An English translation of a monumental and controversial new study of the politics and policies of Hitler’s Third Reich,
written by a respected journalist from Die Welt.
Most studies of the Nazi regime, taking the bloodiest war and one of the most brutal massacres in history as its most vivid
accomplishments, have concentrated on the military and racial depredations of that perverse commonwealth. The Nazi crimes were
so monstrous that it is impossible to consider Nazi politics dispassionately, and difficult even to apply to them the usual
hypotheses of political science. Zitelmann understands this attitude well, yet he argues it has resulted in a historiography whose
flaws are so profound that German academics are unable to explain just how Hitler managed to win a democratic election in the
first place. The tendency among left-wing historians to view Nazism as essentially reactionary and bourgeois is misguided,
contends Zitelmann, because it obscures the extent to which National Socialism was indeed a revolutionary party that represented
a break with the political status quo of the period and offered large numbers of German workers and peasants what looked like
a real opportunity to shape their own destinies. Nazi economic policy, for example, was highly regulated, permitting private
property but placing severe restrictions on the accrual of profit and the disposition of surpluses. Nazi labor and family policies
were paternalistic, offering a safety net of guaranteed employment—or, in the case of mothers, exemption from employment—in
exchange for disciplined productivity. Nazi investment in the national infrastructure of roadways and housing was a model of
efficient state investment.
Although much of Zitelmann’s text is slow-moving and pedantic, relying too heavily on statistics and footnotes, his main
point—that a true understanding of Hitler’s rise to power must take closer account of the policies he promised and pursued—is
bound to generate debate.