In This Review

Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law
Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law
By James Q. Whitman
Princeton University Press, 2017, 224 pp

Historians of the twentieth century often represent the New Deal–era United States and Nazi Germany as polar opposites. This unsettling book demolishes that orthodoxy. It carefully documents how the tradition of racist laws in the United States inspired and instructed Adolf Hitler and Nazi lawmakers in fashioning their own racist policies. Many forget that as late as the 1930s, the United States remained one of the world’s most salient models of legally institutionalized racism. Nazi lawyers closely studied Jim Crow laws imposing segregation, denying equal citizenship, banning nonwhite immigration, and criminalizing miscegenation. Hitler himself praised the United States for its record on race relations, not least for its westward expansion through the conquest and extermination of Native Americans. Whitman is admirably careful not to exaggerate the influence of the U.S. model on Nazi Germany: he recognizes that twentieth-century American southern racism was decentralized rather than fascist and incapable of inspiring mass murder on the industrial scale of the Holocaust. Indeed, Nazi jurists criticized their American counterparts for their hypocrisy in publicly denying yet locally practicing systematic racism. Whitman reminds readers of the subtle ironies of modern history and of the need to be constantly vigilant against racism.