UC Santa Barbara > History Department > Prof. Marcuse > Courses > Hist 133B Homepage > 133B Book Essays Index page > Student essay
The "Aryan" Justification
on: Christopher Hutton,
by Brendan Daly
for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
About Brendan Daly
I am a senior Anthropology major (with a focus on culture), interested in the influence of the performance of cultural roles in different communities. My experience with Germany and W.W.II is limited to sources of popular culture (movies, images, etc), however I am greatly interested in the cultural and social trends of Nazi Germany. I chose Race and Third Reich because it offers a discussion of how racial anthropology scientifically justified the extermination of the Jews in Nazi Germany, while also providing a history of the discipline itself. I additionally wanted to learn how theories of racial anthropology were coerced into justifying the ideological aims of Nazi officials.
Abstract (back to top)
Hutton argues in Race and the Third Reich that the popular use of the term "Aryan" in Nazi Germany was the major contributing factor to the loss of influence of racial anthropologists in the Third Reich. He contends that through insisting that "Aryan" was a linguistic term only (and not a racial one), racial anthropologists "held up a mirror in which the Germans saw themselves not as a blond-haired, blue-eyed ideal but as a miscegenated composite." Furthermore, Hutton structures his detailed intellectual examination of this idea around the notion that there existed tensions in Germany that centered around "the politically and intellectually central concept of the 'Volk' and on competing understandings of German identity" (Hutton, 1). In the following essay, I contend that Hutton's in depth analysis of various racial anthropologists eventually reaches the conclusion that certain racial anthropologists hastened the decline of their discipline by compromising their research to meet Nazi ideological aims. I further argue that situations presented by Hutton indicate that once theories of racial anthropology had been manipulated to define the Jewish descent group as a biologically separate race, dissent generated within racial anthropology was deemed too dangerous to allow the discipline to continue its influence within the Nazi party.
Essay (back to top)
Christopher M. Hutton’s Race and the Third Reich deals with the tensions between racial anthropology and Nazi ideology during the Third Reich. Hutton specifically aims to show how racial anthropology contributed to race theory in Germany, and what the effects were, both for Germany and racial anthropology itself. Through a discussion of theorists based on primary sources, Hutton argues that the popular use of the term “Aryan” in Nazi Germany was the major contributing factor to the loss of influence of racial anthropologists in the Third Reich. He contends that through insisting that ‘Aryan’ was a linguistic term only (and not a racial one), racial anthropologists “held up a mirror in which the Germans saw themselves not as a blond haired, blue eyed ideal but as a miscegenated composite” (Hutton, 128). Hutton concludes that racial anthropologists hindered Nazi efforts to unite the German people under the “superior” Nordic race and their influence accordingly waned. Hutton writes that his main concerns “are the points of tension, controversy and uncertainty, both among academic theorists of race and between academics and the political authorities” (Hutton, 1). These tensions are centered around “the politically and intellectually central concept of the ‘Volk’ and on competing understandings of German identity” (Hutton, 1). Therefore Hutton’s discussion of the German Volk is not one based on the moral standing of such concepts, but rather on their academic roots. Hutton’s main argument is centered on explaining the demise of racial anthropology as a result of its conflicting with the ideology of the Nazi party.
To begin, Hutton establishes that the “Aryan race” common to popular Nazi stereotypes was in fact a myth.
Hutton argues that Nazi ideology concerning race revolved around the supremacy of the “Nordic” race as defined by racial anthropologists. “Nordic beauty [blond, blue-eyed, long-headed] was central to popular iconography in the Third Reich” (3). Consequently, the discernable aim of Nazi race theorists was to justify the existence of the German Volk as an entity that both included and excluded particular groups of people, while maintaining the supremacy of the Nordic race. Hutton further argues that “the theorizing of an organically unified Volk became a long-term project of German intellectuals” (7). Hutton’s analysis focuses on the methods of this long-term project. He bases his subsequent critique of racial anthropology and theory on the notion that Nazi Germany
This heterogeneity was, according to Nazi officials, only possible through either the assimilation or the elimination of Jews from the German Volk. Therefore this establishes that the Nazi party sought to eventually use anthropological racial studies to define the German Volk in biological terms that excluded the existing Jewish population.
As evidence for the supremacy of the Nordic race in relation to the Volk, Hutton presents Johann Friedrich Blumbenbach (1752-1840) as the first theorist to attempt to define the German Volk in racial terms. Blumbenback “classified humanity into five basic races: Caucasian, Mongolian, Ethiopian, American, and Malay” (5). By defining physical differences and creating distinct impressions of various races, Blumbenback established a system aimed at differentiating the differences between humans and attributing these differences to racial particulars. Stemming from an analysis of these differences, “German intellectuals developed theories of national identity that stressed racial, linguistic and cultural diversity and expressed a mistrust of universal ideologies that threatened to erase that diversity” (7). Therefore subsequent attempts by racial anthropologists to define race in Germany had to first frame German racial diversity in terms acceptable to Nazi ideologues.
Additionally, Hutton claims many political ideologues subscribed to the notion that the superiority of the Nordic/Aryan element was quickly disappearing under the onslaught of modernity in Germany (9). This notion of racial extinction due to modernity is critical in understanding the Nazi ideological treatments of Jews. For many Nazi theorists, the perils of war and disease were synonymous with Jews. Nazi theorists felt that modernity “involved the disruption of the relation of the Volk to territory… and [that] races, peoples, social groups… were now merging and blurring into one another” (10). This interbreeding between races threatened Nordic blood in the German Volk and was seen as a threat to the existence of the Germany. With the loss of
Therefore Hutton contends that racial anthropology was charged with creating biological race theories that worked around defining the Nordic race as superior in the German Volk, and protecting the breeding stock of that race from outside contaminants such as the Jewish population.
A major challenge facing racial anthropologists in Germany was the issue of hybridity that stemmed from military expansion during W.W.II. “The paradox of the expansion of the Nazi state was that… the greater the area of territory annexed, the greater the hybridity of the population controlled by the state” (207). In an effort to address the paradox of military expansion and the resulting inclusion of diverse populations, Hutton contends that while these new territories did increase the hybridity of the Volk, many of them were simply considered ancestral parts of the Volk that had been lost during W.W.I. Therefore the inclusion of “foreigners” runs in stark contrast to the way in which Jewish people in Germany were defined as an entirely separate race. This definition meant that they must be excluded from the German Volk to maintain the racial integrity of the Volk.
Racial theorists of the Third Reich further argued that individuals were members of the Volk because they were defined by race, and “understood as the intersection of genetic lines of transmission within a population defined as a reproductive community of “Stock” (17). For Nazi race theorists, the view persisted that members of the Volk were part of a historical, cultural, and blood based group (18). This interpretation meant that the Volk was a “fundamental expression of German collectivity, understood as a unity through historical time, across geographical space and independent of the contingencies of political boundaries” (19). Therefore Hutton concludes that while early race theories were discussed in terms of a cultural relation to the Volk, that discussion soon turned towards a biological argument meant to exclude Jews.
Additionally, Hutton contends that race theory in Germany changed focus from linguistic criteria for inclusion in the Volk, to a biological basis. He argues that the primary use of the German language by Jews did not equate to membership within the Volk (20). Instead, “According to ultra-nationalist ideologies, Germany needed to reassert its place as a great European power, regain lost territory and rid the body of the Volk of what was seen as a foreign and overly influential element, namely the Jews” (20). Hutton argues that Nazi race theorists saw Jews as a group to be excluded from the Volk, regardless of their cultural and linguistic similarities to “Aryan” Germans. However, in academic circles, the term “Aryan” held no validity as a biological definition of race, but instead marked a linguistic distinction. Therefore the use of “Aryan” as a biological instead of linguistic distinction, and a discussion of the German Volk in terms of biological racial distinctions
Accordingly, Hutton concludes that the role of racial anthropology was changed through Nazi party pressure to justify the exclusion and extermination of Jews from the Volk based solely on the biological determinate of race.
Hutton further argues that the racial anthropologists Hans F.K. Gunther (1891-1968) served to perpetuate racial terms that largely supported Nazi ideology. “According to Gunther, six basic races made up the German Volk: the Nordic, the Mediterranean, the Dinaric, the Alpine, the East Baltic and the Phalian” (36). Gunther proposed through his analysis of these races, that the Nordic was superior to the others. From his research he concluded that “the psychological make-up can be summed up in terms of ideals such as bravery, single-mindedness, determination, nobility, heroism…” (36). It was therefore this part of the Volk that must be preserved at all costs. According to Gunter, the five other races all contributed a given useful quality to the Volk, however they did so at the cost of also contributing slightly unfavorable qualities (42-47). Therefore through dissecting the various “racial” parts of the German Volk, Gunther provided an explanation for many unsavory social characteristics of the Volk, while grounding this discussion in a biological framework instead of a cultural or linguistic one (as racial anthropologists had previously done). His racial theorizing marks a departure from the linguistic distinctions of racial anthropology, and provides evidence for the increasingly close relationship between the Nazi party and certain racial anthropologists who sought to create biologically determined racial distinctions in hopes of climbing the Nazi party ladder.
Accordingly, Gunther’s classification of Jews has profound repercussions in understanding the influence of racial anthropology in Nazi Germany. While Gunther argues that “…there was no Jewish or Semitic race, in the same way that there was no German race” (48) he contradicts this point by proposing that the “racial quality of the Jewish people as a whole was primarily determined by the Near East race, in the same way that the German Volk was essentially determined by the Nordic race” (48). While both groups (Jews and the Volk) are composed of essential and distinct communities, the German Volk was uniquely composed of a hybridity of cultures that nonetheless were directed towards a racial ideal. In contrast, the Jewish community was much more easily defined as an already separate racial group that threatened the unity of the German Volk. This double standard of racial theorizing allowed Nazi ideologues to isolate groups from the Volk, based on how well they met racial stereotypes for the ideal member of the Volk. Furthermore, in the case of the Jews, their unique differences in culture were translated to baseless biological differences from other Germans. Racial anthropologists therefore provided a scientific argument for the elimination of the Jewish people as they posed a perceived threat to the survival of the German Volk and the supposed supremacy of the Nordic race.
Furthermore, Nazi leaders were primarily concerned with the psychological or mental influence that “financial dominance had allowed the Jews, who were predominantly of non-European racial origin, to obtain within Europe” (48). While ‘Aryan’ Germans had a sense of belonging to the Volk, they argued that “what the Jews had in common was a consciousness of shared blood, and this was expressed in a highly developed sense of separate identity” (49). This sense of separate identity was extremely threatening to Nazi officials concerned with unifying the country and regaining lost ancestral lands. Some Nazi theorists equated Jewish people with social ills such as “suicide, paralysis, alcoholism, syphilis, judicial punishments, moral delinquency, mixed marriages and mortality” (53). By correlating the Jewish “race” with the perils of modernity, German officials in the Third Reich were able to separate Jews from the Volk. “Thus while the Jews were not a race they were a descent group with a particular biological history and inherited characteristics which set them apart from the European guest peoples” (55). The concept of the “descent group” came to supplement discussions of biological race relations between the ‘Aryan’ and ‘Jewish’ races. While racial anthropologists failed to provide concrete biological evidence for a separate racial identity of the Jews, it was enough that they shared a “consciousness of shared blood” and were thus labeled as a distinct descent group, one that ran counter to the ideals of the German Volk.
Subsequently, Hutton argues that while “the National Socialist regime is widely associated with a political doctrine of racial purity expressed in virulent polemics against racial mixing” (64), this was done only after explicitly establishing guidelines that allowed racial mixing when it suited the needs of the Third Reich. “On the level of political propaganda and mass education the authorities wished to drum home the message that racial mixing was harmful to the Volk, with the Jew presented as racially foreign” (65). The racially foreign group of Jews was juxtaposed along side that of the German, the true blooded Aryan, regardless of the scientific invalidity of the term as a racial distinction. Therefore even though Nazi race theorists opposed the promotion of “Aryan” as a racial concept, there is evidence for use of the term “non-Aryan” to explicitly isolate Jews. Furthermore, while the term “Aryan” was recognized as a lingual term instead of a racial one, ‘non-Aryan’ became in many contexts a synonym for Jewish” (80). This marks a key point of weakness for racial anthropologists in Nazi Germany. They explicitly accepted the misuse of the term ‘Aryan’ to somehow imply a biological racial distinction.
However, regardless of the use of “Aryan” as a linguistic distinction among scientists, “laws passed in the early years of the Nazi regime used the notion of ‘Aryan descent’…in its negative form, so that those of ‘non-Aryan descent’ were excluded from different aspects of public life” (90) based on biological distinctions. While Nazi officials did not promote “Aryan” as a racial term, they did embrace the use of its negative form (“non-Aryan) to classify Jews. Hutton further contends that the negative form of ‘Aryan’ “failed to identify Jews in any legal way. Moreover, Aryan refereed to a “language family and connoted a linguistic not racial identity…the term ‘Aryan’ was unable to make the required racial distinctions” (90) needed by Nazi officials. Subsequently, “in 1935, the term ‘non-Aryan’ was further defined so that ‘any individual with three Jewish grandparents [was] a Jew’ (91). This clearly established membership in the Volk as a biological and not linguistic distinction. These biological factors determining membership within the Volk were echoed in Nazi party policy that replaced “the problematic term ‘Aryan’ with the notion of ‘German blood ties’ (92). This stressed a biological and blood based criteria for inclusion within the Volk while drawing its foundations from a scientific and biological understanding that gained credibility from certain racial anthropologists.
Hutton further argues that racial anthropologists compromised the terms used in racial theories to now encourage the definition of “Volk [as] a self-aware composite of families related by blood…united by a single race that bound all its members and had developed its own moral and ethical system and its own language” (92). While racial anthropology originally intended the theory of the “Aryan race” and German Volk to function as a specifically linguistic one, by the 1930s the term “Aryan” was embedded in popular culture as a biologically determined racial term. Hutton convincingly argues that this popular use of the term was crucial in the loss of influence among racial anthropologists in the Third Reich. While popular culture in Germany held “Aryan” to represent an idealized physical manifestation of the German Volk, racial anthropologists insisted that “Aryan” was a linguistic term only, and not a physical description of race. In doing so, they “held up a mirror in which the Germans saw themselves not as a blond haired blue eyed ideal but as a miscegenated composite” (128). Racial anthropologists had gotten in the way of efforts to unite the German people under the superior Nordic race and their influence accordingly waned. While racial anthropology never specifically intended to justify the ideological aims of the Nazi party, resistance by racial anthropologists to the use of “Aryan” as a biological term marked the beginning of a period where racial anthropologists were forced to compromise their research or risk academic/social demise, and party censorship.
As an example of this forced compromise in research results, Hutton presents Georg Schmidt Rohr (1890-1945) as one of the racial anthropologists who was forced to mold his theories to fit party politics. Rohr wrote that “the German language played a maternal, holy function in creation and self-determination of the Volk, in the self-consciousness that was necessary for survival in the face of the threat of assimilation” (142). Therefore while Rohr stressed the importance of a common language in Germany as a determining factor of membership in the Volk, when he joined the Nazi party in 1933, he was forced to “recognize that Jews were not part of the German Volk” (142) regardless of their linguistic similarities. Through abandoning linguistic distinctions of race, Rohr implicitly accepted the biological classifications of race as presented by the Nazi party. He “had an important role in stressing that some elements were clearly harmful to, and to be excluded from, the Volk” (166). Rohr’s subsequent acceptance that Jews were not part of the Volk “clarified for linguists and others that the word ‘Volk’, as used in academic and popular discourse, must be understood as excluding the Jews” (143). This therefore marks the transition point for racial anthropology where it would eventually be replaced by genetic and biological discourses that aimed to support the racial distinctions promoted by the Nazi party instead of those derived from scientific research.
One of Hutton’s crucial points lies in his argument that “one marked feature of Nazi academic culture was a process of neutralization of the more extreme academic views and extreme forms of academic politicisation” (173). This led to a climate in which academics strived equally for scientific results as they did for party accolades. This compromise of scientific ideals is evident in the trial of a race psychologist named Ludwig Ferdinand Clauss, in which he was charged with having relations with a Jewish lab assistant. In reality, the trial was by instigated by Walter Gross (a race theorist of the time), who sought to gain prestige within the Nazi Party. Gross argued that certain facts presented by Clauss could be reinterpreted to fit more closely with party policy (181). At the conclusion of the trial,
This effectively established the Nazi party as the leading scientific authority. Hutton contends, “this seemed to argue strongly for the fusion of science and ideology, such that the pursuit of learning and scholarship would be in step with the wider goals of the movement and the Volk” (193). While Hutton provides no textual support for this claim, other then the ruling of the case against Clauss, the outcome of the trial is indicative that the Nazi party would be taking a central role in the approval and dissemination of research results, in order to insure they met party policy. From this point forward the Nazi party would have the final say in matters of scientific research in the Third Reich.
Hutton concludes his discussion of the changing relationship between Nazi party policy and racial anthropologists by determining that the principle function of racial anthropology in Nazi Germany was the scientific justification for the exclusion of Jews from the German Volk. The tension between the Nazi party’s desire for biological distinctions of race, and racial anthropology’s linguistic treatment meant that those racial anthropologists who maintained that “Aryan” was purely a linguistic determination (and not biological) were faced with ridicule from their peers, and censorship from the Nazi party (as demonstrated in the judgment against Clauss, effectively censoring him). Furthermore, for those racial anthropologists who provided biological theories of race, “once Jews had been excluded from the Volk, racial anthropology lacked a clear role in positively defining the nature of that Volk” (210). Hutton argues that a contributing factor to the collapse of racial anthropology was that a biological discussion of race showed that the “degeneration [of the Volk] could be understood and avoided, and this had a key role in the technocratic vision of a forward-looking Nazism based on a racially purified Volk” (211). For Nazi leaders, “survival in evolution [of the Volk] required the genocide of the Jews” (212). Therefore it stands to reason that racial anthropology provided the scientific lexicon and justification (however unintentionally) for the racial exclusion of Jews from the German Volk. This ultimately led to the purification and extermination of the Jewish people in Nazi Germany based on scientific justifications. It was therefore the split between racial anthropologists who maintained “Aryan” was a linguistic term only, and those who perpetuated the popular use of the term that ultimately led to the weakening of the discipline, and its eventual irrelevance in Nazi Germany. Once theories of racial anthropology had been manipulated to define the Jewish descent group as a biologically separate race, detrimental to the survival of the German Volk, dissent among racial anthropology was deemed too dangerous to allow the discipline to continue its influence among German society. Therefore while some racial anthropologists compromised their research and promoted distorted definitions of Aryan, they ultimately hastened their own social and academic decline. Racial anthropology was therefore never intended to serve the Nazi party further than scientifically justifying (however inaccurately) the extermination of the Jewish people based on biological distinctions of race.
I found Hutton’s Race and the Third Reich an interesting yet challenging read due to his reliance on the minute details of individual racial anthropological theories. This examination of racial theory presumes a previous knowledge of both the history of anthropology and of racial theories and understandings of the 1900s. While Hutton attempts to explain the various factors contributing to racial anthropology and its importance to German and Nazi ideology, he does so by sacrificing the readability of this book. While the chapters are well organized into individual sections, Hutton’s overall thesis does not flow well through the various chapters. The detail presented by Hutton would be ideal for writing a longer research essay, however I had to cut considerable sections out of my essay to keep the length manageable. I would recommend this text to academics who wished to learn more regarding the intricacies of racial theory and the impact of racial anthropology in the Third Reich.
Bibliography and Links (back to top)(links last checked 4/2/09)
Mel Wright, Review of “Race and the Third Reich” Sociology;
2007 Vol. 41(3): 579–592, SAGE Publications, Los Angeles
Matthew J. Goodwin, Review of “Race and the Third Reich”, Political
Studies Review; Volume 6, Issue 2, Pages 237-247, <http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.147
9302.2008.00156_4.x> (subscription or proxy server required)
Randall Bytwerk , German Propaganda Archive, “The Jewish Question”
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Victims of the Nazi Era:
Peter Longerich, “The Nazi Racial State” (2004-12-12)
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum “Deadly Medicine: Creating
the Master Race” <http://www.ushmm.org/museum/exhibit/online/deadlymedicine/>
Gretchen Engle Schafft, From Racism to Genocide (University
of Illinois Press, 2004) 297 pages, <http://books.google.com/books?id=berhcMAjzZEC>
Daniel Gasman, The Scientific Origins of National Socialism
(Transaction Publishers, 2004), 208 pages <http://books.google.com/books?id=GozYQatHv6wC>
Steinweis, Alan E., Studying the Jew: Scholarly Anti-Semitism in
Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi: