Hitler’s American Model, by James Q Whitman | Literature Review

Although I already knew that the Nazi legal system borrowed from the American legal system and history involving segregation and eugenics, I did not get an in-depth view of it.


This book is mainly about the legal foundations for the Nazi’s racial regime, specifically where they drew their inspiration from. In which case, America provided them with the perfect foundation for their laws and the subsequent Holocaust that resulted from it. Whitman talks about the lawyers and the law professors in Germany who helped to perpetuate this new legal system, as well as their lives after World War II.

James Q. Whitman

He is a Yale Law School Professor who specializes in Comparative and Foreign Law. As such, his background into law provided a explanation as to how the Nazis were able to make their racist policies acceptable.


Since race became a central part of Nazi law, then the issue of citizenship would be put into question, since all Germans with no Jewish grandparents inside Germany were given citizenship. The way in which the Nazis replicated American racial law had to do with looking at notable cases, such as a ruling that concluded that a white woman who married an Asian man renounced her citizenship.

The revision of history is what Whitman discusses frequently throughout this book, since he wants to emphasize that there were no exceptions during the early half of the 19th century in terms of racism and eugenics. The introduction of the book starts with Whitman making it clear that it is easy to say that the American legal system was different from the German one–and not the direct inspiration for the Nazi legal system.

The central theme throughout the book is the comparisons of the American and Nazi legal systems (and the implementation of systemic racism both inside and outside of the law). The mob violence against Jews are paralleled to the lynchings of African-Americans. Hitler himself commended America for its destruction of the indigenous population–and would go on to commit one of the greatest genocides in human history.

Of course, Whitman does not play the blame game, since America did not actively participate in the Holocaust. The equivalence that Whitman might make is that America showed their weapons to the rest of the British dominion, while the Nazis simply took some of them and started using them for their own wicked designs.

The only strong difference between American and Germany was that Germany was more outspoken about racial superiority whereas America was more concerned with the precepts of democracy. Also, the issue of Jews became a separator, since European Jews, such as New York magistrate Brodsky, were considered white and not subject to institutional racism; whereas Germany focused all of their institutional racism against them.

Historical Context

Another point to make is that while America dealt its systemic racism on blacks, Filipinos, Chinese, Native Americans, and other non-white populations, the Nazis mostly focused on Jews. This is due to the fact that the Nazi legal system could only target Jews who were the central minority in Germany.

There is emphasis on Nazi Germany, particularly with Jewish persecution with examples of massacres and harassments of businesses. Whitman emphasizes that the formation of the Nazi legal system preceded the Holocaust that would result from it.

What definitely surprised me was discovering that the anti-miscegenation laws in Jim Crow America were even more severe than what the Nazi legal system had planned to implement. Of course, even though America was far more brazen in its application, the Nazis had to legitimize anti-miscegenation by comparing lying about one’s race during marriage to bigamy.

Writing Style

As part of the historical overview of Nazi law, there are various German legal terminologies used throughout the book to describe how they were able to legitimize their racism. A lot of them stem from the word volk, which means people, so obviously this represents the distinctions they would make between ethnic Germans and ethnic non-Germans.

I did find some phrases that Whitman wrote that were confusing, but nonetheless I understood overall the point of the book. Though, he does lighten the mood with some sarcasm.

However, I also had a problem with the fact that there were only two chapters (excluding the introduction and conclusion) in an approximately 200-page book.

Real World Application

An important point to make is one that Ian Haney Lopez would agree to, which is the distinction between individual and systemic racism. Someone can hold egalitarian beliefs while also being a participant in the creation and perpetuation of a racist system. Even the “moderate” lawyer, Losener, would not have stopped the perpetuation of the marginalization and eventual genocide of the Jewish nation.

While the issue of this book focuses on the latter, as for how this book would apply to the individual, it merely has to do with how to truly understand history. While it is easy to see that there were monsters throughout history, it becomes a challenge to truly understand who are the ones who keep breeding them in kennels built by the devils of our collective imagination. That should be the mission for anyone who has read this book, which is to understand that no one has a high horse and that terrible events in history happen sequentially not spontaneously.

Recommend This To…

  • Anyone on the left who has this strict binary view of America as representing freedom and the Nazis as representing tyranny…without realizing that the United States had a hand in creating them and those very same systemic policies have modern-day ramifications for minorities. I have developed a pet peeve from hearing this type of cockamamie. The next time they become holier-than-thou, they should pay attention to the tapping on their shoulders by the minority demographics who would have been affected by American racism around the same time period as the Nazi rise to power.
  • Anyone who was told that the Nazis were inspired by American institutional racism and history, but was not given a proper explanation of it; or of the specific similarities and differences.


  • Lopez, Ian Haney. “Dog Whistle Politics.” Oxford University Press. 2014.
  • Whitman, James Q. “Hitler’s American Model.” Princeton University Press. 2017.

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