National Socialism (German: Nationalsozialismus), more commonly known as Nazism (t-/),[1] is the ideology and practices associated with the Nazi Party—officially the National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or NSDAP)—in Nazi Germany, and of other far-right groups with similar aims.

Nazism is a form of fascism and showed that ideology's disdain for liberal democracy and the parliamentary system, but also incorporated fervent antisemitism, anti-communism, scientific racism, and eugenics into its creed. Its extreme nationalism came from Pan-Germanism and the Völkisch movement prominent in the German nationalism of the time, and it was strongly influenced by the Freikorps paramilitary groups that emerged after Germany's defeat in World War I, from which came the party's "cult of violence" which was "at the heart of the movement."[2]

Nazism subscribed to pseudo-scientific theories of racial hierarchy and Social Darwinism, identifying the Germans as a part of what the Nazis regarded as an Aryan or Nordic master race.[3] It aimed to overcome social divisions and create a German homogeneous society based on racial purity which represented a people's community (Volksgemeinschaft). The Nazis aimed to unite all Germans living in historically German territory, as well as gain additional lands for German expansion under the doctrine of Lebensraum and exclude those who they deemed either community aliens or "inferior" races.

The term "National Socialism" arose out of attempts to create a nationalist redefinition of "socialism", as an alternative to both Marxist international socialism and free market capitalism. Nazism rejected the Marxist concepts of class conflict and universal equality, opposed cosmopolitan internationalism, and sought to convince all parts of the new German society to subordinate their personal interests to the "common good", accepting political interests as the main priority of economic organization.[4]

The Nazi Party's precursor, the Pan-German nationalist and antisemitic German Workers' Party, was founded on 5 January 1919. By the early 1920s the party was renamed the National Socialist German Workers' Party—to attract workers away from left-wing parties such as the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Communists (KPD)—and Adolf Hitler assumed control of the organization. The National Socialist Program or "25 Points" was adopted in 1920 and called for a united Greater Germany that would deny citizenship to Jews or those of Jewish descent, while also supporting land reform and the nationalization of some industries. In Mein Kampf ("My Struggle"; 1924–1925), Hitler outlined the anti-Semitism and anti-Communism at the heart of his political philosophy, as well as his disdain for representative democracy and his belief in Germany's right to territorial expansion.[5]

The Nazi Party won the greatest share of the popular vote in the two Reichstag general elections of 1932, making them the largest party in the legislature by far, but still short of an outright majority. Because none of the parties were willing or able to put together a coalition government, in 1933 Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany by President Paul Von Hindenburg, through the support and connivance of traditional conservative nationalists who believed that they could control him and his party. Through the use of emergency presidential decrees by Hindenburg, and a change in the Weimar Constitution which allowed the Cabinet to rule by direct decree, bypassing both Hindenburg and the Reichstag, the Nazis had soon established a one-party state.

The Sturmabteilung (SA) and the Schutzstaffel (SS) functioned as the paramilitary organizations of the Nazi Party. Using the SS for the task, Hitler purged the party's more socially and economically radical factions in the mid-1934 Night of the Long Knives, including the leadership of the SA. After the death of President Hindenburg, political power was concentrated in Hitler's hands and he became Germany's head of state as well as the head of the government, with the title of Führer, meaning "leader". From that point, Hitler was effectively the dictator of Nazi Germany, which was also known as the "Third Reich", under which Jews, political opponents and other "undesirable" elements were marginalized, imprisoned or murdered. Many millions of people were eventually exterminated in a genocide which became known as the Holocaust during World War II, including around two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe.

Following Germany's defeat in World War II and the discovery of the full extent of the Holocaust, Nazi ideology became universally disgraced. It is widely regarded as immoral and evil, with only a few fringe racist groups, usually referred to as neo-Nazis, describing themselves as followers of National Socialism.


Flag of the Nazi Party, similar but not identical to the national flag of Nazi Germany (1933–1945), in which the swastika is slightly off-centred

The full name of the party was Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (English: National-Socialist German Workers' Party) for which they officially used the acronym NSDAP.

The term "Nazi" was in use before the rise of the NSDAP as a colloquial and derogatory word for a backwards farmer or peasant, characterizing an awkward and clumsy person. In this sense, the word Nazi was a hypocorism of the German male name Ignatz (itself a variation of the name Ignatius)—Ignatz being a common name at the time in Bavaria, the area from which the NSDAP emerged.[6][7]

In the 1920s, political opponents of the NSDAP in the German labour movement seized on this and—using the earlier abbreviated term "Sozi" for Sozialist (English: Socialist) as an example[8]—shortened NSDAP's name, Nationalsozialistische, to the dismissive "Nazi", in order to associate them with the derogatory use of the term mentioned above.[9][7][10][11][12][13]

The first use of the term "Nazi" by the National Socialists occurred in 1926 in a publication by Joseph Goebbels called Der Nazi-Sozi ["The Nazi-Sozi"]. In Goebbels' pamphlet, the word "Nazi" only appears when linked with the word "Sozi" as an abbreviation of "National Socialism".[14]

After the NSDAP's rise to power in the 1930s, the use of the term "Nazi" by itself or in terms such as "Nazi Germany", "Nazi regime" and so on was popularised by German exiles outside the country, but not in Germany. From them, the term spread into other languages and it was eventually brought back into Germany after World War II.[10]

The NSDAP briefly adopted the designation "Nazi"[when?] in an attempt to reappropriate the term, but it soon gave up this effort and generally avoided using the term while it was in power.[10][11] For example, in Hitler's book Mein Kampf, originally published in 1925, he never refers to himself as a "Nazi."[15] A compendium of conversations of Hitler from 1941 through 1944 entitled Hitler's Table Talk does not contain the word "Nazi" either.[16] In speeches by Hermann Göring, he never uses the term "Nazi."[17] Hitler Youth leader Melita Maschmann wrote a book about her experience entitled Account Rendered.[18] She did not refer to herself as a "Nazi," even though she was writing well after World War II. In 1933 581 members of the National Socialist Party answered interview questions put to them by Professor Theodore Abel from Columbia University. They similarly did not refer to themselves as "Nazis."[19] In each case, the authors refer to themselves as "National Socialists" and their movement as "National Socialism," but never as "Nazis."