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The Crisis of German Ideology: Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich Paperback – Sep 1998

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Traces through the nineteenth and early twentieth century the progressive social and political institutionalization of racism, Germanic Christianity, nature mysticism, youth worship, and other Volkish ideas. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Amazon.com: 9 reviews
51 of 51 people found the following review helpful
Phenomenal comprehensive examination 9 Sept. 2004
By MWC - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I had to read Mosse's book for a graduate seminar on the Holocaust and found this to be absolutely fascinating. Not only does it show the progression of philosophies withing Germany from its roots in Romanticism to Volkish to what would ultimately become Nazi ideologies, but it presents the material in such a way that it becomes understandable exactly how this transition in thought could happen. Though the book is written as a scholarly history for scholars, it is fairly easy to understand, especially in the format in which it is presented. The first section focuses on the roots of Volkish thought and how they progressed from Romanticism in the late nineteenth century to Volkish in the early twentieth century which in turn lead to the Nazi ideals presented by Hitler to the German masses in the 1930s, a perversion of the Volkish. His second section examines how Volkish spread from small groups of idealists into the University system through literature and art, and through this infiltration of the Universities, as well as the German Youth Movement, expose its philosophies to a wider German audience than it had enjoyed before the first world war. The final section addresses Hitler's rise to power and the ways in which Hitler was able to manipulate Volkish and its intrinsic anti-Semitism to a radical degree to serve his purposes. Highly recommended for those interested in the Holocaust and/or Philosophy.
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Superb 20 Sept. 2009
By R. Albin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This outstanding book is basic to understanding Nazism and the Third Reich. Without indulging in any historical determinism, Mosse exposes and analyzes the intellectual background of Nazism in this very well written and documented book. The Volkish ideologies that formed the seedbed of Nazism were the products of several major developments in 19th century Germany. Deeply rooted in Romanticism and Idealism, the Volkish ideology emerged towards the end of the 19th century as a reaction to the disappointments of Imperial Germany. Many Germans, who had grown up with a highly romanticized idea of what unification would bring, found the prosaic reality of Imperial Germany profoundly disappointing. The belated unification of Germany under the Prussian Crown, accompanied by the stresses of rapid industrialization, disappointed many who found that the Wilhelmine state did not produce the expected social solidarity. At the same time, rapid industrialization with the emergence of a self-conscious and politically active working class and powerful business interests was deeply threatening to many, particularly traditional the traditional middle classes and craftsmen.

Mosse lays out very well how a group of now largely unknown and third rate intellectuals developed an increasingly popular ideology consisting of mystic and anti-rational identification of the German Volk with civilized values. These values were opposed to liberal capitalism, democratic politics, the idea of universal human values, the rationality underlying the natural sciences, and socialist ideas. Added to these ideas were a sense of living is a period of social degeneration, racism, powerful anti-semitism, social darwinism, an exaltation of emotion and action over thought, and longing for a fictious past based on a highly romanticized view of medieval Germany. The Volkish solution was a social regeneration that would sweep away both capitalism and socialism, abolition of democratic forms of government, with simultaneous personal and social transformation led by a charismatic leader.

Mosse shows well how these ideas were spread throughout German society by a variety of intellectuals, journalists, publishers, and particularly through the excellent German educational system. German schools incorporated Volkish ideas into their standard curricula and Volkish intellectuals were tremendously influential in German universities. Mosse takes pains to emphasize the strongly middle-class nature of this ideology and its adherents, and the way it captured a very large segment of German youth before, during, and after WWI. The catastrophe of WWI and its aftermath was an enormous boost to Volkish ideologies. The sense of social decline and degeneration received apparent validation from the events of the war and the instability of the Weimar Republic.

The great achievement of Hitler and his lieutenants was to develop a popular movement, an idea resisted by the generally elitist Volkish intellectuals, based on Volkish ideas. Anti-semitism, in particular, was crucial as it identified Jewry as the cause of German decline. Social regeneration then, could be accomplished by removal of Jews and institutions supposedly associated with Jews - democracy, socialism - without any real assault on the existing social or economic order. Hitler's German revolution was consequently a necessarily anti-Semitic revolution. That Volkish ideas constituted a remarkable flight from reality was both practically and theoretically irrelevant.

Beyond its great value in illuminating a crucial chapter of modern history, The Crisis... also has some interesting contemporary relevance. There have been some recent charges from a variety of right wing sources that Darwin's evolutionary biology led to Nazism. Similarly, there has been some not very well substantiated efforts to associate socialism and liberalism with Nazism. In his discussion of the impact of social darwinist, Mosse points out that while social darwinism was an important component of Volkish ideologies, the Volkish ideologues and the Nazis were suspicious of Darwin per se. The idea of evolution, properly understood, contradicted the essential Idealism that was at the heart of Volkish ideologies. Mosse takes pains to emphasize that one of the great appeals of Volkish ideologies and Nazism in particular was the promise of revolution and personal transformation without real alterations of the social and economic fabric of German society.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
A flawed masterpiece? 23 Dec. 2009
By Eero Richmond - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The distinguished professor and historian George L. Mosse (1918-1999) has written an impressive number of scholarly works in the fields of German and English history, Jewish studies, and cultural history. His The Crisis of German Ideology: Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich (1964) is considered by many to be his magnum opus.

Mosse's thesis, while hardly new, is that Hitler's ideas (if indeed he had any original ones) did not simply spring from nowhere, but were a result of a century of German "Volkish" thought that permeated virtually all of German society. This idea has, of course, been presented by a number of writers, but what distinguishes Mosse's discussion is the extraordinary wealth of documentation he uses, primarily from original German sources. Mosse's cited writers on the purity of the German people, on racism, and on a kind of "new-Romanticism" believed to solve the nation's ills (Eugen Dietrichs, Paul de Lagarde, Julius Langbehn, Guido von List, et al.) may be unfamiliar to many English-speaking readers, but they were, according to Mosse, highly influential thinkers in their day and quite probably had a great effect upon Hitler. This makes a lot of sense.

What doesn't make as much sense is that Mosse, in sticking rather rigidly to his thesis, mentions only in passing any dissenting voices, be they liberal, communist, religious, the youth, etc. And when they ARE mentioned, these voices are frequently tossed aside as if they are unimportant. Also, Mosse keeps repeating the words "Volk" and " Volkish" so often (literally hundreds of times) that the reader is made dizzy and wants to say, "O.k., o.k., I get the point!"

The rise of the NSDAP in Germany was, of course, a long uphill battle for acceptance and votes, lasting from the late teens until 1933. Even as late as 1932, just months before the Nazis finally attained leadership, votes for the NSDAP were a disappointment to the party, which failed to receive a majority. Who were those millions of Germans who didn't vote for the Nazis? Didn't they exist? Yet Mosse treats this as the merest of sidesteps, and one is almost led to believe that every single man, woman, child (and baby!) in Germany was, regardless of how they actually voted, a proto-Nazi! Of course, once the Nazis were in power and formed a terrorist state, dissent was difficult if not completely impossible. Oddly ignored is what is often said to be a significant "strength" of any dictatorship: the mass of people who, out of indifference, fear, sense of impotence, self-absorption, ennui, etc. sit on the sidelines and essentially don't or can't say anything.

As mentioned above, not even children escape from Mosse's need to stick to his thesis. In discussing the "youth movement," Mosse writes on p. 173, " To dismiss the romanticism of the youth as essentially 'unpolitical,' as many historians have done, is a grave error." Isn't believing the exact opposite possibly also a "grave error"? I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle, in a wide variety of ways.

Anyone who has studied Germany's 1898-1933 "Youth Movement" (the title of Mosse's 9th chapter) knows that no such easily-identifiable movement ever existed, and surely Mosse, who spent the first 21 years of his life in Germany, must have known this. Instead of a single organized movement, there were, in fact, many small, loosely-organized youth "movements" which sprang up around the country named, variously, Wandervögel (Wandering Birds), Freideutsche Jugend (Free German Youth), etc. Some were for boys only, some for girls only, some were mixed, some were Jewish groups, some Catholic, some Protestant, some with an adult leader, some (the majority) with an older teenager as leader. The general purpose was "youth for the youth." So what did they have in common? Their essential similarities were making hiking trips into the countryside, staying in tents, playing musical instruments (primarily guitar, lute, or violin), singing folk songs, and emphasizing clean living (no alcohol or smoking), exercise, and friendship. Politics rarely played any role.

Even for those who don't accept all of Mosse's theories (and many of his theories ARE convincing), this book is invaluable as a source of information on German thinking from 1850 to 1945, much of which is probably new to English-speaking readers. Unfortunately the book doesn't include a bibliography as such, so one must rely on bibliographic footnotes, but these are in themselves a real treasure trove.

I highly recommend this fascinating book, despite the above-mentioned reservations.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A masterwork of intellectual history 2 Jan. 2008
By medicus - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is a fascinating book. It shows with great clarity and detail the seemingly benign and familiar sounding origins of full blown horror: nature and sun worshipping, nationalism, anti-intellectualism, homemade religion (among others) were the ingredients of the deadly brew which was produced in the most civilized country of Europe in the 19th century. Yes, ideas matter! Today's politicians and aspiring politicians would be well inspired to read it (but are they reading? If so, is it not already pre-history for them?). A minor regret pertains to the absence of any serious analysis of the role of Richard Wagner's operas and thought on the development of the volkisch ideology. However, the book makes it quite clear. Wagnerites (among who I count myself) beware: this book will sour their pleasure for some time. I also missed a few hints at what were the counter currents which failed to prevent the disaster.
17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
A stimulating political history 29 Sept. 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Mosse has challenged the set thoughts on the origins of the third reich (such as the Luther to Hitler theories and the idea that the people in Germany were merely subjected to propaganda, which ultimately shows the weakness of human beliefs). A must if one is studying Nazi germany or have an interest in twentieth century political theory.
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