Foundation for the History of Totalitarianism

Why Did Hitler Oppose Democracy?

      Adolf Hitler enforced brutal and murderous totalitarian rule in Germany between 1934, when he assumed full dictatorial power following the death of Hindenburg, and 1945. This was not something he came to do accidentally. It had long been his plan. How did he justify this to himself and others?

      Hitler’s ideas were built on theories and ideas that came before him. One source was Darwinism which he and others changed from being a scientific observation of evolution into a prescription for action and violence.

    Rainer Zitelmann has made a study Hitler’s thoughts and ideas, using many sources including records of Hitler’s “table talk” monologues to selected officers during the second world war. Zitelmann builds up a comprehensive picture of Hitler’s worldview or Weltanschauung.

Hitler addressing the Reichstag at the Kroll Opera House in 1941.

     “In Mein Kampf, Hitler calls parliamentarianism ‘one of the most serious signs of decay of mankind’. It had been forgotten, said Hitler in a speech on 30 November 1928, ‘that the world has only had the period of democracy for a very short time, that this is a sign of decay, that the Roman state and England had not been democratic republics in the sense of today, but that they had been aristocratic republics’.

     In a speech on 29 April 1937,…Hitler [said],

     If we believe in a mission of mankind, then we have to believe that the man must define and reaffirm this mission through his achievements. But when we decide to trust in human achievement, then we must accept that all these achievements can only be achievements by the community. And if we trust in achievements by the community, then we must recognise that any community somehow requires the concentration of all the forces, that it is not conceivable to say: now go and do everything you want to do, but that it is necessary to give the order: now go and do what one will wants.

     Hitler was therefore legitimising the restriction of human freedom by the necessity of producing communal achievements which require a uniform coordination. The alternative to this was chaos and anarchy.
     In… [a] table talk Hitler explained that ‘it is not individual freedom which is a sign of a higher level of culture, but the restriction of individual freedom by an organisation which includes as many individuals of the same race as possible’. The more the reins of a strict state organisation were loosened and individual freedom given room, the more one directed the fate of a nation on to the path of cultural regression. A community could, simply, only be created and maintained by force. For this reason it was wrong, for example, to criticise the methods of Charlemagne, or today of Stalin in the Soviet Union.

Prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp in Ebensee, Austria, in 1945. Hitler had argued, “it is not individual freedom which is a sign of a higher level of culture, but the restriction of individual freedom by an organisation which includes as many individuals of the same race as possible”.

     Hitler did not define the freedom of the individual as a value in itself but believed instead that the precondition for human progress was the restriction of personal freedom. The freedom and tolerance granted in the democratic state was not a positive value for him, not a strength of this system, but a clear sign of weakness and decadence. His conviction of the necessity of revolutionary substitution of democracy by an authoritarian form of government was derived from his socio-Darwinistic Weltanschauung. Democracy had proved its weakness, especially by its tolerance, by the freedom it granted to its political opponents. Since nature did not accept the weak and the cowardly, but only the strong, the uncompromising, the replacement of democracy by another form of government was inevitable.

Extracted from Hitler’s National Socialism by Rainer Zitelmann pages 428-432, chapter VI 1. Hitler’s Criticism of Democracy. By kind permission of the author.

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