By Professor David Welch
Last updated 2011-02-17
The cult of the leader, which surpassed any normal level of trust in political leadership, is central to an understanding of the appeal of National Socialism. It was undoubtedly the most important theme running through Nazi propaganda.
The Nazis turned to völkisch thought (a product of nineteenth-century German romanticism) and the notion of Führerprinzip ('the leadership principle'), to embody their ideas, and Hitler was shown in posters as a mystical figure, guiding the nation's destiny. In practical terms, the leadership principle meant that decisions came down from above, instead of being worked out by discussion and choice from below.
The essentially negative anti-parliamentarianism of Nazi propaganda led to the projection of the 'Führer-myth', which depicted Hitler as both charismatic superman and man of the people.
A veritable industry of paintings and posters showed Hitler in familiar 'renaissance pose', alongside the propaganda slogan: Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer ('One People, One Nation, One Leader'). The slogan was used to great effect in 1938, with the Anschluss ('union'), when Germany joined in union with Austria.
From 1936 until the Munich agreement of 1938, which gave the Sudetenland to Germany, Hitler carried out a series of audacious foreign policy coups, and these won him support from all sections of the community. He was now widely acclaimed throughout Germany, enjoying unparalleled popularity and prestige.