Racist Theories Aid Nazi Rise to Political Power Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The incorporation of several popular ideas concerning human racial types and human political evolution contributed significantly to the Nazi Party’s political triumph in 1933.

Summary of Event

In the German parliamentary elections of March, 1933, the Nationelsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers’ Party, NSDAP, or Nazis for short) attracted slightly more than 44 percent of the total vote. The Nazi leader, or führer, Adolf Hitler, immediately formed a coalition government with another nationalist party, giving his movement a slim majority in the German Reichstag (parliament). Hitler then proceeded to establish a totalitarian dictatorship that attempted to make every aspect of German society conform to his own peculiar ideology. Nazi Germany;racism Nazi Party;racist theories [kw]Racist Theories Aid Nazi Rise to Political Power (1919-1933) [kw]Nazi Rise to Political Power, Racist Theories Aid (1919-1933) [kw]Political Power, Racist Theories Aid Nazi Rise to (1919-1933) Nazi Germany;racism Nazi Party;racist theories [g]Germany;1919-1933: Racist Theories Aid Nazi Rise to Political Power[04650] [c]Government and politics;1919-1933: Racist Theories Aid Nazi Rise to Political Power[04650] [c]Civil rights and liberties;1919-1933: Racist Theories Aid Nazi Rise to Political Power[04650] [c]Human rights;1919-1933: Racist Theories Aid Nazi Rise to Political Power[04650] Chamberlain, Houston Stewart Galton, Francis Gobineau, Joseph-Arthur de Goebbels, Joseph Hitler, Adolf Marr, Wilhelm Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna Wagner, Richard Rosenberg, Alfred

Many historians have pointed out the importance of the racism of Hitler’s program as a major element in the endorsement of his movement by many German voters at the polls in 1933. Once the Nazis were in power, racism formed a major component of their reorganization of German society. Hitler, his chief propagandist, Joseph Goebbels, and the self-proclaimed leading “theorist” of the NSDAP, Alfred Rosenberg, did not invent the racial theories and ideas they helped popularize before 1933 and tried to implement in subsequent years. They took them from a number of divergent and largely unrelated movements and ideas of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries from all parts of Europe and blended them into a powerful political force in the turbulent years following World War I.

Some historians trace the origins of Nazi racial ideas to the anti-Semitism Anti-Semitism[Antisemitism];Nazi Germany of the Christian churches in Europe during the Middle Ages. This argument must take into account that although some church leaders preached against acceptance of Jews in Christian communities, others came to the defense of Jewish populations during outbursts of anti-Semitism. Against this backdrop of religious anti-Semitism, a much more complex racism emerged after the French Revolution of 1789.

Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels (left) with Hermann Göring, commander of the Luftwaffe, in 1936.

(Library of Congress)

During the revolutionary era, many of the restrictions on Jewish political and economic life—under which the Jews had suffered for centuries—allowed many Jews to prosper in Europe. Some Jews amassed great fortunes as industrialization spread during the nineteenth century, and many Christians bitterly resented the success of people they considered aliens. Some European writers in the middle of the century began to refer to Jews as parasites who accumulated wealth not through honest labor but through duplicitous exploitation of Christians. This new economic anti-Semitism complemented and supported the older Christian anti-Semitism, which never disappeared but was balanced somewhat by Church interventions against more egregious anti-Semitic outbursts.

During the final quarter of the nineteenth century and the first years of the twentieth century, writers in several European countries began calling for political action to eliminate the threat posed by “aliens,” especially Jews, to native European civilization. Wilhelm Marr and Adolf Stoecker Stoecker, Adolf in Germany, Charles Maurras Maurras, Charles in France, and Karl Luger Luger, Karl in Austria attracted large popular followings by advocating political action to limit or eliminate Jewish influence in their countries.

Marr’s Judentum und Deutschtum (1876; Jewishness and Germanness) Judentum und Deutschtum (Marr) persuasively argued that Jewish materialism corrupted the idealistic essence of the Germanic soul and would, if left unchallenged, eventually destroy German civilization. At least partly in response to Marr’s contentions, Stoecker (once court chaplain to Emperor William II of Germany) formed the Christian Socialist Union, which had as its primary purpose the elimination of Jewish economic and political influence in Germany. During the Dreyfus affair in France during the 1890’s, Maurras’s newspaper Action Français gained a huge popular following by denouncing the pernicious influence on French society of “alien” and unpatriotic Jews. The people of Vienna elected Luger as their mayor several times even though his political platform consisted of little more than denunciation of Jews and promises to limit their influence.

During this same era of European history, “scientific” theories of race emerged that seemed to lend credibility to this rapidly spreading religious, economic, and political anti-Semitism. Anthropologists and linguists produced works that suggested “Indo-European” or “Aryan” origins of many of the great civilizations of antiquity. Count Joseph-Arthur de Gobineau produced a work titled Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines (1876; Essay on the Inequality of Races, 1915) Essay on the Inequality of Races (Gobineau) that used the terminology of Charles Darwin’s Darwin, Charles theory of evolution. Evolution;theory Gobineau ranked the races of the world according to their “evolution,” concluding that the “Germanic” (Aryan/Teutonic/Indo-European) race had evolved to the highest level, with the Australian aborigines at the bottom. According to Gobineau and others who elaborated on his thesis, only the Germanic race was capable of producing true civilization. Gobineau’s imitators reserved a special place for the Jews, whom they characterized as parasites—destroyers of civilization that they themselves were incapable of creating. While these racist ideas were spreading, they became enmeshed with a new science founded by a first cousin of Darwin and took on a more sinister dimension.

Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin and a scientist in his own right, published a book in 1883 that marked the beginning of a new science called eugenics. Galton and the huge international following he attracted began to argue that the human race could and should be improved through encouraging mating between physically and intellectually superior persons and discouraging reproduction by persons with physically or mentally undesirable characteristics. In every European nation, the United States, and many other countries as well, prominent citizens (often led by prominent academicians) formed eugenics societies that brought pressure on politicians to implement Galton’s ideas about racial hygiene. Many of the members of these eugenics societies also subscribed to the theories popularized by Gobineau, Maurras, Marr, and others. These racist ideas received further popular impetus from the works of Helena Blavatsky and composer Richard Wagner.

Blavatsky founded the Theosophical Society, Theosophical Society which incorporated occult philosophies into a racial interpretation of history that attracted many pseudointellectuals during the generation before World War I. Wagner’s immensely popular music drew on themes from Germanic mythology. Both Blavatsky and Wagner appealed to the irrational emotions of their audiences, which included many of the religious, economic, scientific, and political racists of European society.

European governments at least indirectly encouraged the wide dissemination of these racist ideas by deliberately attempting to inspire nationalist fervor in their citizens. Many European political leaders saw a blind and unquestioning loyalty to the “fatherland” as necessary if citizens were to be convinced of the importance of imperialistic expansion and the need for the high financial expenditures of military buildup. Some political leaders also felt that by inspiring a chauvinistic nationalism in their citizens through the educational system and the popular press they could divert the working class from socialism’s growing political appeal.


In Germany, all the racist ideas mentioned above merged during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries into something called the Völkisch movement. Popular writers and newspaper publishers such as Georg von Schoenerer, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, and Houston Stewart Chamberlain, whose Die Grundlagen des Neunzehnten Jahrhunderts (1899; The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, 1911) Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, The (Chamberlain) influenced Hitler, Rosenberg, and other Nazis, along with the influential publicist Friedrich Lienhard, spread Völkisch ideas to every area of Germany and throughout all segments of the German population. The Völkisch movement also disseminated The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (1934), Protocols of the Elders of Zion, The purportedly a Jewish plan for world domination, which fanned the flames of the spreading racist hysteria. Hitler’s movement was only a small and (at first) insignificant part of the hyperracist Völkisch movement. He and his party propagandists used the groundwork laid by decades of Völkisch agitation to convince German voters to support the Nazi Party at the polls. Nazi Germany;racism Nazi Party;racist theories

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Field, Geoffrey C. Evangelist of Race: The Germanic Vision of Houston Stewart Chamberlain. New York: Columbia University Press, 1981. Critiques Chamberlain’s racial theories and evaluates their influence on the evolution of European racism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gasman, Daniel. The Scientific Origins of National Socialism. Somerset, N.J.: Transaction, 2004. A very thorough analysis of the racist nineteenth and early twentieth century theories that permeated German ideology.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hau, Michael. The Cult of Health and Beauty in Germany: A Social History, 1890-1930. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. Deals with the German obsession with physical culture—which was at the root of Germans’ ultimate acceptance of Nazi-espoused racism—and the illusion of German superiority.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hay, Malcolm. Thy Brother’s Blood: The Roots of Christian Anti-Semitism. New York: Hart, 1975. Traces the origins and influence of Christian anti-Semitism. Argues that hatred of Jews preached by Christian ministers contributed heavily to Nazi racism and the Holocaust.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Katz, Jacob. From Prejudice to Destruction: Anti-Semitism, 1700-1933. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1980. Shows the evolution of anti-Semitism from its Christian origins through the stages of economic, political, scientific, and occult racism before 1933.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mosse, George Lachmann. Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985. Considers European racism within the larger context of the industrial and scientific revolutions. Shows the influence of previous ideas of race on Nazi racist doctrine.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Weiss, Sheila Faith. Race Hygiene and National Efficiency: The Eugenics of Wilhelm Schallmayer. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987. Examines the nature of the German eugenics movement and its influence on Nazi racial ideas. Shows the cross-fertilization between scientific racism and the Völkisch movement.

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Categories: History