Professor James Whitman Publishes Hitler’s American Model

Professor James Q. Whitman ’88 examines the relationship between early 20th-century American race law and the racial policy of Nazi Germany in his new book, Hitler’s American Model.

According to Whitman, in the early 1930s Nazi lawyers took a sustained interest in American immigration law, the American law of second class-citizenship, American anti-miscegenation law, and the American approach to racial classifications. In this early period of their rule, the Nazis were not yet contemplating genocide. The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 had a different aim: They reduced Jews to second-class citizens, and criminalized interracial marriage and sex. In both respects, and especially with regard to anti-miscegenation, the US offered the leading model in the world.

Book cover for Hitler's American Model

Hitler himself had already praised American law in Mein Kampf, and Nazi lawyers did the same after the Party came to power in 1933. In fact, as Whitman shows, it was the most radical Nazis who were the most eager advocates of the American model. And it is an ironic truth that when Nazis rejected American practices, it was sometimes because they found them, not too enlightened, but too harsh.

Of course the Nazis also saw plenty to despise in America's liberal traditions. The history that Whitman recounts is by no means one of unmixed Nazi admiration for the United States. Nevertheless there is much evidence of deep Nazi engagement with American race law in the early 1930s—too much to ignore.

"Interesting and eye opening,” said Thomas McClung, of the New York Journal of Books. “In spite of the Nazis’ disdain, to put it mildly, for our stated and evident liberal and democratic principles, they eagerly looked to the United States as the prime example for their own goals of protecting the blood, restricting citizenship, and banning mixed marriages. Reading this book could make many Americans doubt the possibility of ever forming a more perfect union with such a legacy."

"This is a brilliant, erudite, and disturbing book,” said Lawrence M. Friedman, author of A History of American Law. “By looking at the United States through the eyes of Nazi legal theorists in the 1930s, Whitman contributes to our understanding of this darkest chapter of German legal history. Moreover, he shines a light through this unlikely lens on the worst sins of our own country's past.”

Whitman is the Ford Foundation Professor of Comparative and Foreign Law at Yale Law School. He earned his B.A. and J.D. from Yale University and Law School and also holds an M.A. in European History from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in Intellectual History from the University of Chicago. From 1988-1989, Professor Whitman clerked for the Hon. Ralph K. Winter of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, then began his teaching career at Stanford University Law School. He has taught as a visiting professor at universities in France and Italy and has been a professor at Yale Law School since 1994. In 1996 he became the Ford Foundation Professor of Comparative and Foreign Law. Professor Whitman's many books and articles have been published internationally and across disciplines. He has also been awarded numerous prizes and fellowships throughout his career.