Oct 16, 2020
Hitler is one of the early modern autocrats for whom legitimacy was crucial to his claim to power. He recognized the importance of including the people and representing himself as presenting the will of the people. Being legitimately elected provided Hitler with a mandate to propagate Nazi ideology within Germany and beyond, and build a popular mass movement. Hitler’s example continues to serve as a model in fascist politics today.
Hitler enjoyed immense popularity, which he carefully cultivated and constantly orchestrated in public appearances. He built a reputation as a mythic Führer who could do no wrong. If something were wrong, his followers would commonly say that Hitler must not know about it because if he did, he would fix it. He portrayed himself as always striving for Germans on Germany’s behalf. General belief of Hitler's greatness was so impeccably maintained that it became nearly impossible to shake in the masses.
Hitler firmly believed in the superiority of National Socialism as an ideology. In fact, he wanted to fundamentally change his society's norms to align with those of Nazism – such as the primacy of Aryans and euthanasia for useless eaters – and replace Christianity as the dominant belief system in Germany. By using propaganda and the aesthetics of consensus around National Socialist thought, he and his ministers worked to ensure Germans were deeply internalizing Nazi beliefs so they would be Nazis both in public and even in private when no one was watching.
Nathan Stoltzfus is the Dorothy and Jonathan Rintels Professor of Holocaust Studies at Florida State University and author or editor of seven books, including Hitler’s Compromises: Coercion and Consensus in Nazi Germany and Resistance of the Heart. Resistance of the Heart was the Fraenkel Prize co-winner and a New Statesman Book of the Year and prize winner of Munich’s Besten Liste for nonfiction.
His work has been translated into German, French, Swedish, Greek, Turkish, and Russian. Stoltzfus has been a long-term member of the faculty of the National Judicial College. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1993, and has been a Fulbright and IREX scholar in East as well as West Germany, a Friedrich Ebert Stiftung grantee, a DAAD research scholar, a Humboldt German American Center for Visiting Scholars grantee, and a H.F. Guggenheim Foundation Scholar as well as a Florida State University “Developing Scholar.” His work has formed a basis for several films, and he has published in the Atlantic Monthly, the Daily Beast, Der Spiegel, The American Scholar, and Die Zeit. His current book projects include the study of the memories of World War II as a basis for national myths and social cohesion.
You can follow him on Twitter @nate_stoltzfus.