The place of the individual in National Socialist
ideology depends on which individual you are talking about. Unlike Communism
, where the individual
is subject to the state, the Nazi party asked the German
people not to pledge allegiance
to the state, or the idea of a national identity, but to one man, another individual, Hitler
. “The authority of the Fuehrer
is total and all-embracing…it embraces all members of the German community….The Fuehrer’s authority is subject to no checks or controls; it is circumscribed by no….individual rights; it is…overriding and unfettered.” (Civilization 791). This idea is remarkably paradoxical
. Usually when the argument is made that the rights of the individual are unimportant or subordinate, those rights are subordinate to the state; something lofty and far more substantial than one lone individual. In this case, an entire nation
of individuals is asked and/or forced to become subordinate, as well as pledge their allegiance and even their very life to Adolf Hitler
(Triumph of the Will
). In this day, it seems highly unlikely that almost an entire nation of people would be willing to do so, but it did indeed happen as planned.
Planned, incidentally, is the operative word here; for one of the ways in which Hitler achieved his monstrous success and favor with the German people was his use of propaganda. Propaganda relies on the masses and on the assurance that people will respond to it as a group. It relies on mob mentality and it is targeted to the masses. “to whom should propaganda be directed? To learned individuals or to the less-educated masses? It must always be directed to the masses!” (Mein Kampf 313).
At first glance and during its fledging years, National Socialism could be seen as just another facet of the socialism we’ve all come to know, if not necessarily to love, so far in history. However, Hitler himself makes it very clear that he is not a proponent of Marx. He even goes as far as calling it “The Jewish doctrine of Marxism” which “denies the personal worth of the individual, disputes the meaning of ethnicity and race, and consequently deprives humanity of the prerequisites for its continued success and its civilization.” (Mein Kampf 312). Notice the very careful wording that is used. According to Hitler, Marxism denies the personal worth of the individual. At first glance, it may seem that Hitler is a proponent of the rights of the individual, but on closer inspection it becomes clear: according to Hitler, every individual has a personal worth, at least every Aryan individual, but that does not necessarily mean that the individual has any rights that the state must respect. (Civilization 793).
A minor but telling point is the following. Like a child who calls anything that he or she doesn’t like or understand “stupid”, so too does Hitler call ideas and events that displease him “Jewish”, he calls Marxism the “Jewish Doctrine of Marxism.” The physicist Albert Einstein was forced to leave Germany due to rise to power of the Nazis, but his theory of relativity stayed behind, at least until Hitler started calling it “Jewish Physics” and the professors who continued to teach it, like Werner Heisenberg “White Jews” (Frayn: Copenhagen, 8).
In regards to the Jews themselves or “The Jewish Question” as it is sometimes called, Hitler and the Nazis seem to pay very close attention to the individual and “what makes a Jew” as it were. The Wansee Protocol separates Jews and persons of “mixed blood” into very tight categories, with “persons of mixed blood of the first degree” to be treated as Jews, “persons of mixed blood of the second degree” to be treated as Germans, and combinations thereof to be treated accordingly. In many instances, a case-by-case basis would have to be determined as to whether certain persons of mixed blood were to be treated as Germans or Jews. Such close scrutiny into the affairs and heritage of individuals was adhered to in order to separate people into disparate groups to lose their individuality again, one way or another.
Probably the most staggering example of this kind of racism comes from Himmler in his speech in Posen, Poland:
“Our principle must be for the SS man: We must be honest, decent, loyal and friendly to members of our own blood and no one else. What happens to the Russians… the Czechs, is a matter of utter indifference to me. Such good blood… we shall acquire for ourselves, if necessary by taking away the children and bringing them up among us.” (Himmler 1).
This paragraph is telling and paradoxical in the same breath. Himmler single out the individual SS man, not the SS or the nation, but the individual SS member. And then lumps the others in unfeeling groups: Russians, Czechs, etc. They do not matter, and it talking about them this way, as a group, it releases the listener from having to recognize their individuality. “Whether or not 10,000 Russian women collapse from exhaustion while digging a tank ditch interests me only in so far as the tank ditch is completed for Germany.” (ibid). This is somewhat analogous to Stalin’s famous comment that one death is a tragedy, but 10,000 deaths is a statistic.
This attitude towards individuality by the Nazi party was used as a tool for propaganda as well as for furthering their cause, be it the “Jewish Problem” or the continued stronghold as the leader-state.
As a moment in our history that will live on forever, it is a testament to how one individual can subjugate and subsequently attempt to destroy the individuality of an entire nation, and how easy it was to do just that.
Michael Frayn: Copenhagen (play)
Marvin Perry, Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics, and Society (Houghton Mifflin, 6th ed., 2000)
The Wannsee Protocol (1942) (http://library.byu.edu/~rdh/eurodocs/germ/wanneng.html)
Adolph Hitler: Mein Kampf
Heinrich Himmler's Posen Speech (1943) (http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/holocaust/h-posen.htm)