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Open Access Publications from the University of California

National Socialism Before Nazism: Friedrich Naumann and Theodor Fritsch, 1890-1914

  • Author(s): Kedar, Asaf
  • Advisor(s): Bevir, Mark
  • et al.

This dissertation is a rethinking and critique of the concept of "national socialism." I show that this concept not only emerged in Germany years before Nazism, but also arose within the mainstream of German society, alongside and independently of parallel developments in the radical right. Alarmed by the dramatic rise of an internationalist, Marxist socialism in the years following German unification, a succession of prominent public figures gave voice to an alternative, nationalist reading of the social problems accompanying capitalist industrialization. This endeavor involved a wholesale reconceptualization of social life and social reform, and a marginalization of the concern for social justice and emancipation in favor of a preoccupation with national order, homogeneity, and power.

The dissertation focuses on two variants of national socialism developed in Germany prior to the First World War, one by the left-leaning bourgeois reformist Friedrich Naumann and the other by the right-wing völkisch antisemite Theodor Fritsch. Their differences notwithstanding, both strands of national socialism shared two major ideational foundations. First, both were underpinned by a national existentialism: the claim that the nation is facing a "struggle for existence" which necessitates aggressive international expansion, colonization, and ethnic purification. The social reforms demanded by national socialism were, accordingly, geared at systematically harnessing all socio-economic forces in the service of these purportedly "existential" struggles. Second, both variants of national socialism adhered to a national productivism that, by stressing the need for cooperation among all the "productive" strata of the nation, elided the class-based exploitation characteristic of industrial capitalism. On the basis of their national productivism, both Naumann and Fritsch were opposed simultaneously to Marxism with its class-conflict view of society on the one hand, and to liberalism with its individualistic worldview on the other hand.

Given that Naumann and Fritsch were pivotal figures in their respective social, cultural, and political milieux--Naumann in the reformist bourgeoisie, Fritsch in the radical right--their articulation of a national-existential claim on the social is indicative of a profound generational shift in the ideational climate of Imperial Germany. This generational shift did not consist in the appearance of national socialism itself, which had already been articulated in the 1870s by prominent figures such as political economist Gustav Schmoller and Christian socialist Adolf Stoecker. Rather, the shift consisted in the shedding of the ethical-conservative sensibility of the first generation of national socialism in favor of a sense of existential urgency grounded in a biologistic imagination. The impact of national socialism on the generation of Naumann and Fritsch reached its apex in the First World War, when an existential national socialism constituted the ideological underpinning of Germany's war economy, i.e. the systematic regimentation and mobilization of the national economy in service of the war effort.

Beyond the fresh perspective it offers on the historical dynamics of Imperial Germany, the dissertation also sheds new light on the intellectual-historical context in which national socialism made its way into the name and program of the Nazi movement from 1920 onward. The study suggests that the conceptual field of national socialism into which Nazism entered after the First World War was more variegated, more sophisticated, and had deeper historical and intellectual roots than previously believed.

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