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Austin Cline

Religious Affiliation and Nazi Party Support (Book Notes: The Logic of Evil)

By January 28, 2006

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An important subject of research about Nazi Germany is the relationship between people's religion and what they did to support the Nazis: voting for them, joining the party, and/or helping them achieve their goals. It's commonly thought that Nazi support came primarily from Protestants, but the whole truth is a bit more complex. The Logic of Evil: The Social Origins of the Nazi Party

In The Logic of Evil: The Social Origins of the Nazi Party, 1925-1933, William Brustein writes:

Although the evidence indicates that Nazi voters came largely from Germanyís Protestant regions, the pattern was not uniform. Zofka found, in his examination of the July 1932 Reichstag elections in the predominantly Catholic Bavarian county of Gunzburg, for example, that in five of the countyís sixty-five communities the Nazi Party gained a majority of the votes. All told, the Nazi vote in Gunzburg county ranged from 10 to 90 percent. Moreover, Pridhamís study of Catholic Bavaria reveals that the town of Passau, with a Catholic population of 95 percent, gave the Nazi Party 31 percent of the vote in the 1930 Reichstag election; the national average was 18.3 percent.

Not all Catholic communities rejected the Nazis; conversely, not all Protestant voters jumped on the Nazi Party bandwagon. In separate studies of the rise of Nazism in the northern Protestant state of Lower Saxony, Noakes and Farquharson note considerable divergences in local Nazi electoral success rates in the 1930 Reichstag election. Similarly, Faris finds in his examination of the 1929 state elections in Baden that in the predominantly Protestant village of Kurnbach the Nazis obtained 10 percent of the vote, whereas four kilometers away in the equally Protestant and rural Zausenhausen the Nazi Party gained 64 percent of the vote. These authors take issue with the claim that differences in Nazi voting preferences were occasioned solely by religion.

Itís true that Protestants, as a whole, tended to vote for and support the Nazis more than Catholics, so there must be some links between German Protestantism and Nazism. Given the fact that both were German, this is hardly surprising ó Catholicism, at least, had significant non-German influences from the Vatican. This canít be the entire explanation though ó it canít be that Catholics were a bit less enthusiastically pro-Nazi simply because they had some external influences.

At the same time, the fact that Protestants werenít uniformly pro-Nazi while Catholics werenít uniformly less pro-Nazi makes it clear, as Brustein says, that more than religion was involved. Brusteinís book is an extended argument that the deciding factor for people supporting the Nazis was economic ó the belief that the Nazis would do the best job at helping people economically and with jobs.

I think that he gives insufficient attention to the role ideology can play in shaping peopleís perceptions, not to mention how peopleís ideology can cause them to vote against what an observe might regard as their best economic interests. Despite this, however, the role of economic interests canít be dismissed. Brustein offers a lot of interesting information and food for thought.

 

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