Guardians of Tradition or Agents of Modernity: Sources of National Socialist Appeal in Rural Northwest Germany

Paper presented in November 2009 at the Social Science  History Association conference in Los Angeles, California.

[paper]        [Powerpoint presentation]        [maps]        [stats]

    To what extent were traditionalist rural areas open to the appeal of National Socialism in the 1920s? In this paper, I shed new light on this question by focusing on national politics as played out in the county of Bremervörde, a thinly populated, relatively poor farming district that lay between the Weser and Elbe rivers in northwest Germany. Before the Great War, electoral politics in Bremervörde was characterized by a profound cleavage between modernist and traditionalist worldviews. The National Liberal party represented the "modernists" - mainly shopkeepers, business owners, successful peasant entrepreneurs, and professionals. The "traditionalists" - noble landowners, artisans, and Lutheran clerics - found their political home in the German Hanoverian party. The trauma of war and revolution transformed this political competition in important ways. This was made clear by the election of May 1924, when the racist Völkisch-Sozial Block won more votes in Bremervoerde than any other county in northwest Germany save one. Similarly, the Racists carried the formerly Liberal county seat (Bremervörde Stadt) with a substantial plurality. From which of these two milieus - traditionalist or modernist - did the Racists get their votes? Work that I have done in other rural counties in northwest Germany suggests that the liberal electorate, in times of crisis, was highly susceptible to National Socialism, while traditionalist voters (whether Nationalist or German Hanoverian) held out longest against the Nazi wave. Using reports in the county newspaper, local and district government records, and a GIS of the 57 polling places in the county, I suggest in this paper a set of answers.