THE NATIONALIZATION OF THE MASSES: Political Symbolism and Mass Movements in Germany, from the Napoleonic Wars through the Third Reich by George L. Mosse
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THE NATIONALIZATION OF THE MASSES: Political Symbolism and Mass Movements in Germany, from the Napoleonic Wars through the Third Reich

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Historians who are also liberals prefer to think of Nazism as a specifically inter-war phenomenon, an aberration in Germany's development. Nazi political theory has always been amazingly thin; not even the Germans read Alfred Rosenberg's murky, otiose prose. How then did Hitler mesmerize all those blond Teutons? Mosse, who is among the foremost historians of the Third Reich, suggests that the virulence and power of Nazi politics -- terror and propaganda are insufficient to explain Hitler's ecstatic mass following -- were inspired by symbols, myths, liturgy and monuments which were part of the national consciousness dating at least as far back as the 1814-1815 War of Liberation -- Germany's first ""mass movement."" Others have noted the hypnotic effect of the Nazi torchlight parades and Nuremberg rallies, the hymns to ""strength through joy."" Mosse's special achievement is to show how deeply these rituals of the Volk were embedded in the German past. Wide the 19th century is known as the great era of parliaments and representative institutions, alongside this tradition and in direct opposition to it, the secular religion of nationalism was gathering force. The peripheral myths and cults of the Bismarckian years and the Second Empire eventually formed the essence of Nazi politics which was built not on political theory but on drama, spectacle and aesthetics. The theology of nation worship which had long expressed itself in male choirs, gymnast societies and sharpshooting clubs now became supreme. Hitler tapped a vast reservoir of longings for ""community"" and organic wholeness by a people who psychologically were in full flight from the atomizing effects of industrialism. The ingredients of the psychosis that was Nazism were drawn from the aesthetics of Schiller, the thumping nationalism of Ernst Arndt, the architecture of Wilhelm Kreis who built 500 Bismarck towers between 1900 and 1910, the music of Wagner, etc. Hitler could tap their subliminal power at will to transform a crowd into a coherent political force. A wholly absorbing approach to this benighted chapter in European politics from an unusual and exciting perspective.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1975
Publisher: Howard Fertig