Chapter 2: Ruin and Reform: The Crisis of German Economic Liberalism
2. Ruin and reform: the crisis of German economic liberalism In the beerhall brawls and street fights of the Weimar Republic, National Socialists gradually gained the upper hand over Communists. But it was an intimate struggle with many conversions to and fro and evident family resemblances: National Socialism adopted the negative, brutal, and cynically subversive tendencies of Communism and also its technocratic-totalitarian enthusiasm for a centrally planned economy. This last similarity lent some justification to the claim that the Nazis were a National ‘Socialist’ movement. But to the street brawler, this bit of Marxian economic doctrine meant little, and he readily replaced Marxian internationalism with nationalism. Alexander Rüstow (1980, p. 644) For understandable reasons, analysis of National Socialism’s economic dimension often takes second place to study of the regime’s foreign, military and racial policies. In part, this reflects the immensity of its crimes. It may, however, also proceed from the fact that many Nazi economic policies met with approval from large segments of European and North American opinion, even from individuals who otherwise detested Hitler’s creed. The regime’s success in reducing unemployment, its willingness to adopt expansionist fiscal policies, its extensive welfare programs, its protectionist agricultural policies, and its goal of an autarkic economy were praised by many politicians and economists throughout the 1930s. But for some German economists in the 1930s, the Nazis’ economic policies reflected their totalitarian inclinations as much as their nullification of basic civil liberties via the 1933 Enabling Act. In Wilhelm Röpke’s view,...
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