Like the overwhelming majority of members of other cults (other than the Nazi cult that is), Germans were explicitly or implicitly looking for solutions to their financial, functional, emotional and spiritual problems.
Leaders of totalitarian cults manage to establish an almost complete control of their flock because they – hard as it might to believe – liberate individuals from freedom.
Contrary to a very popular misconception (at least in liberal Western nations), freedom is not always emotionally comfortable. Often it is actually spiritually painful, because it forces every individual to make often hard choices – and bear full responsibility for these choices.
Most individuals are lazy (and just about all people are pain-averse); consequently, they would prefer someone to make hard choices and hard decisions for them – and take all responsibility for their consequences.
Upon joining a cult, they obtain a supernaturally wise person guiding them, a person who seems to have answers for all of life’s difﬁcult question, and who frees them from having to make any more tough decisions.
All decisions, often even very minor ones, are made by the cult leaders. For a while, this type of life can feel very comforting to individuals who have been under a large amount of emotional stress (or are just plain lazy).
And that’s exactly what happened to Germans in the 1930s. They got tired from having to choose which party to vote for, which ideology to accept, which books to read, which movies to watch, how to treat Jews and homosexuals, etc., etc.
These choices are highly valuable for individuals living in a politically, economically and socially stable system (e.g. modern Western nations). In a tumultuous environment of Weimar Republic these choices were a heavy burden – and a pain… you know where.
Adolf Hitler – explicitly or implicitly – promised to liberate Germans from these choices and these freedoms. And they supported him, because that was exactly what they wanted.
In other words, he gave the Germans the structured sense of belonging and a much-needed escape from political, economic, social, cultural and emotional chaos of the Weimar Republic.
And, of course, satisfied very German strong needs for authority and certainty in their lives. And for someone and something to believe in – the series of devastating emotional blows experienced by the Germans in 1918-29 resulted in almost universal loss of faith in just about anything.
Hitler achieved his very impressive (miraculous even) results by winning the competition with all other political forces in Germany (left, right and center). Not a small feat by any measure.
He beat his competitors by offering Germans promises of an aggregate value – financial, functional, emotional and spiritual – far superior to what any of them was offering. And – unlike leaders of all charismatic totalitarian cults – largely delivered on his promises (and keep delivering until the winter of 1941/42).
Sooner or later, initial highly positive effects of cult membership inevitably wear off – due to a fundamental “psychological self-defense system”. Consequently, leaders of totalitarian cults have to figure out how to make their flock stay in the cult.
Terror and fear are the obvious choice (as is incessant and powerful brainwashing which sooner or later develops a strong emotional dependency). However, positive stimuli provide a far more potent motivation than the negative ones and most cult members are fundamentally strong, bright and idealistic individuals.
Consequently, brainwashing (more specifically, its core messages) must be adjusting accordingly. Usually, cult leaders somehow make their members feel that they have to stay in the cult because their presence is vital to the success of the cult’s noble, glorious (and even grandiose) Mission. Divine Mission.
Some cults claim that they are part of an elite group (or are an elite group) involved in work that will be not only highly beneﬁcial but no less than world shattering in its effect on mankind.
As the foundation to such a claim, cults must make their members believe that the human civilization is on the verge of collapse, and that the only thing that will save it is the work that the cult is doing (i.e. the Divine Mission that it must accomplish). In other words, a very special – and very important – role in the Universe.
That was precisely what Adolf Hitler claimed. He preached that the Aryan race in general and the German nation in particular has to fight an existential racial war with inferior and fundamentally hostile alien races (first and foremost, with the “Jewish race”).
And that the Nazis are essentially a giant army that is fighting to protect the Aryan race and the whole Western civilization from being annihilated by the “inferior races”.
Actually, he was right about the existential war – Germany had to fight this war (and the Nazis were, indeed, the only force capable of saving the Western civilization from destruction by its arch-enemy).
However, he was wrong about the nature of that war. It was an ideological and cultural war with the ideology of Bolshevism (“Russian Marxism”) and the Bolshevist Soviet Union – gargantuan military-industrial monster led by the “Red Tamerlane” Joseph Stalin. The Jews had nothing to do with that war whatsoever; in fact, they were its potential (and often actual) victims.
To make the lure of a cult irresistible (and to make its members completely dependent on the cult), its leader must produce a mind- and soul-shattering emotional and spiritual impact on both potential and actual members. And this is where the charisma of the leader of the cult becomes absolutely indispensable.
When it works, the results could be absolutely breathtaking. According to cult counselor Janja Lalich,
“Many former members confess that at ﬁrst they felt a kind of wonder, as if they had drawn near something awesome. They experienced a sense of exhilaration, excitement, passion, or expectation that was almost overwhelming.”
That’s precisely how those who heard Adolf Hitler speaking (at the rallies, on the radio, etc.) described their emotional experiences.
Cults offer these members an opportunity to take part in events and experiences that are outside the realm of ordinary human experience. So did the Nazis with their magnificent rallies, highly emotionally charged parades (especially at night), etc., etc.
A powerful part of human nature is the desire to be a unique and special individual; to be totally unlike the common man, to be a member of the “higher caste”, of the political, social and spiritual elite. And that’s exactly what cults are offering – especially the Nazi cult with their doctrines of “Aryan race”, Übermenschen and the like.
Almost all individuals live mediocre lives which are emotionally and spiritually poor (and thus murderously boring). Cults (especially the Nazi one) offer a sense of accomplishment – joining the elite – and rich emotional and spiritual nourishment.
All totalitarian cults sooner or later accomplish a more or less successful (usually more than less) thought reform. In other words, reprogramming of conscious and subconscious minds (yes, human minds can be reprogrammed) of their members.
As a result, members of cults sooner or later come to believe that the ideology of the cult is the only true answer to all questions of life. Therefore, if a cult member has a concern or question about the cult ideology, the problem must be not with the ideology but with the cult member. And that’s precisely what Nazis were preaching.
Eventually, the cult member begins to view the belief system (ideology, philosophy, theology, etc.) of the group as so holy that any questioning or criticism of it becomes the worst kind of blasphemy.
Accepting the belief system as Holy Scripture (or Holy Tradition) is actually comforting to many cult members because it not only makes them believe they are part of an elite group, one of the few in the world who know the real truth, but it also simpliﬁes the world by seeming to have definite answers to all life’s difﬁcult questions.
Once a cult member has totally accepted the ideology of the cult, everyone outside the cult is seen as misguided, misinformed, and often evil. There is only one right way – the cult’s way. And again, that’s precisely what Nazis had been preaching.
There were only two problems (that ultimately doomed the Third Reich) with this side of the Nazi cult – delusions and groupthink. Nazi ideology created a highly distorted and thus grossly inaccurate perception of reality (alas, for just about everybody perceptions are the only reality). Which predictably led to colossal strategic blunders and thus ultimately killed the Third Reich.
The term groupthink was coined by Dr. Irving Janis – a research psychologist at Yale University. It denotes the type of decision making that causes highly cohesive groups (e.g. the Nazis) to emphasize consensus rather than a careful and thorough analysis of a problem and its possible solutions.
In other words, the Nazis (including Hitler himself) were more concerned about “following the Party line” (i.e. being faithful to Nazi doctrine) than about realistically appraising alternative courses of action – and choosing the best one under the circumstances. Which not surprisingly led to devastating results. Devastating for the Third Reich that is.
In his book Groupthink, Dr. Janis deﬁnes eight attributes of a group that cause groupthink (all were fundamental components of Nazi ideology):
- An illusion of invulnerability.
- A faulty grasp of its own moral principles.
- The skills for intellectualization and rationalization.
- Advanced capabilities in stereotyping others.
- A willingness to self-censor.
- A desire to act with unanimity.
- The ability to put direct pressure on dissidents.
- A reliance on self-appointed mind guards to maintain the belief system of the group.
Dr. Mark Wexler (Professor of Business Ethics and Management in the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada) states that
“the chances of groupthink dramatically increase when cohesive groups with structural faults ﬁnd themselves under stress from external sources in a crisis situation.
Sounds like the Nazis in the Second Great War.
“All of the above” can lead to one and only one conclusion: the Nazi Party (NSDAP), the Nazi State (Führerstaat) and the whole civilization of the Third Reich were, indeed, destructive charismatic totalitarian cults and Adolf Hitler was their leader (and behaved accordingly).
Which ultimately led to the defeat in the Second Great War, demise of the Third Reich and finally to Hitler’s suicide in the Führerbunker.