Redefining Adolf Hitler (Just a Little Bit)

Adolf Hitler is one of the most controversial and despised individuals in human history, considered by some to be an anti-Christ. Certainly, he most definitely did some awful things; he started wars with other countries, which caused WWII, and he perpetuated the Holocaust. However, there are certain parts of his story that get left out in popular knowledge. For one thing, Hitler himself was not even born in Germany, but rather, the declining Austro-Hungarian Empire. Because of the state of the Habsburg Dynasty, Hitler, along with many youths like him, placed more support in adjacent Germany, with whom they felt a kinship. Therefore, his early years instill in him a huge amount of nationalist ideals. Among his other early struggles included poverty and living as a bohemian, differences with his father, and rejection from art school twice. It was not until WWI that he turned his life around, in which was a huge war hero. He was awarded the Iron Cross, First Class – an extremely high honor for his rank. Hitler valued his war experiences quite highly, but was shocked by Germany’s “defeat.” Looking for answers, perhaps it is not too surprising that when going undercover to infiltrate the German Workers’ Party (the precursor to the Nazi Party), he became attracted to their ideas. In fact, many of the ideas that the party perpetuated were similar to what he grew up hearing and living by.[1]

Aside from the context, Hitler appears to be similar in many ways to that of his popular image. Many of the points made in the pamphlet follow common knowledge: he was anti-Semitic, he was pro-Aryan race. However there were a few odd parts in his writing that really stood out. First, Hitler held a very strong view on education, and judging from the extent to which he goes into it on Point 20, he intended to make sure it went well. In thought, this could be the precursor to the Hitler youth, but at least it demonstrates a priority in equal education opportunity not held by many today. It was also intriguing to read about his high placement on physical education and gymnastics. In many ways, it’s a sneaky way of preparing students/children for war, similar to many Communist Chinese programs during the Mao era. The reading relates to past ideas as well, such as Fichte’s belief in shared culture leading to nationalism and borders, Herder’s belief that different groups should not mix, and Mussolini’s point that the state should mean everything (statist), with the “people” being an extension of that state.

[1] “Adolf Hitler.” Wikipedia. Accessed March 31, 2015.

Nationalism and La Marseillaise

Nationalism, according to Halsall, is the “most successful political philosophy of the modern era”. In order to be considered a nation, a state or group of states must have a language, tradition, or common history that binds the people, which, as stated by von Herder, must be honored by the ruler. Also, a nation is considered more legitimate in its basis than other forms of government labeled “theocracies”, “empires”, and “dynastic rights”. As a German himself, von Herder recognizes Germany’s characteristics to compile those which resemble a nation, but discerns that they are unique, “peculiar”, and different from typical attributes of a nation. Von Herder takes pride in the distinct character of his country, and believes that Germany is unparalleled in its originality and its archetype.

France distinguishes itself as a nation in a manner different from Germany. At the time of the French Revolution, nationalism is powerful in France. After having overthrown the monarchy and establishing more rights and freedoms for its people, France’s pride is at an all-time high. The French Revolution inspires the poem and national anthem “La Marseillaise”, which can be considered the embodiment of France’s status as a true nation. Through the writing of this poem, and later, France’s adoption of it as its national anthem, a type of patriotism is born. Written in French with lyrics speaking of a common history of the people, de Lisle legitimizes France as a nation. However, the national anthem is not the only factor that validates France’s standing as a nation. When Napoleon Bonaparte takes control of France, he establishes a strong and powerful army. With the foundation of an army, a nation becomes more legitimate. It can wield more power and express its character through its actions. Furthermore, the unification of a large group such as an army creates a strong identity for a country. Although he did not willingly leave his position as military leader, Napoleon strengthened France’s identity among the European nations and increased its status as a nation.

Questions to consider: Because Napoleon’s conquests were spread so far and wide, did it delegitimize France’s status as a nation? In order to be considered a nation, does a country’s population and/or geographic size need to be under a certain limit? As a nation increases in size, does it lose its identity, its respect for common history? Do greater populations result in more dialects and languages, eliminating the common language that binds a nation’s people?