The Nazi ideology of Alfred Rosenberg : a study of his thought, 1917-1946
The historiography of the Third Reich has tended, on the whole, to treat Alfred Rosenberg, and his Nazi ideology and religion, in a rather condescending manner, more or less as a joke. Moreover, despite evidence to the contrary, there has been a similar tendancy to play down the significance of ideology in the Nazi Movement as a whole. Furthermore, the religious dimension of Nazism, the role of religion in the Nazi Movement, and the religious significance of the Nazi phenomenon have been likewise underestimated. Even where the significance of ideology and religion for understanding Nazism has been recognised, there as been little attempt to understand the religious aspect of Nazi ideology and the distinctive character, origin, and appeal of Nazi religion. The probable explanation for these tendences is as follows: On the one hand Rosenberg, the character of Nazi ideology, and the religious side of Nazism are rather embarrassing to German historians proud of the intellectual tradition of German scolarship. On the other hand, non-German historians, for instance in the Anglo-American world, have had real difficulty appreciating and understanding the peculiar mentality of Rosenberg, the appeal of Nazi ideology and the religious side of Nazism. Since the tendency os to make light of what is not understood, the incomprehensible becomes the object of derision and depreciation. Moreover, most contemporary historians of Nazism, whether German or non-German, do not have the interest or background in religion necessary for comprehending the religious dimension of the Nazi Movement. Hence the general tendency is to relegate the incomprehensible to the realm of the insignificant. In contrast to this general outlook, the present monograph, by one interested in theology as well as history, tried to take Rosenberg, Nazi ideology, and the religious aspect of Nazism seriously with a view to shedding light on the Nazi enigma. The study is based on the conviction that historical understanding nust begin with the self-image and self-understanding of the human beings iinvolved. However difficult, the historian must start by trying to escape his own mentality in order to enter into that of the human participants in the history under investigation. It is also based on the conviction that the only way to get at this self-understanding is through the extant contemporary documents. Hence thr study ultilises not only Rosenberg's published writings but also his voluminous files and correspondence captured at the end of tho War and preserved, for the most part, at the Bundesarchiv in Coblens. This study of Rosenberg has a three-fold purpose. First, there is the attempt to understand Rosenberg's thought, as related to Nazi ideology, in its own terms. This aim is to comprehend Rosenberg's Nazi mentality on the basis of all the relevant archival and published sources, and to represent it as accurately and as lucidly as possible - something no one has ever done before. Second there is the attempt to show that Rosenberg, his ideology, and his religious mentality, were not on the fringes of the Nazi Movement but at its heart. His outlook was an integral part of National Socialism. His ideology was seen by the hard core of the Nazi Movement, including Hitler himself, as the hard core of Nazism. Third, there is the attempt to come to grips with the general historical problem of explaining National Socialism on the basis of the perspective gained from understanding Rosenberg, his role in the Nazi Movement, and his place in the mind of Hitler. The tentative hypothesis is that Nazism was at bottom ultimately the outgrowth of a distinctively German religious mentality with historical roots in the peculiar religious and intellectual history of Germany and with a religious appeal to those facing the crisis of the German ideology in the wake of the First World War. Hence this monograph is not simply an exposition of Rosenberg's thought (only a little over one-half of it is devoted to this purpose), but an attempt to grapple with the issue of his influence in the Nazi Party and the Third Reich, with the question of the relationship between Rosenberg and Hitler's ideology, and with the problem of interpreting aad explaining the Nazi phenomenon in general. There is also the additional historical motive of recording the tragedy of Rosenberg's Nazi ideology for its own sake. Chapter 1 introduces the study with a brief statement of the general problem of National Socialism in terms of questions related to its essential nature, historical origin, and practical appeal. Then there is a brief biographical sketch of Rosenberg, stressing his integral involvement in the Nazi Movemnt from beginning to end. This is followed by a justification of the study and summary of its purpose and content. Chapter 2 is crucial to the overall thesis in that it adduces contemporary evidence for Rosenberg's influence and importancee as the ideologist of Nazism. The chapter argues on the basis of this evidence that he was taken seriously by many in tne Nazi Party aad the Third Reich, seriously enough to warrant the attempt to illuminate the Nazi enigma by means of understanding his ideology. The chapter refers, for instance, to Rosenberg's public image and his esteem among the Party's hard core to show that he had a certain following. Chapters 3-7 are an historical presentation of Rosenberg's idoelogy in the framework of the Nazi Movement. There is an account of his sources and philosophy (Chapter 3), his racial ideology of history (Chapter 4), his distictively political thought (Chapter 5), his conception of the Nazi cultural and religious revolution (Chapter 6), and his viewpoint on German foreign policy and world affairs including the Jewish Question (Chapter 7). The primary aim of these chapters is to understand Rosenberg's mind. But there is also an attempt to show that his ideology is not unrelated or irrelevant to the Nazi political movement as an empirical reality. For instance: Chapter 3 argues that Rosenberg's concept of myth provides insight into the Nazi mind and the peculiar psychological and theatrical atmosphere of the Third Reich. Chapter 4 contends that his racial ideology of history helps to explain the mentality behind the fanatical Nazi Rassenpolitik. Chapter 5 indicates that Rosenberg's conception of the Nazi political revolution corresponded to the feudal character of Nazi politics. Chapter 6 shows that there was during the Third Reich a very real interest, both positive and negative, in Rosenberg's Nazi religious revolution. Chapter 7 maintains that Rosenberg's ideological conception of Nazi foreign policy was not very far removed from the foreign policy of the Third Reich. Chapters 8 and 9 deal with the relationship between Rosenberg and Hitler and their respective ideologies. After examining Rosenberg's version of the Hitler myth, Chapter 8 discusses the question of Hitler's attitude to Rosenberg and his ideology. It argues on the basis of the evidence, including that of Hitler's attitude to ideology, that the Fuehrer himself considered Rosenberg's religious ideology theoretically and practically essential to the Nazi Movement. Chapter 9 discusses the most iiiportant features of Hitler's ideology vis-a-vis Rosenberg's with a view to showing that despite minor differences Hitler's ideology, including the idea of a religious revolution, basically corresponded to Rosenberg's. Nevertheless Hitler did not get his ideology from Rosenberg, although the latter strengthened Hitler's ideological convictions and probably helped him synthesize his ideology at one crucial point.