Reevaluating the Third Reich

Reevaluating the Third Reich

Reevaluating the Third Reich

Reevaluating the Third Reich

Synopsis

Despite the passage of time and the accumulation of information about the Nazi era, many crucial aspects still maintain their historical significance and moral urgency. In this thought-provoking volume, distinguished scholars provide critical yet controversial analyses of Nazi racism, economic and industrial policy, the place of ideology in decision making, and the structure and function of the Nazi state. The authors' interpretations of these significant issues are influenced by contemporary concerns such as the focus on social history and everyday life; feminist interest in the role of women and reproductive politics; the emergence of a eugenics paradigm; and investigation into the relationship of big business, labour, and the Nazi economic order. Yet these essays do not collectively normalise the Third Reich nor do they diminish the enormity of its project of systematic mass murder. This challenging book is certain to provoke further debate as it expands our knowledge of the complex dynamics of a brutal regime.

Excerpt

The essays that comprise this collection emerged from a remarkable conference on Nazi Germany in the spring of 1988. Certainly there have been many academic discussions of Nazism. Nonetheless, this colloquium at the University of Pennsylvania generated some particularly memorable moments of intellectual confrontation. Most notably, the intense debate suggested that a major generational break in the understanding of Nazism was taking place.

The political and moral stakes of such a reinterpretation seem very high. Nazism, after all, provides one of the basic examples of political evil. How we define its ideology or analyze its system of governance, how we categorize its murderous violence, to whom we attribute its coming to power and support, testify to our underlying political values. The Philadelphia discussions revealed that these commitments were in possible conflict, and certainly open for redefinition.

The participants invited by the conference organizers, Jane Caplan and Thomas Childers, did not represent the entire spectrum of scholars engaged in research on Nazi Germany. Those whose work tended to focus on Hitler himself, his personality and his decision making, were not present. Instead, those taking part spoke for the more institutional or collective interpretations of Nazism, which have generated most scholarly interest and controversy over the past two decades. In the debate between those whom Tim Mason had aptly labeled "intentionalists"—those who focused on Hitler's will and ideology—and the "functionalists"—who ascribed policy to collective, bureaucratic outcomes—the conference participants tended either to be functionalists or to argue that neither term could encompass the way the regime worked.

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