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The Genesis of National Socialism

T Desmond Williams





[Political History]

Germany as it has evolved in history presents like other countries certain marked characteristics which differentiate it from its neighbours. These affect its political, its religious and its social life. Some of the distinguishing features are not of importance, others are, and have been of importance in shaping the origin and growth of the German problem as Europe has known it since the fall of Napoleon.

There has of course always been a German problem for the Germans, but for the world at large, this so called German question is of more recent date. This is, needless to say, not to assert that these lands which now constitute the German Reich have played only a small part in the moulding of European life, but the part which they played was not primarily "Eine Deutsche Rolle".

The wars and revolutions, the rights and wrongs which make up the sum total of their history were concerned with things which were not exclusively German as we now understand it. For Germany was, as it has remained throughout centuries almost a geographical expression. There was no unity of political, religious or economic sentiment which found expression in the political sphere, and if we take Ranke's treatment of history—such general beliefs which lie hidden in the subconscious state of the ordinary life of the people and which commenced only in the nineteenth century to play a political role of world importance, are not capable of being dealt with historically. Ranke's method was of course too narrow, and if in the perusal of the past, the roots of the present can be found, which explain the phenomena of more modern times, we are entitled to claim that this is history.

The main characteristics indicated above include the tendency towards Particularism, so prevalent among the various communities speaking the German tongue; the contradictory tendency towards a tightening and centralisation of political power—the failure of Parliamentary government to take root and establish itself — the inherent respect for authority so common to all classes of the people—and above all the paramount part played by the armed forces in the civil and internal as well as the military and external sphere of German life.