Title: The Logic of Evil: The Social Origins of the Nazi Party, 1925-1933
Author: William Brustein
Publisher: Yale University Press
Original, unprecedented analysis of 42,000 Nazi party members records
Amazing data on the demographics, professions, and backgrounds of Nazi Party supporters
Doesnt address likely objections and critiques
Doesnt explain why only economic interests are rational interests
Analysis of why it might have been rational to vote for or join the Nazi party
Argues that anti-Semitism and xenophobia arent the only or best explanations for Nazi success
Explains how Nazi proposals might reasonably have appealed to certain groups
Most studies of Nazi Party affiliation tend to focus on issues like anti-Semitism and few have taken a step back from its extraordinary history to treat it like any other political party. Such an approach makes sense because the fate of National Socialism was unknown to those voting for it at the time certainly the party wasn't unique when it came to issues like hatred for Jews.
Thus William Brusteins book The Logic of Evil: The Social Origins of the Nazi Party, 1925-1933 is an important contribution to studies of Nazism. Brusteins thesis is that most people were motivated to vote for and even join the Nazis because they perceived the Nazis as offering the best economic recovery plans. In other words, economic self-interest on the part of millions of ordinary Germans helped propel the Nazi Party to absolute power.
There are a lot of interesting ideas and data in Brusteins book, but there are also some significant flaws which I should cover first. To begin with, Brustein like so many others writes as though rational self-interest were the same as economic self-interest. Anti-Semitism, xenophobia, hypernationalism, and other aspects of the Nazi program are dismissed as irrational.
This is a strongly materialistic vision of history which doesnt try to get inside the perspective of people being analyzed. For us such ideas may appear irrational, but it wasnt for them in their minds, it may have been entirely rational.
Focusing on economics to the exclusion of all else makes for a very thin, superficial analysis of self-interest. People are not only capable of voting against their economic interests in favor of other interests, but sometimes thats actually the best choice one can make.
Second, there are flaws in model of rational self-interest which economists and political historians use, none of which are addressed by Brustein. For example, studies have repeatedly shown that most people dont actually seek to maximize the results of their choices the time and effort that is required for such maximization simply doesnt pay off in the end. Ultimately, it is more rational to simply seek to be satisfied with ones choice, even if it isnt the best available.
For example, people will pick a trusted brand of butter or pasta rather than try cheaper alternatives, even though the latter tactic may result in maximum quality for their money. Why? People arent perfectly rational and dont make perfectly rational decisions. If people are satisfied with the brand they use and which their parents used, theyll stick with it until very strong reasons come along for a change.
The same is probably true in politics as well. If a person is satisfied with a particular party or candidate, they may be likely to stick with them despite the reasons why it is against their self-interest to do so. Once a certain amount of trust is invested in the relationship, strong reasons are needed to break it off. Brining this into his analysis might have made Brusteins book better.
As significant as these flaws are, they dont completely undermine Brusteins case or detract from his contribution. There may be more to self-interest than economics, but the importance of economics remains and Brustein demonstrates that there were good reasons for Germans of the time to think that the Nazis would do a better job at handling the economy than the alternatives. This must have played a role in the thinking and voting of quite a few Germans and thus Brusteins analysis does provide us with important information. On the other hand, that voting for the Nazis plausibly coincided with ones economic self-interest does not mean that this was the reason why they voted Nazi.