Review of roderick stackelberg’s book hitler’s germany

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Review of Roderick Stackelberg’s Book Hitler’s Germany:

Origins, Interpretations, Legacies

Alexa Toole

University at Albany

In Hitler’s Germany: Origins, Interpretations, Legacies, the author, Roderick Stackelberg, addresses that his main purpose is to “provide an accurate and fairly complete narrative account of the period of Nazi rule” (p. IX). Stackelberg also had the intent of analyzing how it was at all possible for such a filling national culture of achievement could turn to such complete barbarianism (p. I). According to Stackelberg, “History is always contingent and open-ended and there are possible outcomes at any given time” (p. IX). By stating this, Stackelberg wanted to emphasize that it is a common misconception that Hitler was actually elected as an official and that Hindenburg did not have any other choice but to appoint Hitler in 1933 (p. X). In result of writing this book, Stackelberg had hoped that people would become more aware of the ideological and political forces that allowed for the rise of power by the Nazi party, and that having this awareness would carry over into the present and prevent such destructiveness to occur in the future (p. X). In the preface of Hitler’s Germany, Stackelberg attempts to stress the point that there is a recurrence of historical patterns even if they are not repeated in exactly the same way as the original occurrence (p. X). He uses Ranke’s Principle, “as it actually occurred”, to show the readers that they are not at all powerless to have an affect on the destiny of present society (p. X). Since this book is a second edition, Stackelberg updated his book to incorporate historical research that has recently been developed, and also debate about current issues concerning Germany and Europe at this time. These updates first include expanding the introduction to talk about different problems when writing about Nazi Germany. Stackelberg goes on to increase the analysis of fascism, totalitarianism, imperialism, and ideology. There is also a discussion of a widen philosophy of antisemitism. He adds discussion of the euthanasia program during the Holocaust, and also how eugenics comes into play during the Holocaust (p. I). The new edition of this book also has new chapters pertaining to Nazi social and economic policies and how the government is structured. New chapters in this book also include how the role of culture, the arts, education, and religion were affected by Nazi Germany (p. I). By writing and further updating this book, Stackelberg states that he hopes to “encourage civic activism and engagement…” (p. X).

As previously stated, the introduction to Hitler’s Germany is about the problems of writing about National Socialism. The book, overall though, is not about these controversies dealing with National Socialism. Stackelberg believes that there are three major controversies on National Socialism. He states that the first major controversy is the location of Nazism on the political spectrum (p. 4). He believes that Nazism is a radical form of fascism, and therefore is an extreme movement to the right. Stackelberg’s determination between far to the left and far to right deems to be accurate. He states that the farther left a movement is, the more it is strives for absolute equality. Whereas, the farther a movement is to the right, such as Nazism, is one that considers inequality (p. 5). Stackelberg states that it is better to call fascist movements, such as Nazism, as “counter-revolutionary” rather than just a revolutionary movement because it not only has a socialist movement, but also conducts that movement in a ruthless and radical way (p. 5). The second major controversy is over the question of German Sonderweg, or German exceptionalism (p. 4). The question Stackelberg asks about this is “Should Nazism ultimately be traced to the “peculiarities of German history” and culture or are its causes found primarily or wholly in the peculiar constellation of events in Europe after World War I?” (p. 4). Stackelberg addresses that he is in full agreement with the critics of the Sonderweg that say the Bolshevik Revolution, World War I defeat of Germany, and the Weimar Republic political conflicts, and Great Depression capitalism crisis was far more important to the development and achievement of Nazism (p. 9). The third major controversy is basically whether Nazism should be considered a reaction against the impact of modernity, or if it’s an expression and radicalization of the modernity (p.4). The movement of Nazism proves to be modern because of its quality of weaponry, technology, and the ideas of the “final solution of the Jewish problem” (p. 10). In my opinion, Stackelberg follows through his purpose in his introduction in trying to show how there are hazards to Nazism and trying to explain why and how it was developed in early German history.
In Chapter 1 of Hitler’s Germany, Stackelberg talks about fascism and it’s conservative tradition. He describes the history of fascism in order to show a way of how Nazism was developed in the first place. He states how equality was the main factor in determining the location of the movements on the political spectrum, which further determined the left-right distinction (p. 17). Fascism is very different than traditional conservatism. The only reason they are similar is because they both used a conservative campaign against democracy (p. 20). According to Stackelberg, fascists were the heirs of a radical nationalism that had been conservative for most of the nineteenth century but come the end of the nineteenth century, nationalism had turned into a driving force of conservative politics in Europe (p. 21). He does a sufficient job in addressing how the roots of fascism lie within the nineteenth century but the twentieth century is when it was able to triumph within Germany and Italy (p. 22). Stackelberg claims that the fascist movements were so radical because there was a perceived threat from the left. The research done by Stackelberg to understand the roots of fascism played a major part in getting a sense of how Nazism was able to become so radical.
The problem of German unity is the title of Chapter 2 in Hitler’s Germany and it answers how Nazism contained absolutism in Germany. The western view, as to how Nazism was able to have such a great triumph in Germany, is that Germany failed to develop a democratic system that actually worked before World War I occurred (p. 28). Otto von Bismarck, Prussian statesman, used the nationalists to end the liberal ideas. He used national unification to get what he wanted, which was to commit the German nation to the “values and institutions of Prussian monarchism” (p. 33). This unification in Germany led to their defeat over absolutism. The unification of Germany is seen as an expansion of Prussia because it was Prussia’s efforts that pushed for the unification, which also could be seen as the development of the second German Reich (p. 30). Stackelberg shows that the problems with this was that the Reichstag, the German legislature, had limited powers in initiating legislation and also it had no control at all over finances, appointments, and the military (p. 34). The reason Stackelberg talks about this is because with the legislature not having any control over policy at this time, it foreshadowed how Nazism could become powerful without officials having to necessarily “go through” the legislature in the development of their own particular radical policies.
In Chapter 3, Stackelberg shows how Germany made their way to World War I. Under Bismarck’s leadership, German expansion was possible, and continued until after he was gone. The main purpose during this time was to contain popular democracy, which caused for the suppression of the Social Democratic Party (p. 36). Increasing German industrial expansion frightened the monarchy by increasing democratization. Once Kaiser Wilhelm II came to power foreign policy in German changed. Stackelberg exemplifies how Kaiser Wilhelm II sought to consolidate German dominance in Europe, acquire more colonies in Africa and Asia, and also bring down Great Britain as a world power (p. 40). Because of the supposed threat to the monarchy by the Social Democratic Party, it caused for a growing of polarization of German society which would further result in a crisis that would not be easy for Germany to resolve (p. 42). Bismarck’s policies further influence Germany’s goal in expansion and ultimately leading into World War I. This also shows how Germany could fall into such radical views for World War II as well. Stackelberg proves that it was not just Hitler bringing these ideas of expansion into play. He proves that the ideas of containing democracy and increasing nationalism and German expansion began long before he even came to power.
Stackelberg in Chapter 4 discusses German ideology and how ideology is an “essential component of a nation’s sense of identity” (p. 45). He shows how this ideology could develop into future Nazism because it heavily reflected upon nationalism, racialism, and moralism. A sense of vulgarized idealism began to develop, and it called for an absence of democracy in Germany, which would allow the Germans to gain superiority (p. 49). Stackelberg proves to show that this idealism led into a strong antisemitic view. The Jewish people became seen as selfish, worldly, intellectually cunning, and a lack of “self-restraint”, and this stemmed all the way back to ancient Christian prejudice (p. 50). Stackelberg does a good job in presenting different ways in which antisemitism was brought about among society and how the völkisch ideology called for a creation of the “Third Reich” itself (p. 54).
The collapse of the Weimar Republic addressed in Chapter 7, was a direct result of the Great Depression. According to Stackelberg, the Great Depression had a greater effect on Germany than the United States because it not only affected the economy but also politically because it opened the door for Nazism to triumph in Germany (p. 89). At this time, once Hitler came to legally came to over, he was not seen as such a radical by the German people. According to Stackelberg, “The London Times viewed Hitler as a reasonable leader overwhelmed at times by the terrorist elements in his party” (p. 113). He shows how after WWI that the German people were so desperately searching for someone or something to bring them out of such troubling times from the reparations they had to give because of the Treaty of Versailles.
Stackelberg describes the way in which the Nazis had their own particular success during the Third Reich with their own influence in art, architecture, literature, science, and even religion as described in Chapter 10. Racial and eugenic policies even became implicated which was a sense of obsession for “racial hygiene”, thinking that this would improve their “race” (p. 172). This led to Stackelberg’s accurate depiction in Chapter 11 of the persecution of the Jews between 1933 and 1939. Measures taken to seclude and segregate the Jews, such as the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, were implemented (p. 178). Stackelberg continues to address the Second World War in Chapters 12, 13, and 14. He accurately discusses the origins of the Second World War and the operations and campaigns that took place from 1939 to 1945. The importance of the Holocaust is discussed in Chapter 15. Stackelberg describes the measures taken by Hitler and the Nazis to attempt to acquire the plan of the “final solution of the Jewish question” which meant exterminating all the Jewish people in Europe. He accurately describes the ghettos, concentration camps, and extermination camps, and the operations of these camps and how people would be killed when placed in them. Stackelberg asks the question of whether the German public knew much about what the Nazis were doing. He states that the Nazis wanted to keep all the information of the killings from the Allies but the ghettos and camps were not concealed from the public eye (p. 270).
It can be said that in Hitler’s Germany, Stackelberg was careful to make a counterbalance that the focus that the authoritarian tradition that led to Hitler was not just solely based on the Nazism, but was also the result of human frailty and the willingness to coincide with beliefs that ended up being extremely barbaric. Stackelberg also does a significant job in narrating the violent upheaval of World War I and the times that led up to it, and then the aftermath with the Weimar Republic. He develops a strong argument in the importance of the persecution of the Jews and the Holocaust. I believe that the most important part of the Stackelberg’s book is the beginning because it describes more of Germany’s history and the leading up to Nazism. This part of the book does a more sufficient job in answering Stackelberg’s overall question in his preface of how the German people could change and go from a society of creativity and achievement to absolute barbarianism.


Roderick Stackelberg. Hitler’s Germany: Origins, Interpretations, Legacies. 2nd edition.

(London & New York: Routledge, 2009).

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