My final post on Nazism addresses the title question, which I treat as the question “Why was Germany overwhelmed by a secular religious movement?”
World War I demonstrated a couple of things to all nations . First, war was now industrial. The country that could build the most artillery shells and rifles would win. To survive, every country had to industrialize.
Second, the state-nation form was over. The states had called their citizens to war, and allowed them to be slaughtered to no perceivable gain. The states had to form another contract with their citizens, based on providing for its citizens, that Bobbitt called the nation-state.
Two new state forms arose that promised to industrialize and enrich its people. Both Fascism and Communism were totalitarian forms, but the people accepted their intense repression because they feared obliteration if they didn’t. Both forms had strong national participation, with youth wings and large party memberships. While Communists activated the urban proletariat, the Fascists activated the petit bourgeois. Both forms continued to wage war, but with the tendencies within their own people; for example, Stalin allowed a Ukrainian famine that killed millions in order to root out the Ukrainian separatist elements.
The Western European countries continued to be democratic, initially including Germany, but the Eastern and Southern countries generally became authoritarian. While Spain under Franco was totalitarian, it didn’t attempt to industrialize or to activate a portion of the population. Portugal under the Estado Novo was also authoritarian, and didn’t industrialize or activate its people. Neither can be considered fascist. Most of Eastern Europe was the same – authoritarian regimes that held the status quo. Many of these countries had fascist parties, particularly ones that advocated a religion, but none of the fascist parties conquered the state without outside help. Essentially, small European states chose to step outside the stream of history because they were too weak to risk wholesale transformation; as a holding pattern, they veered right. The Great Powers would dominate the next decades of transformation.
Germany stood out in Europe. It was industrialized, with a world-class chemical industry, but had no democratic tradition. When other countries became state-nations in the Napoleonic era, Germany was still a collection of princely states. Germany’s key weakness was its lack of unity; only a language unified it. Kaiser Wilhelm held it together with a strong government. The weak governments of the Weimar Republic made Germans wonder if Germany could hold itself together.
Nazism was the specific antidote to this fear. It proclaimed Germans a race, a master race, different from all those around them. It made Jews, a long-despised community, scapegoats that had betrayed the German people. It destroyed another long-despised community, the Roma, without bothering to develop an ideology about them. It declared Germany’s main geopolitical fear – Slavs to their east – to be a slave race. It was led by a hypnotic speaker and a party that had learned quickly how to create ritual, perhaps because the party’s roots were in esoteric religions. It has a prophet, a holy book, a political purpose, a set of rituals. It was led by an astonishingly bright collection of people who were ceaselessly innovative. It deeply engaged its citizens, to the point of religious ecstasy. To kill an enemy was to become a modern-day berserker, a Wotan follower. It was the utter opposite of the authoritarian regimes around it, though it shared their right-wing values. The Germans stayed faithful to the Nazis to the end, to Gotterdammerung, while the Italians, who were not in a religious fervor, deposed Mussolini in 1943 when the Allies invaded Sicily. Mussolini had industrialized them, and they didn’t need him anymore.
Jung held his theory – that Nazism was a new avatar of Wotan – because it was a brilliant proof of his theory of the collective unconscious. That he predicted Nazism in 1918 was icing on the cake. I think Jung’s theory has correct elements, but that Nazism arose from specific historical factors. The point at which his and my theories agree is that Nazism was a religious movement.
Nazism accomplished its purpose. The German people now feel unified. Though they still have local dialects, the dialects are dying out. Their need satisfied, I cannot see the Germans becoming a warlike people in the foreseeable future.