Reviewed by Benjamin Lapp (Department of History, Montclair State University)
Published on H-German (December, 2005)
In this volume, Detlef Mühlberger has provided a comprehensive, succinct summary of the literature on the social makeup of the Nazi party and electorate. The book surveys a massive literature, guides the reader through the major debates, and convincingly argues for an emergent consensus. The author has himself been an active participant in the development of this consensus: his book, Hitler¹s Followers: Studies in the Sociology of the Nazi Movement (1991) made a strong argument that the Nazi Party membership was far more socially diverse than previously thought.
Mühlberger gives an historical overview of the development of the previously dominant view that the Nazi movement was based above all in the middle classes, with only marginal support from other social groups. He discusses major proponents of this view such as Theodor Geiger and Seymour Martin Lipset, and points out that their thesis was based on "little if any empirical evidence" and yet was nevertheless considered axiomatic for decades (pp. 9-10).
This view of the Nazi Party as a middle-class movement was challenged by the discovery of new data concerning Nazi Party membership in the 1970s, as well as developments in computer technology which allowed for a more sophisticated analysis of the electoral data, though Mühlberger also warns that "there are limits to what quantitative analysis can accomplish" (p. 37). Still, new techniques have led to a much more sophisticated and nuanced view of the social basis of Nazism.
Even in its early years (1919-1923), the Nazi Party attained "significant support" from both the working class and the elite. To be sure, there were some notable class distinctions within the party. Mühlberger points out that, while the party membership mirrored the diversity of German society, and that all social classes were represented, its leadership was drawn overwhelmingly from the elites. The same can be said for the leadership of the "specialist organizations" such as the SA and the SS. While these organizations included many working-class members (contrary to earlier perceptions), their leadership was primarily middle class or upper class.
Mühlberger gives much credit to historians like Thomas Childers, Richard Hamilton, and Dirk Hänisch for their roles in painstakingly unraveling the old orthodoxy concerning the middle-class basis of the Nazi electorate in the years 1929-1933. However, it was the work of Jürgen Falter, particularly his Hitlers Wähler (1991), which still defines the state of research: "It is unlikely that a more comprehensive and statistically more complex analysis of the Nazi voter will see the light of day in the foreseeable future" (p. 75). Falter demonstrated conclusively that the Nazi electorate drew on all sections of German society, and that it could legitimately be described as a Volkspartei.
While presenting no new research, this book is an outstanding survey of the state of the literature. It is an ideal text for an upper-division course on National Socialism or for graduate students seeking a brief overview of the terms of the debate.
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Benjamin Lapp. Review of MÖÂ¼hlberger, Detlef, The Social Bases of Nazism, 1919-1933.
H-German, H-Net Reviews.
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