A brilliant synthesis of German history, enumerating and elucidating the social, political, and cultural trends that made the rise of Nazism possible.
But by no means inevitable, writes Evans (History/Cambridge Univ.; In Defense of History, 1999, etc.); indeed, many of the material and cultural conditions for the rise of a regime that “would make a systematic attempt to kill all the Jews of Europe and kill nearly six million in the process” were more pronounced in France and Russia than in Germany. Yet, he notes, “Nazism, while far from being the unavoidable outcome of the course of German history, certainly did draw for it success on political and ideological traditions and developments that were specifically German in their nature.” Some of those traditions arose during the reign of Otto von Bismarck, who, in unifying Germany, universalized military service and “saw to it that the army was virtually a state within a state,” answerable to a strong leader alone. Others welled up from Social Darwinist thinkers who believed that the fittest should survive and the weakest be eliminated, thus improving racial stocks and building supermen. The early Nazis found comfort in the example of Weimar leader Paul von Hindenburg, who “had no faith in democratic institutions and no intention of defending them from their enemies”; they found more comfort in the brutal example of the Russian Revolution and the Leninist state, which threatened to spill over into Germany and drove many a middle-class man and woman far to the right. All these strains came together such that there was “substantial overlap between the Nazis’ ideology and that of the conservatives [and] even, to a considerable extent, that of German liberals”—opening the door to the Nazi ascendancy while offering hope to many Germans of the time that their country’s future would be one “in which class antagonisms and party-political squabbles would be overcome” and prosperity and national pride restored.
A peerless work, the first of a projected three volumes. Of immense importance to general readers—and even some specialists—seeking to understand the origins of the Nazi regime.