In his lifetime, my grandfather, Frank Munk, published three books and numerous articles on the intersection of economics and political science. The Legacy of Nazism, published in 1943, was the second of those books. It was written just four years after the Munk family left Europe and arrived in the United States. In addition to the preface, I have published three chapters from this book in order to capture the gist of his ideas as they relate to my grandfather's experience of the times.
These books are all out of print today so, for reference, I have transcribed a few chapters from each book that have elements relevant to our family history. The other two books were:
The Legacy of Nazism
CHAPTER 11 – Psychology of the Subjugated
THE MORAL SHOCK OF TOTALITARIANISM
The disintegration of totalitarian control will constitute one of the greatest psychological upheavals in the history of European mankind. The upheaval will be all the more pronounced since it will be accompanied by the realization that the systems of pre-Nazi days are dead. What kind of rationality or irrationality can be expected?
What Mannheim says about primitive society also applies to modern society. “The free expression of impulses is held in check by the various mechanisms of social control and directed towards certain objects and actions… Only the impulsive energies which have been set free by the disintegration of society and are seeking integration about a new object, have those eruptive destructive qualities which are customarily and vaguely regarded as characteristic of every type of mass behavior.” This may exactly fit the situation after the war. It is impossible to know to what extent the nations of Europe will want to retain some form of total state as a means of realizing their own nationalistic ambitions and, more particularly, as a protection against a recurrence of Pan-Germanism. The impact of Nazism is a situation unparalleled in modern mass society, and no one can predict what attitude will prevail after Germany breaks down. It is not impossible that some groups, at least, will wish to replace a German-dominated Fascism by some variety of local semi-Fascism. The danger of such a course is evident. Rather than close our eyes to the unpleasant prospect, we should prepare in time for this eventuality and take precautions.
It must be recalled that Nazism did not invade a stable, well-organized continent, with a generally accepted scale of social and moral values. Its system of values was undergoing a crisis. Nothing but uncertainty was certain. In Guglielmo Ferrero's term, Europe lived in a state of “great panic” from the start of the First War. Other continents shared the doubt and uncertainty, albeit tardily and less acutely. There was a growing distrust of parliamentary institutions, political parties, economic leadership, and social patterns generally. Hence the prevailing uneasiness and disintegration in some of the countries at least made Nazi fifth-column work easy. France was a classical example. Fascism, war, and defeat, all were children of the same forces of dissolution. Their visible symptoms were doubt about the stability of political and social arrangements and widespread cynicism. This was particularly true among the young generation. The old, rational order broke down, in some countries more, in others less. In Germany, the moral devastation was greater than elsewhere. Masses turned towards the charismatic guidance of leaders who promised an escape into miracles, irrationality, blood and soil. “For if you are caught between the flood of a past, through which you cannot retrace your steps, and an apparently unscalable blank wall in front of you, it is only by magic and miracles that you can hope to escape.”
The flight from reason grew worse. Germany became center of infection from which disruptive forces spread into other countries. To an ailing social body there was added, in that country, a mind recognized by Masaryk as abnormal and diseased more than half a century ago. Europe began to suffer from the existence of a disintegrating Germany. Problems of modern society are growing more complex every day. Late capitalism was becoming less and less understandable. “Mysteries always breed mysticism, and mysticism is allied with blind faith; if we do not understand, we turn to hope, to confidence in a panacea, a party, a man.“ The masses turned to the totalitarian state — the state of the amorphous masses waiting to be molded by a: dictator — thereby sealing the fate of existing society
Then came the unprecedented shock and disaster of totalitarian conquest. Only those who lived through it can appraise the extent of the catastrophe. There is reason to believe that it will never be possible to eradicate the psychological destruction of the invasion years — more enduring, more horrible than physical destruction. It meant “complete abolishing of established forms and meanings of collective life, incredible discriminations, privations, and extremely deep moral shocks.” Suicides and all forms of mental aberration have assumed unhuman proportions. Europe lives under almost unbearable pressure. All normal outlets of emotion and protest are barred and spontaneous association of individuals has almost ceased.
The most private as well as the most socialized emotion of every person have been affected profoundly. Former loyalties have been uprooted, contorted — and, in a few cases strengthened to the point of fanaticism. The individual is compelled incessantly to violate the law, to bribe officials (every report coming out of Europe confirms the fact that corruption has achieved unprecedented proportions), to live in a twilight zone of amorality, to hide his true feelings, and above all to conceal his hatred of the invaders. “A state of moral, legal, economic, and psychological chaos results.” Moral confusion is the dominant note.
The last vestiges of prewar values have disappeared. Hunger and hate rule supreme. No system of values, general enough to serve for a postwar world, has yet been begotten. Without such a system reconstruction will be stillborn. It may yet result from the revolutionary ferment, the underground movements, the popular indignation that Nazism everywhere generates. How constructive it will be remains to be seen. Economic systems do not exist in a vacuum. They are but part of a pattern of social relationships and can be understood only in their context. Economy — totalitarian and post-totalitarian — must take into consideration physical as well as psychological factors. An understanding of the fact that all nations after the termination of Nazi domination will exhibit an abnormal social psychology is indispensable to any postwar planning.
These young men have undergone all the horrors of war, they have seen hostages slaughtered and innocent people abused, but they have lacked that natural release of tension that follows the supreme outburst of energy in battle. For them, there will be no return to normalcy. On the contrary, it is safe to assume that the generation of youth in the subjugated countries which went through the hell of Nazism will be full of zest to use the freedom of action which liberation will bring to them. New leadership, new ideas are sprouting all over an unhappy world. As yet, they have to remain underground, but, perchance, the new leaders of Europe may already be emerging.
Illusionists may draw ideal pictures of reconciliation. Realistic reports and testimony of all those who escaped the oppressor's wrong tell a different tale. “The vision of a bloodbath dominates in the expectations of these people, no matter in what European country they live, and is the essence of their lives; from it they draw the strength to carry on,” admits a psychologist; and he adds: “If this accumulation of limitless hatred would find no expression in the future, if this desire for revenge were not satisfied in some way, it would become the source of deep social arid psychological disorders.” Solution for this abnormal psychological situation will challenge the best minds that can be mustered — and there may not be much time to waste.
IDEAS ARE FACTS
Most authors in the past have neglected the function or ideas in economic processes. What people think about economic actions and institutions may be no less important than what people do. As Professor von Mises expressed it: “Reconstruction must come from within, it is a matter of social morale and of social ideologies rather than of economic technique and engineering.” This is true, whether we accept or reject his basic premises. The proper working of any economic system depends on its acceptance by the active groups of the population which in this age of “fundamental democratization“ englobes the entire population. It has been said that “the major part of the German people had been convinced of the futility to continue or to restore the economic system which seemed to go to pieces in the 1930-33 catastrophe.“ Another author writes of this period: “As the crisis progressed it became more and more widely believed that it spelt nothing less than the total collapse of our present economic and social system, a kind of last judgment, a crisis to end crises as it were — in short, a catastrophe that could mean nothing else but the end of capitalism.” It was in this atmosphere that Hitler took over. Disillusionment with the functioning of a business economy was not confined to Germany alone, but was widespread in the Europe of the thirties. The Nazi version of totalitarianism was rejected by most of the conquered peoples, but without any revival of faith in the economy of the “long armistice.” Whether “the ostensibly, and in many respects emphatically anti-capitalistic propaganda of the Nazis is genuine or only a smokescreen behind which hides the fact that 'economic hegemony’ is still located” in the closely knit managements of the large combines in the heavy industries does not lessen its effect: This propaganda line was effective both in Germany and in the conquered countries. It is probable that one lasting result of Nazi rule will be the disappearance of the autonomous economy of prewar times.
The possibility of a “return to normalcy” is rather remote since the peoples of Europe have stopped considering the economic system of the thirties or even of the twenties as “normal,” or even as a desirable goal. An economy based on unregulated private enterprise can exist only as long as it is actively or passively accepted. Universal acceptance is explicitly or implicitly assumed by most liberal economists. In Authoritarian states the creation of such an acceptance of their organization is a part, and one of the most important parts, of government propaganda. It is an important ingredient of its regulation of ideas. The Nazis have not succeeded win persuading conquered peoples that their system is superior, but they have shattered whatever belief there was in unregulated capitalism. Disillusionment in the thirties made the Nazis' job easier.
NAZISM A LONG-TERM PROBLEM
Totalitarian economy can be understood only as one of the post-capitalist forms of economic organization, or as one, and by far the most serious, symptom of the decomposition of the nineteenth century economy. It will be impossible to know whether capitalist economy in Europe would have undergone a radical transformation without the totalitarian episode, or whether it was doomed from the outset. To the voices of those who believe that capitalism carried in itself the seed of its destruction has now been added that of Professor Schumpeter. He sees in capitalism a “process of creative destruction”: the very function of the entrepreneur is vanishing because innovation is being reduced to routine, carried on by unpersonal, salaried specialists; the capitalist system wears away its own protective strata of political and social groups surrounding it; it creates a critical frame of mind, which ultimately questions its bases. He also submits that capitalism by virtue of its own logic creates, educates and subsidizes a class of intellectuals, who have a vested interest in social unrest, “because it lives on criticism.” Whether “the almost universal hostility to its own social order” produced by the capitalist process was inherent to it, or whether it was aggravated and accelerated by the impact of totalitarianism will probably for ever remain a subject for doctoral dissertations.
As far as Europe is concerned this psychological attitude it an accomplished fact. It is one of the salient realities of the present-day Europe and will scarcely undergo a marked change after the armistice. For better or for worse, Nazism killed the liberal economy as it was known. We may still regret its passing, and may find its alternatives much less desirable than capitalist enterprise with all its shortcomings; but it is certain that the peoples of Europe will not be willing to return from where they started.
This may well mark the major difference between postwar America and post-Hitler Europe. Capitalism in this country still has relatively sturdy roots both in its objective features and in its subjective acceptance. Stolper is probably right that America's choice will be to retain the capitalist system — with whatever modification may appear necessary. It will, in all probability, still be in a workable, or at the very least, salvageable condition after the war. The question is if America's choice will also decide for the rest of the world. That Europe, and not only the continent, is in a different mood is suggested by voices from England. “For our very lives' sakes we must cling to the freedom to decide for ourselves that our own government may, if we so wish it, initiate economic activity itself,” states an English magazine. We must expect that this attitude will constitute the real watershed between the two attempts at postwar reconstruction. If it can be recognized in time, and if there is enough tolerance, wisdom, and restraint on both sides, the two experiments may collaborate for the common good.
Whichever policy is in the end adopted by the United States. Europe's choice will probably be taken only after years of painful and strenuous pilgrimage. Dr. Benes expressed the very essence of the postwar problem: “It would be a fundamental error and pave the way to a new catastrophe if, after this war as after the last, we were to proceed as if the day after the fall of Germany everything was in order and peace guaranteed. It will not be easy to cleanse the world from Nazism and Fascism and it will not be achieved only by the military fall of Germany. In individual countries on the Continent it will need many years before this terrible evil is completely uprooted.” This is a very timely reminder and should be earnestly heeded by all those who are giving their thought to post-Nazi Europe.
Many of these books are generally out of print but they can usually be found at used bookstores throughout the United States via Alibris.com .
Read these other chapters from this book:
Frank published three books in addition to his unpublished memoirs. These three books can often be found at used bookstores throughout the United States via Alibris.com .
Return to TheRagens Family History home page.