertheless, this is a enormously important study of the Nazi regime, one that should be interested in this history of modern Germany or the Second World War.

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review 2017-01-28 04:12
It is the essence of man that he must question himself.
No Rusty Swords: Letters, Lectures and Notes 1928-36: From the Collected Works, Vol 1 - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

-Deitrich Bonhoeffer

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review 2016-12-18 16:33
Podcast #28 is up!
What Did You Do During the War?: The Last Throes of the British Pro-Nazi Right, 1940-45 - Richard Griffiths

My twenty-eighth podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it I interview Richard Griffiths about his study of the British pro-Nazi right during the Second World War. Enjoy!

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review 2016-12-08 04:09
Making friends with Hitler
Fellow Travellers of the Right: British Enthusiasts for Nazi Germany, 1933-39 - Richard Griffiths

The rise of the Nazis to power in Germany in 1933 was greeted in Britain by a range of opinions that might be difficult to imagine today. While many viewed Adolf Hitler's rise with concern and even trepidation, others greeted it with enthusiasm and became supporters of his regime. Richard Griffiths book provides readers with a study of this latter group, one that looks at their motivations, activities, and goals in supporting the Nazi regime in the years leading up to the outbreak of war in 1939.

 

Part of the challenge that Griffiths faces in this respect is assessing the disparate motives of people with a common agenda. He finds among them a shared admiration for Hitler, coupled with a fear for Communist expansion in Europe and a desire to see Germany developed as a bastion against it. These efforts were encouraged by the Nazis, who provided support for their activities. Though advocacy for the Third Reich during this period stretched across the social spectrum, Griffiths concentrates his study on the leaders of the groups, which included men from politics, the military and members of the aristocracy. This support grew as the decade wore on, and declined only when Germany's occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 dispelled any illusions about Hitler's intentions, leaving behind only a fanatical core that was interned after the war broke out a few months later.

Griffiths's book is a welcome examination of a group of people too often on the fringes of most historical accounts. His dispassionate and respectful assessment of their views and actions helps readers better understand why they adopted the positions they did and why they maintained them even after Hitler's ambitions and the Nazis's anti-Semitic brutality became increasingly evident. Anyone seeking to understand better why so many people came to support such a regime would do well to turn to this work, which answers these questions and more with a combination of both clarity and insight.

 

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review 2016-11-19 10:13
My twenty-fifth podcast is up!
Searching for Lord Haw-Haw: The Political Lives of William Joyce (Routledge Studies in Fascism and the Far Right) - Colin Holmes

Somehow I've managed to reach the quarter-century mark with my podcasts! My latest one is an interview with Colin Holmes, author of a new biography of the British fascist and broadcaster William Joyce. I hope you enjoy it!

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