Why Hitler loved ‘social justice’

In August 1920 in Munich, a young Adolf Hitler delivered one of his first public speeches before a crowd of some 2,000 people.

During his speech, which lasted nearly two hours and was interrupted nearly 60 times by cheers, Hitler touched on a theme he’d repeat in future speeches, stating he did not believe that “ever on earth could a state survive with continuing inner health, if it were not based on inner social justice.”

This was one of the first times Hitler spoke publicly of social justice—perhaps the first time.

In his recent book Hitler’s National Socialism, Rainer Zitelmann makes it clear that “social justice” (soziale Gerechtigkeit) was central to Hitler’s social objectives.

What precisely Hitler meant by “social justice” is not easily understood, so perhaps it’s best first to understand what Hitler did not mean. Hitler was not interested in a state or society that simply treated people equally, or a state that simply left individuals alone.

This would not achieve the social change he sought. Like Karl Marx, Hitler saw the world through power structures, and the prevailing power structures made it too difficult for all Germans to rise, in his view.

Zitelmann makes it clear that Hitler talked a great deal about concepts like social mobility and meritocracy. His speeches contain phrases that talk about a German state “in which birth is nothing and achievements and ability are everything.” Otto Dietrich, Hitler’s longtime press chief, noted that Hitler supported “the abolition of all privileges” and a “classless” state.

To this end, Hitler expressed his desire to “tear down all the social barriers in Germany without compunction,” as he explained in a 1942 conversation with Dutch national socialist leader Anton Mussert.

In other words, privilege was so pervasive in Germany that Hitler would root it out by destroying the entire class structure.

‘Tear down the walls which separate the classes’

If any of this sounds familiar, it should.

Social justice is an idea Americans hear virtually every day. It is praised in universities and advocated during NFL games. We hear the words “social justice” on the lips of politicians and in TV commercials.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that today’s social justice advocates are Nazis. I have no doubt they despise Hitler and his ideas, as we all should. But I am saying today’s social justice advocates share an important trait with Hitler: an obsession with class.

This should come as little surprise. Class is something instrumental in virtually all of the different strains of socialism—communism, national socialism, democratic socialism, Peronism, etc.

In traditional Marxist theory, the capitalist stage of history consists primarily of two classes: the bourgeoisie (the capitalists, who own “the means of production”) and the proletariat (the workers). For Marx, class antagonism was the driving force of history, and his disciples share this view.

Defining social justice is a bit tricky, but you can see baked into the idea the notion that class must be rooted out.

“Social justice is justice in relation to a fair balance in the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society where individuals’ rights are recognized and protected,” Wikipedia explains.

This sounds reasonable. It appeals to our instinctive belief that society should be fair. Who likes “privilege,” after all? Who doesn’t want a more equal society?

Indeed, this is precisely what Hitler emphasized in his speeches: the creation of “equal opportunity” in society. Consider these February 1942 remarks from the Fuhrer:

Three things are vital in any uprising: to tear down the walls which separate the classes from each other in order to open the way for advancement for everybody; to create a general level of life in such a way that even the poorest has the secure minimum for existence; finally to reach the point where everybody can share in the blessings of culture.



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A problem of means and ends

In a sense, there’s nothing inherently wrong with many of the ends social justice advocates seek. There’s nothing intrinsically good about “privilege” or wealth concentration. The primary problem is one of means.

Social justice advocates—then and now—tend to seek to resolve what they see as structural inequities in society through illiberal and coercive means. In its most basic form, it means taking from those who have more (the privileged) and giving it to those who have less.

For Hitler, this meant confiscating the property of the wealthiest (most privileged) members of his society: the Jews. Wealth confiscation began in earnest after Hitler issued an order (“Decree for the Reporting of Jewish-Owned Property”) in April 1938 requiring Jews to register their wealth with the state.

Property rights might be the foundation of human prosperity, but they proved of little use to Jews who found themselves obstacles to the Fuhrer’s quest of achieving social justice in Germany.

Such a policy would be illegal in the United States, of course, and something few social justice advocates today would ever support. Yet many have shown an appetite for using the government to “level the playing field” in more subtle ways, including unlawfully allocating federal grants based on race.

Indeed, perhaps the most notable characteristic of social justice today is the illiberal means used to advance it. More than a half century ago, the Nobel Prize-winning economist F.A. Hayek observed the paradox of social justice, which seeks to create a more equal society by treating people unequally:

The classical demand is that the state ought to treat all people equally in spite of the fact that they are very unequal. You can’t deduce from this that because people are unequal you ought to treat them unequally in order to make them equal. And that’s what social justice amounts to. It’s a demand that the state should treat people differently in order to place them in the same position.… To make people equal a goal of governmental policy would force government to treat people very unequally indeed.

Hayek believed that treating people unequally was baked into the social justice cake, and recent historical events have proven him correct.

Since social justice was central to Hitler’s goals, he could not treat Jews, the bourgeoisie, and other privileged classes like everyone else. Only by abolishing “privilege” could he free the German people, he argued, and advance social progress.

“If we want to build a true national community, we can only do this on the basis of social justice,” he said in one 1925 speech.

Similarly, 21st-century social justice advocates can’t bring about social change by advancing the idea that all people should be treated equally regardless of their race or sex. If you read Robin DiAngelo (author of White Fragility) and Özlem Sensoy, who co-authored the book Is Everyone Really Equal? An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education, it’s clear they are not interested in treating people equally.

For DiAngelo, the privileged class in America is white people, all of whom were born “into a racialized hierarchy,” a socio-economic system that is racist and must be dismantled.

“This system of structural power privileges, centralizes, and elevates white people as a group,” says DiAngelo.

Precisely how social equality is to be achieved is unclear, but it’s safe to say DiAngelo does not believe the march toward equity will be achieved by embracing the idea that all humans are unique individuals who deserve equal treatment, or without using the power of the state.

The mistake DiAngelo and many other social justice advocates make is a common one in modern times. They prioritize the ends they seek over the means they use.

The philosopher and FEE founder Leonard Read understood the folly of this approach. This is why, in his 1969 book Let Freedom Reign, Read argued that a “hard look” at the means we use is far more important than the ends we seek:

Ends, goals, aims are but the hope for things to come… not… reality… from which may safely be taken the standards for right conduct…Many of the most monstrous deeds in human history have been perpetrated in the name of doing good—in pursuit of some “noble” goal. They illustrate the fallacy that the end justifies the means.

Hitler, of course, disagreed.

He didn’t worry about means; they were entirely justified (in his mind) by the ends he sought. And his grandiose vision for “social justice” in Germany conveniently came with a perk: it allowed him to use the immense power of the state to “correct” the inequities in German society, which had become a hotbed of resentment and decadence following World War I and years of hyperinflation

Do you agree that there are fascist undertones in the virtue-signalling policies of social justice warriors? Comment below.

Jonathan Miltimore is the Editor at Large of FEE.org at the Foundation for Economic Education.

Image credits: Hitler meeting enthusiastic schoolgirls

This article has been republished from FEE.org under a creative commons licence.  


Showing 19 reactions

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  • mrscracker
    “Controlling the spread of “disinformation” when the Government defines disinformation is one core element of authoritarian rule.”
    Absolutely. We end up with Orwellian “Ministries of Truth”. Orwell worked in the BBC’s propaganda dept. so he knew all about that sort of thing .
  • mrscracker
    There’s a British podcast series: “The Rest is History” with historian Tom Holland. They recently did several episodes on Hitler that I thought were worth listening to.
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-05-23 20:37:43 +1000
    Controlling the spread of “disinformation” when the Government defines disinformation is one core element of authoritarian rule.

    Can’t help if you do not understand.

    By defending the control the “disinformation” you have become one of those fighting against those who could reinvent the United States.

    Nevertheless, I hope that the US population finds a peaceful way towards reinvention.

    We need that, too.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-05-23 18:26:26 +1000
    BTW my parents and their friends lived through the collapse of the Weimar Republic. I had many long conversations with them. I agree there is a sort of Weimar Republic/End of Empire feel about the contemporary United States.

    But the US does have a way of reinventing itself. I would not count them out yet.

    One of the problems in the US is that it is no sense still a republic (res publica) or democracy. It is a plutocracy – rule of, by and for the people who won/control large corporations.

    That’s the bad news.

    I think the good news is that many Americans are waking up to that reality. Only in putting their trust in Trump they’re betting on the wrong horse. He despises them.

    In a way China and US are mirror images. In China the government controls the private corporations. In US the private corporations control the government.

    I’m not going to bother commenting on your false equivalence between Nazi Gleichshaltung and European attempts, misguided as I think they are, to control the spread of disinformation.

    America has never faced a rival like China. The Soviet Union at best had 60% of US GDP. And that was taking their statistics at face value.

    By some measures China may already have surpassed the US. Their tech is still lagging behind the US but they have a huge and well motivated STEM labour force. They also have more people than North America, Europe and Japan combined.

    We shall see what we shall see.
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-05-23 18:20:12 +1000
    There are already people in prison, who have silently protested in front of abortion clinics.

    But antifa I’d subsidized.
    Not fascist?
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-05-23 18:17:47 +1000
    Are those “anti hate speach” laws and Initiatives not fascist?
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-05-23 18:15:09 +1000
    Is the US Patriot Act not a fascist law?
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-05-23 18:05:25 +1000
    Re: Gleichschaltung of the press

    The German government owns as significant portion of the media. It is called öffentlich rechtlich and politicians govern it. Used to provide good journalism, not anymore.

    Since Blackrock owns the Springer Media Group (Welt, Bild) it is basically an outlet for US- interests: boobs plus bullshit.

    The rest of the private media groups do not generate profits and largely rely on reports they get for free from the German government.

    I believe that a few oligarchs in the US own most of big private news corporations.

    At least over here, there are many different papers At the news stands / kiosk. But the content is very very similar.

    Of course there are still alternative media. But the EU commission is already calling for more “regulation” of those alternatives.

    Well, there is a lot of Gleichschaltung, isn’t it?
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-05-23 17:46:44 +1000
    As I said, they looked good – on paper. You forgot the “on paper” bit.

    Name the contemporary social justice warriors who want to set up concentration camps, send trade union leaders to concentration camps, impose Gleichschaltung on the press or persecute parts of the citizenry on the basis of “race” or “ethnicity” to name but a few realities of the pre-war Third Reich.

    Much of the excess spending went on building up a war machine Germany could not afford and in the end proved inadequate for the task. The “MEFO” bills were due the following year and could not be paid without setting off an inflation. In the end Hitler painted himself into a corner. He either used the war machine he had built up for plunder or lost it in an inflation.

    Will the US suffer the same fate – national bankruptcy.

    I don’t know. The difference between Germany then and the US today is that the US owns the de facto global currency. That means it can extract seigniorage.

    How long can that continue? I’ve been hearing about the impending collapse of the greenback for over 50 years. But as long as the wealthy regard the US as a safe haven it’ll continue.

    BTW Germany actually won it’s war with Britain. By the end of 1940 Churchill was reduced to writing begging letters to FDR. Churchill’s war memoirs are a work of fantasy.

    In the end Britain ended up as the junior partner of a victorious coalition. Unfortunately for the Brits they’ve never been able to admit to themselves that they were among the losers. They continued the act of being a great power which they could not afford.
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-05-23 17:00:58 +1000
    Steven, you have confirmed my point that the party program of the NSDAP look modern, progressive and therefore attractive in many aspects.

    But the you dismiss my point that of course he “didn’t mean it”.

    How do you know?

    I think he meant it and even implemented some of those policies.

    My conclusion is that the final outcome of his policies proof that they were fundamentally wrong.

    One example from economics: Hitler had inherited an economy that had just started to grow strongly. He added some more government spending and a lot of regulations. Germany registered full employment by 1936!

    But then his fiscal Keynesian policies went into overdrive, when the global economy slowed. Deficits exploded, too much money went into unproductive spending, the military.

    In 1938 Germany was again bancrupt.

    Does this not also look similar to current US policies?

    Your conclusion?
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-05-23 16:37:00 +1000
    Jurgen Siemer,

    I did not say Trump would start a war with China. The problem is Xi may think he would never go to war, or help Taiwan, and that’s what could start a war. Rather the way I’m guessing Hitler figured Chamberlain would never go to war when he invaded Poland.

    I agree that Germany was coming out of its recession and that there were good politicians in SPD and Zentrum. The Nazi vote was actually declining. We may never know what induced Hindenburg to appoint Hitler chancellor.

    I also agree that the reparations were lunacy.
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-05-23 15:54:46 +1000
    Steven, after reading your comments I thought at first, that I should write that your constant and almost always unsubstantiated accusations against Trump and his voters (now Trump, one of very few presidents not starting a war, might cause a war with China, honestly?), accusations that usually not more than insults, were boring to the readers and covering the few interesting points you sometimes raise.

    But the I thought, that the US today has some similarities with Germany in the 1920s and early 1930s, and one such similarity is the insulting and attacking of political opponents, which led to a low level civil war in Germany. Looking from the outside the US seems to be close to that low level civil war.

    There are more similarities: Germany had its Hollywood in Potsdam with big studios, Prostitution was everywhere, homosexuality was promoted, and a large pomiddle classes lost a lot of purchasing power and their faith in God and the state institutions such as the monarchy.

    Germany back then did have a good and honest politicians, eg in the Zentrum and the SPD.

    Economically, Germany just came out of the recession im 1932, and its competitive industry was gaining market shares everywhere. The huge unemployment was already going down before Hitler took power. So one may say that Germany in 1932 was economically beginning to come out of the huge mess, in spite of the huge and unfair reparations it was paying to the victors of WW 1.

    So: 1/ Any nation can fall into fascism, including the US. 2/ A democracy is not destroyed by fascists, but by (former) democrats not treating their opponents respectfully, and not discussing their arguments, but attacking the person instead.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-05-23 10:35:28 +1000
    Jurgen Siemer, I once took the Nazi Party’s 25 point program, rid it of all racial references, put the wording in a modern context, and asked people what they though of it as a political platform.

    Of the 30 odd people I asked all thought it was great.

    Leaving aside the racial elements, the Nazi program was pretty good – at least on paper.

    But, of course, Hitler didn’t mean it. It was all propaganda.

    Hitler was as much a social justice warrior as Trump is a Christian. Hell, he was as much a Christian as Trump is a Christian.

    It’s odd really. Both Hitler had, and Trump has, only contempt for their admirers. Yet somehow aforementioned admirers can’t see what is perfectly obvious to anyone outside the bubble.

    Trump is, of course, no Hitler. He’s shrewder than the erstwhile Fuhrer. The way he taps into class resentments without ever mentioning class, is brilliant.

    America’s upper class are contemptuous of what they regard as the “Yahoos” and “rednecks”. And when they’re not contemptuous they’re condescending.

    For many of Trump’s admirers the payoff is the visible distress his behaviour causes the class of people they rightly believe look down on them. That’s why they love the phrase “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” They’re laughing at people upset by Trump’s buffoonery. It’s a way for people with no power to get their own back.

    Trump is entertaining. If the stakes weren’t so high I’d be enjoying the show. He’s the sort of phenomenon you can’t make up. And the way he’s exposed so many politicians and Christian clergy for what they really are is hilarious.

    And CPAC makes a flat earth convention look almost sane.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-05-23 09:33:31 +1000
    LOL, mrscracker I was wondering when someone would come up with “Trump Derangement Syndrome..”

    I suppose by the same token Churchill had “Hitler Derangement Syndrome”..

    “Trump Derangement Syndrome” is one of those expressions so-called “conservatives” use in the same way that “progressives” use words like “racist” or “transphobic.” They’re simply a way of trying to shut down discussion.

    I’ll give you the same answer I gave a certain left wing politician when he called me a “racist” for saying we’re headed for trouble if the rate at which immigrants come in continues to exceed our ability to construct housing.

    “Guilty as charged. Now let’s address the actual issues.”

    Of course most Americans are reasonable – at least most of the time. So were most Germans in 1932-33. So were the Venezuelans who voted in Chavez. Faced with limited choices they voted for what they thought was the best of a bad lot.

    In fact – here’s a newsflash – most people are perfectly reasonable most of the time.

    But Americans as a group can be just as delusional, ignorant and gullible as anybody else. If America weren’t such a powerful country I personally wouldn’t care whether you voted in Donald Trump or Mickey Mouse as your president.

    But here we are. Throughout most of my life the American president, whatever his faults, was the adult in the room when leaders from around the world gathered. That created a sort of Pax Americana. We avoided a major war.

    Nothing is certain but I am less confident of our ability to avert a major war in the coming years with Trump at the helm.

    You may not be able to see through Trump but the leaders of the countries bordering China, who are counting on the US to act as a counterweight, can. And they will make decisions based on that.

    Call them victims of “Trump Derangement Syndrome” if it makes you feel better but the stakes for your country are higher than most Americans seem to understand. A second Trump presidency will not make your already great country greater. It will diminish it.
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-05-23 05:31:19 +1000
    Most people do not want to hear it:

    The ideology of the Nazis was / is very “progressive and modern”:
    It was: socialistic, atheistic, green, darwinistic, relativistic and revolutionary.

    All of these plus nationalism/tribalism.

    And most people do not want to hear that, because they cannot refute it, and because these ideological and philosophical schools still exist – in their own minds.
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-05-23 05:22:40 +1000
    The last free election in Germany before Hitler ursuped power after the fire in the Reichstag showed a clear confessional devide: the majority protestant regions voted with significantly higher percentages for the NSDAP than the majority catholic regions.

    Unfortunately, Germany was only appr. 30 percent catholic.
  • mrscracker
    With respect Mr. Steven, speaking of obsessions I think Trump Derangement Syndrome is something widely suffered.
    There are exceptions, but most folks I’m acquainted with in the States are reasonable & balanced. We understand that in our type of system the variety of political choices can be limited. You often pick the least objectionable candidate & hope for the best. I vote according to a politician’s prior accomplishments, not their personality. I go by their voting record or the legislation they signed.
    All human beings are flawed & politicians often more so.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-05-22 21:18:39 +1000
    “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” (Warren Buffett)

    Of course social class is important. Of course it leads to structural inequities.

    And of course a demagogue like Hitler will use whatever form of words it takes to manipulate the emotions of his adoring followers.

    If you want to bring in Hitler to discredit your enemies here’s one for you:

    “We demand the freedom of all religious confessions in the state, insofar as they do not jeopardize the state’s existence or conflict with the manners and moral sentiments of the Germanic race. The Party as such upholds the point of view of a positive Christianity without tying itself confessionally to any one confession. It combats the Jewish-materialistic spirit at home and abroad and is convinced that a permanent recovery of our people can only be achieved from within on the basis of the common good before individual good.”

    To be clear, I’m not suggesting that today’s [Christians] are Nazis. I have no doubt they despise Hitler and his ideas, as we all should. But I am saying today’s [Christians] share an important trait with Hitler’s [followers]: an obsession with [a narcissistic charlatan].

    And whichever way you try to cut it, most German Christians welcomed the rise of the Nazi Party.
  • mrscracker
    It seems like every regime that calls for social justice ends up creating a ruling class of their own. Plus ca change…