Karl Haushofer

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General Karl Haushofer

General Karl Haushofer (August 27, 1869-March 13, 1946) popularised German geopolitics, notably during Weimar Republic and the Third Reich. Through his student Rudolf Heß, Haushofer's ideas may have influenced the development of Adolph Hitler's expansionist strategies, although Haushofer denied direct influence on the Nazi regime. He was a great admirer of Japanese culture, and when he committed suicide in 1946, he did so in the traditional Japanese manner. Prior to and during WWII he had extensive interaction with the Japanese and influenced their biological warfare development. His son, Albrecht (1903-1945), was killed by the Nazis because of opposition to the government.



Main article: Geopolitik

Haushofer developed Geopolitik from widely varied sources, including the writings of Oswald Spengler, Alexander Humboldt, Karl Ritter, Friedrich Ratzel, and Rudolf Kjellén.

Geopolitik contributed to Nazi foreign policy chiefly in the strategy and justifications for lebensraum. The theories contributed five ideas to German foreign policy in the interwar period: the organic state; lebensraum; autarky; pan-regions; and the land power/sea power dichotomy.

Geostrategy as a political science is both descriptive and analytical like Political Geography, but adds a normative element in its strategic prescriptions for national policy.1 While some of Haushofer's ideas stem from earlier American and British geostrategy, German geopolitik adopted an essentialist outlook toward the national interest, oversimplifying issues and representing itself as a panacea.2 As a new and essentialist ideology, geopolitik found itself in a position to prey upon the post-WWI insecurity of the populace.3

In 1919, Haushofer would become professor of geography at the University of Munich. This would serve as a platform for the spread of his geopolitical ideas, magazine articles, and books. By 1924, as the leader of the German geopolitik school of thought, Haushofer would establish the Zietschrift für Geopolitik monthly devoted to geopolitik. His ideas would reach a wider audience with the publication of Volk ohne Raum by Hans Grimm in 1926, popularizing his concept of lebensraum.4 Haushofer exercised influence both through his academic teachings, urging his students to think in terms of continents and emphasizing motion in international politics, and through his political activities.5 While Hitler's speeches would attract the masses, Haushofer's works served to bring the remaining intellectuals into the fold.6

Geopolitik was in essence a consolidation and codification of older ideas, given a scientific gloss:

The key reorientation in each dyad is that the focus is on land-based empire rather than naval imperialism.

Ostensibly based upon the geopolitical theory of American naval officer Alfred Thayer Mahan, and British geographer Halford J. Mackinder, German geopolitik adds older German ideas. Enunciated most forcefully by Friedrich Ratzel and his Swedish student Rudolf Kjellén, they include an organic or anthropomorphized conception of the state, and the need for self-sufficiency through the top-down organization of society.8 The root of uniquely German geopolitik rests in the writings of Karl Ritter who first developed the organic conception of the state that would later by elaborated upon by Ratzel and accepted by Hausfhofer. He justified lebensraum, even at the cost of other nation's existence because conquest was a biological necessity for a state's growth.9

Ratzel's writings coincided with the growth of German industrialism after the Franco-Prussian war and the subsequent search for markets that brought it into competition with Britain. His writings served as welcome justification for imperial expansion.10 Influenced by Mahan, Ratzel wrote of aspirations for German naval reach, agreeing that sea power was self-sustaining, as the profit from trade would pay for the merchant marine, unlike land power.11 Haushofer was exposed to Ratzel, who was friends with Haushofer's father, a teacher of economic geography,12 and would integrate Ratzel's ideas on the division between sea and land powers into his theories, saying that only a country with both could overcome this conflict.13

Haushofer's geopolitik expands upon that of Ratzel and Kjellén. While the latter two conceive of geopolitik as the state as an organism in space put to the service of a leader, Haushofer's Munich school specifically studies geography as it relates to war and designs for empire.14 The behavioral rules of previous geopoliticians were thus turned into dynamic normative doctrines for action on lebensraum and world power.15

Haushofer defined geopolitik in 1935 as "the duty to safeguard the right to the soil, to the land in the widest sense, not only the land within the frontiers of the Reich, but the right to the more extensive Volk and cultural lands."16 Culture itself was seen as the most conducive element to dynamic special expansion. It provided a guide as to the best areas for expansion, and could make expansion safe, whereas projected military or commercial power could not.17 Haushofer even held that rbanization was a symptom of a nation's decline, evidencing a decreasing soil mastery, birthrate and effectiveness of centralized rule.18

To Haushofer, the existence of a state depended on living space, the pursuit of which must serve as the basis for all policies. Germany had a high population density, whereas the old colonial powers had a much lower density, a virtual mandate for German expansion into resource-rich areas.19 Space was seen as military protection against initial assaults from hostile neighbors with long-range weaponry. A buffer zone of territories or insignificant states on one's borders would serve to protect Germany.20 Closely linked to this need, was Haushofer's assertion that the existence of small states was evidence of political regression and disorder in the international system. The small states surrounding Germany ought to be brought into the vital German order.21 These states were seen as being too small to maintain practical autonomy, even if they maintained large colonial possessions, and would be better served by protection and organization within Germany. In Europe, he saw Belgium, Holland, Portugal, Denmark, Switzerland, Greece and the "mutilated alliance" of Austro-Hungary as supporting his assertion.22

Haushofer's version of autarky was based on the quasi-Malthusian idea that the earth would become saturated with people and no longer able to provide food for all. There would essentially be no increases in productivity.23

Haushofer and the Munich school of geopolitik would eventually expand their conception of lebensraum and autarky well past the borders of 1914 and "a place in the sun" to a New European Order, then to a New Afro-European Order, and eventually to a Eurasian Order.24 This concept became known as a pan-region, taken from the American Monroe Doctrine, and the idea of national and continental self-sufficiency.25 This was a forward-looking refashioning of the drive for colonies, something that geopoliticians did not see as an economic necessity, but more as a matter of prestige, and putting pressure on older colonial powers. The fundamental motivating force would not be economic, but cultural and spiritual.26

Beyond being an economic concept, pan-regions were a strategic concept as well. Haushofer acknowledges the strategic concept of the Heartland put forward by the British geopolitician Halford Mackinder.27 If Germany could control Eastern Europe and subsequently Russian territory, it could control a strategic area to which hostile seapower could be denied.28 Allying with Italy and Japan would further augment German strategic control of Eurasia, with those states becoming the naval arms protecting Germany's insular position.29

Contacts with Nazi leadership

Evidence points to a disconnect between geopoliticians and the Nazi leadership, although their practical tactical goals were nearly indistinguishable.30

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Rudolf Hess
Joachim Ribbentrop
Joachim Ribbentrop

Rudolph Hess, Hitler's secretary who would assist in the writing of Mein Kampf, was a close student of Haushofer's. While Hess and Hitler were imprisoned after the Munich Putsch in 1923, Haushofer spent six hours visiting the two, bringing along a copy of Friedrich Ratzel's Political Geopgraphy and Clausewitz's Vom Kreige.31 After WWII, Haushofer would deny that he had taught Hitler, and claimed that the National Socialist party perverted Hess's study of geopolitik. He viewed Hitler as a half-educated man who never correctly understood the principles of geopolitik passed onto him by Hess, and Foreign Minister Joachim Ribbentrop as the principle distorter of geopolitik in Hitler's mind.32 While Haushofer accompanied Hess on numerous propaganda missions, and participated in consultations between Nazis and Japanese leaders, he claimed that Hitler and the Nazis only seized upon half-developed ideas and catchwords.33 Furthermore, the Nazi party and government lacked any official organ that was receptive to geopolitik, leading to selective adoption and poor interpretation of Haushofer's theories. Ultimately, Hess and Konstantin von Neurath, Nazi Minister of Foreign Affairs, were the only officials Haushofer would admit had a proper understanding of geopolitik.34

Father Edmund A. Walsh S.J., professor of geopolitics and dean at Georgetown University, who interviewed Haushofer after the allied victory in preparation for the Nuremberg trials, disagreed with Haushofer's assessment that geopolitik was terribly distorted by Hitler and the Nazis.35 He cites Hitler's speeches declaring that small states have no right to exist, and the Nazi use of Haushofer's maps, language and arguments. Even if distorted somewhat, Fr. Walsh felt that was enough to implicate Haushofer's geopolitik.36

Haushofer also denied assisting Hitler in writing Mein Kampf, saying that he only knew of it once it was in print, and never read it.37 Fr. Walsh found that even if Haushofer did not directly assist Hitler, discernible new elements appeared in Mein Kampf, as compared to previous speeches made by Hitler. Geopolitical ideas of lebensraum, space for depth of defense, appeals for natural frontiers, balancing land and seapower, and geographic analysis of military strategy entered Hitler's thought between his imprisonment and publishing of Mein Kampf.38 Chapter XIV, on German policy in Eastern Europe, in particular displays the influence of the materials Haushofer brought Hitler and Hess while they were imprisoned.39

Haushofer was never an ardent Nazi, and did voice disagreements with the party, leading to his brief imprisonment. He did profess loyalty to the Führer and make anti-Semitic remarks on occasion. However, his emphasis was always on space over race.40 He refused to associate himself with anti-Semitism as a policy, especially because his wife was half-Jewish.41 Haushofer admits that after 1933 much of what he wrote was distorted under duress: his wife had to be protected by Hess's influence; his son was murdered by the Gestapo; he himself was imprisoned in Dachau concentration camp for eight months; and his son and grandson were imprisoned for two-and-a-half months.42


  • English Translation and Analysis of Major General Karl Ernst Haushofer's Geopolitics of the Pacific Ocean: Studies on the Relationship between Geography and History ISBN 0773471227


  • Beukema, Col. Herman. "Introduction." The World of General Haushofer. Farrar & Rinehart, Inc., New York: 1984.
  • Dorpalen, Andreas. The World of General Haushofer. Farrar & Rinehart, Inc., New York: 1984.
  • Mattern, Johannes. Geopolitik: Doctrine of National Self-Sufficiency and Empire. The Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore: 1942.
  • Walsh, S.J., Edmund A. Total Power: A Footnote to History. Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York: 1949.


Note 1: Mattern, p40-41.
Note 2: Walsh, p41.
Note 3: Mattern, p32.
Note 4: Dorpalen, p16-17.
Note 5: Walsh, p4-5.
Note 6: Beukema, pxiii.
Note 7: Mattern, p37.
Note 8: Ibid, p32.
Note 9: Walsh, p39.
Note 10: Mattern, p60.

Note 11: Dorpalen, p66-67.
Note 12: Ibid, p52.
Note 13: Ibid, p68-69.
Note 14: Ibid, p23-24.
Note 15: Ibid, p54.
Note 16: Walsh, p48.
Note 17: Dorpalen, p80.
Note 18: Ibid, p78.
Note 19: Ibid, p38-39.
Note 20: Ibid, p94-95.

Note 21: Ibid, p205-206.
Note 22: Ibid, p207, 209.
Note 23: Ibid, 231.
Note 24: Mattern, p17.
Note 25: Ibid, p39.
Note 26: Dorpalen, 235-6.
Note 27: Ibid, p218.
Note 28: Mackinder, p78.
Note 29: Walsh, p9.
Note 30: Beukema, pxiii.

Note 31: Walsh, p14-15.
Note 32: Ibid, p15.
Note 33: Ibid, p8.
Note 34: Ibid, p35-36.
Note 35: Ibid, p41.
Note 36: Ibid, p41, 17.
Note 37: Ibid, p36.
Note 38: Ibid, p41.
Note 39: Ibid, p42.
Note 40: Mattern, p20.
Note 41: Walsh, p40, 35.
Note 42: Ibid, p16.

Further reading

  • World of General Haushofer: Geopolitics in Action by Andreas Dorpalen, 1942, ISBN 0804601127
  • Heske, Henning: Karl Haushofer: his role in German politics and in Nazi politics. In: Political Geography 6 (1987), p. 135-144.
  • Who's Who in Nazi Germany, by Wiederfield and Nicolsa, Haushofer entry (http://motlc.wiesenthal.com/text/x09/xm0987.html)
  • Dreamer of the Day: Francis Parker Yockey and the postwar fascist international by Kevin Coogan, Autonomedia, Brooklyn, NY 1998 ISBN 1570270392
  • Biographical Dictionary of the Extreme Right Since 1890 edited by Philip Rees, 1991, ISBN 0130893013

External links

es:Karl Haushofer


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