How did Germany become a totalitarian state

Left-wing extremism

Hans-Gerd Jaschke

To person

born 1952; Professor of Political Science and Sociology at the Berlin University of Applied Sciences for Administration and Justice.

address: University of Applied Sciences for Administration and Justice Berlin, Alt-Friedrichsfelde 60, 10315 Berlin.

Publications including: Fundamentalism in Germany. God-fighters and political extremists threaten society, Hamburg 1998.

Totalitarianism: This is political extremism that has come to power. Totalitarian regimes and movements are hermetically sealed "world views" - and not accessible to rational criticism.

Icon worship: A Georgian kisses a portrait of the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin on the occasion of his 128th birthday, December 21, 2007 in Tbilisi. (& copy AP)

Political extremism finds itself in a situation of fundamental opposition to the rulers. But what if this extremism comes to power through elections or a coup? There are numerous examples of extremisms which, once they came to political power, established a system of tyranny through particularly brutal, inhumane practices. For this process, political science knows the term totalitarianism, which emerged from the self-portrayal of Italian fascism under Mussolini (Hobsbawm 1995: 146). By this she understands the extremism that has come to rule:
"Totalitarianism describes a political rule that demands unrestricted disposal over the ruled and their complete submission to a (dictatorially prescribed) political goal. Totalitarian rule, forced conformity and inexorable harshness are often justified with existence-threatening (internal or external) dangers, like them were initially asserted by the rulers of fascism and national socialism, and not least of all in Stalin's Soviet communism. In this respect, totalitarianism represents the stark opposite of the modern, liberal constitutional state and the principle of an open, plural society. "[1]
The history of the 20th century is characterized by two opposing processes. On the one hand, the democratization and liberalization of Western societies in particular have made further progress. Decisive for this are the successes of democratic politics, but also social changes such as the change in values ​​in the western world and processes of individualization. Change in values ​​is what political science calls the long-term change in the orientation pattern, especially of the well-educated middle class, towards non-material values ​​such as a healthy environment, good social relationships, self-development values, but also ideal values ​​such as peace.

Individualization is called a social process that is of increasing importance in the modern service society. Accordingly, people are more and more detached from traditional ties such as family, religion, social milieu and are increasingly reliant on themselves and their decisions. Both changes in values ​​and individualization have significantly advanced the long-term process of democratization in the western world.

On the other hand, however, the counter-movements, summarized in the theoretical terms totalitarianism, extremism and fundamentalism, are a persistent force against freedom and democracy. They have various structural properties in common, which are expressed in seven points. First, totalitarian movements lay claim to sole representation. They see themselves as the sole and exclusive owner of political, religious or other ideological "truths". Competing movements are seen as aberrations or deviations that need to be combated. This goes hand in hand with excessive self-overestimation and self-exaggeration as the only and first force in history that brings salvation to humanity. Your messianism is absolute and indivisible.

Second, totalitarian regimes and movements are hermetically sealed "world views". Viewed from the inside, they are inaccessible to rational criticism. Their ideology does not develop in a permanent, rational, discussion and learning-ready confrontation with the history of ideas and ideas, but it appeals to the supposedly "eternal" and immovable truth of certain doctrines. World views are generally not developed reflexively and openly for discussion, but are "believed" as alleged truths. This shows the quasi-religious character of all totalitarian belief systems. Doctrines are not discussed and self-critically examined; criticism of them is considered deviant behavior worthy of sanction.

Thirdly, they have an anti-enlightenment, absolutist basis of legitimation. Not the reason of the enlightened subject, but the prophetic, charismatic gifts of the leader, who embodies the worldview in an ideal and absolute way, are the only source of legitimation. For this reason alone, competing and relativizing arguments from the tradition of other histories of ideas are excluded. The leader is revered and mystified and is considered the messianic, charismatic and destined "leader" who is inaccessible to any criticism. Internal democratic will-formation within the framework of a primacy of the better argument runs counter to the Führer principle and could relativize and de-legitimize the omnipotence of the Führer ideology. For this reason there can be no democratic will-formation in totalitarian movements. It is characteristic of totalitarian organizations that after their death leaders live on as leading figures, figureheads, ideological fixed points and "intellectual autocracy", provided with a halo and continue to provide a central legitimation for the organization in their exaggeration and glorification. Marx, Lenin and Mao tse Tung have taken on such a function for the extreme left in Germany, Hitler continues to be the decisive fixed point for various neo-Nazi circles.