Essay 3: A critique of Daniel Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners

Fascism: The glory of the state is the goal, to which individuals are subservient. Anti-reationalistic, anti-democratic and anti-enlightenment.
Barres: “it is my sense of descent which provides me with the axis around which my total, self-contained idea of life evolves”.
Mussolini: individuals are subservient to the state. Fascism is a system of thought, organic and spiritual. History is a story of people, not materialistic individuals with “freedoms”.
Rivera: fascism is a manner of being, not thinking. People unite, “in harmony with an irrevocable sense of destiny”.
Hitler: superior races found institutions and create culture. Building empires, these races always fall when they mix their blood with inferiors. Of these, the Aryan is most superior; the Jew, most inferior. The Jew creates nothing, and tries to gain the sympathy of the workers through trade-unionism and Marxism, “destroying the basis of the nation’s economics”.

Goldhagen asserts that Germany was powered by a particularly vile form of anti-Semitism, whose aim was the elimination of the world Jewry. This viral strain, he asserts, "resided ultimately in the heart of German political culture, in Germany itself". Medieval anti-Semitism was "integral to German culture" and, by the end of the 19th century, "eliminationist anti-Semitism" dominated the German political scene. In the Weimar republic, it grew yet more virulent before Hitler came to power. The Nazi machine merely turned this ideology into a reality.

Goldhagen also asserts that when the Nazis' genocidal program was implemented, it was supported by the general German population, by the "ordinary Germans" who became "willing executioners". They had no need for special orders or pressures because they believed the Jews were "ultimately fit only to suffer and die".

This eliminationist mindset helps to explain the otherwise paradoxical attack on the Soviet Union, an attack whose thrust was the elimination of the European Jewry.

According to political philosopher Hannah Arendt, totalitarian movements are often built around a central fiction of a powerful conspiracy, that requires a secretive counter-conspiracy be organized. For the Nazis, this conspiratorial group was the world Jewry.

Almost by definition, the Nazis were destined to ignore all else in their pursuit of the Holocaust – tactics and strategy gave way to the call of blood. For the goal of the movement was not to provide a better life for the German people, but to eliminate the enemies of the state.

This eliminationist mindset evolved through the years, beginning in 1914 at the dawn of the first world war. At that time, the primary drive was one towards conflict and war; the trend was to dehumanize and bring down the enemy. The brutal urgency of the second world war brought the with it the need for total mobilization. In so mobilizing vast sectors of the economy, the state gained great power -- and in many ways, the state became its own justification. The Holocaust was but the continuation of this trend, the creation of a self-destructive totalitarian state.

The ultimate goal of a totalitarian movement is to propel the totalitarian leader towards total, ruthless, world domination. Political issues and positions are transitory tactical tools that move the organization and its leader toward power. As such, there are few boundaries or controls on the actions of the totalitarian leader.

The Holocaust was both an assault against the Jews, and the state taking action to preserve itself against its enemies. Though an assault against the Soviet Union may have been foolish in tactical terms, it makes a great deal of sense when seen in the context of totalitarianism – for the elimination of the enemy of the state became more important than the preservation of a free and prosperous German homeland.

In the wreckage of Versailles, the German people succumbed to the beast of totalitarianism. Efficient and expedient, this totalitarian state brushed aside dissent and strove to smite its enemy – the world Jewry. Though their pseudo-scientific racial justification may have been particular to Germany, the destructive nature of the state was anything but unique. Indeed, the totalitarian nature of Nazism was but the continuation of a trend that has shaped Europe since the dawn of the first world war.