Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1.: The Role of Racism - Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
1.: The Role of Racism - Ludwig von Mises, Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War 
Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War, edited with a Foreword by Bettina Bien Greaves (Indianapolis: Indiana, 2011).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The Role of Racism
Nazism is frequently regarded as primarily a theory of racism.
German chauvinism claims for the Germans a lofty ancestry. They are the scions of the Nordic-Aryan master race, which includes all those who have contributed to the development of human civilization. The Nordic is tall, slim, with fair hair and blue eyes; he is wise, a gallant fighter, heroic, ready to sacrifice, and animated by “Faustic” ardor. The rest of mankind are trash, little better than apes. For, says Hitler, “the gulf which separates the lowest so-called human beings from our most noble races is broader than the gulf between the lowest men and the highest apes.”* It is obvious that this noble race has a fair claim to world hegemony.
In this shape the Nordic myth serves the national vanity. But political nationalism has nothing in common with chauvinistic self-praise and conceit. The German nationalists do not strive for world domination because they are of noble descent. The German racists do not deny that what they are saying of the Germans could be said, with better justification, of the Swedes or Norwegians. Nevertheless, they would call these Scandinavians lunatics if they ventured to adopt the policies which they recommend for their own German nation. For the Scandinavians lack both of the conditions which underlie German aggressivism: high population figures and a strategically advantageous geographical position.
The idiomatic congeniality of the Indo-European languages was once explained on the hypothesis of a common descent of all these peoples. This Aryan hypothesis was scientifically disproved long ago. The Aryan race is an illusion. Scientific anthropology does not recognize this fable.*
The first Mosaic book tells us that Noah is the ancestor of all men living today. Noah had three sons. From one of them, Shem, stem the old Hebrews, the people whom Moses delivered from Egyptian slavery. Judaism teaches that all persons embracing the Jewish religion are the scions of this people. It is impossible to prove this statement; no attempt has ever been made to prove it. There are no historical documents reporting the immigration of Jews from Palestine to Central or Eastern Europe; on the other hand, there are documents available concerning the conversion of European non-Jews to Judaism. Nevertheless, this ancestry hypothesis is widely accepted as an unshakable dogma. The Jews maintain it because it forms an essential teaching of their religion; others because it can justify a policy of discrimination against Jews. The Jews are called Asiatic strangers because, according to this hypothesis, they immigrated into Europe only some 1800 years ago. This explains also the use of the term Semites to signify people professing the Jewish religion and their offspring. The term Semitic languages is used in philology to signify the family of languages to which Hebrew, the idiom of the Old Testament, belongs. It is a fact, of course, that Hebrew is the religious language of Judaism, as Latin is of Catholicism and Arabic of Islam.
For more than a hundred years anthropologists have studied the bodily features of various races. The undisputed outcome of these scientific investigations is that the peoples of white skin, Europeans and non-European descendants of emigrated European ancestors, represent a mixture of various bodily characteristics. Men have tried to explain this fact as the result of intermarriage between the members of pure primitive stocks. Whatever the truth of this, it is certain that there are today no pure stocks within the class or race of white-skinned people.
Further efforts have been made to coördinate certain bodily features—racial characteristics—with certain mental and moral characteristics. All these endeavors have also failed.
Finally people have tried, especially in Germany, to discover the physical characteristics of an alleged Jewish or Semitic race as distinguished from the characteristics of European non-Jews. These quests, too, have failed completely. It has proved impossible to differentiate the Jewish Germans anthropologically from the non-Jewish ones. In the field of anthropology there is neither a Jewish race nor Jewish racial characteristics. The racial doctrine of the anti-Semites pretends to be natural science. But the material from which it is derived is not the result of the observation of natural phenomena. It is the genealogy of Genesis and the dogma of the rabbis’ teaching that all members of their religious community are descended from the subjects of King David.
Men living under certain conditions often acquire in the second, sometimes even in the first generation, a special physical or mental conformation. This is, of course, a rule to which there are many exceptions. But very often poverty or wealth, urban or rural environment, indoor or outdoor life, mountain peaks or lowlands, sedentary habits or hard physical labor stamp their peculiar mark on a man’s body. Butchers and watchmakers, tailors and lumbermen, actors and accountants can often be recognized as such by their expression or physical constitution. Racists intentionally ignore these facts. However, they1 alone can account for the origin of those types which are in everyday speech called aristocratic or plebeian, an officers’ type, a scholarly type, or a Jewish type.
The laws promulgated by the Nazis for discrimination against Jews and the offspring of Jews have nothing at all to do with racial considerations proper. A law discriminating against people of a certain race would first have to enumerate with biological and physiological exactitude the characteristic features of the race concerned. It would then have to decree the legal procedure and proper formalities by which the presence or absence of these characteristics could be duly established for every individual. The validly executed final decisions of such procedures would then have to form the basis of the discrimination in each case. The Nazis have chosen a different way. They say, it is true, that they want to discriminate not against people professing the Jewish religion but against people belonging to the Jewish race. Yet they define the members of the Jewish race as people professing the Jewish religion or descended from people professing the Jewish religion. The characteristic legal feature of the Jewish race is, in the so-called racial legislation of Nuremberg, the membership of the individual concerned or of his ancestors in the religious community of Judaism. If a law pretends that it tends toward a discrimination against the shortsighted but defines shortsightedness as the quality of being bald, people using the generally accepted terminology would not call it a law to the disadvantage of the shortsighted but of the bald. If Americans want to discriminate against Negroes, they do not go to the archives in order to study the racial affiliation of the people concerned; they search the individual’s body for traces of Negro descent. Negroes and whites differ in racial—i.e., bodily—features; but it is impossible to tell a Jewish German from a non-Jewish one by any racial characteristic.
The Nazis continually speak of race and racial purity. They call their policies an outcome of modern anthropology. But it is useless to search their policies for racial considerations. They consider—with the exception of Jews and the offspring of Jews—all white men speaking German as Aryans. They do not discriminate among them according to bodily features. German-speaking people are in their opinion Germans, even if it is beyond doubt that they are the scions of Slavonic, Romanic, or Mongol (Magyar or Finno-Ugric) ancestors. The Nazis have claimed that they were fighting the decisive war between the Nordic master race and the human underdogs. Yet for this struggle they were allied with the Italians, whom their racial doctrines depicted as a mongrel race, and with the slit-eyed, yellow-skinned, dark-haired Japanese Mongols. On the other hand, they despise the Scandinavian Nordics who do not sympathize with their own plans for world supremacy. The Nazis call themselves anti-Semites but they aid the Arab tribes in their fight against the British, whom they themselves consider as Nordic. The Arabs speak a Semitic idiom, and the Nazi scholars call them Semites. Who, in the Palestinian struggles, has the fairer claim to the appellation “anti-Semites”?
Even the racial myth itself is not a product of Germany. It is of French origin. Its founders, especially Gobineau, wanted to justify the privileges of the French aristocracy by demonstrating the gentle Frankish birth of the nobility. Hence originated in Western Europe the mistaken belief that the Nazis too recognize the claims of princes and noblemen to political leadership and caste privileges. The German nationalists, however, consider the whole German people—with the exception of the Jews and the offspring of Jews—a homogeneous race of noblemen. Within this noble race they make no discriminations. No higher degree of nobility than Germanhood is conceivable. Under the laws of the Nazis all German-speaking people are comrades (Volksgenossen) and as such equal. The only discrimination which the Nazis make among Germans is according to the intensity of their zeal in the display of those qualities which are regarded as genuinely German. Every non-Jewish German—prince, nobleman, or commoner—has the same right to serve his nation and to distinguish himself in this service.
It is true that in the years preceding the first World War the nationalists too clung to the prejudice, once very popular in Germany, that the Prussian Junkers were extraordinarily gifted for military leadership. In this respect only did the old Prussian legend survive until 1918. The lessons taught by the failure of the Prussian officers in the campaign of 1806 were long since forgotten. Nobody cared about Bismarck’s skepticism. Bismarck, himself the son of a nonaristocratic mother, observed that Prussia was breeding officers of lower ranks up to the position of regimental commanders of a quality unsurpassed by any other country; but that as far as the higher ranks were concerned, the native Prussian stock was no longer so fertile in producing able leaders as it had been in the days of Frederick II.* But the Prussian historians had extolled the deeds of the Prussian Army until all critics were silenced. Pan-Germans, Catholics, and Social Democrats were united in their dislike of the arrogant Junkers but fully convinced that these Junkers were especially fitted for military leadership and for commissions. People complained about the exclusion of nonaristocratic officers from the Royal Guards and from many regiments of the cavalry, and about the disdainful treatment they received in the rest of the army; but they never ventured to dispute the Junkers’ paramount military qualifications. Even the Social Democrats had full confidence in the active officers of the Prussian Army. The firm conviction that the war would result in a smashing German victory, which all strata of the German nation held in 1914, was primarily founded on this overestimation of the military genius of the Junkers.
People did not notice that the German nobility, who had long since ceased to play a leading role in political life, were now on the point of losing the army’s reins. They had never excelled in science, art, and literature. Their contributions in these fields cannot be compared with the achievements of British, French, and Italian aristocrats. Yet in no other modern country was the position of the aristocrats more favorable or that of the commoners less auspicious than in Germany. At the peak of his life and success Goethe wrote, full of bitterness: “I do not know how conditions are in foreign countries, but in Germany only the nobleman can attain a certain universal and personal perfection. A commoner may acquire merit, he may, at best, cultivate his mind; but his personality goes astray, whatever he tries.”* But it was commoners and not noblemen who created the works which led Germany to be called the “nation of poets and thinkers.”
In the ranks of the authors who formed the nation’s political thought there were no noblemen. Even the Prussian conservatives got their ideologies from plebeians, from Stahl, Rodbertus, Wagener, Adolf Wagner. Among the men who developed German nationalism there was hardly a member of the aristocracy. Pan-Germanism and Nazism are in this sense “bourgeois” movements like socialism, Marxism, and interventionism. Within the ranks of the higher bureaucracy there was a steady penetration of nonaristocratic elements.
It was the same with the armed forces. The hard work in the offices of the General Staff, in the technical services, and in the navy did not suit the tastes and desires of the Junkers. Many important posts in the General Staff were occupied by commoners. The outstanding personality in German prewar militarism was Admiral Tirpitz, who attained nobility only in 1900. Ludendorff, Groener, and Hoffmann were also commoners.
But it was the defeat in the first World War which finally destroyed the military prestige of the Junkers. In the present German Army there are still many aristocrats in higher ranks, because the officers who got their commissions in the last years preceding the first World War have now reached the top of the ladder. But there is no longer any preference given to aristocrats. Among the political leaders of Nazism there are few nobles—and the titles even of these are often questionable.
The German princes and nobles, who unswervingly disparaged liberalism and democracy and until 1933 stubbornly fought for the preservation of their privileges, have completely surrendered to Nazism and connive at its egalitarian principles. They are to be found in the ranks of the most fanatical admirers of the Führer. Princes of the blood take pride in serving as satellites of notorious racketeers who hold party offices. One may wonder whether they act out of sincere conviction or out of cowardice and fear. But there can be no doubt that the belief, common to many members of the British aristocracy, that a restoration of the German dynasties would change the German mentality and the temper of politics is entirely mistaken.*
[* ]Speech at the party meeting at Nuremberg, September 3, 1933. Frankfurter Zeitung, September 4, 1933.
[* ]Houzé, L’Aryen et l’Anthroposociologie (Brussels, 1906), pp. 3 ff.; Hertz, Rasse und Kultur (3d ed. Leipzig, 1925), pp. 102 ff.
[1. ][Environmental influences.—Ed.]
[* ]Bismarck, Gedanken und Erinnerungen, I, p. 6.
[* ]Goethe, Wilhelm Meister’s Lehrjahre, book V, chap. iii.
[* ]The last sovereign duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, born and brought up in Great Britain as a grandson of Queen Victoria, was the first German prince who—long before 1933—took office in the Nazi party.