Given what we know about the ability of the totalitarian state to endure, would a German empire that took over the world have been able to sustain itself for, say, more than 100 years?
Modern totalitarian states have a dismal record enduring as “empires”. In the case of Nazi Germany, systematically excluding or killing off some of their most inventive and productive citizens was a major handicap to long-term success.
The structure lends itself to (indeed, requires) factional fighting and purges, selecting leaders not for being the most effective at leadership, but for being the most ruthless. Collapse or dramatic change (to the point where it’s no longer “Nazi Germany”) is inevitable. Heck, the USSR didn’t last a century, either, and China morphed into something other than Mao’s vision in even less time.
Good points made. On the other hand there have been long lasting empires in the past… what is the difference that allowed them to endure while modern empires seem to crumble more readily?
I recall reading somewhere that we have become a softer world as a whole, no longer tolerant of mass civilian casualties or other perceived extremes of warfare. I wonder if this change in paradigm causes a fundamental instability for modern regimes.
The empires that lasted a long time were those that figured out a way to co-opt their subjects into the empire rather than just subjugating them. The Nazis, by their central ideology of race as a basis for legitimacy, shut themselves off from this. Any Nazi empire was going to have to be a small minority of “Aryans” trying to keep control over a large majority of subject peoples who were being told they had no place in the Nazi vision of the future. There would have been a constant state of resistance and revolt and eventually the ruling minority would have gone under.
Robert Service’s book, A History Of Modern Russia, gives a lot of pagetime to the arc of authoritarianism peaking under Stalin, and every premier since then trying to gradually ease off to avoid an ever-increasing portion of the state going to the totalitarian machinery, without releasing enough downward pressure to trigger a revolt. It’s an excellent book.
North Korea has successfully made two transitions, so it’s not impossible for totalitarian regimes to continue past the death of the original tyrant. China has also shown that a totalitarian state can be transitioned off of straightforwardly authoritarian basis while the totalitarian machinery retains its political power. It doesn’t seem impossible. Service documents quite well that the Soviet Union lasted forty years after the peak of its Stalinist nightmare, and arguably the problem with Gorbachev was that he accelerated liberalization too much. It’s not obvious that a successful Nazi Germany has to collapse in short order.
I’m not so certain that would have held for Nazi Germany. It’s stated intent was to eliminate those it subjected that didn’t align to their master race. Thus, there wouldn’t have been a large majority population of oppressed.
Assuming that they had the military might to overcome the foes thrown against them (or assuming they didn’t invite all comers and instead eliminated one adversary before going starting after another) they could have easily expanded throughout Europe. Once they held Europe, they would have all-but eliminated those that didn’t conform to their ideological and genetic purity.
I think that, had Nazi Germany won, the destabilization would have come upon Hitler’s death with various leaders splitting off to their own faction and attempting to assume the dictatorship. European borders would be redrawn - in unpredictable ways as most historical cultures and their lands would have been all-but eliminated - and new states in various forms of totalitarianism would have arisen, all battling each other over the ideology of their founding.
I also suspect that these states would be stable for a short time (15-20 years) and then destabilize as the citizens of the states began trying to promote their own ideology that broke with the founding sentiments. They would either identify more with a neighboring state or they would likely espouse the radical ideals of peace.
One things’ for certain: The 70 years of declining global violence that we’ve enjoyed would certainly not have started.
Conflict and war is the fundamental basis of Nazism. They would have found someone else to fight.
The Nazis could have eventually struck a more pragmatic approach. They had already demonstrated an eagerness to stretch the definition of “Aryan” wrt the Japanese when it made sense to them to do so. There’s no reason to believe they would have been intransigent at the sake of political expediency. Especially after Hitler’s reign. Every ideology evolves, compromises with itself, and softens over time.
However, if they had won the war, then basically the world is a completely different place than it is now. The Nazis would be in control of almost all of Europe, as well as almost all the foreign colonies. The US would either be under the Nazi’s thumb or counting down to the day when the thumb would arrive. Without the WWII victory, the course of US history would be totally different. Our economy would be different. Our military would be different. And by different, I mean “completely punk-ass.” Who exactly is stopping the Nazis from doing whatever the hell they want? Who is pressuring the Nazi’s to play “nice”? The Japanese?
I guess I don’t see anything as inevitable.
Yes, that was the theory. But the actual act would have been a lot more difficult to accomplish. Consider that there were about eighty million Germans to start with when the Nazis took over. The Nazis killed around twelve million people in their extermination programs during their reign. So it took eighty million Germans over a decade to kill twelve million people. And that was with the collaboration of some of the subject people.
The total pre-war non-German population of Europe was over two hundred and forty million. The Nazis had only killed around five percent of the people they would have needed to kill to make their land solely German. The non-German population greatly outnumbered the German population and collaboration would have ceased when people realized everyone was fated for eventual extermination. It’s unlikely the Germans could have killed all the non-Germans before the non-German uprisings killed all the Germans.
And even if they somehow managed it, the result would be a Nazi empire that was devastated and underpopulated. It would have been easily conquered by Japan or the United States. The bottom line was there just weren’t enough Germans for Germany to be a world power on its own.
One argument I’ve heard in the past for why this is so is competence; specifically, that modern tyrannies are too good at tyranny. Tyranny is destructive to a society; and modern tyrannies are good enough at the tactics and techniques of tyranny to be more pervasive and effective than the tyrannies of the past. It’s harder to get around them or escape their notice. Which means that they do more damage to society in general, and it’s harder for people to get around them and do the things that need to be done to keep society functioning despite them.
That may be true of the world as a whole, but not of extreme tyrannies like Nazi Germany; they are still perfectly willing to slaughter people wholesale.