It is sometimes thought that academia stands on the left, a stance marked by left-wing professors and social-activist students. This stereotype – rooted especially in the 1960s, with American and European examples of campus activism – has never been entirely accurate and must allow for broad variations from campus to campus, region to region, nation to nation, and over time. However, an alternative stereotype makes a better starting point for German universities in the period after World War I. In parallel with the churches, universities stood mostly on the right, representing the establishment, the privileged classes, and a conservative nationalism. Many professors, of course, had begun their careers under Kaiser Wilhelm. Even new appointments, however, often went to individuals who identified with the ruling classes of the German nation, those who felt aggrieved and who were suffering along with other patriotic Germans in the harsh climate of disappointment after 1918. Many of them nurtured memories of a “golden age” under Kaiser Wilhelm II, and few found much to praise in the democratic ideals of Weimar. Students also represented a privileged class, a group that had passed through the narrow gate of high academic achievement, but usually assisted by family privilege and money.
These conservative members of the academy might well have looked askance at the Nazi Party. Hitler himself had approximately the equivalent of an eighth-grade education. Furthermore, the Nazi worldview openly exalted action over thought, feeling over rational inquiry. Nazis were critical of “ivory tower intellectuals” and, when they came to power, they began to institute in the universities a new regimen of hard physical culture coupled with military and ideological training, for junior faculty as well as for students. Despite the presence of anti-intellectualism in the Nazi movement, however, we find a great deal of enthusiasm for Adolf Hitler in German universities. Student organizations had often turned Nazi even before Hitler rose to power, and the bulk of the faculty applauded Hitler’s rise in 1933. Viewed from another angle, we search almost in vain for evidence of opposition to the regime within the universities. The best-known example, perhaps, is that of the “White Rose” at the University of Munich, a courageous but small and ineffectual group of protesters to be considered in Chapter 5. The primary story of German universities in 1933 is one of enthusiasm for the German “rebirth.”