Fascism is arguably the most influential and controversial political ideology in modern history, and continues to be a fascinating topic for political study and discussion. Yet, despite fascism's worldwide existence and its responsibility for the development of numerous groups and political movements, Germany remains only one of two countries (the other being Italy) in which the ideology of fascism has enjoyed the success of political power. Although there is very little consensus amongst political scientists and academics on many issues of fascism, there is a general agreement that the success of fascism in Germany was not due to any singular, or isolated, factor. Rather, it prospered as a result of Germany possessing the ideal combination of a strong national identity, a well-developed system of public persuasion and propaganda, and an existing government that was too weak and unstable to provide effective resistance against social and economic crisis. Therefore, although the accepted opinion is that German fascism was an evil and isolated abhorrence that was ended forever by the Allied victory in World War II, this paper proposes that its success was achieved through a set of political, social and economic conditions that could occur in any country, at any time.
One of the primary factors in fascist ideology is the development of a strong sense of national identity and although German fascism, in the form of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP) or, as it is more commonly known, the Nazi party, did not achieve political power until 1933 (Laqueur, 165), there is evidence that Germany possessed a strong sense of nationalism as far back as the sixteenth century (Shirer, 91). The nationalistic writings and values of the popular philosopher and religious reformer, Martin Luther (1483-1546) were later expanded upon by thinkers of the Romantic Movement (Eatwell, 6), and by 1873, when German journalist Wilhelm Marr published his highly successful book, The Victory of the Jew over the German, the seeds of nationalism, and anti-Semitism, had become generally promoted and accepted (Eatwell, 21). The belief in national pride and strength continued to develop throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, ultimately leading to the outbreak of World War I in 1914 (Nolte, 386). Rather than a victorious show of national strength, the war ended in humiliating defeat for the German people (Berwick, 19). This humiliation was intensified by the conditions imposed on their country by the Allies through the Treaty of Versailles, which demanded German acceptance of full responsibility for starting the war, changes to Germany's eastern boundaries, the removal of all German colonies, and a commitment to the paying of restorative compensation to the Allies (Eatwell, 23). The war had shattered German society and they now required someone on who to place blame, both for the defeat and for the humiliating aftermath. They found two convenient scapegoats in their newly formed democratic government and the Jews (Nolte, 401). What they now sought was the rebirth of their country and the restoration of their national identity and pride, but they no longer believed that the politics of liberalism and democracy would provide this (Shirer, 61). The German State was collapsing and the people demanded radical changes, and it was fascism, with its emphasis on national unity and military strength that was able to provide a popular and successful alternative.
Although the after effects of World War I, and the conditions imposed on them by the Treaty of Versailles, were particularly embarrassing for a nation with such a proud military past as Germany, it was the post-war problems such as massive unemployment and crippling inflation that ultimately placed the ruling Weimar Republic under pressure from the growing popularity of fascism (Shirer, 62). Therefore, when the Depression that swept over Europe and the United States in 1929 almost brought Germany to its knees through economic crisis and crippling unemployment, fascism's proposals to restore Germany's economic and military pride proved extremely popular with the electorate, and seemed to instill the nation with a renewed sense of purpose (Eatwell 105). The failure of the democratic Weimar Republic to resolve the crisis was in stark contrast to the Nazi Party's stable, unified appearance, its commitment to German rebirth, and its ability to provide full employment and economic growth. Upon taking control of the German economy, the most pressing problem to face the fascist leadership was that of unemployment, which at that time was in excess of six million (Eatwell, 101). To address this issue, and to regenerate the German nation, Hitler and his party proposed the creation of their new order, which would restore the country to a position of strength and leadership within world politics, industry, and finance (Carsten, 52). To achieve total implementation of his plans required Hitler reversing the economic and political restrictions that had been imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles. Although this was a publicly popular move, the fascist leadership was aware that it would ultimately result in war. Therefore the Nazi economy, by stockpiling raw materials and resources, and insulating itself from the international economy was reorganized essentially as a war economy (Laqueur, 136). However, the reputation of Hitler, and of fascism, was enhanced when, in the years 1937-1938, Germany witnessed an, "economic miracle" (Eatwell, 125) and the country achieved full employment, although this was mainly due to the increasing level of rearmament, introduced in preparation for war.
Yet, despite achieving power on the basis of overwhelming popularity among the German public, it became immediately apparent that German fascism intended to control all aspects of national life, ensuring that their patriotic propaganda was able to permeate every area of German society with little resistance (Brady, 1969). Hitler's powerful personal charisma, aided by his meticulously organized public appearances and the saturation of everyday life with Nazi symbols, posters and indoctrination, established him as the infallible, hero-worshiped savior of the German people (Payne, 1995). Despite the fact that his repressive totalitarian regime had abolished many of their basic liberties, and that every area of their lives was pervaded and controlled by state police organizations (Berwick, 23), many of the German people responded with uncritical loyalty to their leader and a frightening willingness to obey all state issued directives. The Nazification of German society was greatly assisted by the efforts of the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda under the control of Joseph Goebbels, which was highly effective at promoting the fascism regime as a well-oiled Nazi machine (Eatwell, 111), by means of mass rallies, military parades, and sophisticated manipulation and censorship of the media. Such was the appeal of the fascist philosophy and propaganda that, in Germany in particular, the majority of people were willing to sacrifice their individual freedoms and ambitions for the greater good of their nation. The ability to convince each individual that the nation belonged to them, and that they in turn belonged to the nation, was one of the doctrines which lay at the heart of the fascist political system, and in fact, it could be argued that this is the central tenet of fascist ideology (Eatwell, 11). Fascism has often been accused of containing more style than substance, yet its mastery of propaganda techniques and its skill in the art of political theater provided it with a greater mandate for the implementation of its policies than most other ideologies could ever hope for. Drawing on psychological theories, such as Gustave Le Bon's study of crowd behavior (Eatwell, 8), and the primitive, but highly persuasive, effects of symbolism and tradition, fascism was able to convert vast numbers of people to its ideals and values without having to present a rational and coherent body of ideas (Nolte, 44). Such was the success of fascist propaganda that it managed to convince one of the world's most advanced electorates, in the middle…