main page > topics > background

Dansk version



Holocaust: Topics

For Teachers

For Students                          


Printervenlig udgave

The Nazi ideology

Nazism or National Socialism (German: Nationalsozialismus) is an ideology that received its practical political form in the regime that governed Germany from 1933-1945. Nazism is a variety of another totalitarian ideology, fascism. The political goal of both ideologies is to establish a totalitarian state, that is to say a modern, bureaucratic state, where the government is completely dominant in relation to the individual. It is thus a purpose of the regime to monopolise all human activities, both private and public.

More about:
Basic characteristics
NSDAP's party programme
Hitler and Mein Kampf
Racism and Nazism
Want to know more?

The basic characteristics of Nazism

Nazism was specifically characterised by:

  • Building on a charismatic leader figure (Adolf Hitler) and on the support of the military,
  • Inventing common enemies (Jews, communists, liberals, pacifists, free masons, gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, etc.),
  • Trying to re-model the working class by making the workers focus on ‘higher ideals’ than the traditional class struggle; such ‘higher ideals’ included extreme nationalism, racism, and especially war.


How the Nazis came into power in Germany is obviously an important question. How this take-over occurred is described in the section > The Nazi takeover. A few reasons should be mentioned in this context, however:

  • As early as before World War I, Germany had been a very complex society, characterised by equal parts old-fashioned feudalism and modern industrialisation.
  • The country had a very strong tradition for militarism and loyalty towards the authorities.
  • In connection with the war effort during World War I, the German population had been impressed with a strong nationalism by the imperial government, in order to facilitate internal control and international aggression.
  • Biological-racial ideas of the superiority of the Aryan race were widely respected as a legitimate point of view.
  • In the years following World War I, Germany was under enormous national “stress” because of the military defeat and the subsequent economic ruin.

Nazism presented the German population with an easy explanation to all their problems: Jews and democracy. It was the “International Jewry” that had been responsible for Germany’s defeat in World War I and the humiliating peace treaty. Democracy, i.e. the elected officials of the Weimar Republic, was responsible for the economic depression of the early 1930’s. The Nazis cleverly played on the “political paranoia” of the middle class, and in this respect the Jews and communists worked excellently as representations of the enemy.

NSDAP's party programme

The Nazi Party’s political programme was formulated in 1920, and according to its wording it was ‘inalterable’. It was never revised, but many of the ideological principles were never transformed into practical policy when the Nazis came into power. This was particularly the case for the party programme’s economical principles, which were deemed much too socialistic. Among other things, the Nazi Party demanded the abolition of all trusts (§13), equal share of profits in all businesses (§14), and a prohibition against any kind of capital income (§11). Such ideas were of course completely unacceptable to the party’s big business supporters, and they were never realised.

The party programme was characteristically filled with negative suggestions. This fits well with the fact that Nazism really was an anti-ideology: anti-democratic, anti-communist, anti-Semitic, anti-capitalistic, and anti-Western.

Hitler and Mein Kampf

The most coherent effort at presenting the ideological characteristics of Nazism can be found in Hitler’s autobiographical work, Mein Kampf (‘My Struggle’). This book was written between 1923 and 1924, while Hitler was in prison for participating in the famous (and failed) Beer Hall Putsch in Munich. In his book, Hitler presents his inalterable ‘worldview’ (German: Weltanschauung), which after the Nazi takeover became the political-ideological basis of the new regime.

Hitler’s Weltanschauung was entirely a system of prejudices, which by no means were the result of any serious contemplation. Characteristically, Hitler’s worldview included:

  • A racist interpretation of world history, where the Aryan race is presented as ‘creating cultures’ and the Jewish race as ‘destroying cultures’.
  • A social-Darwinist view of life: the strong survive, the weak perish. This goes for man as well as for the rest of nature.
  • A love of anything militaristic: only in war does man show his true abilities.
  • A belief that Germany can (and should) become a world power.

Fundamental for all these aspects was Hitler’s steady belief in the biological and cultural superiority of the Aryan race. It was consequently a very important part of Hitler’s ideology that the races should not be mixed. He saw the ‘purity of the blood’ a prerequisite for the coming greatness of the German people.

Racism and Nazism

As mentioned earlier, racism (together with anti-Semitism) played a defining role in Nazi ideology. But on which ideas did this racism build? In order to answer this question it is necessary to go back to the second half of the 19th century, where many of the intellectual roots of Nazism came into existence.

The Western European countries exploited their colonies in typically capitalistic fashion. This exploitation frequently resulted in the conclusion that the local population in the colonies had to be inferior individuals in order to put up with their situation. Racism, spear-headed by the writings of Charles Darwin, with time became a widely acknowledged set of thoughts that led to scientific treatises, books and research projects. Frequently this research served the purpose of pointing out the superiority or inferiority of a specific nation or race.

Based on such ideas of a racial hierarchy many European nations, including Germany, possessed a feeling that their nation was superior to everybody else. This also meant that all members of this nation should dwell within the same national borders. Such ideas can be termed ‘positive racial policy’. From this come the extensive Nazi plans to move all ethnic Germans (Volksdeutsche), who were citizens of other countries, into the Third Reich.

Racist ideas were also the basis of ‘negative racial policy’, in the form of the exclusion of undesirable individuals from the German race. A result of this notion was the Nazi desire to remove Jews, gypsies, the handicapped, and others, from the German Volksgemeinschaft (‘people’s community’). This ‘negative racial policy’ or ‘racial hygiene’ was carried out systematically with great cruelty after 1933.


Anti-Semitism can be translated with ‘hostility towards Jews’. The Nazis’ hatred for the Jews and the use of the Jew as a universal explanation for all Germany’s problems is unique. Fascism – i.e. Nazism’s Italian counterpart – does not include this element.

The Nazi ideology went one step further, however, in its idea of the Jews’ worldwide conspiracy to cause the downfall of the Aryan race: Via ingenious explanations, the Jews were matched with the Soviet Bolshevists, thus creating ‘Judeo-Bolshevism’. It was the Nazi Party’s chief ideologist,
Alfred Rosenberg, who was able to invent this combination and thus really making the Jews ‘the world’s biggest crook’. Now all of a sudden, American-Jewish lobbyists and the Bolshevist enemy in the Soviet Union were two sides of the same coin! The notion is of course absurd, but it was nevertheless extremely useful as a propaganda tool during the war, in particular following the United States’ entry.


As an ideology, Nazism (or National Socialism) is difficult to characterise because of its complexity and its fundamental lack of logical content. It builds on artificially created enemy figures. Four elements are characteristic of Nazism: it is an anti-ideology that builds more on criticism than suggestions for improvement; it is an anti-Semitic ideology, where the Jews (in an absurd combination with communism) are used as an explanation for all kinds of problems; it is a racist ideology that builds on a fundamental idea of the superiority of the Aryan (German) race; and it is, finally, an aggressively nationalistic ideology that puts the nation over the individual, and demands that the nation be extended to its “natural” territorial borders.

Want to know more?

> The Nazi takeover
> NSDAP's party programme - external link

Test yourself | Time line | Statistics | Picture gallery | Sources | Site map

© 2002 by Peter Vogelsang & Brian B. M. Larsen. All rights reserved