Herman Graf Keyserling was the first person to introduce the term Führerprinzip, translated The Leader Principle. This term had nothing to do with a specific person, although later Adolf Hitler would become the physical manifestation of this term. Instead, the Führer was an ideology that would eventually undo an entire nation. In short, Keyserling built the term around social Darwinism and the claim that there are individuals that are “gifted” and “born to rule.” Simply, it could be defined as a hierarchal, pyramid style, system of government in which The Leader, The Führer, was at the top and had absolute authority to appoint other leaders and write and rewrite law. In his book, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, Eric Metaxas explains The Führer by saying, “…the authority of the Führer was submitted to nothing. It was self-derived and autocratic, and therefore had a messianic aspect.”
Of course, within the Nazi regime, this ideology was designed to be the primary rationale that Hitler, and those he appointed within the Third Reich, would use to lead the German peoplewith absolute authority. Ultimately, Hitler did become the embodiment of Führerprinzip by simply assuming the title of “The Führer” and making himself the sole, unchallengeable voice of Germany and its people. It would not be by force that Hitler ascended to this position; but instead, it would be by the will of the people. In 1933 Adolf Hitler would be democratically elected as Chancellor of Germany.
A Two Minute Speech
It was also in 1933, just 48 hours after Hitler’s election that a bold Dietrich Bonhoeffer would take to the German radio waves to deliver his speech entitled, The Younger Generation’s Altered Concept of Leadership. Two minutes into the speech, Bonhoeffer was cut-off when the radio station microphones were inexplicably turned off. He was never allowed to resume or finish his speech. No one knows why the radio station was turned off, although there is plenty of speculation. Some believe that the topic of the speech was cause enough for the newly empowered Nazi regime to prematurely end his talk. Others believe he simply ran out of time due to a misunderstanding between him and the station manager. Regardless of why he was not permitted to finish, what is clear is that the content of the speech would not be favorable for the new German Chancellor.
While on the surface it may seem as if Bonhoeffer was directing his speech against The Führer, his lecture had nothing to do with Hitler. It was scheduled before the elections were held and long before Hitler came to power. In fact Hitler was not yet known by the title, The Führer, making Bonhoeffer’s lecture pointed directly at the principle and the German people’s misunderstanding of it.
What worried Bonhoeffer was that people, in this case the younger population, would select and raise up a leader that would eventually become, what he referred to as, a mis-leader. In his lecture he stated,
“If he understands his function in any other way then as it is rooted in fact, if he does not continually tell his followers quite clearly of the limited nature of his task and of their own responsibility, if he allows himself to surrender to the wishes of his followers, who would always make him their idol — then the image of the leader will pass over into the image of the mis-leader, and he will be acting in a criminal way not only towards those he leads, but also towards himself.”
In a nutshell, that is the Führer Principle and Bonhoeffer’s understanding of it. So, how is it possible to make a leap from that to assuming that Americans desire their own führer? The connection is not as obscure as it may seem.
The State of the… Union?
Over the past year, it has become more and more evident that Americans are not looking for a new president. Instead they are looking for someone that will fix everything that they assume is broken. They are looking for a messiah figure. Someone with the ability to ignore and drive through the opposing side for the sake of seeing their ideals realized, at any cost.
As we approach the election, it is evident that Americans are less and less interested in their candidate’s ability to lead our country and more and more interested in their candidate’s ability to absolutely crush the opposing party and their platform. Supporters are no longer content with their candidate simply defeating their opponent; instead, they desire the utter humiliation of them and abandonment of bi-partisanship. What seems to be the
A Trip Down Nightmare Lane
After reading this article, my friend Curtis Marshall, who is far more politically minded than I, visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.. After his visit, he shared his thoughts and gave me permission to share them with you.
My walk through the Holocaust Museum last week had a profound effect on me. Before beginning my tour, I was struck by a sign that I read as I entered. It read, “NEVER AGAIN.” Although there are extreme differences between the beginnings of the Third Reich and our current political atmosphere, I did noticed at least three major similarities.
First, the masses were afraid. They were afraid of the “others” and afraid that their political leaders were too soft to protect their national and personal interests. Second, the citizenry was vulnerable due to lack of education and limited access to what was happening outside of their own communities; many Germans did not even know about the concentration camps until WWII ended. You may be thinking that this cannot be the case today, with the excessive amount of social media at our disposal. But a vast majority of people opt to stick with people who agree with them and completely disregard any differing opinions. Third, they wanted a winner. After losing WWI and signing the Treaty of Versailles, Germany fell into a financial and cultural depression. They wanted a charismatic leader who would win. They wanted someone who would reverse their political woes and make them great again. It seems to me that this is where we find ourselves as a country.
I have a very difficult time articulating this issue without pointing a finger directly at Trump and the current Republican Party. It is difficult to write something like this without seeing Trump as a potential mis-leader, The Führer, if you will. While I do not support or agree with Hillary, I think she carries with her a different set of problems. The people that are advocating for her bring another set of issues to the table, and while many are just as serious as those supporting Trump, I think they are different.
In large part I agree with everything that Curtis shared. However, I did have some struggles agreeing with Curtis’ point about this post being more closely reflective of Trump, his campaign, and the Republican Party. I did not want it to seem as if I wrote this in opposition to the Republican Party and/or was conversely supporting Clinton, her campaign, or the Democratic Party. But, after a lot of consideration, I do see how this idea points more accurately at the right side of our political system. Without a doubt the left side has just as many problems, but they tend to move in a direction different than creating The Führer. Curtis suggested that maybe that side is more closely related to the fall of Rome than Nazi Germany. Maybe he is right.
Win or Lose
What I do know is it seems as if Americans are more concerned about living in a society that meets their individual needs, rather than one that values bipartisan cooperation as a means to serve the larger citizenry. One half is looking for a candidate that they believe will rescue them from the last eight years of tyranny, while the other half wants one that will prevent it for the next four years. Because of that, both camps have hitched their respective wagons to the most ruthless candidate they could scrounge up. Unfortunately the old cliché “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t” still involves two devils.
What is obvious to me is that neither one of the candidates has to become a totalitarian dictator for the American people to lose. We lose when we abandon unity and compromise. We lose when 15% of our population lives below the poverty line and half want to end programs to fix it. We lose when only one side gets to interpret the constitution for their benefit. We lose when we accept a broken justice system. We lose when we no longer lift up the Statue of Liberty’s cry, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” When we start believing that we, individually, or a single candidate has the answer to “fix” America and we abandon the other side as having no valuable input, we lose.
When this is over, we may not end up like 1930s Germany, but what we may end up with is the fracturing of a government system that was intended to create a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty. (← In case you don’t know, that is the preamble to our constitution. How about we uphold that? emphasis added)