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The , German for "leader principle", prescribes the fundamental basis of political authority in the governmental structures of the Third Reich. This principle can be most succintly understood to mean that "the Führer's word is above all written law" and that governmental policies, decisions, and offices ought to work toward the realisation of this end.


The Führerprinzip was not invented by the National Socialists. Hermann Graf Keyserling, a German philosopher, was the first to use the term "Führerprinzip". One of Keyserling's central claims was that certain 'gifted individuals' were 'born to rule' on the basis of Social Darwinism.

The ideology of the Führerprinzip sees each organization as a hierarchy of leaders, where every leader (Führer, in German) has absolute responsibility in his own area, demands absolute obedience from those below him and answers only to his superiors. The supreme leader, Adolf Hitler, answered to no one. Giorgio Agamben has argued that Hitler saw himself as an incarnation of auctoritas, and as the living law itself. The Führerprinzip paralleled the functionality of military organizations, which continue to use a similar authority structure today. The justification for the civil use of the Führerprinzip was that unquestioning obedience to superiors supposedly produced order and prosperity in which those deemed 'worthy' would share.

This principle became the law of the National Socialist German Worker's Party and the SSmarker and was later transferred onto the whole Germanmarker totalitarian society. Appointed mayors replaced elected local governments. The Nazis suppressed associations and unions with elected leaders, putting in their place mandatory associations with appointed leaders. The authorities allowed private corporations to keep their internal organization, but with a simple renaming from hierarchy to Führerprinzip. In practice, the selection of unsuitable candidates often led to micromanagement and commonly to an inability to formulate coherent policy. Albert Speer noted that many Nazi officials dreaded making decisions in Hitler's absence. Rules tended to become oral rather than written; leaders with initiative who flouted regulations and carved out their own spheres of influence might receive praise and promotion rather than censure.


During the post-war Nuremberg Trialsmarker, Nazi war criminals and, later, Adolf Eichmann during his trial in Israelmarker attempted to use the Führerprinzip as a means to evade responsibility for war crimes: "I only did what I was told". Eichmann explicitly declared having abandoned his conscience in order to "do his job" and follow the orders. In Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt concluded that, aside from a desire for improving his career, Eichmann showed no trace of anti-Semitism or psychological damage. She called him the embodiment of the "banality of evil", as he appeared at his trial to have an ordinary and common personality, displaying neither guilt nor hatred, denying any form of responsibility. Eichmann argued he was simply "doing his job", which was supposed to be in accordance with Kant's categorical imperative. Arendt suggested that these statements most strikingly discredit the idea that Nazi criminals were manifestly psychopathic and different from common people. That even the most ordinary of people can commit horrendous crimes if placed in the catalyzing situation, and given the correct incentives, but Arendt disagreed with this interpretation as Eichmann justified himself with the Führerprinzip. Arendt argued that children obey, while adults adhere to an ideology.


  1. cf. Kant's What is Enlightenment? where the argument for the untranslatable selbstverschuldeten Unmündigkeit and against obedience against conscience is made explicit.

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