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Nazism, War and GenocideNew Perspectives on the History of the Third Reich$
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Neil Gregor

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780859897457

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9780859897457.001.0001

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Nazism—A Political Religion? Rethinking the Voluntarist Turn

Nazism—A Political Religion? Rethinking the Voluntarist Turn

(p.1) 1 Nazism—A Political Religion? Rethinking the Voluntarist Turn
Nazism, War and Genocide

Neil Gregor

Liverpool University Press

This chapter offers a critique of Michael Burleigh's description of National Socialism during the Third Reich as a ‘political religion’. It examines many of Burleigh's arguments, such as his claim that ‘Adolf Hitler's refashioned and selective account of his own life consisted of a series of dramatic awakenings like Paul on the road to Damascus’. It also challenges Burleigh's characterisation of the context which produced Nazism and his identification of the perpetrators, arguing that his perspective on the history of the Third Reich is at odds with much of the most compelling recent scholarship. In particular, the chapter contends that Burleigh's characterisation of the Nazi movement and regime as a ‘political religion’ reflects an older theoretical literature on nationalism which attributed its emergence mainly to secularisation. Finally, it finds the language of ‘political religion’, and its use to explain genocide, problematic because of what it implies about the nature of the act of killing of the Jews.

Keywords:   political religion, Michael Burleigh, National Socialism, Third Reich, Adolf Hitler, Nazism, nationalism, secularisation, genocide, Jews

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