Visions of National Socialist Democracy, Part III: Hitler

Adolf Hitler’s statements on representative government in a future National Socialist state

Nobody would describe Adolf Hitler as a ‘democrat.’ Like most National Socialists, Hitler was contemptuous of parliamentarism and the ‘majority principle’, but he took things a step or two further. Before Hitler, the National Socialist movement in Central Europe was, despite its ideological opposition to liberal-democracy, largely democratic. The various National Socialist parties were organized on the basis of internal democracy, with elected leaders and policies decided through majority vote, and they were all committed to a policy of reformism – working to achieve a National Socialist state via piecemeal reform through the machinery of parliament. Hitler’s accession to the leadership of the trans-national NS movement ushered in radical changes in this area, gradually eroding internal party democracy in favor of Führerprinzip and leading, for a time, to a strictly anti-parliamentary, anti-democratic tactical line. Hitler, with his veneration of strict discipline and strong, centralized leadership, was undoubtedly on the more authoritarian end of the National Socialist political spectrum. Nonetheless, elements of democratic idealism still appear within his speeches and writings. Reproduced below are a number of extracts from several sources which demonstrate that Hitler, despite his authoritarian inclinations, still saw a place for parliaments and voting in a future National Socialist state.    

Mein Kampf

Hitler’s Mein Kampf provides us with one of the only comprehensive descriptions of his personal view of a future National Socialist state structure. It clearly represents a more ‘dictatorial’ vision of National Socialism than those of Jung or Feder, in that under its provisions elected representatives would have no  voting powers but would instead serve solely in an advisory capacity to the national Führer. What makes these excerpts especially interesting are their corporatist aspects – clearly at this early date (Mein Kampf was published in 1925) Hitler was still influenced by the strong corporatist inclinations within the National Socialist movement. Later he was to largely abandon corporatist ideas, making the system described in the following two chapter extracts somewhat obsolete. Nonetheless, the text below is revealing in how it demonstrates Hitler’s beliefs on the ideal balance between authoritarian and democratic tendencies in politics, beliefs which would remain largely unchanged throughout his life. –Bogumil  

Vol. II, Ch. 4: Personality and the Conception of the Völkisch State

…The best state constitution and state form is that which, with the most unquestioned certainty, raises the best minds in the national community to leading position and leading influence.

But, as in economic life, the able men cannot be appointed from above, but must struggle through for themselves, and just as here the endless schooling, ranging from the smallest business to the largest enterprise, occurs spontaneously, with life alone giving the examinations, obviously political minds cannot be ‘discovered.’ Extraordinary geniuses permit of no consideration for normal mankind.

From the smallest community cell to the highest leadership of the entire Reich, the state must have the personality principle anchored in its organisation.

There must be no majority decisions, but only responsible persons, and the word ‘council’ must be restored to its original meaning. Surely every man will have advisers by his side, but the decision will be made by one man.

The principle which made the Prussian army in its time into the most wonderful instrument of the German people must some day, in a transferred sense, become the principle of the construction of our whole state conception: authority of every leader downward and responsibility upward.

Even then it will not be possible to dispense with those corporations which today we designate as parliaments. But their councillors will then actually give counsel; responsibility, however, can and may be borne only by one man, and therefore only he alone may possess the authority and right to command.

Parliaments as such are necessary, because in them, above all, personalities to which special responsible tasks can later be entrusted have an opportunity gradually to rise up.

This gives the following picture:

The völkisch state, from the township up to the Reich leadership, has no representative body which decides anything by the majority, but only advisory bodies which stand at the side of the elected leader, receiving their share of work from him, and in turn if necessary assuming unlimited responsibility in certain fields, just as on a larger scale the leader or chairman of the various corporations himself possesses.

As a matter of principle, the völkisch state does not tolerate asking advice or opinions in special matters – say, of an economic nature – of men who, on the basis of their education and activity, can understand nothing of the subject. It, therefore, divides its representative bodies from the start into a political chamber and a corporative chamber that represents the respective trades and professions.

In order to guarantee a profitable co-operation between the two, a special selected senate of the élite always stands over them.

In no chamber nor in the senate does a vote ever take place. They are working institutions and not voting machines. The individual member has an advisory, but never a determining, voice. The latter is the exclusive privilege of the responsible chairman, who must be entirely responsible for the matter under discussion.

This principle – absolute responsibility unconditionally combined with absolute authority – will gradually breed an élite of leaders such as today, in this era of irresponsible parliamentarianism, is utterly inconceivable.

Thus, the political form of the nation will be brought into agreement with that law to which it owes its greatness in the cultural and economic field.

Vol. II, Ch. 12: The Trade-Union Question

…As things stand today, the trade unions in my opinion cannot be dispensed with. On the contrary, they are among the most important institutions in the nation’s economic life.  Their significance lies not only in the social and political field, but even more in the general field of national politics. A people whose broad masses, through a sound trade-union movement, obtain the satisfaction of their living requirements and at the same time an education, will be tremendously strengthened in its power of resistance in the struggle for existence.

Above all, the trade unions are necessary as foundation stones of the future economic parliament or chambers of estates…

As already emphasised, the germ cells for the economic chambers will have to reside in bodies representing the various occupations and professions, hence above all in the trade unions. And if this future body representing the estates and the Central Economic Parliament is to constitute a National Socialist institution, these important germ cells must also embody a National Socialist attitude and conception…

This state, to be sure, must, in place of the mass struggle of the two great groups – employers and workers – (which in its consequences always injures the national community as a whole by diminishing production) assume the legal care and the legal protection of all. Upon the economic chambers themselves it will be incumbent to keep the national economy functioning and eliminate the deficiencies and errors which damage it. The things for which millions fight and struggle today must in time be settled in the Representative Chambers of Estates and Professions and in the Central Economic Parliament. Then employers and workers will not rage against one another in struggles over pay and wage scales, damaging the economic existence of both, but solve these problems jointly on a higher plane, one where the welfare of the Volksgemeinschaft and of the State will be as a shining ideal to throw light on all their negotiations.

Here, too, as everywhere, the iron principle must prevail that the interests of the Fatherland must come before party interests.

Otto Wagener’s Hitler: Memoirs of a Confidant

Otto Wagener was for a time one of the most significant figures in the NSDAP. A former Chief-of-Staff of the SA, from 1931 he was leader of the Party’s Economic Policy Department and from 1932 he served as Hitler’s personal economic adviser. His memoirs are a valuable source of information on Hitler’s personal views, particularly in the important 1930-33 period. Reproduced below is a section from Wagener’s memoirs in which he recounts Hitler’s statements in late 1930 on the role of democracy in the state. Again we see the authoritarian elements of Hitler’s thought, but mixed with notions of popular government – intriguingly, Hitler here reflects more traditional völkisch ideas of a powerful Führer elected by ‘the Volk’. Later he would abandon this notion and merge the concept of national succession with his plan for a Party Senate, describing a system in which the Führer would be elected by a body of senior National Socialist political figures – see the Table Talk extract further below. -Bogumil    

December 1930

We must expand our organization, structure it! Only a broadening of the party allows us the chance to grow into a position where we can carry out our most secret plans. Democracy demands the masses! Numbers make the difference. It will be our mission at some later time to ennoble parliamentary democracy – the most primitive of all ruling forms for a self-governing people – by giving the Volk a constitution that will enable the people to bring to the forefront the best, the most competent, the aristoi.

That is why our first task is to woo the masses. What use are a hundred scholars to me, a thousand professors, what use are the so-called intelligentsia, who are not even intelligent enough to recognize the triviality of parliamentarianism?

As for the British form – which, as I have come to realize, is predominant also in America and in all other democracies of the Western stamp – it exploits democracy only as a mock organization while, through the Masonic lodge and similar secret and public societies, or even directly, with money, it puts those names on the parties’ candidate lists that make up the equally secret executive committee, which in turn represents the actual power interests. I cannot reconcile myself to this form. For at heart it is nothing but a betrayal of the people. I do not want to betray the people. And in the long run, they cannot be betrayed, at least not the German Volk! For at bottom, the German Volk is truly democratic.

How else should we have conceived the idea that we can seize the German government without violence and without treachery, if not from the conviction that in its democratic will the German Volk assigns the government to those from whom it hopes to gain its salvation and a better future? I don’t need a lodge, I don’t need any secret societies that pretend to the Volk that it is electing its men, while in reality they put their men on the lists and get them elected. I’d be ashamed of abusing the trust offered me by this Volk, which has been so severely downtrodden and betrayed, which looks to me with a last glimmer of hope.

That is why I must work to win over the masses. And what we are doing right now is nothing more than courting the masses, courting the Volk for the benefit of the Volk…

Political leadership is a matter that belongs in the area of philosophy more than anywhere else. Democracy brings a man to the forefront and transfers political leadership to him. We National Socialists intend in future to aid him with the best and most capable men, the elite of the entire Volk and all its professions, as advisers and collaborators; but leading is something he must do once the Volk has chosen him for the job. He is responsible only to the Volk and to his conscience, and that has been given him by God, that is the divine voice inside him. I will further acknowledge the authority of a secular court of law above him – a people’s court or a supreme court or a senate. But not the Reichstag or any other parliament. It is their obligation to offer the scepter in the name of the Volk, on the basis of the elections by the entire Volk, to the man whom the election chose as the leader of the political affairs of the state – that is, as the leader of the state. And if he is prepared to accept it, and if it is handed to him by the Reich president, again in the name of the Volk, it is their obligation to work with him in dispatching the affairs of state – that is, to consult with him in drafting laws, to agree to them or reject them, or to make suggestions of their own. But they may not recall him. They may only invoke the court against him. And a new popular election can bring about new circumstances.

But political leadership by one man alone requires a talent for the highest ethical responsibility, the highest human virtues, and the highest skill in leading the government and the people.

That is why he cannot and must not tolerate men in responsible positions who act against the leader’s wishes. For they are acting against the will of the Volk. They can set to work and try, at the next election, to get their own way. And if they win over the majority of the Volk, then they have achieved what they want. In any election contest, one party opposes another. The stronger man wins! And he will be the better man, too!

But if groups form within a party, if one or another thinks he can win followers and lead them along his own ways, such a party is not an instrument that the people can give their trust to. And the people will not follow such a party and give it their votes.

Therefore, in our party, there may be only one direction, one voice, one Führer. The rest is discipline, discernment, or faith.

Hitler’s ‘Table Talk’

The extract below was translated by myself from the original German version of Hitler’s Table Talk, ‘Hitlers Tischegepräche’. There are issues with the English translation of Table Talk by Hugh Trevor-Roper, which itself was translated from a French translation by Swiss conman François Genoud. Genoud made a number of startling changes to the text, which carried over to Trevor-Roper’s English translation and have led to the popular misconception that Table Talk is a ‘hoax’ in the same vein as the ‘Hitler Diaries’. Table Talk in the original German is an invaluable resource, particularly as its editor and compiler – Henry Picker – was the same man who originally sat in on Hitler’s dinnertime conversations during the War, recording them in shorthand. The extract reproduced here depicts Hitler grappling with the pro’s and con’s of elected leadership, ridiculing the notion of hereditary monarchy, and finally deciding on a system in which succession is decided by a Party Senate. The description of the structure and function of the Party Senate matches similar statements recorded by Wagener and Goebbels; the intimation from Goebbels’s diaries was that this form of National Socialist ‘electoral system’ would be erected sometime after Germany’s victory in the War. -Bogumil   

Evening of 31st March, 1942

Bringing the best into government, that is a big problem, one without any easy solutions.

If one was to set up a republic in which the whole Volk votes for the head of state, then it would be possible, with money and publicity and so on, to bring an absolute Hanswurst to the fore. [Note: Hanswurst is the name of a kind of German comedy folk-figure, a buffoonish fool with coarse attributes – Bogumil]

If one sets up a republic in which all the threads of power are in the hands of a clique of a select few families, then the state is like a corporation whose partners have chosen a weakling as their leader, in order that they can play a role themselves.

If one establishes a monarchy in which succession is managed via inheritance [hereditary monarchy], then that is a biological error, for a man of action regularly chooses a wife of decidedly feminine qualities and the son thus inherits the passive, effeminate nature of his mother.

In a republic in which the head of state is chosen for life, then the danger exists that he will be driven by selfish power-politics.

If one sets up a republic where the head of state changes every five or ten years, then no stability of government is guaranteed, and the implementation of far-reaching, long-term plans extending beyond a single lifetime becomes compromised.

If one sets at the head of state a serene old man, then he can only represent himself, and other men will lead the government in his name.

Through all these considerations, I have come to the following conclusions:

I. The chances of not getting a total idiot as chief of state are greater under a free election than vice versa. The giants who were the elected German Emperors are the best proof of this. There was not a single consummate imbecile among them, while in the hereditary monarchies there were at least 8 regents out of 10 who could not in bourgeois life even have successfully run a general store.

II. In the selection of a chief of state a personality must be sought which, as far as humanly possible, guarantees a certain stability of governance over a longish duration. This is not only a requirement for the fruitful administration of the state, but even more so for the successful implementation of any major state projects.

III. It must be ensured that the leading man in the state is independent of any economic influences, and cannot be forced into any decisions by way of any sort of economic pressure. He must therefore be supported by a political organization whose strength lies firmly anchored in the Volk and which can stand above private economic interests.

Two constitutions have proven themselves through the course of history:

a) The papacy, despite numerous crises – the most serious of which were resolved by the German Kaiser – and in spite of a decidedly insane spiritual foundation, simply because of the magnificent organization of the Church.

b) The Constitution of Venice, which enabled the small republican city-state through its leadership-organization to be capable of controlling the entire eastern Mediterranean. The Constitution of Venice and its Venetian Republic lasted for 960 years.

That the leader of the Republic of Venice was chosen from among only 300 to 500 families who composed the framework of the state, that is nothing shameful. Thus it was from among the families who felt the closest connection to the state that the best were called to leadership.

The difference between this system and that of a hereditary monarchy is obvious. For in this system neither a halfwit nor a twelve-year-old – as is so often the case in a hereditary monarchy – have the opportunity to become head of state, but only one who has already proven himself many times in life.

To assume that a twelve-year-old or an eighteen-year-old can lead the state, that is simply ridiculous. Where a minor is regent then power self-evidently lies in the hands of others – in a Council of Regents, for example. But if the members of this Council of Regents are not in agreement (and in the life of the state problems tend to overlap constantly and above all the more noticeably the more capable the Councilors are) then the absence is felt of the personality capable of taking a sovereign decision. Such decisions cannot be made by a youth of eighteen; even a mature personality has to consider them deeply. Just think where King Michael of Romania (he was 20 years old when he came to the throne) would be without the important Marshal Ion Antonescu. The boy is shockingly stupid and completely spoiled, especially since his father entrusted him to women during his main years of development.

Or think of Peter of Yugoslavia who, when he came to power (King Peter II was 17 years old at the time), sat himself down in the cellar and blubbered.

One only has to keep in mind the course of development of a normal man, who wants to achieve something in life, and compare it with that of such an heir apparent, to see the horrendous gulf between the two. What must a normal person learn, but how to study hard late into the night, and through expending tremendous earnestness and diligence over and over to achieve something in practical life. For budding kings, however, there is a belief that their fripperies can provide all the tools needed for their tasks in life. One third of their apprenticeship they let them babble foreign languages; one third they concern themselves with societal frivolity, riding, tennis, and so on; and then finally, at last place in the curriculum, comes civics. Their education has no firmness. Every tutor fears that through administering a couple of well-deserved slaps they will incur the eternal disfavor of these prospective monarchs. And the outcome is then types like Michael of Romania and Peter of Yugoslavia.

From all these consideration, the following conclusions are drawn in regards to the German government:

  1. The German Reich must be a republic. The Führer should be elected. He must be endowed with absolute authority.
  2. As a collective body, a representative parliament must be retained which can support the Führer and, if necessary, intervene in governance.
  3. The election of the Führer is not to be accomplished through this parliament, but instead entrusted to a Senate. The Senate’s responsibilities shall be limited. Its composition should not be permanent – its membership must be bound to the possession of certain high-ranking official positions, positions which likewise are not held for life but alternate between holders. The Senate membership must be so steeped in their training and professionalism that no weakling is chosen by them, but instead only the best is elected Führer.
  4. The election of the Führer should not take place in public, but behind closed doors. On the occasion of the Pope’s election, the people don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. Once things went so far that the cardinals came to blows – since then they have been walled off for the duration of the conclave. This must also be the principle for the election of the Führer, that during the electoral act any discussion between the electors is to be prohibited.
  5. Within three hours of the election’s fulfilment, the men of the Party, the Army, and the state are to make an oath of allegiance to the new Führer.
  6. The sharpest and most precise separation between the legislative and executive organs must be the top priority for the new Führer. Just like how, in the National Socialist movement, the SA and SS are merely the sword for the enforcement of the Party’s political directives, in the same way the executive does not have to bother itself with politics, but only enforces the political instructions received from the legislative bodies – if need be by the sword.

If a form of state which takes into account these principles does not last forever, it will certainly endure for at least 200 to 300 years. For it is founded on considerations of sound reason, while the thousand-year organisation of the Catholic Church is based on a foundation of nonsense.

2 thoughts on “Visions of National Socialist Democracy, Part III: Hitler

  1. That last idea sounds not too dissimilar to Mussolini’s Grand Council of Fascism. Given what happened to him a year later I suspect Hitler might have had second thoughts.

    • In his memoirs Wagener recounts how Hitler brought up the idea of a Party Senate to him in late 1931, after Hitler had taken ill and started worrying about succession. After his illness cleared up Hitler decided to postpone setting up the Senate, and it was never set up, although the idea was discussed for years afterwards. Wagener was confused by this at first, until he recalled what Gregor Strasser had told him in discussion:

      “Hitler would have to declare himself to such a senate. He would have to commit himself. He would have to reckon with the possibility that, at any time, the senate may call him to account and pin him down. And he knows that I, for one, would not keep my mouth shut whenever I held a contrary opinion. The sentiment of the senate – even if it does not come to a vote – would, as Hitler would have to assume, eventually force him into actions and decisions uncongenial to him at the moment. That is why he will arrange for the senate to take effect only AFTER his death. If he talks about it now, that simply shows that he believes himself to be gravely ill. Once he is well again, the thought of the senate will also return to its Sleeping Beauty dream world. You’ll see that I’m right.”

      Hitler could see the value in the idea, but wouldn’t fully commit to it since it would put restrictions on his power – and open up an avenue for his removal. I suspect you’re right about what happened with Mussolini, he wouldn’t have missed the implications with what happened there. They are very similar ideas.

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