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24 October 2013
“In Germany, the rise of Hitler and his Nazi Party was unquestionably connected to the Great Depression. But the connection was not a simple one. The Nazis did not march on Berlin at the head of an army of unemployed; there was no ‘seizure of power’. Hitler did not have to topple a weakened government as the Bolsheviks did, nor threaten the head of state, like Mussolini. He came to power through participation in Germany’s democratic process and, at the invitation of the lawful authorities. It is beside the point that he and his ruffians were anything but democrats or constitutionalists at heart.”
From the widely acclaimed “Europe: A History” by English historian Norman Davies, published 1996, page 966.
Davies goes on to point out that during the peak of the Great Depression, in the turbulent years 1930 to 1933, the Nazis took part in five parliamentary elections and “in a very short time they had established themselves as the largest single party in the Reichstag”.
In January 1933, the German establishment, represented by the aristocratic Junkers Paul von Hindenburg (then President of Germany) and Franz von Papen (a former Chancellor), naively decided to appoint Hitler as Chancellor in order to counter the “red menace” from the troublesome German Communist Party.
Hitler, however, had his own idea about puppets.
After winning 44 per cent of the popular vote in 1933 in parliamentary elections that followed the unexplained fire which burned down the Reichstag (parliament building), Hitler passed an “enabling act” granting himself dictatorial powers for four years.
The following year, in 1934, following President von Hindenburg’s death, he declared the office of President vacant and staged a plebiscite to approve his own newly minted role as “Führer and Reichskanzler” (Leader and Imperial Chancellor) with full emergency powers. Ninety per cent of those who voted supported him.
Davies takes up the story again (op. cit., page 969):
“Hitler was in control. In the final path to the summit, he did not breach the Constitution once….Hitler’s democratic triumph exposed the true nature of democracy. Democracy has few values of its own: it is as good, or as bad, as the principles of the people who operate it. In the hands of liberal and tolerant people, it will produce a liberal and tolerant government; in the hands of cannibals, a government of cannibals.”
Davies appears puts the blame for the failure of democracy in Germany’s Weimar Republic (1919-1933) on the faulty principles of the people who operated it, ie the German political establishment.
However, this seems to us to let the voters themselves too easily off the hook. It was the people of Germany, not the political establishment alone, who voted in the plebiscite to give Hitler dictatorial powers. Even taking into account the impact of Nazi propaganda, it is hard to escape the conclusion that a majority of the German population agreed with the violent, racist, national supremacist, warmongering and dictatorial policies glorified by the Nazis.
This is what can happen, unfortunately, when otherwise decent individuals allow themselves to be whipped into a frenzy of hatred and become transformed, as a result, into a ravaging herd.
We witnessed something similar in Europe not so long ago in the 1992-1995 Bosnian War when Serbs massacred Muslim neighbours with whom they had lived in relative harmony for centuries.
We take the view that democracy – genuine democracy, that is to say, and not the fake democracy of the partitocracy – is in general the best form of political governance. However, there are higher values than democracy. For example, respect for the basic rights to which every human being is entitled. People who vote to abridge human rights have no right to do so, according to us, even if they take their decision in accordance with established democratic procedures.
You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts. For instance:
1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
5.Ladder (21 June 2012)
6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)
Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.