Join 3,551 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"Of course I don’t like Hitler but…"
January 24, 2008 12:43 AM   Subscribe

It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi.... Mr. B has risen beyond his real abilities.... His code is not his own; it is that of his class–no worse, no better, He fits easily into whatever pattern is successful. That is his sole measure of value–success. Nazism as a minority movement would not attract him. As a movement likely to attain power, it would.... Mr. G is a very intellectual young man who was an infant prodigy.... Mr. G will never be a Nazi,... [h]e will certainly be able, however, fully to explain and apologize for Nazism if it ever comes along.
"Who goes Nazi?" via sott.net, with added context.

(Who goes neo-con?)
posted by orthogonality (76 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
amazing, i thought it was written today
posted by growabrain at 1:37 AM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Recently re-reading Schindlers Ark, it strikes me as a more interesting question who goes anti-Nazi once the system is up and running, when there's more to lose and the truth is known. Oscar Schindler (and many others) showed great courage by happening in to the Party because it seemed like a lark, and profitable, and then working at such great risk to undermine it.
posted by wilful at 1:52 AM on January 24, 2008


Would it be appropriate for me to draw attention to this as self-Godwinizing?

Actually, quite good. Clear, concise and savage. And, sadly enough as I see it, quite true.
posted by Samizdata at 2:04 AM on January 24, 2008


Dorothy Thompson was married to It Can't Happen Here's Sinclair Lewis. Given their likely influence on each other's thoughts and writing, and some other recent reading, the timing of this post is eerie.

Last night I was reading Adam Cadre's short essay, Trajectories of Fascism: the fiction of Nazi triumph, which goes into to portrayal of Nazi alternate realities in fiction writing, including Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle, Robert Harris' Fatherland and other short stories:

Mundane Reichs inevitably succumb to entropy — if not through the opposition of the populace, then through internal corruption.

Dorothy's Nazi lettermen seem as vapid, self-absorbed and selfish as the denizens of Dick's and Harris' fiction.

What was interesting to me is what is consistent about depictions of fascism and proto-fascism by writers across genres and eras. The what-if and who-goes games they play with words are more than interesting supposition, but scarily congruent observations about human nature and how societies coalesce into authoritarian extremes through the banality of their membership.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:11 AM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


I only noticed it wasn't written today when it reached "H". I might be slow, but still...
posted by dominik at 2:12 AM on January 24, 2008


This a perfect example of the meaning of prejudice: deciding who people are and what they will do by their upbringing, social class, and ability to make light conversation at a cocktail party-- rather than their beliefs and actions. This characterisation, of course, is made easier in fiction, as Thompson shows us.

The poster at Sott.net says this is "an perceptive look at the way class, power, motivation, and character intertwine in the individual political choices we make in the face of authoritarian power ".

I disagree. Better works look at actual history. The File, by Timothy Garton Ash, and A Human Being Died That Night by psychologist Pumula Gobodo-Madikizela are much more interesting, humane views on cooperation with authoritarian governments.

And I won't even respond to "who goes neo-con". A Plurium Interrogationum if ever there was one.

- Unwealthy editor from the Right Kind of Northern Family? - Not a Nazi.

- Wealthy player from the Right Kind of Northern Family? - Nazi tagalong.

- Hardworking scholarship kid from a poor family in the South? - Already a Nazi.

- Spoiled rebellious teenager? - Born Nazi.

- Woman married to prominent man who doesn't love her? - Sexually excited by Nazis

- Socialite ex-actress who has four kids, helps her husband with his work as a lawyer, and who can "ornament any drawing-room in any capital"? - Not Nazi, True American

- The Butler with an eye for "people of quality"? - Not a Nazi, Not a Communist

- Engineering student (not Classics, like the Editor. Engineering of all things!) who went to a government school in the Bronx (the Bronx!) - Communist Sympathizer, obviously

- Intellectual prodigy. Thinks about ideas (shocking!) Reads Chesterton. And Keynes (shocking!). Will never do anything with his life. Will explain Nazism. And be purged.

- Historian who reads poetry, not economics, whose honest intellect smells of "cow barns and damp tweeds"? Not a Nazi

- German emigre, who teaches classics in a fashionable prep school. Reads Barthe and the federalist papers, not economics. Not a Nazi

- Insatiably Rich Jew. Nazi Sympathiser

- Satisfied Jew, who lives off interest from investments? Not a Nazi

- Labor Union leader who is the richest man in the room yet speaks of the needs of the poor? Yes that one, the one with "the brains of a Neanderthal" and the "infallible instinct for power". Obviously a Nazi.

Or, in short:

Kind, good, happy, gentlemanly, secure people never go Nazi. They may be the gentle philosopher whose name is in the Blue Book, or Bill from City College to whom democracy gave a chance to design airplanes–you’ll never make Nazis out of them. But the frustrated and humiliated intellectual, the rich and scared speculator, the spoiled son, the labor tyrant, the fellow who has achieved success by smelling out the wind of success–they would all go Nazi in a crisis.

Believe me, nice people don’t go Nazi. Their race, color, creed, or social condition is not the criterion. It is something in them.


On Preview: Blazecock Pileon: I didn't know Cadre wrote literary essays- I was only familiar with his IF. Interesting.
posted by honest knave at 2:55 AM on January 24, 2008 [5 favorites]


Who goes neo-con?

I thought you had to be Jewish...
posted by geos at 3:01 AM on January 24, 2008


I should also note that the dinner party is just about the worst venue to find out what people believe and how they will act.
posted by honest knave at 3:03 AM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'll admit to a certain amount of guilt. Now, in order for me to make the personal point, you're going to have to accept the fact that I'm equating Neoconservatism with Nazism.

If you don't agree with that assessment, and many don't, then just consider it from the viewpoint as a guy who went along with a very conservative social movement even though it's since been found to be detrimental to self, friends, family, neighbors, strangers, and country.

Wen I was young, I was a neoconservative. I would have been a Nazi, no doubt about it, though you'd never convince me that that was possible. This was during the Clinton 1990s, and I was anywhere from age 13 to age 19.

When you're young, you tend to form your political opinions based on those of your parents. My mother was a conservative Catholic; my father, an afficionado of Rush Limbaugh and his even more overtly racist follow-on talk radio host Bob Grant. Hindsight is 20/20, and I first got into politics partially because it was something that Dad and I could talk about.

Dad and I never really had much in common - even to this day. I don't say that we're not close - we are. It's just that hobby wise, he was into cars, guns, target-shooting (though not hunting,) fishing, and war movies. His life was hard and he made something from it - he was dyslexic back in the 50s and 60s so he didn't get much out of public school and hung out with the wrong crowd. Lacking options, he joined the Army in the early 1960s, where he was stationed first in Germany and then later was posted in Vietnam as a "lifer." He completed his GED in the army and went to college on the GI bill where he met my mother. Mom helped him a hell of alot in college, no doubt. He eventually earned a B.A. in special education, and now he sits on a M.A. in education (plus 60 credits.)

It would be unfair to describe him as brilliant because though he's very, very smart and has achieved very much... but I can't really use that word to describe him. Though he's smart, he doesn't like learning for learning's sake, he doesn't like discussing ideas. He has his 2.5 kids, his lovely wife, his picket fence, and there's no real... intellectual strain in him, at least not that I know of.

Me, I've always been an intellectual - that is, I've always loved learning for it's own sake even when I hated schooling. My hobbies tend towards computers, graphic design, videography, writing, and studying history.

Conservative - or neoconservative, rather - politics were something we could talk about with each other, you know?

Plus, neoconservatism allowed me to blame others for my own misfortunes and bad decisions. Of course I had been picked on mercilessly in schools - it was the liberal, permissive teachers that let the other children run loose, and the liberal society that meant that their parents didn't teach them well. Liberalism was why Mom sometimes cried at night and why Dad was unhappy at his job.

Make no mistake. I would have been a Nazi during that time in my life. Probably head boy of the Hitler Jugend.

Entering college, I continued this. Nazi? Hell - I was one of those "apologetic intellectuals" who argued in class that the solution to the third world's problems was neocolonialism. It seemed an easy solution, and I had no doubt that it would work, and that it hadn't been tried.

The only defenses that I can offer seem like a weak excuse. "I was young and stupid." "I was misled." Maybe I should have known better. Maybe I had no choice considering my environment. Maybe I was just aping my dad. Who knows. The point is that I look back on that part of my life with more than a certain measure of shame.

I had mellowed out by the time I was 21. I owe no small measure of this to Professor Lowi and her class on modern thought. This was the first time I was exposed to the great thinkers - Freud, Darwin, and yes, Marx. I initially rebelled, but the weird thing was that... hmm, how to explain this eloquently without oversimplifying...

Listening to Limbaugh and Dad and reading neoconservative books - if that's all you're exposed to, then, well, of course you accept those as the answer to problems. You take the analysis down, even if it strains credibility, because you haven't heard anything more credible. When I took Lowi's class and heard Freud's thoughts on psychology, Marx's thoughts on labor and capital, and all these other ideas, well, while I never agreed completely with their analysis, and still don't, I was able to tell that they had a much better grasp of the problem than anything I was reading at the time - it was eye-opening. These guys, who I had been told were wrong all of my life, turned out to have explainations that were better than the ones that I had held.

That was an election year - 1999/2000. And by the end of it, I was not a liberal per-se, nor even all that aware, but I was questioning...

Would I have been a Nazi then? I don't know. I will have no idea what would have happened if I had continued on that path, but then 9/11 happened.

9/11... boy, that's a mind bender.

I remember 9/11 - I didn't have classes till around 11 or so so I slept in. I was woken up by my dad around 9:00 who told me matter of factly that two planes had hit the twin towers in a terrorist attack, and that I'd better get dressed and head to school because "there was bound to be traffic."

I turned on the TV, checked the Internet... It was shocking so, I just did that. I got dressed, headed to school. Traffic was light. Very light, as in the early morning, everyone was trying to get the hell out of Newark because they didn't know where the next plane woudl hit. Newark was right across the river from New York, and I mention this to both explain the traffic patterns, and also to explain that there's this little stretch of highway heading into Newark perfectly aligned where you can see lower Manhattan up close, and the towers dominating your view.

They were gone. All I saw was a big, thick, black cloud.

The next couple of days were us comforting each other. I remember Jon Stewart coming out and asking me "Are you okay?" as we had been asking each other.

If I had to guess, I would have said it was about a week before I saw the first protest.

I still do not know how they managed the bravery, but it was very soon after 9/11 - I believe, still September. And these guys were talking about how several people were arrested and held without charge - the first de facto suspension of habeus corpus. These guys were on the ball way before I did.

And I won't say that I could have become a defender of Nazi-like policies, I did become a defender of Nazi-like policies that day.

I remember the details vaguely because I didn't think it that important at the time. The argument was that habeus corpus was suspended, and that even in a time of crisis - especially in a time of crisis, is when human rights should be preserved most vigorously. I didn't disagree with the sentiment but talked of "practicality." 9/11 was the biggest mass murder in history. Everything, I thought, was chaos at law enforcement agencies. While I wasn't arguing for the suspension of habeus corpus, I told them something along the lines of: "Yes, this is a violation - they're supposed to be released within 24 hours, but this was an extraordinary circumstance, and a week - or even two! does not sound that unreasonable considering the magnitude of the crime."

"So how long is reasonable?" the protester asked, rhetorically. It was a good point, but I took it far too literally. "One month. If people are still being held without charge for more than a month, then I'll agree with you that beyond a shadow of a doubt it's completely unreasonable."

I never saw that protestor again, but I remembered what my answer was. A month came and went, and I was forced to concede the point.

Around this time, I started reading the news more often - and because I was a 21st century digital boy even before I was a liberal, I got my news from the Internet. It was in the wake of the Sept. 11th coverage that I was able to see very clearly the difference between American and British reporting. I still consider British reporting to be some of the finest in the world. It was around this time that blogs went from being fringe tools for self-publishing diarists to people doling out information and analysis.

And I could see clearly that not only was the government up to no good, but I also started to see the parallels to the Reichstag Fire and 9/11. I started to see all the policies which I had espoused in my youth tried, and later failed. It was a complete repudiation of everything my youthful self had believed in.

I feel a great burden because of that. I feel that I should be called to account for the mistakes of my youth. I feel guilt that I was standing across from that protester rather than standing beside her.

Can I be forgiven? Can I forgive myself? Probably not, but forgiveness is not the important thing. What is important is what I choose to do with every day from now until the end of my life.

The scary thing about fascism, or those movements that are fascist in fact but not in name - is that it all sounds so reasonable until you find out the information which shows that it's wrong. That's why the Nazis burned books, ultimately, and why neocons to this day are told that the "liberal media" is not to be trusted.

I believe that some people are lucky enough to know to reject Nazism from day one. I believe that some people are unlucky enough that they will always find obedience to authority appealing. I believe for the rest of us, it's a struggle, and not one that is always pretty, and not one that we always win. We can help each other out, or we can hold each other down.

I shudder to think what would have happened to my life if that protestor was afraid to come out and speak that day. There was only one of her then.

I've had dark moments since then. Days when I've been afraid to speak, days when I've been afraid to write the truth and instead just talk about something less pressing. And each one of those days is a failure, I think. It's not easy. It's hard. I could lose my job, I could lose my friends. I could even end up beaten. I could be in jail or worse, so it's not easy by any stretch of the imagination, and some days - most days - I fail.

So, "who becomes a Nazi?"

I did. And I hope to never be again.
posted by BrianBoyko at 3:03 AM on January 24, 2008 [267 favorites]


BrianBoyko: Thanks for your honesty, esp on a public forum like this, and for showing us that prejudice is wrong: people can change. Good luck in the move to NZ; but do try to keep your US Citizenship. Your vote matters.
posted by honest knave at 3:16 AM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


From the article: Kind, good, happy, gentlemanly, secure people never go Nazi.

Considering that this group numbered approximately zero people in late Weimar, this is not very helpful. The only people who demonstrably never "went Nazi," who were not at least complicit in their support of the Hitler regime--barring members of those vigorously persecuted groups who never had the opportunity to choose--were those that wanted to substitute their own brand of authoritarian government for that of Hitler: the Communists and the traditional conservatives.

If we were in a similar situation in the United States, I really wouldn't be looking for the Thoreau readers and declassé Mayflower Society members to save us from tyranny, though I can see how the idea would appeal to the sorts of people who read Harpers in '41.

So, "who becomes a Nazi?"

I did. And I hope to never be again.


The reason why It Will Never Happen Here is because, as above, a very large number of Americans (though I hesitate to say a majority*) equate any infringement upon civil liberties with the first step on a slippery slope that ends with us goose-stepping down Pennsylvania Avenue while heiling the Leader. While I don't think this is accurate, it's certainly a good thing for civil liberties and for American democracy. Price of liberty is eternal vigilance and all that. However...

*Not because the rest hold the opposite opinion, though I'm sure that some do, but because monitoring the political scene for possible infringements upon the rights of others is something that requires leisure time that many don't possess, especially since the mainstream media has become largely indifferent to such stories.
posted by Makoto at 3:25 AM on January 24, 2008


Thanks for your thoughtful and honest comment, BrianBoyko.

And I could see clearly that not only was the government up to no good, but I also started to see the parallels to the Reichstag Fire and 9/11.

Someone suggested that parallel to me in October 2001 in NYC. I was too shocked and upset to respond. The abuse of 9/11, the desecration of that day for jingoism, partisanship, and ego, is a worse tragedy than the events of the day itself, given the catastrophes that have come about as a result.

Oh, and let me Goldberg this thread right now. Semi-wealthy scion of a right-wing family, trained to evaluate arguments for their political correctness and usefulness, absolutely goes Nazi if that's the way the movement goes.
posted by ibmcginty at 3:35 AM on January 24, 2008


Honest Knave: Just to let you know, I WAS planning on moving to N.Z. But those plans were predicated on the idea that there was no hope left for America.

Weirdly, I was in NZ for a month, interviewing people for the documentary I'm filming (www.followingalexiswest.com) and, long story short, interviewing people in NZ about how they changed their system gave me hope again that the system in the U.S. can be changed.

Don't get me wrong - the U.S.'s future is bleak and looking bleaker, because barring a miracle it looks like we'll either have Romney or Clinton in the White House in 2009 (I refuse to vote for either.) but it's only when things are this bleak that real change is possible.

So I'm sticking it out. If things really get as bad as I think they're going to get, I take great comfort in the fact that if, despite a massive federal budget, they can't keep all the Mexicans from crossing the border into the U.S., they won't be able to keep Americans from crossing the border out of the U.S.
posted by BrianBoyko at 4:13 AM on January 24, 2008


Oh, and my vote doesn't matter. I live in Austin, Texas. State and Federal Congressional districts are gerrymandered all to hell, Texas's electoral votes will go to Romney (or whoever gets the Republican nod) and I'm planning on voting Green Party anyway.

-- Brian.
posted by BrianBoyko at 4:15 AM on January 24, 2008


Knave: I think the article was written by someone describing a series of real events. Thus the assesment of people "going Nazi" was based less on the words written down and more on intuitive and instinctive grasp of behaviours and mannerisms. Humans are extremely adept judges of character in the instant; less so when thought and rationalization is applied. Since the article writer needed to justify his decisions with words (rationalization), it comes off somewhat hollow and prejudicial. However, I feel much the same way: there are people one can meet and know immediately that they are longing for power, and people one can meet and know on the moment that you'd trust your three-year old daughter with them.

Brian: A liberal and literate education may be the sternest threat we have towards Nazism and the like. Thanks for posting!
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:36 AM on January 24, 2008


The reason why It Will Never Happen Here...

I think it has happened. The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing men he didn't exist. Step outside the US, read the papers (especially local and/or non-English language ones) and you begin to get a feel for the extent to which significant chunks of the very mechanisms that protect America from fascism have been eroded.

Most significantly,
1. There is no free press, not for the masses.
2. Our votes have been compromised through tampering at the ballot box and/or gerrymandering.

The restoration of these two pillars would go a long long way towards righting things, but I'm not as optimistic as I tell myself I am.

I've been reading a fair amount about the rise of the Nazis (Berlin '33 as it's called here) and it's shocking how often it is described as The Nazis having taken over a Democracy.

Though a little pat, as mentioned upthread, this article certainly fits into the genre. (which is to say, thanks.)
posted by From Bklyn at 4:55 AM on January 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


BrianBoyko-that kind of honesty takes a lot of courage. Congratulations on reaching maturity by becoming aware of your weak spots and triggers, being on the alert for automatic reflex reactions, and stomping them when deemed inappropriate by reason.

I think your personal journey is what is necessary to the non-acceptance of NZ type thinking: know your self, face your fears, stand up for what you think is right ( and we all lapse in the standing up part on and off)
posted by francesca too at 5:00 AM on January 24, 2008


This was excellent, really excellent. Thanks. Thompson doesn't judge people by what they are doing at the coctail party, she judges them by what they have done out of their lives. And what they are likely to do to others in the future. This text is about more than nazism.

Who was Dorothy Thompson? The first American journalist who was expelled from nazi Germany, says the 'pedia. They have a couple of good quotations as well...
posted by Termite at 5:48 AM on January 24, 2008


When The Next Awful Thing Comes, we can be pretty sure it won't be like The Last Awful Thing. We have very little to fear from Nazis, we've been effectively immunised against them, the next fucked up thing will be completely different.
(climate change skeptics anyone?).
posted by greytape at 5:59 AM on January 24, 2008


Sometimes I think there are direct biological factors at work–a type of education, feeding, and physical training which has produced a new kind of human being with an imbalance in his nature. He has been fed vitamins and filled with energies that are beyond the capacity of his intellect to discipline. He has been treated to forms of education which have released him from inhibitions. His body is vigorous. His mind is childish. His soul has been almost completely neglected.

(NOT NAZIIST)
posted by fiercecupcake at 6:28 AM on January 24, 2008


Considering that this group numbered approximately zero people in late Weimar, this is not very helpful.
Indeed.
Kind, good, happy, gentlemanly, secure people never go Nazi.

I suppose it depends what you mean by the term 'go Nazi'. While such people might be less likely to be card-carrying members of the party, I'm guessing that there would have been no shortage of people in the German National Socialist party whose friends would have described them in these terms. I imagine the same thing is also true of slave owners. Those people were operating within a very different psychological and intellectual paradigm to the one that we operate under today.

This is clearest when we think about communism and who supported communism. By and large, that group was made up of people who were the kindest, the goodest, the most gentlemanly, etc. Communism, in theory at least, and at its most lyrical, in the works of Marx himself, paints a vision of a kinder society, a fairer society, a society that refuses to allow hospitals to turf homeless men out on the street without a wheelchair because they can't pay. Many of the people in the vanguard of the party -- in the UK and the USA at least -- were the brightest and the best. They would have been making the biggest sacrifice in terms of their own personal economic situation, but they felt that was necessary to bring about that kinder, fairer society.

Today, those people are still inclined to lean leftwards, but you'll search long and hard to find more than one or two who are willing to embrace the dogma of classical Marxism/Leninism. Because we're learned more about the consequences of totalitarian ideologies, and their ability to meet human aspirations and desires.

Given that, very few people who are 'kind, good, happy, gentlemanly, secure' are likely to go Nazi today. But could they act in similar ways, dependent upon circumstances? I don't see any reason why they wouldn't. Kindness, goodness, happiness and gentlemanliness all tend to be characteristics that wither fairly quickly once someone's economic security disappears.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:01 AM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also:

I didn't realize that there were two Dorothy Thompsons. I always thought that it was all the work of this woman.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:04 AM on January 24, 2008


Humans are extremely adept judges of character in the instant; less so when thought and rationalization is applied.

Perhaps. Gladwell thinks so. But our remarkable ability for prejudice (good and bad) doesn't legitimise our choices. And we tend to remember positive cases. Furthermore, if rationalisation is less useful than intuition, what good is the article? Why not just rely on my own sense of who is likely to be fascist? What can I legitimately take from this story?
posted by honest knave at 8:05 AM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


orthogonality: (Who goes neo-con?)

Anyone who takes the Holocaust seriously will be deeply offended, if not horrified, by this idiotic parallel. Fucking hell.

Nonetheless, even aside from any offence, it makes no sense to paint the neoconservatives as such. Even when they were ancient New York Jews who had earned the title leaving behind Communism in the late '60s, even when they had no influence beyond a few "future leaders of America" in their political science classes, the "neoconservatives" have been on their way out, and they have known it. Now, when the Republican party lies in ruins, when it's clearly split between evangelicals, cynical assholes, and those rare (though not as rare, I have a feeling, as it seems) rational and caring conservatives who were convinced last time to throw in their lot with the many but who probably can't be convinced to do that ever again, it makes absolutely no sense to see the neoconservatives as some kind of mass movement indoctricating thousands. Neoconservatives are back where they were ten years ago: no one wants to be one, and no one gives a shit about them. In fact, it's worse than it was before, and people who stated connections to them in the past don't even mention it now, because conservatives, on the whole, can't stand neoconservatives. Especially the evangelicals, who might be mind-numbingly stupid but who have a sense for who's a vile atheist and who's not, and who've noticed that the neoconservatives tend to be cynical assholes.

This is not to mention the fact that there are plenty of objections one could make to this essay you've linked. So-called Nazism was, in fact, a German invention. It might seem, to anyone who wants to apotheosize fascism and make the avoidance of its evil the guiding principle of democracy, as though this danger is always present, as though it's something we should be vigilantly afraid of. The new pan-Europeans seem to want to believe that the lesson of World War II was that "fascism is an ever-present danger," but that's not precisely true, and Italian fascism and French fascism (to take just two examples) both turned out to have distinctly different characters. It took centuries of development and a particular national turn of mind to create the machines that led to the wholesale and efficient attempt to eradicate the Jews in particular amongst all other peoples and to create what the so-called Nazis tried to create. Besides, the United States won't be torn apart by fascism; fascism isn't even possible here. If it were somehow conceivable that we'd manage to (a) agree on some form of "home-grown values" developed enough, precise enough, and thoroughgoing enough to replicate the fascist ideals and (b) pull together enough to elect not only one person but a host of people autocratic enough to enforce these "home-grown values" stringently, it might be realistic to look around the room and wonder which of us will "go Nazi." But it's not very likely, and the real specters, though utterly different, are nearly as worrisome.

Better to think about those real problems and try to muddle our way through them than convince ourselves that there are neat parallels in history which can lend us some smug satisfaction in our party designations.
posted by koeselitz at 8:10 AM on January 24, 2008 [9 favorites]


BrianBoyko: It's not easy. It's hard. I could lose my job, I could lose my friends. I could even end up beaten. I could be in jail or worse, so it's not easy by any stretch of the imagination, and some days - most days - I fail.

Holy living fuck-- and I thought the 'who goes neocon?' thing above was offensive.

Look, kid-- you've never been a Nazi, you'll never be a Nazi. You don't even fucking know what the word means. Hell, you don't even seem to know what the word "neoconservative" means. You don't live in Germany, you're clearly no anti-Semite, and "American Fascism" isn't something anybody could ever pull off even if there was an American alive today who wanted it.

In fact, you are the living, breathing instance of precisely the worst thing about the United States, the thing that will drag us down in fire and ashes, and the thing that will utterly destroy us: mediocrity. Dull, bland, 'I-love-being-a-democrat-you-love-being-a-republican' mediocrity, mediocrity that has moral convictions as a matter of social indoctrination, mediocrity that sees demons and devils in the same shleps that sit across the aisle in the other political party. The whole world knows it, and that's why they'd like to bomb us to hell.
posted by koeselitz at 8:43 AM on January 24, 2008 [13 favorites]


Class always tells, says Mrs. Thompson. Film at 11.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:56 AM on January 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


He is a free man. I doubt whether ever in his life he has done anything he did not want to do or anything that was against his code.

To this part, at least, fuckin' A. I've known in my life one guy who didn't drink alcohol until the age of 21 because "it's illegal." That guy would go Nazi. I mean, not going Nazi would be illegal!

Basically, if the thing that's keeping you from killing, raping, stealing, defrauding, and other sorts of harmful actions is the law, you're scary.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:24 AM on January 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


Thanks, BryanBoyko. That was more thought-provoking than the Harper's piece.
posted by ook at 9:25 AM on January 24, 2008


Look, kid-- you've never been a Nazi, you'll never be a Nazi. You don't even fucking know what the word means. Hell, you don't even seem to know what the word "neoconservative" means. You don't live in Germany, you're clearly no anti-Semite, and "American Fascism" isn't something anybody could ever pull off even if there was an American alive today who wanted it.

koeselitz, I'm curious. What, in your opinion, was so unique about the historical rise of the Nazis to power in Germany or for that matter the Fascists in Italy, that you can say categorically that America is immune to the emergence of an analogous political movement? Many of what we consider to be core American values--patriotism, individualism, capitalism, faith in the virtues of unfettered competition--have also been central features of fascist and proto-fascist movements throughout history. Many of those movements, in fact, were financially supported by prominent American business leaders. And don't forget, during the rise of the Nazis but prior to America's entry into the war, a substantial segment of the American population actively supported the Nazi movement, so it's not like there's no legitimate historical basis for concern about America embracing some similar form of militant nationalism.

And why put the holocaust up on a pedestal as some untouchable, aberrant example of supernatural evil that only "the other" could have permitted? The eugenics movement that laid the intellectual and political groundwork for the holocaust began in the US!
posted by saulgoodman at 9:29 AM on January 24, 2008 [11 favorites]


Thanks for the post—it was an excellent read. I knew before going into the thread that there would be the usual quota of snarkers, and that's one thing America in 1941 had over America today: intelligent people didn't feel they had to prove their intelligence by carping at everything. Of course, they had to deal with actual Nazis rather than the pretend kind we have today (every opponent of the U.S. is "another Hitler"), so their vision was perforce clearer. Thompson says:

He has been treated to forms of education which have released him from inhibitions. His body is vigorous. His mind is childish. His soul has been almost completely neglected.


And I'm sure the first thought of a lot of MeFites is "Pfft, 'soul'—what the fuck does that even mean? Irrational bullshit!" Sad.
posted by languagehat at 9:49 AM on January 24, 2008


I found BryanBoyko's honesty and introspection to be anything but mediocre.

On the other hand, resorting to a spittle-flinging, over-written, profanity-laced rant over someone's heart-felt attempt to become a strong and well-defined human being is exceedingly pedestrian. And pointless.
posted by dosterm at 9:52 AM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


BrianBoyko, that was a great post.

However, I do disagree with you equating conservatism of any stripe with Nazism. I'm particularly interested in the idea that you may have gained a perspective on Liberal thought from reading Marx, yet you gained your perspective on conservatism from listening to Limbaugh. That hardly seems balanced.

Whither Burke? Whither Cicero, Smith, List, Disraeli, Butler, Hayek, Mises, etc. Whither Bentham, for that matter?

Was John Adams a Nazi? Were John Jay and Jefferson? Lincoln? What about Calhoun? Coolidge?

I could go on, but the point is that all of these individuals influenced, defined, and were informed by conservative thought. To dismiss their ideas after a little Marx and Limbaugh seems a little hasty to me.

Anyway, I live in Austin, and I'd love to grab a drink and chat about it. If you're interested, please shoot me a message.
posted by rush at 10:21 AM on January 24, 2008


Rush:

I agree with you - but what I was specifically referring to was "neoconservatism." You're referring to "paleoconservatives" who I greatly respect while disagreeing with them.
posted by BrianBoyko at 10:41 AM on January 24, 2008


Yeah, BrianBoyko has it, rush. Today's GOP is no place for a conservative of the sort you describe. That tradition is dead in this country. Mitt "Double Gitmo" Romney and John "Bomb, Bomb Iran" McCain aren't about to bring it back, either.

And why put the holocaust up on a pedestal as some untouchable, aberrant example of supernatural evil that only "the other" could have permitted?

When I was in 7th grade, in the class discussion about Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl, it came out that much of the class really disliked her. It occurred to me later that the lesson there was that it wasn't only the noble and angels who were murdered in the Holocaust. It was just everyday people, who, pre-war, had lived lives not extraordinarily foreign to those of us growing up in the 1990s in the US.

While the manifestation and results of the evil of Nazi Germany are, thankfully, far from anything plausible in the States today, the human flaws that allowed everything to happen will always be with us everywhere.
posted by ibmcginty at 10:55 AM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


saulgoodman: Many of what we consider to be core American values--patriotism, individualism, capitalism, faith in the virtues of unfettered competition--have also been central features of fascist and proto-fascist movements throughout history.

No, they haven't. "Capitalism" and "faith in the virtues of unfettered competition" (of which I share your wariness, by the way) were distinctly not central features of any of the national strains of European fascism. It might seem to some that the self-applied title "national socialist" had no meaning, but if it did mean anything, it meant this: the government controlled the economy, as well as nearly every other feature of social life. "Freedom" wasn't a particularly revered concept in any of the fascist regimes. And "individualism" was probably the closest thing to the opposite of the ideals of the fascist regimes, which emphasized over and over again that the individual must be sacrificed in the name of "the perfect society." It centered in the resentment that democracy, that the elevation of the unwashed many over the great human beings, had been a failure, and had let them down. Such a resentment is not unthinkable in the United States, but it's very, very difficult to imagine.

It's not difficult to imagine assholes. In fact, if one had difficult imagining assholes, then one could just look at conservatives. Especially young conservatives, who tend to be very cynical.

Many of those movements, in fact, were financially supported by prominent American business leaders. And don't forget, during the rise of the Nazis but prior to America's entry into the war, a substantial segment of the American population actively supported the Nazi movement, so it's not like there's no legitimate historical basis for concern about America embracing some similar form of militant nationalism.

"Fascism" and "nationalism" are two very, very different things. This is an important but oft-ignored distinction. Moreover, nationalism isn't an unqualified evil, pan-European idealism notwithstanding. It's only evil in the wrong hands. I don't deny that the hands of neoconservatives are absolutely the wrong hands for power and nationalism, but I don't see USians building functional public transportation in the name of nationalism, much less using it to round up a race for extinction. We're cynical fucks here, and that became most blindingly obvious when the very party of the earnest nationalist was overrun by a bunch of people who don't believe in anything. We don't really care so long as we're comfortable, and that's our biggest sin.

There were times when it was conceivable for some citizens of this country to support the fascist project. There were certainly times in the western world when that kind of elitism was much more common. But it's so dead today as to be almost invisible.

And why put the holocaust up on a pedestal as some untouchable, aberrant example of supernatural evil that only "the other" could have permitted? The eugenics movement that laid the intellectual and political groundwork for the holocaust began in the US!

I was a raging jerk in my last comment here. (More on that below.) My anger mostly stemmed from the fact that I believe deeply that the holocaust should be remembered, should be called to mind regularly, and should be prevented. It's only remembering when we remember it right. And to say "we're in danger, because neoconservatives are like Nazis, or at least might become like them!" is to say that we've forgotten the entire character of the holocaust, or at least some of the crucial details.
posted by koeselitz at 12:15 PM on January 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


koeselitz: your points on the conceptions of individuality and freedom within fascism seem to be correct. still, i see parallels between fascist ideology as mussolini described it and some common neo-conservative arguments i've encountered. for instance, in the following:

Fascism is therefore opposed to that form of democracy which equates a nation to the majority, lowering it to the level of the largest number (17); but it is the purest form of democracy if the nation be considered as it should be from the point of view of quality rather than quantity, as an idea, the mightiest because the most ethical, the most coherent, the truest, expressing itself in a people as the conscience and will of the few

i can't count the number of times i've seen some dyed-in-the-wool pro-bush republican arguing that america is not a "democracy" but a "republic," with the implication that, as a republic, we shouldn't expect rule by the majority, but instead, rule by an enlightened upper class. the fact is, from hamilton on, there's always been a fascistic, anti-liberal strain in american politics, as jefferson and others have pointed out. fully half of our population at one point in history had no qualms about getting fat by depriving others of their individual liberties, so to argue there's something inherently egalitarian and fair-minded about the american character ignores these countervailing tendencies. i definitely don't mean to argue we've gotten there yet, and i don't think we really disagree on any substantive points.

but as mark twain and others recognized when they formed the american anti-imperialist league, there's nothing inherent to the american world view to innoculate us against the threat of fascist-like ideologies gaining popular momentum.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:41 PM on January 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


I want to say this directly at BrianBoyko: I'm sorry for the personal attack. It wasn't called for. I was offended and a bit pissed off, yes, but I can discuss things civilly like anybody, and should have. I hope it's possible to turn from that to a rational and reasonable discussion. Again: sorry. Uncalled for.

rush: I'm particularly interested in the idea that you may have gained a perspective on Liberal thought from reading Marx, yet you gained your perspective on conservatism from listening to Limbaugh. That hardly seems balanced... Whither Burke? Whither Cicero, Smith, List, Disraeli, Butler, Hayek, Mises, etc. Whither Bentham, for that matter? Was John Adams a Nazi? Were John Jay and Jefferson? Lincoln? What about Calhoun? Coolidge? I could go on, but the point is that all of these individuals influenced, defined, and were informed by conservative thought. To dismiss their ideas after a little Marx and Limbaugh seems a little hasty to me.

BrianBoyko: I agree with you - but what I was specifically referring to was "neoconservatism." You're referring to "paleoconservatives" who I greatly respect while disagreeing with them.


I see your point, BrianBoyko, but there's more to it than that.

First, it's fair to call all of those people "conservatives," although it means different things to almost every one of them. I don't think it makes sense at all to refer to them as "paleoconservatives;" that's a very modern term, one from the last ten years or so, and generally has come into parlance specifically to distinguish current conservative politicians who don't have neoconservative leanings.

Second, the word "neoconservative" was coined to refer to those New York intellectuals, mostly Jewish, who, in the '60s and early '70s, left the communist party and became staunch conservatives. Hence the term: they're newly conservative. Conservatives at the time tended to view them with suspicion. I admit that this term has been through many different metamorphoses, but that connection remains. People who were the first to be labelled with that term-- Norman Podhoretz, for example, editor of Commentary-- have generally grown old and left the public spotlight, but they've given it to people of similar backgrounds and similar leanings, though these newer neoconservatives had never been communists like William Kristol.

I know you didn't say that Rush Limbaugh was a neoconservative, but I feel like it should be said that he's the furthest thing from it. The neoconservatives are generally intellectuals, they're bookish, they fancy themselves highly educated in history. Which is to say: yes, pretty much every neoconservative I know will gush to you about Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, and Jeremy Bentham. Especially Burke. Much, much more so than the "paleoconservatives," who, if they've heard of him, have a more pragmatic view of him.

Look, I'll talk a little about my own perspective, if that'll help. In graduate school, I studied political science at Boston College. Make no mistake: I dislike following politics, and I'm leery of pretty much every political party or affiliation. I spent those two years avoiding politics as much as I could; I was just there to study with a great professor, Christopher Bruell, who I believe knows more about Aristotle than just about any other man alive. Bruell was a student and friend of Leo Strauss (who was, by the way, definitely not a neoconservative.) It wasn't exactly 'neoconservative ground zero,' but it was close. And, on the whole, I sympathize with the neocons. I understand why they believe what they do, although I don't tend to agree on everything. I've heard William Kristol speak, although I don't think too much of his political thought. There have been articles in Commentary that I've really liked, but I hardly ever think it's spot-on. They're people who care a lot about something they think is important. Like just about everybody. I think they simplify history a bit, and I think they're a bit disconnected from the american project and a bit cynical.

But they're not Nazis. Not even close. They have simplistic and idealistic notions about how the world works and what we should do about it. Some really and truly stupid people came out of their classes or read their books and then somehow managed to get elected. That's unfortunate. And when I meet neoconservatives, when I talk with my neoconservative friends, I tell them why, I try to explain it. I think neoconservatism is rooted mainly in the sentimentalization of our lost dedication to greatness, our lost sense of nobility, and, as such, it's an understandable leaning. But there's something beyond it.

At the same time, I know what you mean. Being a kid, especially hanging around with the kinds of conservatives you're talking about (and I've known many, especially when I was in engineering) you often get drawn into that; and it's a very horrible and judgemental thing, something we can feed on and perpetuate easily when we're young. I even think I agree that that longing for greatness and nobility which the neoconservatives share with those libertarians of my parents' generation I met who were engineers is usually akin to that youthful simplification, that childish denunciation of so many things for the purpose of puffing oneself up. But they're just people, and they're miles away from joining up and killing Jews. Maybe they wouldn't be if they lived in Germany in 1939, but they're not likely to any time soon.

Because of that, and because their spirit of divisiveness and rancor is so incredibly common today, I think it's utterly counterproductive to see them as "the enemy" or "like Nazis." They love that, just like they love explaining things like that or referring to Edmund Burke or quoting Winston Churchill.

Geez, that was long. Sorry.
posted by koeselitz at 1:20 PM on January 24, 2008 [11 favorites]


Poster 1:
orthogonality: (Who goes neo-con?)

Poster 2:
Anyone who takes the Holocaust seriously will be deeply offended, if not horrified, by this idiotic parallel

He said orthogonal, not parallel. The difference.
posted by thedaniel at 1:25 PM on January 24, 2008


I was specifically referring to was "neoconservatism." - BrianBoyko

Fair enough. Though, in that case, a careful reading of Kristol may still be in order.

Far be it from me to define neoconservatism, but it seems to me that neoconservatism is, at base, an advocacy of

1. Expansionist foreign policy
2. Government intervention in behalf of moral values
3. National economic growth

Would that be a fair assessment? I'm hoping to approach this Nazi comparison from a common definition...
posted by rush at 1:33 PM on January 24, 2008


Rush— Arguing that Jefferson was a conservative is pretty fucking insane. You have a better bet with John Adams, but all of the Founding Fathers (which includes Jay) were "classic liberals," and OPPOSED by Burke's conservatism (and even Burke was pretty "progressive" for a conservative, in that he acknowledged the inevitability of change but felt that "conservative" change was the best way to avoid the instability of the revolutionaries). That Adams espoused some pretty patrician values (starkly opposed to the idyllic democratic values of Jefferson) does not make him conservative—again, he fucking fought a fucking war to radically change the relationship of a people to their government. There's not much more anti-conservative than revolution.

Koeselitz pretty much has it on the defining character of fascism being antithetical to the promulgated "American" values.

"the fact is, from hamilton on, there's always been a fascistic, anti-liberal strain in american politics, as jefferson and others have pointed out. fully half of our population at one point in history had no qualms about getting fat by depriving others of their individual liberties, so to argue there's something inherently egalitarian and fair-minded about the american character ignores these countervailing tendencies."

That's substantively wrong, and only works if you seriously redefine "fascism," which is a post-democratic movement that has very little to do with rapacious capitalism.
posted by klangklangston at 1:37 PM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow, koeselitz. I think that adds a great deal to the discussion.
posted by rush at 1:38 PM on January 24, 2008


Koeselitz: Point taken, but I think we're getting tied up in semantics. When you refer to neoconservatism and neoconservatives, you're refering to neoconserative philosophy. When I refer to neoconservatism, I'm refering to the neoconservative moment.

The latter is much more harmless than the former. A philosopher cannot think me to death no matter how wrong; a politician's misguided policies can cause me to be killed.
posted by BrianBoyko at 1:52 PM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


That's all well and good, koeselitz-- neoconservatives "care a lot about something they think is important," and they "are generally intellectuals, they're bookish, they fancy themselves highly educated in history." Presumably they love their parents, too. (They must-- after all, that's how they all got their jobs).

But you don't actually say anything about what they actually believe.

Now, of course "they're not Nazis. Not even close." But they have unleashed a catastrophic war and occupation that's killed a few thousand American soldiers and a million or so civilians.

They aren't the Marx to Bush's Stalin. You can't say that they bear no blame for the excesses done in the name of their ideology, because they've been there advising and cheerleading the administration all along. Look at the membership of Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Group.

Neoconservatism in America today stands for inchoate belligerence. The invasion of Iraq (which I, wrongly, supported at the time) was a neoconservative project. And it was an impulse in search of a justification. They seized on Saddam's horrendous human rights record, but it's not like they're usually out there trumpeting Amnesty International reports. And Norman Podhoretz is an adviser to a GOP presidential candidate and an occasional guest at the White House. He supports invading Iran yesterday, but, tragically, he is not irrelevant or retired, contrary to what you suggest.

It's not good enough to say, "no, guys, it's cool, they're bookish, they're not like the Limbaugh types." It was once thought to be a conservative insight that ideas have consequences, and that ostensibly well-intentioned government actions can produce unintended consequences.

We're learning that lesson, painfully, today. It's turning me into a fan of Burke, and Eisenhower, and into a Glenn Greenwald, digby, and Josh Marshall-reading Democrat.

Anyway, thanks for the polite and thoughtful discussion.
posted by ibmcginty at 2:30 PM on January 24, 2008 [4 favorites]


BrianBoyko: Great post.

"It can't happen here," goes the thought. (And the title of the novel.)

But, in fact, it happens all the time-- the internal, subjective conditions for authoritarianism and even atrocity are routine.

It's just that the external factors needed to support large-scale, systematic horror are rather less common.

The world is full of latent thugs and torturers, just as the world is full of latent martyrs and heroes.

The extremes will obviously manifest, or not, depending on external conditions... and how strongly those primed for extreme behavior believe that a great many other people will agree with them, and support them in extreme action.

Paradoxically, tyranny flows from perceived consensus.
posted by darth_tedious at 2:50 PM on January 24, 2008


ibmcginty: But you don't actually say anything about what they actually believe... Now, of course "they're not Nazis. Not even close." But they have unleashed a catastrophic war and occupation that's killed a few thousand American soldiers and a million or so civilians.

I don't think that's because their ideology. I was in support of that war when it happened, too. I think that the war turned out the way it did because it was so terribly prosecuted.

The neoconservatives, I think, are right on this one. Briefly: it's not enough to be an isolationist nation that doesn't care what happens in other regions. We have power, and we should use it for good. Muslims today face the question: is western democracy good or evil? The only way we can convince them that it's good is through humanitarian projects that serve to better their status. Deposing dictators who are roundly seen as both irreligious and unjust is a humanitarian project.

That's the argument as I heard it, and I can tell you that a fair number of neoconservatives agree with it in that formulation. It's not a Nazi argument. I think I agree with it, myself, but I have my own reasons for that, not least of which is that I feel some kinship to Islam, and I feel as though Muslims can respect a war undertaken to end some injustice.

They aren't the Marx to Bush's Stalin. You can't say that they bear no blame for the excesses done in the name of their ideology, because they've been there advising and cheerleading the administration all along. Look at the membership of Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Group.

The failure of Bush's administration isn't primarily a failure of ideology. Hell, a lot of the ideology made sense, especially the ideology he had before he started hiring all these neocons. (Say, the stuff he got as governor of Texas about wanting to better education.) The failure of Bush's administration is a failure of two things: first, of good leadership and administration; second, of careful attention to moral issues. In fact, without the second, the Bush administration could certainly remained popular with the American people, but without the first, they were doomed. Everything they've touched they've done wrong, they haven't been able to delegate for shit, they haven't been able to plan an action, they haven't been able to do anything they need to do. Compare this with Bill Clinton, who was a superb organizer.

The neoconservatives have shown themselves incapable of actually running a public office. So has Bush himself. I know that you feel as though those neocons represent simple belligerence, and maybe they do. But I sympathize with them, there was a time when I really enjoyed Norman Podhoretz' writings (he's like Jay-Z, he's constantly retiring and then returning as "editor-at-large" or whatever the hell he is at Commentary now) and I can understand why they feel that way. Maybe you're right; maybe they're a big part of what 's wrong with foreign policy today. I feel as though their utter lack of a domestic policy is part of the problem with having them in office.

But when I turned my back on neoconservatism, somehow I didn't become a democrat. I feel as though all of the options are somewhat limited, and maybe that's inevitable. But I wish there were more people like me who try to stay outside of partisanship and who try to turn a critical eye on every party and every candidate.

I don't know. Yeah, thanks for the good discussion.
posted by koeselitz at 2:54 PM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Neoconservatism in America today stands for inchoate belligerence. - ibmcginty

I agree with much of what you're saying here, ibmcginty, which is why I'm trying to draw some sort of circle around what we're talking about when we reference neoconservatism. However, I have to say I'm a little sensitive about your assertion that today's GOP is no place for a conservative of the type I describe. I am a conservative of that ilk, and I don't feel like an outcast. I do, however, feel grossly misrepresented (I'm guilty of joking that I'm a man without a party). That doesn't mean I take my ball and go home. Am I any more disenfranchised than certain core Democratic demographics?

Arguing that Jefferson was a conservative is pretty fucking insane. - klangklangston

I didn't argue that he was, though I might, in a pinch. I was suggesting that Jefferson has greatly influenced the tenets of American conservatism. He was instrumental in the development of republicanism, a staunch proponent of limited government, a supporter of moral rule, etc. It's true that Jefferson disagreed with more of the core tenets of conservatism than he endorsed, but I still believe that a careful study of Jefferson is essential to an understanding of American conservatism.

With regards to John Jay, however, I will take the bait, and respectfully disagree. The man was a conservative.

As to your assertion that "Burke was pretty 'progressive' for a conservative, in that he acknowledged the inevitability of change but felt that "conservative" change was the best way to avoid the instability of the revolutionaries," I guess I'm confused about what you think conservatism is. Do you believe conservatives opposed to all forms of change, at any cost? Russell Kirk names Burke the father of conservatism, and in many ways, I'd agree. But you think he somehow differs from the basic principles?
posted by rush at 3:31 PM on January 24, 2008


Also, while we're confessing, I was against the war. Because I'm a conservative, natch.
posted by rush at 3:36 PM on January 24, 2008


Equating Neocons with Nazis is a gross distortion of history that that trivializes the Holocaust.
posted by mlis at 4:07 PM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


I was reading Adam Cadre's short essay, Trajectories of Fascism: the fiction of Nazi triumph, which goes into to portrayal of Nazi alternate realities in fiction writing

I'm confused as to why Cadre's essay didn't mention Len Deighton's SS-GB or Katharine Burdekin's Swastika Night. SN predates (1937) Dorothy Thompson's essay, and is interesting in that it looks at Nazism from a 1930s female perspective, using an alternative future history in which Nazi Germany won the (obviously looming) World War and endured. We tend to remember the really bad things the Nazis did, and elide over the comprehensiveness of their program to restructure society along conservative, Romantic, and patriarchal lines. Something like Snyder's Encyclopedia of the Third Reich lays it all out in mind-numbing and extraordinary detail. Like, did you know that the Nazis funded themselves through sponsored cigarette sales? A big part of their early funding came from effectively MLM sales of Nazi-brand consumables and gadgets to party members and their families and friends. The Nazi regime was capable of dichotomies, arguing fiercely against abortion and contraception (in overmen, of course) while promoting it within captured territories. A similar pattern was seen with pornography, with the State actively constraining porn at home while using it as a social engineering weapon in Poland and elsewhere to create a "degeneration through promiscuity".

To get a sense of who was thinking about "Going Nazi" in the 1920s and 1930s, English readers would probably find Henry Ford's The International Jew enlightening. Possibly most interesting of all would be any collection of George Orwell's journalism essays from the 1930s where he was writing for a local audience. He spends quite a lot of time dissing whichever local politician, patrician, or celebrity had "come out" for Hitlerism, which seems to have happened in the 190s with alarmingly regularity. What's cool is that it ties these into a British context, and by virtue of when it was written, it "de-evils" Nazism, stripping it of its historical yuck factor and presenting it as just another odious, totalising ideology. Wells, Hitler and the World State contrasts nicely with Well's own A Modern Utopia. Orwell also tackles the popularity of fascism among the Romantic intellectuals in W.B. Yeats and In Defence of P. G. Wodehouse, sado-fascism among comic book readers (Boys' Weeklies), Hitlerism among colonialists (Rudyard Kipling), fascism among Conservatives (The English Revolution), Antisemitism in Britain, and so on.

Finally, Cadre also omits Norman Spinrad's amazing The Iron Dream, a really quite extraordinary book, being mainly about a fantasy/future history novel called Lord of the Swastika, written by the embittered and only marginally sane scifi writer Adolf Hitler who emigrated to the United States in 1919. It's a send up of science fiction, My Struggle, and nationalistic conservatism.
posted by meehawl at 4:36 PM on January 24, 2008 [9 favorites]


The neoconservatives, I think, are right on this one. Briefly: it's not enough to be an isolationist nation that doesn't care what happens in other regions.

talk about excluding the middle! this is such a bogus dichotomy: imperial ambitions or isolationism are not the only options. and don't deny it: the language the neocons have used consistently refers to american imperial power, so the accusations of imperialism can't be dismissed as off-base.

do you think the only alternative to isolationism is unilateral military aggression and imperialism? because there are many, many degrees of engagement in world affairs that can be more constructive than "shock and awe" and other strategies of international engagement that routinely result in the wholesale slaughter of tens of thousands or more innocents.

That's substantively wrong, and only works if you seriously redefine "fascism," which is a post-democratic movement that has very little to do with rapacious capitalism.

Hamiltonian "democracy," too, is a post-democratic movement, and I have to disagree, because I think fascism is very much a movement of rapacious capitalism--the merger of capital and the state into a single entity, in fact, is how Mussolini himself conceived it. In a fascist state, the ruling elite (i.e., the capitalists) are the few (as in "the truest [democracy], expressing itself in a people as the conscience and will of the few") whose moral virtue the state embodies. That's why fascism is so hostile to socialism, which aims to make the state into an expression of the will of the masses. At least, that's how Mussolini characterizes it.
posted by saulgoodman at 4:40 PM on January 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


Oh, there's also Turtledove's Joe Steele, which is an amusing short story depicting the gradual takeover of the US political system by "Joe Steele", a immigrant to the US from Russia who eventually becomes a Democratic congressman from Fresno. His rise to power is abetted by the adaptable J Edgar Hoover.
posted by meehawl at 4:46 PM on January 24, 2008


"if America were going Nazi [Mr. B] would certainly join up, and early. Why?… "

Because my name works with the uniform. Especially the boots.
posted by Mr Bismarck at 5:37 PM on January 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


"Now, of course "they're not Nazis. Not even close." But they have unleashed a catastrophic war and occupation that's killed a few thousand American soldiers and a million or so civilians."

So Pol Pot was a Nazi too? Or Napoleon? Just being aggressive doesn't make one a Nazi, which has connotations beyond fascism, which has connotations beyond belligerence.

"I didn't argue that he was, though I might, in a pinch. I was suggesting that Jefferson has greatly influenced the tenets of American conservatism. He was instrumental in the development of republicanism, a staunch proponent of limited government, a supporter of moral rule, etc. It's true that Jefferson disagreed with more of the core tenets of conservatism than he endorsed, but I still believe that a careful study of Jefferson is essential to an understanding of American conservatism.

With regards to John Jay, however, I will take the bait, and respectfully disagree. The man was a conservative.

As to your assertion that "Burke was pretty 'progressive' for a conservative, in that he acknowledged the inevitability of change but felt that "conservative" change was the best way to avoid the instability of the revolutionaries," I guess I'm confused about what you think conservatism is. Do you believe conservatives opposed to all forms of change, at any cost? Russell Kirk names Burke the father of conservatism, and in many ways, I'd agree. But you think he somehow differs from the basic principles?"


Uggh. OK, first off, the terminology is tangled with regard to "conservatism."

Burke: Yes, father of conservatism as an ideology, but deviated from previous writers like Cicero by both approving somewhat of the American revolutionary aims and proposing a vision of ideal government which was "progressive" (as opposed to reactionary). Still fundamentally opposed rapid change (revolution), belief in reason as primary law, and democratic rule.

Jefferson: No. Classic Liberal (big L), believed in inherent rights, follower of Locke and Rousseau.

Jay: Disagree—While I believe his Federalist writings clearly mark him as one of the more moderate revolutionaries, that he would be involved in a Liberal revolution clearly marks him as anti-conservative. I'm happy to let this one lie, though, because I think that Jay is one of the easier revolutionaries to label as conservative, and he had a great deal to do with preserving things like the British legal system.

As to the bigger point, I have two things to say: First off, a lot of modern conservatism is really harkening back to Classical Liberalism (free trade, free men, etc.). Second off, I think that ALL of these writers should be required reading for anyone attempting to understand conservativism, even as I don't necessarily think all of them are conservatives. I can grant that the same impulse I decry in you (the adoption of notable historical figures into your ideological camp through selective reading) can easily be applied to me.
posted by klangklangston at 6:03 PM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Hamiltonian "democracy," too, is a post-democratic movement, and I have to disagree, because I think fascism is very much a movement of rapacious capitalism"

No, it's not. Fascism is post-democratic the way that communism is post-democratic—as an extension of fundamentally democratic principles, while reacting violently to democracy itself. Hamiltonian thought is mostly Federalism, which is very different, and confusing the two should be a warning sign.
posted by klangklangston at 6:05 PM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


i was probably being a little too flip, klang. hamilton's views were elitist and anti-democratic--not literally post-democratic, sure. but there's little doubt about the consensus view of hamilton's anti-democratic tendencies, although i know there's an emerging minority view that would like to reform his image (and many of the so-called neo-cons are leading the charge).

in my opinion, much of hamilton's thinking is proto-fascist. his stated views and actions demonstrated him to be an elitist who believed that an enlightened few should be permitted to use the mechanisms of the state to further their own personal ambitions. there's an interesting discussion of the challenges of recent efforts to revise the story of hamilton's role in shaping the early republic here.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:49 PM on January 24, 2008


was 9/11 really the largest mass murder ever? not taking away anything from the horror of it all, but is that really a true statement?
posted by Frasermoo at 7:16 PM on January 24, 2008



was 9/11 really the largest mass murder ever? not taking away anything from the horror of it all, but is that really a true statement?


More than 15,000 dead are attributed to the Katyn massacre , but since that unfolded methodically over a period of days maybe it is classified as a serial murder spree or something. Over 33,000 people were killed in two days at Babi Yar If more or less simultaneous death is implicit, then I guess Hisroshima, Nagasaki or the firebombing of Tokyo are going to be at the top. If not simultaneous, then the Holocaust is the top; if a sort of deliberate policy that kills people over time through, say, starvation, then surely the Ukrainian famine, the Armenian genocide, the cultural revolution in China, the Pol Pot regime..... kind of sorry I can think of so many....
posted by Rumple at 10:24 PM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


BrianBoyko that was a great comment.

The Poly Sci pissing contest is a derail. The article is about personality types and which are susceptible to sacrificing personal beliefs to naziism. An ideology built on fear and manipulation and the ruthless amassing of power.

Brian seems to be the only one who's got it right. This is the kind of internal dialogue we all need to have if we're going to find a better way.

Equating neoconservatism with nazism is completely valid, if one looks at the tools they employ for subjugation. Both are misguided utopian ideologies that have been manipulated by tyrants to give the illusion of a rigorous intellectual foundation, suppress democratic principles and governmental due process and instill fear and hate in a people to justify reprehensible acts.

Whether it be Mussolini who made his bogeymen, organized crime (while making deals with them behind closed doors) or Hitler creating an artificial class of sub humans to soak up the hate and bitterness and humiliation of the German nation, or Bush/Cheney making 911 and OBL and Al Queada and Iraq the greatest threat in the history of this nation, all these tyrants essentially said the following:


"Give us more power and we will protect you."

"Give up your rights for a little while and you will be safe."

"Follow me and we will destroy the subhumans (ie,, Dirty Sicilian mobsters, money hording Jews, Fundamentalist Muslims, Palestinians, Hamas, liberals, academics, the media...pick your sub humans) terrorists etc...


The reason I find the neocons so repellent is that in their desire to further there agenda they let themselves be completely manipulated by Bush and Cheney and Rove etc. The helped to prop up and justify the worst president in the history of the country. They need to spit out of the body politic and shamed and tarred and feathered at every available opportunity.

So at the end of the day, what are YOU not Kritsol or Limbaugh or Bentham or Locke or Hamilton or Jefferson going to do?? Because the next most terrible thing is not something unknowable it's been the map of human behavior for thousands of years and WE ARE CAPABLE OF IT. So what are you going to do about it? Maybe an even more important question might be (and it's hard one): How can we do anything about it?
posted by Skygazer at 11:02 PM on January 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


need to be
posted by Skygazer at 11:04 PM on January 24, 2008


A fascinating Poly Sci derail though. Frankly most of it sailed gracefully over my head, as I haven't read most of those mentioned.

Reading the original article I couldn't help but wonder what a contemporary corollary would be? Who is/has consolidated power and been wielding it? Who are our "National Socialists"?

It bothers me when Nazism, National Socialism, is associated first and foremost (sometimes exclusively) with "The Final Solution" because before the homicidal insanity they spent decades perfecting their political skills and the ways they consolidated, secured and then abused that power once in place - are terrifically important lessons. Lessons that get lost (ironically, tragically) in the horror of what it led to.

Subsequently, if you want to draw parallels with the last twenty eight years of American Political history and how the Nazis rose to power, the discussion gets derailed by pointing out that, well, take your pick.

Aspiring, latter-day 'national socialists' have studied how the originals rose to power and they have culled what worked and discarded what didn't. (First on their list of things to do would most likely be, "Let's not call our selves 'Nazis." "Can we keep 'Homeland' though?" "Yeah, I think so...")
posted by From Bklyn at 1:40 AM on January 25, 2008


I used to ask, when I was a kid, how any society could 'go Nazi', how anyone could choose to do that. And my teachers would always tell me they didn't know.

Well, now I know. I'm watching it happen here. I have my answer, and I wish I didn't. All you have to do is scare people a little, and they'll extend their arms and beg for the chains.
posted by Malor at 5:03 AM on January 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


saulgoodman: talk about excluding the middle! this is such a bogus dichotomy: imperial ambitions or isolationism are not the only options. and don't deny it: the language the neocons have used consistently refers to american imperial power, so the accusations of imperialism can't be dismissed as off-base. do you think the only alternative to isolationism is unilateral military aggression and imperialism? because there are many, many degrees of engagement in world affairs that can be more constructive than "shock and awe" and other strategies of international engagement that routinely result in the wholesale slaughter of tens of thousands or more innocents.

See, the thing is, you're thinking about it in entirely different terms than neoconservatives do.

First of all, neoconservatives see the term "imperialist" as a Marxist canard. I can only think of one writer who uses it as a term for something good, and he's just doing that to be contentious. It's easy and fun to make it sound awful, but it's like "Nazi" in that it's easy to empty it of meaning. What do you mean by it? Foreign action? That's not always wrong. "Imperialism" specifically seems to mean foreign action purely for the economic benefit of the imperialist nation and the detriment of the victim nation. That's why the term is a canard; because it assumes that foreign action is taken every time for an economic benefit. In fact, that's why it has a distinctly Marxist character; because it assumes that there's a purely economic interest involved.

There is such a thing as imperialism, and it's bad. In fact, it's pretty much become apparent that it doesn't work; the conquering of foreign nations to use as vassal states to be maintained purely for the benefit of the conqueror eventually ends up harming everybody. The world learned that lesson well between 1500 and 1900. But I mention Marxism because it's a specifically Marxist thing to link modern economic movements, which have absolutely nothing to do with former notions of empire, with the past in that way.

Second, through that term, you assume that I'd argue in favor of the Iraq war specifically because I favor imperialism. You're wrong. In and out is good, and that's what I wanted; it's what I'd hoped for. You may dispute my motives, you may not believe me, but I assure you that I'm in earnest on this: I don't want the USA ruling foreign nations. Muslims can do it better, anyhow.

Third, you're misunderstanding the use of terms like "shock and awe," which, while they may have been seized on by neoconservatives (who like being shocking themselves) are military terms that were originated by military thinkers in response to Viet Nam. And they're legitimate terms. Heck, the lesson was learned already by that genius of modern warfare, William Tecumsah Sherman, during the civil war: war ends fast if you make it hell for the other side. Ending war fast saves lives.

Hamiltonian "democracy," too, is a post-democratic movement, and I have to disagree, because I think fascism is very much a movement of rapacious capitalism--the merger of capital and the state into a single entity, in fact, is how Mussolini himself conceived it. In a fascist state, the ruling elite (i.e., the capitalists) are the few (as in "the truest [democracy], expressing itself in a people as the conscience and will of the few") whose moral virtue the state embodies. That's why fascism is so hostile to socialism, which aims to make the state into an expression of the will of the masses. At least, that's how Mussolini characterizes it.

Fascism sees democracy, and also the freedoms that its worked-out form of capitalism entails, as inherently communist and degenerate. (At least that's the case with most really fascist thinkers.) Communism, and much of socialism in general, sees capitalism as a fascist thing, and identifies many of its aspects with fascism.

They are both wrong. Very wrong. In the same way that a large democracy that exploits smaller foreign nations for their natural resources isn't imperialist at all. They're something entirely different.
posted by koeselitz at 11:53 AM on January 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


...I think that ALL of these writers should be required reading for anyone attempting to understand conservativism, even as I don't necessarily think all of them are conservatives. I can grant that the same impulse I decry in you (the adoption of notable historical figures into your ideological camp through selective reading) can easily be applied to me. - klangklangston

I agree that one should read Jefferson to understand American conservatism, and that was supposed to be my point. In re-reading my original post, though, it does appear as though I'm claiming Jefferson as a conservative, which was not my intent. He wasn't, and you're right to point it out (in my haste, I clearly put him in the wrong chunk of names).

I'm still sticking to my guns on Jay, and I don't think I'm co-opting him, but I think we agree on all other points.
posted by rush at 12:27 PM on January 25, 2008


"Second, through that term, you assume that I'd argue in favor of the Iraq war specifically because I favor imperialism. You're wrong. In and out is good, and that's what I wanted; it's what I'd hoped for."

Heh. I got into all sorts of fights with other liberals because I have no real problem with interventionalist foreign policy, but opposed the war on the supposition that it would be prosecuted poorly and that it was a distraction from a cohesive nation-building in Afghanistan.
posted by klangklangston at 1:19 PM on January 25, 2008


I am preparing a gripping autobiographical account of how I was close to suicide - because i nearly bought a joy division album once.

It will be the greatest comment in the history of mefi.

Has anyone tried playing this who becomes a nazi game with a bunch of Millwall fans ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 1:56 PM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


sgt - i'm not quite sure where you are going with that. i listened to Ian Curtis's ramblings, bought the albums and then carried on as normal. Heath Ledger I wasn't.
posted by Frasermoo at 8:07 PM on January 25, 2008


In the same way that a large democracy that exploits smaller foreign nations for their natural resources isn't imperialist at all. They're something entirely different.

while we can split hairs about the precise meaning of the term "imperialist" all day and night (and you might even end up persuading me), i think it's fair to say that whatever more precise meaning the term might have in its academic sense, imperialism is popularly understood to mean almost exactly what you're maintaining it doesn't: the control and exploitation of a weaker nation's land, wealth, and natural resources by a stronger nation through the aggressive use of military force.

and while it may be reasonable for students of poli-sci to reserve a special technical sense of the term for their own uses, it doesn't seem reasonable to insist that the use of the term more generally be limited to its strict, technical sense.

to argue that critics of america's aggressive interventionalist policies misunderstand the true nature of imperialism neatly sidesteps the criticism, without addressing the underlying charge: there might be very practical reasons to believe that, in contrast to classical imperialism, "a large democracy... exploit[ing]... smaller foreign nations for their natural resources" could actually work. but that's not the point. morality, not practicality is the issue.

(on review, koeselitz, i'm probably missing your point entirely, but i'll post this anyway. it's late. i'm tired.)
posted by saulgoodman at 9:30 PM on January 25, 2008


I think neoconservatism is rooted mainly in the sentimentalization of our lost dedication to greatness, our lost sense of nobility

If this is true, there may be hope: The last politician to stir these feelings in me was Harry Reid, speaking about how he came to admire FDR. And what I especially liked was the sense I got from him that he knew what has always been widely regarded as essential human dignity, and was devoted to lifting up the nation to that standard; it seems to me the Left have too often missed that, rushing on to champion novel or controversial rights while old standbys continue to stand by. (I mean, we can bicker on and on, in text, about the proper resolution when one woman inseminates herself after oral sex without the knowledge and consent of the man, and we could organize lobby groups and all, but meanwhile thousands and millions of kids are not getting adequate access to literacy.) Can I invoke 'paleoliberalism' for Senator Reid?

And talking of ... what the heck is TR (of the Spanish-American fabricated war) doing on Mount Rushmore with those superb men? Can we dynamite the surface of his face off and put FDR there instead? Now there's a hero worthy of their company.

At any rate, I think we can take useful warnings about curbing our own impulses from Nazism, just as we can from their ideological archrivals over in the USSR. I read the entirety of The Gulag Archipelago a couple years ago (partly out of interest, partly out of bloody-mindedness), and found eerie familiarity in the rhetoric and brass by which the Soviet Union established state terror. Both of the grave errors of 20th-century Europe can be instructive, if we'll only try to see how they apply.
posted by eritain at 10:59 PM on January 25, 2008


And talking of ... what the heck is TR (of the Spanish-American fabricated war) doing on Mount Rushmore with those superb men? Can we dynamite the surface of his face off and put FDR there instead? Now there's a hero worthy of their company.


Will this do in the meantime?
posted by Rumple at 1:47 AM on January 26, 2008


I would argue that Nazi and neocon leanings are part of a cult process, which is what makes them similar. Compare Robert Lifton's eight criteria of a cult on a world stage (rather than as a local phenomena) and it fits, although one would probably need to have known a few conservatives in America over the last twenty years to fully appreciate it.
posted by Brian B. at 8:42 AM on January 26, 2008


There is such a thing as imperialism, and it's bad. In fact, it's pretty much become apparent that it doesn't work; the conquering of foreign nations to use as vassal states to be maintained purely for the benefit of the conqueror eventually ends up harming everybody. The world learned that lesson well between 1500 and 1900.

This strikes me as hilarious. 400 years or twenty generation to "learn a lesson"? No, I think it was much more a case of the hegemons wearing each other out via two world wars that finally ended colonianism. Not "lessons learned". Looking around today, what else are the US moves into Iraq if not (slightly disguised) colonialism?

This type of thinking is illustrative of the mind set "oh, all that evil stuff happened long ago, but we're so much more enlightened now." Balls.
posted by telstar at 4:13 PM on January 27, 2008


oh lord don't let it happen here, lord don't let it happen here, lord don't let it happen here, lord don't let it happen here, lord don't let it happen here, lord don't let it happen here, lord don't let it happen here, lord don't let it happen here, lord don't let it happen here, lord don't let it happen here...
posted by fuq at 9:59 PM on January 27, 2008


telstar: This type of thinking is illustrative of the mind set "oh, all that evil stuff happened long ago, but we're so much more enlightened now." Balls.

On the contrary, I hope to God that it happens the same this time around. That'll make it astoundingly easy to deal with. Unfortunately, things keep shifting, and there are new and different kinds of evil around nowadays. It may seem easy and convenient to label it "colonialism," but that's like calling Stalin a Nazi. Sure, yeah, he's evil. Sure, we should fight him. But there's no way to fight him with no sense of history or reality.
posted by koeselitz at 11:53 PM on January 27, 2008


On the contrary, I hope to God that it happens the same this time around.

To some extent it did. Tyrants, whether they be Communist, Fascist, Neoconservative Republican or Democrat always operate in the same way. And it boils down to the suppression of truth and the use and manipulation of fear. These are the all purpose tools of ALL tyrants and oppressive governments regardless of -ism.

That'll make it astoundingly easy to deal with.

Spoken like a true theoretician. Astoundingly easy? The evidence doesn't support that. After 911 this country was as suggestive and malleable as a frightened infant. The Bush administration, having no qualms or shame in resorting to tactics congruent to political pedophilia, played it for all it was worth, and raped the wide eyed infant-like faith and trust of the nation ruthlessly in the name of self interest. It squelched public discourse, shoved a dirty sock into the gaping maw of the media, lied and lied and lied some more, and got us into a ruinous and bogus war and used every tool in it's considerable executive arsenal ( and some they left to their "ratfuckers" i.e., the Swiftboats gambit) to give itself a second term (with dubious election "irregularities"). Bush quickly announced it was a "mandate" from the self same infant nation with a torn anus and that he was going to "use that capital" for all it was worth, sounding like a bully, giving due warning that the beatings were about to reach a whole new level of viciousness . There was much talk to the effect of Rove being a "genius" and the GOP having cemented it's position as the "true party of America" and an upcoming era of GOP rule that would easily last half a century. The country was a stones throw away from becoming an de facto theocracy.

Thankfully the Bush Administration cared more about creating an "era" than it did about dealing with real issues and its failure is now painfully apparent to the world and I hope this nation as well, although hearing the GOP Presidential contenders speak I sometimes wonder if they're living in an alternative universe. We're paying the price of the Bush administration now and will continue too long after he's retired to his crawford ranch.

Sure, we should fight him. But there's no way to fight him with no sense of history or reality.

I'm sure there were many respected political scientists and historians in the 30s who debated Hitler's rise to power and saw it as a "fascinating" experiment, as if it could be contained to a petri dish, at the heart of much theoretical debate dusting off the political science canon.

Unfortunately, things keep shifting, and there are new and different kinds of evil around nowadays.

The wellspring of barbarism and tyranny has always been and will continue to be: Ignorance, fear, bigotry, bitterness, revenge, and the subjugation of the individual voice.

The most effective tool against tyranny are the words of a witness and we can all claim that title now.
posted by Skygazer at 12:09 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Adam Cadre commented to me that SS-GB is mentioned on page 3 and The Iron Dream on page 11. These don't show up in Adobe's authoritative yet apparently functionless search (for "SS-GB", "SSGB", "Deighton" or "Spinrad"). Somewhat chastened, I am now taking the time to, you know, actually *read* his long-but-excellent article...
posted by meehawl at 3:41 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


a post that equates conservatives in the US (which is at least 1/3 of the entire country) to Nazis.


It does no such thing. There's a little matter of the neo prefix to consider.
posted by Neiltupper at 8:15 PM on January 29, 2008


« Older Design Police...  |  For the past 50 years, The Bri... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments