The book's yellowed cover is a testament to its longevity and continued relevance. It was a textbook in my university history class, published in 1965 when the fall of Hitler was barely twenty years in the past. It continues to be required reading in many classes, both in the US and Europe.
Author William Sheridan Allen chose to name the German town that was the focus of his research "Thalburg," his "Middletown, Germany" in the words of reviewer Walter Laqueur. Just a typical town in 1930s Germany, which thanks to subsequent editions, we now know is Northeim.
I've been re-reading it in light of the rise of Donald Trump as the Republican Party candidate, and now after his victory in yesterday's 2016 Presidential election. Here are some passages (in blue).
"This [book] is an attempt to understand one of the central political and moral problems of the twentieth century: how a civilized democracy could be plunged into a nihilistic dictatorship."
I have just spent most of election night and the day after speaking to groups here in Brussels - students at the main French-speaking university, and three hours on Belgian TV commenting live on the final returns leading up to Trump's speech - as a concerned expatriate voter. I was well behaved, ever the diplomatic Avuncular American.
Now that the deed is done, I can share my deepest concerns with readers. But I'll let William Sheridan Allen and The Nazi Seizure of Power do most of the talking.
"Nazi propaganda consists entirely of a perpetual appeal to whatever is swinish in man." Dr. Kurt Schumacher, SPD, Reichstag speech February 1932.
"Swinish" is a good 20th century word that certainly describes what the world has been watching at Trump rallies. Though it accurately reflects the bombastic, boorish content favored by President Elect Trump, it probably is unfair to the swines.
"There were two groups of Nazis in Thalburg," said a former civil servant, "the decent ones and the gutter type. In the end, the gutter won out."
Last month I made a trip back to south Florida for a family bereavement. We're talking suburban Fort Lauderdale, not the Everglades. And yet, of all the political bumper stickers on display while waiting at traffic lights, not a single one was for Hillary Clinton. It was all for Trump on those pickup trucks, along with assorted gun totin' homilies - "Marines kill people" (not a condemnation, on the contrary, just a proud statement of a state of mind).
"Most of those who joined the Nazis did so because they wanted a radical answer... people wanted a hard, sharp, clear leadership - they were disgusted with the eternal political strife of parliamentary party politics."
The only words that need to be replaced might be "Nazi" and "parliamentary" to update this to 2016. Think "gridlock" and other ways to blame-share what has been Republican obstructionism over the eight years of President Obama.
"Anyone who went regularly to Nazi meetings, or read the pamphlets, or even slogans chalked on the walls, should have been able to discern the vulgar and violent aspects of the NSDAP (Nazi party)."
Who needs pamphlets these days when you have a multitude of Tweets straight from the man himself? Trump's almost single-handed campaign and nonstop utterances are amply documented for all to see; no one can say they were duped by his charm.
"The failure of the middle class parties to withstand the Nazi electoral drive was caused by... the inadequacy of their followers' commitment to (or understanding of) democracy."
Early indications of voter turnout in the 2016 election show it hovering slightly above 50%. Does that mean that almost half of the US voting population "lacked a commitment to democracy" by their failure to vote? Trump was elected with 24% of the popular vote, meaning 76% of the electorate did not vote for Trump; here is a great graphic provided by Ryan McMaken of the libertarian think tank Mises Institute. Historical footnote: in 1933 Adolf Hitler became Chancellor after his Nazi party garnered 33% of the vote.
Back to Allen's The Nazi Seizure of Power:
"The Depression not only created the climate of fear in which the Nazis throve, it also embittered political processes. The root of the problem was the division into two groups of absolute opponents, each of which meant to destroy the other..."
Fear - we have that in spades, as well as an embittered political process. On the eve of the election, The Atlantic quoted Brookings Institution's Thomas Wright, who had Tweeted
Pretty clear this is the most important election anywhere in the world since the two German elections of 1932. No other election has had the capacity to completely overturn the international order—the global economy, geopolitics, etc.
Well, we've had our election, and the world awakened today to find that perhaps after all things won't be the same again. Will a future historian one day write about how, in 2016, a typical American suburb stood as a microcosm of the "movement" (as President Elect Trump termed it last night) that has swept all opposition before it?