Adolf Hitler’s ascent to power in Germany in 1933 and the subsequent events changed the world suddenly, significantly and by no means not only for the period when he was in power. The ideology and practice of National Socialism has effectively shaped the thinking and framework of activity of philosophers, theoreticians of history, political analysts and politicians, and this influence will no doubt continue in the future as well.
This framework is appropriate provided that it has developed on the basis of the correct interpretation of actual events. The claim that Hitler’s ascent to power in Germany demonstrated a “triumph of will”, through which the approval of the majority of society was gradually won, was a part of Nazi Germany’s own propaganda, but for many reasons has later found a place in slightly altered form in the argumentation of many politicians and political analysts, regardless of their world views. Yet it appears that this claim has been successfully propagated during the last years and decades in particular in connection with the emergence of “post-democracy” when the
making of substantive decisions that are important for society has been left as the exclusive domain of a thin stratum of society’s elite. Attempts are made to contest the capability of democratic society of making competent decisions on the strength of the example of Hitler’s ascent to power.
This essay considers whether Hitler came to power democratically as the result of the will of the majority of the population. Tracing Germany’ political developments in 1930–1933 on the basis of works by reputable historians leads to the conclusion that the greater portion of the German people was unable to influence the political dramas that determined their fate. The key factor in the ascent of the National Socialists to power was the support of the political elite, the aim of which was an authoritarian government. Parliamentary democracy had actually collapsed even before Hitler’s ascent to power, and all that remained to be decided was which authoritarian system would replace it.
Germany lost democracy the way dozens of societies have before and after the war – due to the concurrence of many circumstances, which in the case of Germany were especially unfavourable. Hitler’s ascent to power cannot be used to justify “post-democracy”, that is to justify a situation where a thin stratum of society’s elite makes substantive decisions. The situations of the past do not repeat, but if it is desired to use Hitler’s ascent to power as an argument, then this paradoxically is an argument not in favour of “post-democrats” who warn against incompetent decisions by the majority of society, but rather the contrary – a warning to those who wish to keep the majority of society removed from decision-making.