National Socialism or Nazism, doctrines and policies of the National Socialist German Workers' party, which ruled Germany under Adolf Hitler from 1933 to 1945. In German the party name was Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP); members were first called Nazis as a derisive abbreviation.
The Rise of the Party
After World War I a number of extremist political groups arose in Germany, including the minuscule German Workers' party, whose spokesman was Gottfried Feder. Its program combined socialist economic ideas with rabid nationalism and opposition to democracy. The party early attracted a few disoriented war veterans, including Hermann Goering, Rudolf Hess, and Hitler. After 1920 Hitler led the party; its name was changed, and he reorganized and reoriented it, stamping it with his own personality.
By demagogic appeals to latent hatred and violence, through anti-Semitism, anti-Communist diatribes, and attacks on the Treaty of Versailles, the party gained a considerable following. Its inner councils were swelled by such frustrated intellectuals as P. J. Goebbels, and by the element of riffraff typified by Julius Streicher, while its public adherents were heavily drawn from the depressed lower middle class. Hitler minimized the socialist features of the program. National Socialism made its appeal not to an economic class but rather to the insecure and power-hungry elements of society.
Nazi ideology drew on the racist doctrines of the comte de Gobineau and Houston Stewart Chamberlain, on the nationalism of Heinrich von Treitschke, and on the hero-cult of Friedrich Nietzsche, often transforming the ideas of these thinkers. Nazi dogma, partly articulated by Hitler in Mein Kampf, was elaborated by the fanatical Alfred Rosenberg. Vague and mystical, it was not a system of well-defined principles but rather a glorification of prejudice and myth with elements of nihilism. Its mainstays were the doctrines of racial inequality and of adherence to the leader, or Führer; its constant theme was nationalist expansion.
According to Nazi dogma, races could be scientifically classified as superior and inferior. The highest racial type was the Nordic, or Germanic, type of the "Aryan" race, while blacks and Jews were at the bottom of the racial ladder. Intermarriage contributed to the deterioration of the superior race, and the Jews, knowing this, had furthered prostitution and seduction to defile the Germans. Consequently only small islands of the pure remained, but it was their destiny to govern their inferiors and, through scientific breeding, to extend the "master race" and limit inferior races.
The Nazis accused Jews of obstructing the conquering path of the "master race." Marxism, international finance, and Freemasonry were all said to be Jewish devices created to dominate the world. Even Christianity was denounced by Rosenberg as a Jewish creation, but Hitler hedged on this point. International Jewry was blamed for the humiliation of Germany in the Treaty of Versailles (1919), and German Jewry was accused of betraying Germany in World War I.
Nazi expansionism was linked to race in the geopolitical theories of Karl Haushofer; from the degenerate Slavs in particular the Germans would wrest Lebensraum [living space]. The ruling "master race" itself was to be organized into an authoritarian pyramid, at the apex of which stood the infallible Führer. Strength and discipline were deified by the Nazis, and democracy was spurned as a depraved form of government that protected the weak and mediocre.
Nazi ideology probably gave less strength to the movement than did its well-organized party structure. From Communism Hitler borrowed the cell system, and from Italian Fascism he took the uniformed party militia. The mass of the militia was the brown-shirted SA, the Sturmabteilung [storm troops]. The elite was the black-uniformed SS, the Schutzstaffel [security echelon], under Heinrich Himmler. The party had its own salute (the raised arm and the words Heil Hitler!), symbol (the swastika), and anthem (the Horst Wessel Lied). The military trappings and mass demonstrations of the Nazis attracted many followers. For the coming to power of National Socialism and the history of Germany under its rule, see Germany.
After ousting the left wing of the party, represented by Gregor Strasser, Hitler, once in power, secured his position by the "Blood Purge" (June, 1934) of SA leader Ernst Roehm and others who might challenge him. Loyal Nazis were placed in positions of authority within the government and eventually came to control it. A corporative state was established in which labor lost all rights and was even regimented in its recreation by the "Strength through Joy" movement. Youth, schools, and the press came under repressive control. The books of "undesirable" authors were repeatedly burned.
Germany was divided into party districts; the Gauleiter [district leader] in effect superseded the state government. The judicial system was reorganized, and special courts were established to deal with political offenses. Nazi ideology was enthroned as national law, and Nazi methods replaced rational legal procedure. Anti-Semitic legislation (the Nuremberg Laws) forbade intermarriage with Jews, deprived Jews of civil rights, and barred them from professions. Other laws similarly barred Communists.
A German Christian Church was set up to control Protestant churches; its chief opponent, Martin Niemoeller, was arrested. The Gestapo (see secret police) tracked down political opponents, Jews, and other undesirables; their internment in concentration camps was often a prelude to their murder, particularly in the case of the Jews after the start of World War II. Medical "experiments," some of them conducted to prevent the reproduction of Jews and "misfits," maimed thousands more.
Nazism in Other Countries
In the period of German expansion the Nazis found many adherents outside Germany. In Austria the inclusion in the government of Nazi leader Seyss-Inquart speeded Austrian annexation, and in Czechoslovakia the Sudete German party (see Sudetes) aided the absorption of that country by Germany. The party of Jacques Doriot in France, the Rexists in Belgium, the Iron Guard in Romania, the Hungarian National Socialists, the Croatian Ustachi, and the German-American Bund in the United States were all affiliated to some extent with the Nazis.
In World War II the Nazis imposed their system and dogma on Europe by force. Millions of Jews, Russians, Poles, and others were interned and exterminated; millions more were used for forced labor. Only the collapse of Germany's military might prevented the utter annihilation of the Jews and the complete subjugation of Europe. With the Allied victory National Socialism was outlawed in Germany.
See H. Rauschning, The Revolution of Nihilism (tr. 1939); F. Neumann, Behemoth (2d ed. 1944, repr. 1963); E. Kogon, The Theory and Practice of Hell (tr. 1950, repr. 1972); W. L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960); J. C. Fest, The Face of the Third Reich (tr. 1970); K. D. Bracher, The German Dictatorship (tr. by J. Steinberg, 1970); A. Speer, Inside the Third Reich (tr. 1970); D. Orlov, The History of the Nazi Party: 1933–1945 (1973); F. Weinstein, The Dynamics of Nazism (1980); W. D. Smith, The Ideological Origins of Nazi Imperialism (1989); K. von Klemperer, German Resistance against Hitler (1992); S. Friedländer, Nazi Germany and the Jews (2 vol., 1997–2007); M. Burleigh, The Third Reich (2000); R. Overy, Interrogations: The Nazi Elite in Allied Hands, 1945 (2001); R. J. Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich (2004) and The Third Reich in Power (2005); G. Aly, Hitler's Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War, and the Nazi Welfare State (2007).