The Man behind Europe: Say Hello to Alfred Müller-Armack, the Nazi-neoliberal

So, here’s a “short” post I’ve initially promised for Christmas, but eventually postponed since it became an increasingly demanding to write, and turned into a research plan.

It initially started out as a scan of Alfred Müller-Armack’s book caled “Staatsidee und Wirtschaftsordnung im neuen Reich” or “The Idea of the State and Economic Order in the New Reich” (Click here for the link to the book). Interestingly, not only was Armack one of the first self-described neoliberals, but he was also the most enthusiastic Nazi of them all, participating in the NSDAP all the way until 1945. What’s more, his anti-Marxism continued on to provide the background to a European post-war order: the “Social market economy”.

To all of this, I wanted to provide some context, which is now to big for one post. So, I decided to split this post into two. The present part will shortly deal with Armack’s pre-war history, and the next part will deal with his post-war history. Also, the present post includes the link to Armack’s Nazi book (linked here, again), and the next post will also feature an English translation of one of its key parts – Armack’s Nazi-inspired critique of Marxist theories of ideology (to my knowledge, there are no other English translations in existence).

As for the book itself, I found it very difficult: not only is Armack’s German full of Hegelian terms and his style loose, but there was also the problem of the Gothic script. After scanning, the optical recognition software I use for making PDF’s couldn’t read it (so I’ve had to OCR the book by hand in order to make the PDF searchable [1]).

Alfred Müller-Armack - Staatsidee und Wirtschaftsordnung im neuen Reich OCR samo marksizam-page-001.jpg
“Staatsidee und Wirtschaftsordnung im neuen Reich” – the cover of the original book from 1933. – available here.


First, the book itself is from 1933; and, while it is not exactly rare – there are 39 copies left across the world’s libraries, according to World Cat – it was difficult to find outside of Germany, nevertheless. In Berlin, where I was located, there were only 2 copies left (the one I found comes from the “Staatsbibliothek”).

The relation towards Nazism was also somewhat of an issue for the ordo’s themselves. In the “Standard texts” edition, there are texts by Adam Smith and Jean Baptiste Say, that go as far as several centuries back, and there are works by other ordoliberals, of course. But, there is no mention of Armack’s own works from the 1930’s. It is also omitted in semi-official histories (such as the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung-endorsed history of the concept of the Social Market Economy) and canonical left-wing literature (the most famous being Foucault’s Birth of biopolitics), and, as one might expect, in business newspapers (such as the “Handelsblatt“).

When it is mentioned, it is only insofar as it criticizes racism, and allegedly “opposes” the Nazis (in Daniel Dietzfelbinger’s study here, p. 6). This might not be entirely untrue. In 1935, the second edition of his book was rejected by the Nazi Party authorities themselves, but that also might be for reasons other than Armack’s “opposition”. The Party itself may have simply lost interest in an old conception of the state: namely, in the book, Armack still advocates the corporatist configuration of the state, and as such, it belongs to an earlier period of the Party (the first official use of another conception – that of the “total state” – on the other hand, was also made only in 1933 by Carl Schmitt, and this gained brief prominence until the Party did away with that conception too, soon after gaining power; and, by 1936, Schmitt himself was also purged).

Anyhow, Armack did join the Nazi party and published the present book in the same year, which was 1933, as Hitler was just being empowered. In 1940, soon after spending a period in Cologne, he was made a full professor (ordentlicher Professor) for cultural sociology and the sociology of religion, as well as the director of the Institute for Economic and Social Sciences at the University of Münster, where he lectured for the National Socialist regime and the Wehrmacht[2].

It is during these years that Armack came into close contacts with the so-called “Freiburg circle” of ordoliberal economists. In a nutshell, ordoliberalism is usually associated with order-based thinking, rather than a strict set of economic policies (the term itself coined after their journal named “ORDO”, an abbreviation of “Jahrbuch für die Ordnung von Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft” [English: “The Ordo Yearbook of Economic and Social Order”], established by Walter Eucken and Franz Böhm). In general, ordoliberal thinking stressed the need for the state to pursue an active role in ensuring the normal functioning of the market, and the need for a “division of labour” between institutions in the management of a market-based economy.

The Ordoliberals. Source: Handelsblatt.

Yet, in spite of – or because of – their emphasis on the role of the state in the regulation of the market, some of the original ordoliberal economists were also enthusiastic Nazi supporters. This goes against one of their most precious founding myths, and that is their alleged “opposition” to Nazism. Namely, by no means was Alfred Armack the only one to have been in the Nazi Party alone; Leonhard Miksch was also a member from 1923-1925, and Adolf Lampe was an “Alter Kämpfer”, having even served as an officer in a Freikorps unit. With the exception of two exiles to Istanbul (Alexander Rustow and Wilhelm Röpke, who both fled Germany in 1933), most of the other ordoliberals remained in Germany. And not only that, but they also contributed to the SS’ discussions on European integrations, regardless of their Party membership: along with Walter Eucken, Erwin von Beckerath and Adolf Lampe, Alfred Müller-Armack participated in these discussions. It was in the “Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Volkswirtschaftslehre” or “Working group for national economy” of the Academy for German Law, class IV that the original ordoliberals met (more on that in a text on Armack’s development by Daniel Dietzfelbinger, available here, p. 6).

This was by no means an insignificant institution – other luminaries of the Academy included Göring and Gebbels, Carl Bosch and Carl Schmitt, who also joined the Party in the same year as Armack, in 1933. According to Wolfgang Streeck, these members of the German Academy were recognized enough to be involved in the debates regarding private economy within the SS in 1940, via Otto Ohlendorf. This was the same SS General Ohlendorf who had otherwise organized postwar planning groups along with members of the managing board of IG Farben, the huge chemical cartel that financed the Auschwitz III/Monowitz camp (for the utilization of less-than-slave labour, used for the construction of their buna and rubber plants at the site), in the final two years of the war. And, one of their working assumptions was a “peaceful” development of the Third Reich, which could survive to join the “European economic community”, after a negotiated peace with the Allies [3]. Unlike Ohlendorf’s later work, however, the SS still had visions of building its own private enterprise during his spell with the ordoliberals (for more on this period in the SS, see: Stefan Hördler’s “Rationalisierung des KZ-Systems 1943–1945“, in: Michael Wildt, u. a. (Hg.): Arbeit im Nationalsozialismus, Walter de Gruyter, 2014, p. 369).

Since the ordoliberals’ contributions were made under the auspices of the (order-based) SS, the whole effort was also done – to an extent – in contrast to the more “decentralized” Nazi Party. “The Party promised decentralized chaos, the SS threatened a lethal excess of centralized order. It was between these poles that the National Socialist debate about how to rule the New Order took place.”, as Mark Mazower summarized it (in Hitler’s Empire, Nazi rule in occupied Europe (2008), Allen Lane, p. 226). During these discussions, the ordoliberals

“acknowledged that, Hitler’s original commitment to the restoration of the market economy had not been kept, this was not based on principle. Regarding the alternatives for post-war international economic order, their research agenda sharply dismissed the goal of autarky (propagated by some Nazi economic spokesmen) but proposed to investigate two alternative options, Großraumwirtschaft — the Nazi code term for an economic integration of Europe under the political hegemony of Nazi Germany — and Weltwirtschaft, that is, an open economy.” (Gerhard Lehmbruch (2001), “The Institutional Embedding of Market Economies: The German “ Model” and Its Impact on Japan”, in The Origins of Non-liberal Capitalism, Wolfgang Streeck and Kozo Yamamura (eds.), Cornell University Press, London, p. 81).

Of course, one must be careful in claiming that there is any “automatic” link between ordoliberalism and Nazism. While the ordoliberals themselves where no strangers to authoritarianism, this does not mean that they “automatically” supported Nazism; some were more in line with Papen’s government; others, like Walter Eucken, who opposed Heidegger’s policies as rector, would, naturally, not be so inclined to support the Nazi regime; the exiled Röpke, on the other hand, would also oppose Nazism, but famously support the African apartheid and argue for a more “scientific” version of racism, nevertheless. Such ordoliberals favored authoritarianism, and not Nazism itself.

But, then again – what did exactly draw the ordo’s to support Nazism? According to one interpretation,

The National Socialists promised – at least on paper – to effectively practice such an economic policy this intermediate path between freedom and state controlThe individual freedom of the individual economic entity seemed largely guaranteed at the same time, the state should control the economic sectors of general interest to take. It was this promise of the National Socialists that many of the leading national economists drove them into the Nazi haze. Eucken, Röpke, Rüstow, Müller-Armack, they were all initially enthusiastic about the National Socialists’ takeover. Out From an economic policy perspective, this was consistent because the new government was pragmatic Solution promised from the teaching and ideology dispute. But soon disillusionment continued in the national economic discussion. (str. 3)

So, even those without official party affiliation were sympathetic when it came to the new regime, and they continued to contribute to the debates around the future of the Nazi economy.

Aleksandar Matković

The second part of this blog post is here.

[1] The chapter mentioned above (“Die Überwindung des historischen Materialismus in
der neuen Geschichtshaltung”) is chapter IV, whose translation is to be published in the upcoming post. It is OCR’d in the scanned version of the book, by hand, meaning that every letter was rewritten and corrected. The same goes for all of the titles, and the beginnings of each chapter. The Gothic script was simply too much for my version of Abby FineReader – it couldn’t recognize the old Germanic letters and kept turning up random signs instead of meaningful sentences, so I had to re-do entire parts (mentioned above) by hand. I left the rest up to future tech-savvy people who are interested enough in the matter to correct the book.

[2] On a side note, Armack’s father was also working as an operations manager at the old steel factory in Essen (which belonged to the Krupp family, one of the biggest supporters of the Nazi regime).

[3] This is according to the biographer of the IG Farben cartel, the historian Peter Hayes: “To be sure, since the various postwar planning groups in which Schmitz or Ilgner participated during the final two years of the fighting were all organized under the auspices of the Economics Ministry and supervised by SS General Otto Ohlendorf, their reports proceeded from the apparent assumption of a negotiated peace with a surviving Third Reich. There was thus much written of a postwar “ foreign trade offensive” and of a “ European economic community” in which Germany would act merely as the “ flag-bearer” and predominate by “ elastic political methods . . . not with brutal power.” But the real agenda of these planning bodies soon turned into a highly circumspect effort to gather information about likely Allied policies later on and to work out some of the technical economic problems of the transition to peace, with or without the survival of a Nazi regime.” (P. Hayes, Industry and ideology: IG Farben and the Nazi era, new edition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2001, p. 368).

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