Tuesday, July 11, 2017

20. Hitler's Systematic Coup

In the space of seventy days, Hitler deconstructs Germany before the helpless eyes of the insightful. "Coup D'Etat by Installments" is the title of chapter 23 of Konrad Heiden's 1944 book, Der Fuehrer.  See the bottom for previous posts.

1. On the afternoon of March 23, 1933, Hitler is elected dictator by the Reichstag, "created by democracy and appointed by parliament" (579). In theory, he was bound by the cabinet, but the changes he would create in Germany would make the cabinet his slaves as well. Even Hindenburg now could scarcely lift a finger against him.

Immediately, Hitler had one of Hindenburg's favorites arrested, the Commissioner for Re-Employment. When everyone is guilty, all those in power need do is stop overlooking the reasons for your arrest. The man arrested, one Gereke, was perhaps a proxy for Hindenburg himself, a sign that no one was untouchable from the one who now had the power of arrest.

Sounds like how a certain large Slavic speaking country in the world is currently alleged to operate under its leader. The question in such times is not who is guilty but who has the power to use the law selectively to indict those who have fallen out of favor.

A striking point Heiden makes is that on January 30 the protections of the German constitution and state seemed built for eternity. A paper with protections is only as powerful as the power to enforce it.

2. There was a strong minority throughout Germany with the will to seize the reins of society and to do so with great violence, the SA and SS. Thankfully, I do not perceive this to be the situation at present in America. I did worry that if Hillary Clinton was elected, there would be a sizeable group of alt-right who would resort to widespread violence. I think it is absurd to think that the response would not have been more violent with the opposite outcome to the election. After all, the side currently protesting is the one that tends to be in favor of gun laws.

There will always be a handful that resort to violence. But it is clear which side is more in favor of war and violence in general. Nevertheless, it is the stuff of the demagogue to make the exception the rule and the rule the exception.

By contrast, the SA was organized and ready throughout Germany and immediately commenced an intimidating violence throughout. A large mass of unemployed, university trained individuals--"those hopeless masses of the so-called middle class" marched into the universities and took the posts of Jewish professors and lawyers.

Hitler said less than twenty people had died in this "national awakening." The foreign press knew better. From the German newspapers alone you could count 160 opponents to National Socialism who had died, many "shot while trying to escape," "jumping out the window," and "hanging themselves in prison." Many murders simply weren't reported.

3. At first it was mostly political enemies. Hitler couldn't control the fury he had unleashed. He had unleashed "a human type that demanded economic security and had learned that this was his right at the expense of an inferior and hostile race" (581).

Hitler would have been far more powerful if he had not alienated the Jews of Germany. At first he tried to boycott all Jewish business. This was a mistake, although it did show Hitler that the supposed "Jewish world power" wasn't very powerful. Hitler probably didn't see the contradiction. To him there was a Jewish world conspiracy that he was responding to. But the Jews of the world were hardly powerful enough to stop him in Germany.

But Hitler realized the entire boycott would not work. There was too much opposition to it at home and abroad. So he adjusted his tactic to something they would accept. He would abolish Jews from public life in 1933. First he abolished the Jew from government administration and practice of law. Jews were not allowed to teach at the universities or be lawyers. They could not be doctors or work for insurance companies. Only 1.5% of students at universe could be Jews.

Jews couldn't be journalists, writers, actors, painters. Overnight they were excluded from all spheres of intellectual and artistic life on the pretext that they were the fleas of humanity, defiling the Aryan race. Even one Jewish grandparent made you Jewish.

4. At the same time, National Socialism effectively took over the world of skilled workers. May 1 becomes the day of the worker, a holiday for the millennium. There were already "workshop councils" that had been set up twenty years earlier with a goal of leading the mass of workers. Hitler's people systematically take over the reins of these with the threatening SA in the background.

The day after the first May 1 celebration, with Hitler finally broadcast to the whole nation, they took over the trade unions. He had no firm promises. He changed his message so often and lied so consistently that it didn't matter that there was no clear plan. What he did was create a common, forced identity. He did have at least one project in mind, the construction of giant motor highways through the length of Germany, the Autobahn.

"In the long run, only those can be coerced who really want to be, and this was the secret of Hitler's whole policy of successful coercion" (599), of "coordination." The worker needed a job, so when it came to a choice between their "employers" and Hitler, they chose the winning team. There was a "cynical lack of resistance--'they have won out, that makes them right'" (598).

5. Finally the official "metal helmet," the Stahlheim that thought itself the future army of Germany, was taken under Hitler's wing. Opposition was arrested. And a key figure saw the writing on the wall and switched to Hitler's side.

National Socialists were put in as leaders of every "gau" or regional center of power. The cabinet continued to exist, but now had no vote. Hitler brought his decisions to them.

Take Aways:
  • The law is only as effective as those who have the power to implement or avert it.
  • A Constitution is only as protective as those with power choose to enforce it.
  • A democracy can unravel with immense rapidity under certain conditions.
  • The majority of people will simply go along with whoever is in power, no matter how devilish, even though they would much rather it be someone else.
  • The pride of being in the winning group--or just the group that isn't being oppressed--often leads people to overlook other groups who are being murdered.
  • It is the nature of a demagogue to make the more peaceful appear the more violent and to make the violent look as though they are merely defending the peace.
Previously on Hitler:

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