Education and Society in Germany

By H. J. Hahn | Go to book overview
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4
Education and Ideology under
National Socialism

Introduction: National Socialism and the Modernist Debate

Education under the Nazis is a very complex issue, fraught with contradiction and controversy, not least because the historical interpretation of National Socialism itself is still in a process of fermentation, which this brief analysis cannot hope to clarify. The very phenomenon of Hitler's rise to power has been the subject of many different interpretations: revolution, counter-revolution or some kind of coup d'état, and these interpretations have been broadened in order to assess this phenomenon from either a modernist or anti-modernist point of view.

Hitler and his party described their rise to power as a 'nationale Erhebung' (national uprising), thus defining their movement in nationalist-völkisch terms. Given the speed of the uprising and some of its objectives, it might well be described as a revolution. 1 In the wider context in which it sought to overthrow the republican tenets of 1919, it might even be seen as a counter-revolution, though it did little to reinstate the old imperial order. Yet another version might suggest an interpretation of the events of 1933 as a coup d'état, in as much as Hitler replaced the Weimar Constitution, de facto though not de jure, with a one-party system. The label 'revolution' would apply in the context of the national and aggressive impetus of this movement; it might also indicate why no effective resistance seemed to emerge.

All these questions relate, moreover, to an understanding of the Nazi rise to power in terms of its modernist or anti-modernist context, a debate which, with the demise of socialism in Eastern Europe and in the light of some post-modernist interpretations, has gained a new urgency. Where representatives of the Critical Theory define modernism in a normative context as a 'project of modernity', inseparably linked to the tradition of the Enlightenment and its emancipatory dimension, post-modernist interpreters would criticize such a Hegelian, teleological approach for leaning too heavily towards Anglo-American ideals and for branding German developments with the stigma of a Sonderweg, whilst ignoring the many changes which the Western liberal systems themselves had undergone. 2 Hans Mommsen, opposed to such a reductionist, descriptive definition of modernism,

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