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Why did the Germans elect Adolf Hitler, thereby unconditionally linking their fate to his person?

Why
did they go to war for him? Why did some even become murderers? Rafael Seligmann's book,
"Hitler. Die Deutschen und ihr Fhrer (Hitler. The Germans and Their Fhrer)," shows that Hitler
could only win power, because he had made himself the spokesman of German fears and longings.
He led a war against modernism.

Adolf Hitler is the dominant figure of our age. He outshines Mussolini, Stalin, Franco, Mao Tse-tung
and Saddam Hussein as a politician, strategist and villain. The ramifications of Hitler's doings were
so far-reaching that they continue to affect the emotions, thoughts and activities of humankind, and
especially of the Germans.

Hitler's life and deeds have been more thoroughly investigated than those of anyone else in recent
history. Respected historians and journalists have dedicated lifetimes to examining his world view
and his politics and the atrocities and wars they led to. In their zeal, some biographers have included
Hitler's private life in their investigation. Even his dogs have been written about.

Given the numerous publications about Hitler, they have generated little insight. Some of the most
crucial questions about Hitler have only been addressed tangentially and still need to be answered
adequately.

How did this Austrian immigrant manage to captivate the Germans? Why did 17 million people vote
for him in free democratic elections? What moved the German people to choose him as their leader?
Why did the Germans fight and kill in the name of Hitler, Nazism and their country; even sacrificing
themselves in the end, long after it was indisputably clear that their leader was going down and
would take the country with him over the cusp of the abyss? And how could it reach the point where
the Germans committed collective genocide against the Jews?

Those questions alone prove that Hitler's power could only have blossomed in collaboration with the
German people. On his own, the mediocre postcard illustrator and would-be artist would have
remained forever a nobody.

And that is the crucial difference between Hitler and the other dictators mentioned above. Those
leaders dispensed entirely with any kind of democratic legitimization. Popularity was secondary for
those men. Hitler, by contrast, enjoyed the broad support, confidence, admiration - indeed the love of the Germans until the very end of his days.

Hitler's power was based on the unconditional allegiance of the population. The Germans put their
trust in Hitler. And that is how he was able to make his worldview, his politics, his hate, his war, and
his crimes those of an entire nation.

Niccol Machiavelli said that love or fear were the most effective tools in securing power. But
"perhaps it is best," the Florentine political theorist said, "to wish to be both loved and feared." It was
that amalgamate of feelings that bound the Germans to Hitler. But why? What did this man from the
small Austrian town Braunau convey so effectively to his people?

Hitler's appeal has always been, and continues to be, attri buted to his charisma. Hitler himself used
the term providence, as if there was a mythical bond between the Fhrer and his people. But there
was nothing heavenly about the Germans' entanglement with Hitler. As in every lasting relationship,
it began with a spontaneous connection, which emerged from shared cultural and mythological
legacy. But there were also tangible elements. His charisma was a pretext, masking the joint
interests of the Germans and Hitler. What connected the Fhrer and his people was fear of the
modern age, or in other words, the future.

Modernism meant the endeavor to subject all thought and action to reason, thereby making

decisions and actions comprehensible and verifiable. This is an attitude that requires the rejection of
any metaphysical rationalization.

Modern thought was never able to develop as fully in Germany as it did elsewhere in Europe. The
baby of the Enlightenment, epitomized by Kant, Lessing and many others, was thrown out with the
bathwater of the anti-Napoleonic Wars of Liberation. The vast majority of the German bourgeoisie
was more interested in aligning itself with the nationalist idealism of German philosophers Fichte and
Arndt, or Richard Wagner's newly invented world of Germanic myths. Indeed, they veritably fled to
those comforts, instead of subjecting their political, social and cultural awareness to objectively
verifiable criteria.

That attitude gained currency following the trauma of defeat in World War I and the socio-economic
crisis it brought in its wake. Instead of rationally tackling and overcoming the difficulties that loomed
at the beginning of the 1920s, the Germans sought escape in an intoxication of chauvinism - the
same jingoism that had already contributed so much to their misery during World War I and
thereafter.

The Germans felt, and indeed were, threatened by modernism, since they had, to a great degree,
closed their eyes to the principles of lucid reason. Hitler also considered himself a victim of
modernism and blamed it for his early failures to that point. Hitler and his National Socialist
movement gave true voice to the fears of the German middle class. He told the Germans that the
Jews were the one and only cause of all their misery. And the Jews were, in fact, the undisputed
beneficiaries of modernism, whether as democrats, capitalists, intellectuals or communists.

But Hitler was not satisfied just to denounce the Jews. His goal was to lead his people into a war of
liberation from the Jews, activating the anti-Semitism dormant in Germany. Indeed, more than any
other group, the Jews embodied and cultivated modernism. Although it's rarely discussed these

days, back then there were significant economic, social and intellectual differences between the
German Gentile and the Jewish communities. The Nazis fueled those conflicts until they escalated
into a majority war against the minority, which found its ultimate expression in coldly executed mass
murder. The Germans were not murderous anti-Semites contrary to the claim of Daniel Jonah
Goldhagen. But they looked the other way, tolerated and even profited from the genocide.

Hitler waged war with modern tactics. The enthusiasm he and his cohorts showed for the newest
techniques in propaganda, mass mobilization and weapons of war has long obscured the fact that
the Nazis and their Fhrer availed themselves of those tools only as a means to an end, and that
end was a campaign to exterminate modernism and its adherents. Hitler's ultimate goal never
changed - a return to the earth, to "blood and soil", to the idealized world of the Teutons.

The "total war" the Nazis proclaimed in 1943 was the brainchild of propaganda minister Joseph
Goebbels. Millions of Germans participated enthusiastically, steadfast until the bitter end in their
loyalty to Hitler. What resistance there was, made up largely of elite army officers, lacked all support
among the masses. So Claus von Stauffenberg and his comrades-in-arms who made an attempt on
Hitler's life, on July 20, 1944, were forced to dissimulate and pretend to defend the authority of the
state.

Nazi propaganda claimed a supranatural unity between the Fhrer and the people: "Germany is
Hitler, and Hitler is Germany." While the totality of that alliance may be exaggerated, there is no
doubt that Hitler could not have done what he did except by joining forces with the Germans.

- Rafael Seligmann is an editor in chief at The Atlantic Times. After the publication of his book,
"Hitler. Die Deutschen und ihr Fhrer (Hitler. The Germans and Their Fhrer)," the following
statement met with fierce opposition: "The continued prohibition of Hitler's book 'Mein Kampf' in
Germany is counterproductive. It is evidence of a lack of democratic self-confidence. Unrestricted

access to Hitler's writings would not produce new Nazis. On the contrary, it would serve to dismantle
a myth." The paperback edition of Seligmann's book will be published this month.