Lebensraum. The national socialist theory of territory or space, like the theory of race, was put together from ideas that had been current in Europe for a century. Fundamentally it was merely an enlargement or plans for a powerful German state in Central and Eastern Europe, which should expand as far as its military powers permitted. Like the racial theory also it was not exclusively German.
In fact it was a Swedish political scientist, Rudolf Kjellen of the University of Uppsala, who expanded the plan into a philosophy and gave it the name under which national socialism popularized it, Geopolitik. In origin Kjellen’s geopolitics was a development of an old subject, political geography, especially as that subject was understood by Friedrich Ratzel.
Its fundamentally sound scientific idea was that a realistic study of the history and growth of states must include such factors as physical environment, anthropology, sociology, and economics, as well as their constitutional organization and legal structure.
In its development it almost lost touch with its geographic starting point. Behind Kjellen’s theorizing there was also a fear of the western extension of Russian power. The national socialist expansion of geopolitics was associated especially with the name of Karl Haushofer, though many other German writers and scholars had a part-in it. Haushofer added little to the scientific definition of the subject, though he and his associates accumulated vast masses of information from all parts of the world about geography or social, economic, and political matters. What tied this miscellaneous material together was not its scientific organization but its possible use by a military general staff to lay out lines of strategy or by a government that was bent on extending its power.
Haushofe also made geopolitics into an effective organ of propaganda designed to make Germany space-conscious. These two characteristics were in general what distinguished geopolitics from geography. According to the definition of the subject formulated by the editors of Haushofer’s Zeitschrift fur Geopolitik, it was the art of guiding practical politics and the geographic conscience of the state, practical politics being in substance imperialist expansion. Like the racial theory, geopolitics combined erudition with a pseudo-scientific justification of imperialist politics.
The distinctive idea in the national socialist theory of imperialism was supplied by an English geographer, Sir Halford J. Mackinder. Earlier imperialist theory, like that for example of Admiral A. T. Mahan, had stressed in the main the importance of naval power and had depended largely on-the history of the British Empire.
Mackinder in 1904 put forward the idea that much European history could be explained by the pressure of landlocked peoples in Eastern Europe and Central Asia on the coastal peoples. This vast area he called the pivotal area or the heartland, the core of the world-island (Europe, Asia, and Africa) which makes up two thirds of the world’s land area.
Australia and the Americas are merely outlying islands. Consequently, if any state could command the resources of this territory and thus combine sea power with land power it could dominate the world. Mackinder summed up his argument in a kind of aphorism. Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland. Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island. Who rules the World-Island commands the World.
His immediate purpose was to urge the advantages to England of an alliance with Russia, but the meaning of his aphorism was equally clear to Germans. It outlined a project that resolved the uncertainties of German imperialist thought since the Tirpitz naval expansion in 1900, its ambivalence between naval and land power, and the differing points of view of East German Junkers and West German industrialists. In essence both were right, but expansion by land into contiguous territory on the Continent had priority.
Initially the problem is Russia, and in theory the problem might be solved either by a Russian alliance or by conquest. France as a land power is decadent, in terms of the racial theory negroid in its ethnic character, and the pattern of British imperialism is outmoded. The object of German diplomacy and strategy must be to immobilize the western powers, but against Russia its object must be dominance. Substantially this was the theory of German politics that Hitler outlined in Mein Kampf, reputedly under the prompting of Haushofer.
The fundamental error of the Second Empire, he said, was in choosing the policy of expanding its industries and its exports instead of expanding its territory. The most decisively important events in a thousand years of German history were the colonization of the Ostmark and the area east of the Elbe. The national socialists will terminate the endless German drive to the south and west of Europe, and direct our gaze towards the lands in the East. We can think primarily only of Russia and its vassal border states.
The lines of reasoning upon which the national socialist theory of Lebensraum overtly depended were, like the racial theory, a curious mixture of sentiment and dubious science. In part they were addressed to the long-standing tendency of Germans to idealize the medieval empire, which existed long before the American continent had been discovered, and to the myth that all the political and cultural achievements of Central Europe, or even of precommunist Russia, were the work of German minorities.
Hence the Germans are the natural leaders and rulers of this region. The generalized and professedly scientific argument of geopolitics largely took the form of a biological analogy. States are organisms and the relation between them is one of natural selection. So long as they are vigorous they grow, and when they cease lo grow they die. A non-expanding state is either decadent or the product of a people that is space-bound and lacks the genius for political construction.
Vitally strong states are compelled under the categorical imperative to enlarge their space. The frontiers of a state are its peripheral organs or growing edges. In nature a state has no fixed boundary but only a temporary front line, a point of calm in a running development. A good frontier is one that favors expansion, in short, one that makes infiltration and border incidents easy.
Treaties and international law are powerless to limit the mighty natural forces inherent in a Volk, and in general its constitution and its legally created institutions are merely aids to organize and increase its power. Any voluntary limitation of the competitive struggle by birth-control or pacifism merely resigns the future to the inferior races, since struggle is the law of progress.
The culturally superior, but less ruthless, races would have to limit, in consequence of their limited soil, their increase even at a time when the culturally inferior, but more brutal and more natural, peoples, in consequence of their greater living areas, would be able to increase themselves without limit. In other words, the world will, therefore, some day come into the hands of a mankind that is inferior in culture but superior in energy and activity.
The idea of Lebensraum, therefore, was an adjunct of the idea of the racial folk. Scientifically indeed the two ideas were divergent, for if culture depends on race, it cannot depend on geography. But what united the two was not science. The tie was essentially mystical or emotional. Phrases like the cultural landscape or the folkish soil combined two universal and powerful human feelings, the love that every people feels for its homeland and the love that it feels fur its way of living, and they marshaled these feelings behind a plan of military conquest.
Stripped of these sentimental factors the effective reasoning behind the geopolitical concept of Lebensraum relied on the presumption that economic prosperity depends on political control and that both depend on military power. Added to these was the strategical theory outlined above, that military power under modern conditions is land power rather than sea power. The primary consideration was not territory as such, but access to raw materials and a market for manufactured exports.
Hitler’s repeated comparisons between population and area such for example as that the United States has fifteen inhabitants per square kilometer while Germany has a hundred and forty-between the nations that have and the nations that have not or between proletarian and possessing nations, were obviously meaningless except in terms of markets. And the argument that over-population called for expansion depended on the proposition that markets can be gained only by political power.
The geopolitical concept of space, therefore, was a figure of speech derived from the advantages that large areas undoubtedly have for military strategy. Literally it meant simply power extended by the conquest of land-areas contiguous to Germany, for purposes of economic exploitation. In this sense also the geopolitical concept of self-sufficiency must be understood.
The development of internal resources and of substitutes for missing raw materials were not policies, though some national socialists (Gregor Strasser, for example) thought they were. They were measures to gain relative independence of world markets during war. The geopolitical principle that self sufficiency is an attribute of successful states meant that preparedness for war is a permanent necessity, because on it depends a state’s commercial prosperity.
Probably the clearest statement ever made of the meaning or Lebensraum was contained in the remarkable speech which Hitler delivered in 1932 before the German industrialists of Dusseldorf. The success of the speech probably marked the turning point in his political fortunes. German prosperity and the relief of unemployment, he said, depend on foreign trade, but the idea that one can conquer the world by purely economic means is one of the greatest and most terrible illusions.
It was not German business which conquered the world and then came the development of German power, but in our case, tog, it was the power-state (Machtstaat) which created for the business world the general conditions for its subsequent prosperity. There can be no economic life unless behind this economic life there stands the determined political will of the nation absolutely ready to strike-and to strike hard.
Behind all imperialism stands the will of the white race to exercise an extraordinarily brutal right to dominate others.
The white race, however, can in practice maintain its position only so long as the difference in the standard of living in different parts of the world continues to exist. If you to-day give to our so-called export-markets the same standard of living as we ourselves possess, you will find that it will be impossible for the white to maintain that position of superiority which finds expression not merely in the political power of the nation but also in the economic fortune of the individual.
Two years before, commenting on self-sufficiency, Hitler had said:
Our task is to organize on a large scale the whole world so that each country produces what it can best produce while the white race, the Nordic race, undertakes the organization of this gigantic plan. That must not, it is true, be bound up with any exploitation of the other race, for the lower race is destined for tasks different from those of the higher race the latter must have in its hands the control, and this control must remain with us in common with the Anglo-Saxons.
In substance, therefore, the national socialist theory of Lebensraum was the crudest, if also logically the simplest, possible solution of the problems of international trade and politics. It meant political dominance by military power and the maintenance of a high standard oi living for the dominant power by a system of exploitation, that would perpetuate a low standard of living for the subject-peoples.
Short of world dominance by a single power, which might of course be the ultimate goal of a power controlling the world’s Heartland, the theory meant regionalism. The world would be divided into a few great orders or spheres of control each governed by its own dominant power. This was the meaning attributed to the American Monroe Doctrine, to which the theorists of geopolitics assigned a place of high importance as the first recognition of their principles. American insistence on the rights of nations outside the American sphere they construed as imperialism.
Their own plan they often described as a Monroe Doctrine for Europe. Between regions the relations were assumed to be merely those of power, since no treaty could be more than a temporary compromise, and no boundary could be more than a point of calm where two powers were for the time being balanced. Within each region the dominant power, in theory the dominant racial group, would assign to the subordinate groups their economic function and their political status.
Juristically, therefore, Lebensraum like the racial theory would work out to systems of folk-law and extraterritoriality. International law would disappear in a twofold sense. There would be no equal rights of nations and there would be no equal rights of persons or minorities irrespective of race. In any legal sense nationality would disappear along with internationalism. Thought national socialism drew its support from German sentiment its theory implied a from of world organization substantially like that of the pre-national empires.
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