What Did Hitler Believe?

Adolf Hitler at the patio of the Berghof...
BERCHTESGADEN, GERMANY - CIRCA 1936: The Berghof of Adolf Hitler at the Obersalzberg near Berchtesgaden. Imagno / Getty Images

For a man who ruled a powerful country and affected the world to such an extent, Hitler left behind relatively little in the way of useful material on what he believed. This is important, because the sheer destructive magnitude of his Reich needs to be understood, and the nature of Nazi Germany meant that, if Hitler wasn’t taking the decisions himself, then people were ‘working towards Hitler’ to do what they believed he wanted.

There are big questions like how could a twentieth-century country embark on the extermination of its minorities, and these have their answers in part in what Hitler believed. But he left no diary or detailed set of papers, and while historians have his rambling statement of action in Mein Kampf, much else has to be discerned detective style from other sources.

As well as lacking a clear statement of ideology, historians have the problem that Hitler himself didn’t even have a definitive ideology. He had a developing mish-mash of ideas pulled from across central European thought, which wasn’t logical or ordered. However, some constants can be discerned.

The Volk

Hitler believed in the ‘Volksgemeinschaft’, a national community formed of racially ‘pure’ people, and in the specific case of Hitler, he believed there should be an empire formed of just pure Germans. This had a twofold effect on his government: all Germans should be in the one empire, and so those currently in Austria or Czechoslovakia should be bought into the Nazi state by whatever manner worked.

But as well as wanting to bring ‘true’ ethnic Germans into the Volk, he wanted to expel all those who didn’t fit the racial identity he imaged for Germans. This meant, at first, expelling gypsies, Jews and the sick from their positions in the Reich, and evolved into an attempt to execute or work them to death.

The newly conquered Slavs were to suffer the same fate.

The Volk had other characteristics. Hitler disliked the modern industrial world because he saw the German Volk as essential agrarian, formed of loyal peasants in a rural idyll. This would be led by the Fuhrer, would have an upper class of warriors, a middle class of party members, and a vast majority with no power at all, just loyalty. There was to be a fourth class: slaves composed of ‘inferior’ ethnicities. Most older divisions, like religion, would be erased. Hitler’s völkisch fantasies were derived from 10th-century thinkers who had produced a number of völkisch groups, including the Thule Society.

The Superior Aryan Race

Some 19th-century philosophers weren’t content with the racism of white over blacks and other ethnicities. Writers like Arthur Gobineau and Houston Stewart Chamberlain derived an additional hierarchy, which gave white skinned people an internal hierarchy. Gobineau theorized a Nordic derived Aryan race who were racially superior, and Chamberlain turned this into Aryan Teutons / Germans who carried civilization with them, and also classed Jews as an inferior race who were dragging civilization back. Teutons were tall and blond and the reason Germany should be great; Jews were the opposite.

Chamberlain’s thinking influenced many, including the racist Wagner.

Hitler never explicitly acknowledged Chamberlain’s ideas as coming from that source, but he was a firm believer in them, describing the Germans and the Jews in these terms, and wishing to ban their blood from intermixing to maintain racial purity.

Anti-Semitism

No one knows where Hitler acquired his all-consuming anti-Semitism, but it wasn’t unusual in the world Hitler grew up in. A hatred of Jews had long been a component part of European thought, and although a religious based anti-Judaism was turning into a race-based anti-Semitism, Hitler was just one believer among many. He appears to have hated Jews from a very early point in his life and considered them corrupters of culture, society and Germany, as working in a grand anti-German and Aryan conspiracy, identified them with socialism, and generally considered them vile in any way possible.

Hitler kept his anti-Semitism concealed to some extent as he took power, and while he swiftly rounded up socialists he moved slowly against the Jews. The cautious actions of Germany were eventually pressurized in the cauldron of the Second World War, and Hitler’s belief the Jews were barely human allowed for them to be executed en masse.

Lebensraum: Living Space

Germany had, since its foundation, been surrounded by other nations. This had become a problem, as Germany was rapidly developing and its population growing, and land was going to become a key issue. Geopolitical thinkers such as Professor Haushofer popularized the idea of Lebensraum, ‘living space’, basically taking new territories for German colonization, and Rudolf Hess made his only major ideological contribution to Nazism by helping Hitler crystallize, such as he ever did, what this Lebensraum would entail. At one point before Hitler it had been taking colonies, but to him, it became conquering a vast eastern empire stretching to the Urals, which the Volk could fill with peasant farmers (once the Slavs had been exterminated.)

A Misreading of Darwinism

Hitler believed that the engine of history was war, and that conflict helped the strong survive and rise to the top and killed off the weak. He thought this was how the world should be, and allowed this to affect him in several ways. The government of Nazi Germany was filled with overlapping bodies, and Hitler possibly let them fight amongst themselves believing the stronger would always win.

Hitler also believed that Germany should create its new empire in a major war, believing the superior Aryan Germans would defeat the lesser races in a Darwinian conflict. War was necessary and glorious.

Authoritarian Leaders

To Hitler, the democracy of the Weimar Republic had failed and was weak. It had surrendered in World War 1, it had produced a succession of coalitions which he felt hadn’t done enough, it had failed to stop economic troubles, Versailles and any number of corruptions. What Hitler believed in was a strong, god-like figure who everyone would worship and obey, and who would, in turn, unite them and lead them clearly. The people had no say; the leader was the one in the right.

Of course, Hitler thought this was his destiny, that he was the Führer, and the ‘Führerprinzip’ (Führer Principle) should be the core of his party and Germany. The Nazis used waves of propaganda to promote, not so much the party or its ideas, but Hitler as the demigod who would save Germany, as the mythical Führer who was on the ground now. Nostalgia for the glory days of Bismarck or Frederick the Great helped.

Conclusion

Nothing Hitler believed was new; it had all been inherited from earlier thinkers. Very little of what Hitler believed had been formed into a long-term program of events; the Hitler of 1925 wanted to see Jews gone from Germany, but it took years before the Hitler of the 1940s was willing to execute them all in death camps. But while Hitler’s beliefs were a confused mishmash that developed into policy only over time, what Hitler did do was unite them together in the form of a man who could unite the German people into supporting him while he acted on them.

Previous believers in all these aspects had been unable to make much impact; Hitler was the man who successfully acted on them. Europe was all the poorer for it.

More on Hitler's Germany:
The Early Years of the Nazis
Nazi Rise To Power
Creation of the Nazi Dictatorship
The Nazis and the Treaty of Versailles

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Wilde, Robert. "What Did Hitler Believe?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 13, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-did-hitler-believe-1221368. Wilde, Robert. (2017, April 13). What Did Hitler Believe? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-did-hitler-believe-1221368 Wilde, Robert. "What Did Hitler Believe?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-did-hitler-believe-1221368 (accessed December 13, 2017).