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Why did millions of apparently sane, rational Germans join the Nazi Party between 1925 and 1933? In this provocative book, William Brustein argues that the Nazi Party's emergence as the most popular political party in Germany was eminently logical--that it resulted largely from its success at fashioning economic programs that addressed the material needs of a wide range of German citizens. Brustein has carefully analyzed a huge collection of pre-1933 Nazi Party membership data drawn from the official files at the Berlin Document Center. He argues that Nazi followers were more representative of German society as a whole--that they included more workers, more single women, and more Catholics--than most previous scholars have believed. Further, says Brustein, the patterns of membership reveal that people joined the Nazi Party not because of Hitler's irrational appeal or charisma or anti-Semitism, but because the party, through its shrewd and proactive program, offered more benefits to more people than did the other political parties in Weimar Germany. According to Brustein, Nazi supporters were no different from citizens anywhere who select a political party or candidate they believe will promote their economic interests. The roots of evil, he suggests, may be ordinary indeed.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780300074321
ISBN-10: 0300074328
Format: Paperback
(229mm x 152mm x 14mm)
Pages: 252
Imprint: Yale University Press
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publish Date: 17-Apr-1998
Country of Publication: United States

Other Editions


US Kirkus Review » A study of the rise of the Nazi Party that is sure to stir controversy. Traditional interpretations of National Socialism have stressed its irrational character: its mythial evocation of the Teutonic past; its pseudo-science of race and eugenics; and above all, its murderous anti-Semitism. Brustein (Sociology/Univ. of Minnesota) challenges us to reconsider who joined the Nazi Party before 1933 and why. Based on an examination of millions of documents and membership files from the Berlin Document Center, Brustein and his associates have compiled profiles of the millions of Germans who supported Hitler's rise to power. The theoretical framework for the study is the "rational-choice" model of social scientists: the idea that individuals and groups will act in accordance with their economic self-interest. As he states early and often: Before 1933, when the Germans still had free choice, millions supported the National Socialist party on the basis of rational factors rather than Hitler's charisma or the irrationalism of Nazi ideology. But the author makes a fundamental confusion between acting rationally and acting in one's best interest. Millions of Germans may have very calmly concluded that the irrational Nazi program was in their best interest, having been told for decades, if not centuries, that the Jew was the bane of their existence. Equally contentious is Brustein's assertion, as stated in the title, that evil can have logical or rational roots. Further, he argues that the Germans could not foresee the horrors of the war and the Holocaust between 1925 and 1933; yet anyone who has read Hitler's speeches or Mein Kampf cannot avoid the conclusion that the Germans knew exactly what the logical outcome of a Nazi society would be. Since anti-Semitism was deeply rooted in Germany, Brustein's contention that "Hitler was astute enough as a politician to realize that his rabid anti-Semitism lacked the drawing power among the German masses" seems bizarre. A fundamentally flawed work, yet one that demands consideration and response. (Kirkus Reviews)

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