THE NAZI QUESTION: An Essay on the Interpretations of National Socialism (1922-1975) by Pierre Aycoberry

THE NAZI QUESTION: An Essay on the Interpretations of National Socialism (1922-1975)

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Historians have spent a long time trying to figure out the meaning of Nazism, and occasionally they look at the meaning of the interpretations. Aycoberry, a historian at the University of Paris (Nanterre), is engaged in the second pursuit. He begins with the self-interpretation put forward by the Nazis themselves: initially contradictory, internally inconsistent--emphasizing their place at the end of German history, but disrupting the historical flow by selecting out themes, like the agrarian ideal (but what of the Hanseatic League?); or the role of the great leaders, like Frederick II or Bismarck (but not the decadent fools who brought on the results of 1918!). Then, reviewing others' interpretations of Nazism, he follows a chronological scheme. At first, most commentators sought to assimilate the Nazis to German history or to align them with Mussolini's fascists. Later, but still in the 1930s, the theory of totalitarianism began to form, lumping the Nazis together with Stalinism. Aycoberry singles out Hermann Rauschning's The Revolution of Nihilism as a precursor of this school, which had its first formulation in the work of Hans Kohn (Dictatorship in the Modern World); after World War II it reemerged as a weapon in the Cold War, reworked by Hannah Arendt, Carl Friedrich, and Zbigniew Brzezinski. (The Moscow-based Third International, meanwhile, persisted in seeing Nazism as another form of bourgeois rule.) And interestingly, Aycoberry also gives thought to Bertholt Brecht, Thomas Mann, and other exiled artists. In Aycoberry's assessment, those interpretations which see the Nazi phenomenon as a monolith (the psychological schools are implicated too) are victims of the image projected by the Nazis themselves, while interpreters who took their cue from Franz Neumann's 1942 classic Behemoth and searched for internal divisions and multiple factors have made the most sense of their subject. Neumann, for example, saw the Nazi regime as tied to monopoly sectors of the economy but unable to dominate them; conflicts were possible, consequently, between Nazi state and economy. Meanwhile the labor force was subjugated through a deliberate program of ""massification""; the ""authoritarian personality"" was constructed, that is, not a feature of the German people. A more scattered treatment than that of Renzo de Felice (Interpretations of Fascism), which covers both fascism and Nazism but does so by category rather than by chronology. But for new readers, Aycoberry's rÉsumÉ is well worthwhile.

Pub Date: April 20th, 1981
Publisher: Pantheon