By Freidrich Meinecke, Beacon Press 1972.

I recently read this book while traveling in the U.K. It is a small book, only 121 pages, but has a fantastic analysis of what happened in Germany in the 1930s, with many parallels to what I see happening presently in this country (and, to a slightly lesser extent in the U.K.). I highly recommend this book.

The author looks back into the distant past to find the origins of what happened in Germany during the Hitler era. He talks about how Prussian Militarism and Socialism were so unexpectedly and perfectly blended to create National Socialism, and analyses how the idea of defense was “outrageously misused” by Hitler and National Socialism.

Below are information from the back cover and some quotes from the book.

From the back cover:

“Recognized as one of the most outstanding of German historians, Friedrich Meinecke shows rare objectivity and intellectual acumen in this study of the social and historical forces that led to the rise and ruin of Hitler and his country. The main events of German history are interpreted in the light of the two world wars and in the light of the author’s intensive knowledge of German history; his personal acquaintance with the members of the secret group that plotted to kill Hitler in 1944; and his active participation in the changes Germany underwent.”

From the book:

P. 13 “Consider now the year 1866 and Bismarck’s blood and iron policy. Today we listen with more emotion to the great voices which at that time expressed concern over the great evils of the future–voices of such important men as Jakob Burdckhardt and Constantin Frantz, and one might add as a third the queer Swabian, Christian Planck. Bismarck’s policy, according to them, was destroying certain foundations of Western culture and the community of states and was a really deep-reaching revolution which was opening the prospect of further revolutions and an era of wars. It meant, they said, the victory of Machiavellism over the principles of morality and justice in international relations and it let perish the finer and higher things of culture in a striving after power and pleasure.”
P. 15 [Speaking about the 1880s.] “Out of the anti-Semitic feeling it was possible for an anti-liberal and anti-humanitarian feeling to develp easily — the first steps towards National Socialism.”
P. 23 The book quotes Friedrich Paulsen in 1902 saying: “A supersensitive nationalism has become a very serious danger for all the peoples of Europe; because of it, they are in danger of losing the feeling for human values. Nationalism, pushed to an extreme, just like sectarianism, destroys moral and even logical consciousness. Just and unjust, good and bad, true and false, lose their meaning; what men condemn as disgraceful and inhuman when done by others, they recommend in the same breath to their own people as something to be done to a foreign country.” And Meinecke, the author, commenting on this says, “There you have the ethics of Hitler’s National Socialism. …a rising amoral nationalism…”
P. 33 Meinecke is also interested in the deeper question of the transformation in the German people that eventually made Hitler’s triumph possible: “We have seen what he [Hitler] found already at hand; we shall now see how the German people, under the influence of careful methods ever more consciously and successfully applied, developed into the degenerate new-German people of Hitler’s time.”
P. 53 “Must we not always be shocked at the precipitous fall from the heights of the Goethe era to the swamps of the Hitler period? Passionately we Germans ask ourselves how this was possible within the selfsame nation. We are reminded of Grillparzer’s mid-nineteenth century words, which are both diagnosis and prognosis: “Humanity – Nationality – Bestiality.”
P. 102 “How an inner foreign rule of the kind which was our lot during the Third Reich can work on the soul of the nation and of individuals, we ourselves have only just begun to experience. It clamps upon the soul much more tightly than the external foreign rule, because it is able to work so much more effectively with lies and frauds.
P. 104 “The numbers of people who compromised with National Socialism – persons without much judgment but at bottom harmless, decent, and even wanting to be idealistic – was enormously large. …Very great also was the number of those who protested inwardly against Hitler but outwardly yielded for existences sake. Many who would have mustered up courage for martyrdom for themselves did not do so in order not to plunge their families into misfortune. It was a feature of the Nazi party’s refined technique in punishment always to make all one’s relatives suffer also.”
P. 105 Now, however, the victors have announced that they intend to eradicate not only National Socialism, but also militarism, as the source of disturbance for the world. Our great power of defense, our system of universal military service, must end. I myself half a century ago had to describe its introduction into Prussia by the Boyen defense law of September 3, 1814, as a great national as well as epoch-making event, and I still stand by this judgment today. But does it not happen in the case of all great and fruitful ideas in world history that in the course of their historical evolution both good and evil can develop out of them? One effect of what we have experienced is that the demonic element hidden in human and historical life rises before our eyes more clearly and disturbingly than previously. So also in the evolution of Prussian-German militarism, as we have already shown, both good and evil are certainly to be distinguished from one another. Boyen, a student of Kant and of Scharnhorst, was not only a soldier who wanted a large and effective army, but also an educator of the people in political ethics. Through universal military service he wanted to give a higher moral content to service in war and to the life of the nation, just as one implants a nobler strain by the process of grafting. With his ideal of militia for defense he fought the cruder militarism which came from Frederick William I. Boyen’s militarism was certainly not lacking in ethical values. But by its spiritual narrowness it lost touch with higher cultural values, and then, when regarded merely as the state’s agency for power, helped to evoke the mad craze for power of the late nineteenth century. In these struggles of Boyen, which I had to describe, I became aware for the first time of the two-fold nature of the Prussian soul. A higher and a lower principle were always struggling with one another, and the lower principle won. This we must today quite honestly admit to ourselves, and draw conclusions from it. The lower and degenerate militarism, which could blindly become the tool of a Hitler and which finally reached its last vicious peak in Himmler’s Waffen-SS, is hopeless. It can, and indeed it must, disappear in order to purify of bad germs a soil in which a future and nobler conception of self-defense can take root. For in Central Europe no nation without a sound conception of self-defense can in the long run live and maintain itself as a nation.

Certainly countless brave soldiers in Germany possessed such a sound idea of defense in the last war and tried to do their duty under the hardest circumstances. They are now faced with the equally hard task of struggling to realize that their idea of defense was outrageously misused and that in order to prevent a similar misuse again the former militarism must come to an end.”

To purchase “The German Catasrophe:”Amazon