Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Arts and Letters Daily links to a new very German website (in English) called Sight and Sign. Here's an excerpt from a piece by Gotz Aly on the Nazi origins of the German welfare state and why many Germans supported Hitler. My personal belief: The German Romantic movement, combined with virulent nationalism springing from the hundreds of years of German disunity and weakness, and combined with the German youth movement (Wandervogel) which fed on "blood and soil" ideology and the idea that pure, uncorrupted youth could and should overthrow the old ways, led to the cultural conditions that caused the First World War and then Naziism. I think it's fascinating that the radical Green environmental movement started in Germany; I honestly think the extreme Greens would fit very nicely into the naive wing of the Nazi Party. Just in case you were wondering, by the way, the Nazis were of all things animal-rights activists. One of the charges that '20s and '30s Nazi propaganda threw at the Jews was that kosher slaughtering was cruel and inhumane.

By the way, of course, most of the Spanish welfare state originated under Franco, and a lot of Spanish societal, legal, and political quirks spring from Francoism.

For the majority of young and by no means monstrous men, National Socialism meant freedom and adventure, a physical and mental anti-ageing program. They were looking for challenges, fun and the ultimate kick in the modern mobile war. They were in their early twenties, trying to find themselves, spurred on by feelings of omnipotence. They lacked the social skills to fit in. They created, in a destructive sense, the most successful generational project in modern history.

Hitler oriented himself to the mood of the population. He asked himself on an hourly basis how he could better satisfy the German majority. Playing a constant game of give and take, he established the redistributive state par excellence. The tax incentive for married couples, so vehemently defended by the conservatives in 2002, stems from 1934. The kilometre flat-rate so dear to today's Bavarian government dates back to the same tax reform law which stated: "It is a constitutional prerogative of National Socialism that citizens have their own homes in the open countryside ..." Since 1941, German pensioners have had a right to health insurance and are no longer dependent on public or church welfare. Under Hitler, the number of holidays was doubled.

Bonuses for working on Sundays, bank holidays and late shifts were taxed until October 2, 1940 at which point the Nazi government wrote them off with a flick of the wrist. Even the Reich's finance minister gave his approval "naturally, on condition that the war is over in 1940." And he rightly anticipated what a "strong impression" this good deed would make on the German public in the midst of a "gigantic war".

Anyone trying to understand the destructive success of National Socialism should look at the public face of the annihilation policy – the modern, cosy and obliging welfare state. During WWII, German soldiers' wives received twice as much family support as their British and American counterparts. They had more money than in peace times. The generosity of state benefits meant that women saw no reason to work. In 1942 it was suggested that state benefits be reduced and taxed but Hitler blocked the idea, fearing public opposition. Funk, the Reich's minister for economic affairs commented drily, "Our economic policy during the war was overly opulent. It is not easy to correct such a thing."

Until May 8, 1845, 80 percent of Germans paid no direct war taxes. The indirect taxes were limited to tobacco, brandy and beer. The Regime's cautious handling of the Volk was apparent in every last detail. In the so-called "South-Eastern German consumer region", the tax on a litre of beer (which Goebbels referred to as a "positive mood element") was 10 Reichspfennigs; in the North, it was about 30 more. There was no tax on wine because it would have affected wine producers who were "already struggling economically".

Protection against unfair dismissal, tenant protection regulations, protection from seizure under execution: hundreds of finely tuned laws were aimed at socio-political appeasement. Hitler ruled according to the principal of "I am the people", later to form the basis of the German Republic's welfare state. The Schröder/Fischer government now faces the historic task of bidding a prolonged farewell to the German community of the Volk.

Hitler gained overwhelming support with his policy of running up debts and explaining that it would be others that paid the price. He promised the Germans everything and asked little of them in return. The constant talk of "a people without living space", "international standing", "complementary economic areas" and "Jew purging" served a single purpose: to increase German prosperity without making Germans work for it themselves. This was the driving force behind his criminal politics: not the interests of industrialists and bankers such as Flick, Krupp and Abs. Economically, the Nazi state was a snowballing system of fraud. Politically, it was a monstrous bubble of speculation, inflated by the common party members.

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