Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The Führer principle

Some annotated extracts from the Nazi jurist Ernst Rudolf Huber's Verfassungsrecht des grossdeutschen Reiches (Constitutional Law of the Greater German Reich), published in 1939.

"The Führer-Reich of the people is founded on the recognition that the true will of the people cannot be disclosed through parliamentary votes and plebiscites but that the will of the people in its pure and uncorrupted form can only be expressed through the Führer.  Thus a distinction must be drawn between the supposed will of the people in a parliamentary democracy, which merely reflects the conflict of the various social interests, and the true will of the people in the Führer-state, in which the collective will of the real political unit is manifested...."

"[T]he Führer has nothing in common with the functionary, the agent, or the exponent who exercises a mandate delegated to him and who is bound to the will of those who appoint him. The Führer is no "representative" of a particular group whose wishes he must carry out. He is no "organ" of the state in the sense of a mere executive agent. He is rather himself the bearer of the collective will of the people. In his will the will of the people is realized. He transforms the mere feelings of the people into a conscious will.... Thus it is possible for him, in the name of the true will of the people which he serves, to go against the subjective opinions and convictions of single individuals within the people if these are not in accord with the objective destiny of the people...."

"His will is not the subjective, individual will of a single man, but the collective national will is embodied within him in all its objective, historical greatness."

This makes clear the contrast of Führer-rule with democracy.  To this extent, the Nazi system of government had a superficial resemblance with that of pre-modern absolute monarchs.  However, the intellectual heritage behind the above quotations is not really that of the Counter-Enlightenment.  The dictatorship of the Führer is not legitimised in classic reactionary terms - that is, as the expression of a God-given social order or as the outcome of hereditary succession.  Instead, Huber's theorising is rooted in the notion of the "will".  This recalls not de Maistre but Rousseau, and the concept of the "general will" adopted by the French revolutionaries.  I suspect it is also influenced by Nietzsche.

"The Führer unites in himself all the sovereign authority of the Reich; all public authority in the state as well as in the movement is derived from the authority of the Führer. We must speak not of the state's authority but of the Führer's authority if we wish to designate the character of the political authority within the Reich correctly. The state does not hold political authority as an impersonal unit but receives it from the Führer as the executor of the national will. The authority of the Führer is complete and all-embracing; it unites in itself all the means of political direction; it extends into all fields of national life; it embraces the entire people, which is bound to the Führer in loyalty and obedience. The authority of the Führer is not limited by checks and controls, by special autonomous bodies or individual rights, but it is free and independent, all-inclusive and unlimited. It is not, however, self-seeking or arbitrary and its ties are within itself. It is derived from the people; that is, it is entrusted to the Führer by the people. It exists for the people and has its justification in the people...."

Note again the reference to the "national will".  Most strikingly, this passage seeks to legitimise Führer-rule by reference to the "people" - something that no reactionary philosopher would have done in respect of pre-modern monarchs.  The insistence on the totalitarian power of the leader is also foreign to reactionary thought, which acknowledged that even absolute monarchs had some limits to their sovereignty (notably, those imposed by the rival sovereignty of the Church).

"The Führer principle rests upon unlimited authority but not upon mere outward force. It has often been said, but it must constantly be repeated, that the Führer principle has nothing in common with arbitrary bureaucracy and represents no system of brutal force, but that it can only be maintained by mutual loyalty which must find its expression in a free relation."

This is a remarkable attempt to put lipstick on the pig of totalitarian dictatorship.  The emphasis on ties of mutual loyalty sounds vaguely feudal, and may be an attempt to appropriate traditional ideas of loyalty bound up with the old Prussian code of military honour.

"The concept of personal liberties of the individual as opposed to the authority of the state had to disappear; it is not to be reconciled with the principle of the nationalistic Reich.  There are no personal liberties of the individual which fall outside of the realm of the state and which must be respected by the state.  The member of the people, organically connected with the whole community, has replaced the isolated individual; he is included in the totality of the political people and is drawn into the collective action.  There can no longer be any question of a private sphere, free of state influence, which is sacred and untouchable before the political unity.  The constitution of the nationalistic Reich is therefore not based upon a system of inborn and inalienable rights of the individual."

This is an explicit rejection of the Enlightenment discourse of inalienable human rights and the autonomy of the individual as against the state and society.  This is a theme that Nazism shared with classical conservatism: a preoccupation with an organic, corporative view of society in opposition to the atomised individualism which liberalism was claimed to lead to.