Why Did the National Socialist Party in Germany Come Into Power?

Seminar Paper 2001 11 Pages

History Europe - Germany - National Socialism, World War II



I. Introduction

II. Contemporary currents: nationalism, imperialism, racism

III. The rise of the National Socialist Party

IV. The figure of Adolf Hitler (1889-1945)

V. Co-operation or resistance?

VI. Summary

VII. Bibliography

I. Introduction

In order to explain the rise of National Socialism in interwar Germany, historians have proceeded from various assumptions. Their theories have ranged from the notion of an evil disposition inherent in the German character to the very differing one of the Germans as victims of the malefactor Hitler and his system. For a serious investigation about the origins of the Nazi movement, however, this two extreme standpoints have to be relocated. Both presumptions tend to consider National Socialism as an incident that erupted suddenly and without any relation to historical circumstances. Yet, Fischer points out that “human events in time and place are not inexplicable occurrences, wholly unexpected and unconnected to past forms of behaviour”.[1]

Consequently, we have to consider the roots of the ideology[2] “National Socialism” (section II). In section III, I will re-create the evolution of “National Socialism” as a political movement. Section IV reveals the link between those two aspects in the person of Adolf Hitler and the way he promoted both. Finally, the contribution of the German population to the rise of the NSDAP will be investigated (section V).

II. Contemporary currents: nationalism, imperialism, racism

As far as historical forces which influenced German society are concerned, Fischer has argued that they “must be finite and limited to a manageable historical space”[3], because a consideration of German history in general could imply National Socialism as its logical consequence. Therefore, the period between 1871 and 1933 is to be investigated, because in the second half of the 19th century, three trends emerged or gained importance – not only in Germany, but also in other European countries.[4]

Firstly, Fischer has accentuated a transformation in the meaning of the term “nationalism” from an attitude of cultural, romantic pride throughout the 18th century to a “quasi-religious […] movement”[5] at the end of the 19th century, which extensively consolidated national consciousness. In comparison with states such as France, however, Germany experienced its unification relatively late, and the establishment of the Second Reich in 1871 was not the result of a popular democratic movement but of the Prussian victory over France. In fact, this enforced amalgamation of different territories still perpetuated an unstable identity. Moreover, the industrialization increased the gap between the reigning elite and the working class. Nevertheless, members of German-orientated movements (e. g. the “Pan-German League, the Neuland movement,…) tried to “avert social disruption, national weakness, and alienation among classes”[6] by calling for a sense of community that could, for instance, be achieved by the service of individuals “for the good of the whole”[7]. This demand for obedience and sacrifices for the state was intensified in World War I, and the systematic wartime propaganda strengthened patriotism.[8]

Secondly, the realization of a unified state and its increasing industrial power enticed Germany to challenge the imperialistic efforts of the other empires and to conceive German hegemony. On the one hand, the “spirit of community” provided a suitable legitimation for expansion and conquests; on the other hand, the strengthened imperialism “heightened feelings of ethnic superiority”[9], which reinforced the readiness to carry out the ethnically motivated battles not only abroad, but also within Germany itself.[10]


[1] K. P. Fischer: Nazi Germany. A new history, (London, 1995), p. 3; See also J. Hermand: Old Dreams of a New Reich: Volkish Utopias and National Socialism, (Frankfurt/Main, 1988), p. ix

[2] The term “ideology” can be defined as “a set of ideas that an economic or political system is based on” and as “a set of beliefs, especially one held by a particular group, that influences the way people behave”. S. Wehmeier (ed.): Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English (Oxford, 2000), p. 643

[3] Fischer Nazi Germany p. 3

[4] See ibid. p. 5f.

[5] Ibid. p. 6

[6] Ibid. p. 26

[7] Hermand Reich p. xiv

[8] See Fischer Nazi Germany p. 5f., 15, 22, 24; Hermand Reich p. xiv, 26, 60, 66f.

[9] Fischer Nazi Germany p. 7

[10] See ibid. p. 6f., 26f.; Hermand Reich p. 59, 71


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ISBN (Book)
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University of Sussex
WW2 2. Weltkrieg Nationalsozialismus National Socialist Party Germany Deutschland National Socialism NSDAP Ursachen




Title: Why Did the National Socialist Party in Germany Come Into Power?