The Origins of Totalitarianism
October 17, 2004 3:43 PM   Subscribe

"Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it... The stubbornness with which totalitarian dictators have clung to their original lies in the fact of absurdity is more than superstitious gratitude to what turned the trick, and, at least in the case of Stalin, cannot be explained by the psychology of the liar whose very success may make him his own last victim. Once these propaganda slogans are integrated into a 'living organization,' they cannot be safely eliminated without wrecking the whole structure." -- Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 1951.
posted by johnnydark (45 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: enough with the bush=hitler already. sheesh.



 
godwin!
posted by andrew cooke at 4:04 PM on October 17, 2004


Wow. I am absolutely amazed. Someone *finally* made a FPP here on MeFi about how FNC being a right-wing propaganda machine, and George W. Bush and his administration are the embodiment of evil. I thought this day would never come.
posted by davidmsc at 4:05 PM on October 17, 2004


I blame Dick Cheney.
posted by Kwantsar at 4:09 PM on October 17, 2004


godwin!

Eh. If the shoe fits.
posted by eustacescrubb at 4:13 PM on October 17, 2004


And those first 3 comments illustrate the banality of evil. Moving on...
posted by amberglow at 4:17 PM on October 17, 2004


You could easily adapt every link in the post to make the same point about the left end of the political spectrum.
posted by Mick at 4:19 PM on October 17, 2004


No, you couldn't.

(mindless responses to mindless comments)
posted by ook at 4:35 PM on October 17, 2004


or you could adapt every link, but they wouldn't be about Kerry the way this fits Bush. We don't have anyone in power or running for office that's on the left end of the political spectrum.
posted by amberglow at 4:53 PM on October 17, 2004


Along similar lines.
posted by kenko at 4:53 PM on October 17, 2004


>Eh. If the shoe fits.

Naww, if the boot fits.

Then agian, these links are reality-based and not faith-based.
posted by skallas at 4:58 PM on October 17, 2004


Even though the point has been made (ad nauseum), I have to say; this post is very nicely structured. Bonus points for invoking Ardent.
posted by Quartermass at 5:06 PM on October 17, 2004


It's bad form to explicitly mention Godwin, andrew cooke. The tacit agreement is that whoever mentioned the Nazi's automatically lost the argument, and that anyone who participates in the discussion (or, at least, whoever continues seriously discussing in the comparison) after that point is also an automatic loser. Those of us who are aware of the law should simply, silently mark those who make such comparisons, and place them for future reference in our mental killfile, refusing to take them seriously in the future.
posted by gd779 at 5:08 PM on October 17, 2004


>The tacit agreement is that whoever mentioned the Nazi's automatically

Who agrees to this? All godwin says is that given enough time someone will mention the nazis. So now we can never have a conversation about how a Republic turned into a Fascist warmongering nightmare? How westerners can turn into mass-murderers? How the media, local militias, and opposing political parties couldn't stop the nazis?

Ignore history at your own peril. But don't push this "we must all bow down to godwin" crap.
posted by skallas at 5:12 PM on October 17, 2004


The tacit agreement is that whoever mentioned the Nazi's automatically lost the argument... Who agrees to this?

The Jargon File. The Wikipedia. The Godwin's Law FAQ. Here's a Kuro5hin summary. As you can see, traditionally most everyone agrees that in most circumstances, the person who mentions the Nazi's loses, and the person who points out Godwin's law also (unfortunately) loses. The idea is that the scope and horror of true genocide is so beyond comparison that anyone who compares a lesser action to the Nazi Holocaust is just flaming, and is probably grasping at straws. The only appropriate response is to silently ignore people who seriously make such silly (maybe even offensive) comparisons.
posted by gd779 at 5:29 PM on October 17, 2004


Yes, amberglow, just as the FPP itself illustrates the banality of the Other Brand of Evil.
posted by davidmsc at 5:32 PM on October 17, 2004


Actually, skallas, I was thinking earlier about how, in order not to seem to be engaging in moral equivalance or to be trivializing fascism in Italy or Spain or Nazism, anyone wanting to make the point that similar rhetoric or more than rhetoric is being used (by whomever, not just the current US administration), will immediately have to back off from the obvious implications and say "of course I don't mean that...", and basically recant in toto. As if the fact that something bad has already happened inures you to its recurrence. Never again, for the simple reason that it's already happened! It's a form of over-sophistication: we already know the plot, so it couldn't happen like that.

(Re: the boot link. Am I the only one who, when reading the bit in Suskind's article about the "reality-based community", thought of the part of 1984 when O'Brien tells Winston that he could rise off the ground that instant, if he wanted to, and that he should abandon his nineteenth-century attitudes?)
posted by kenko at 5:32 PM on October 17, 2004


Godwin's "Law" is amusing but it has nothing to say about the validity of any given comparison. Some things are comparable to Nazism; other things less so. Comparisons to Nazi activities have merit or not based on their relevance and accuracy. The Nazis were far from unique in their tactics, they are however well known and were in their particular time and place more than usually adept and successful at employing them. Thus such comparisons are useful, if valid, in both their recognizability and their documented truth. The decision about whether a given comparison has merit has to be adjudged on rational grounds of content, not schoolyard principles equivalent to "last one in's a rotten egg", or "he who smelt it dealt it" -- which most cries of "Godwin" compare to pretty well.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:43 PM on October 17, 2004


> Nazi's loses

Loses what exactly? A chance to make a point? To make an analogy? Just because some internet nerds decided to make some half-assed rule which seems to be based on nothing but western guilt (oh my! that will never happen again. my government is good!)

Wayne Madsen starts his Karl Rove article with this sentence:
He's America's Joseph Goebbels...

I guess he's a "loser" to you and the K5 people and whoever, this hour, wrote that wikipedia article.

Western guilt is right. Alan Keyes came to Chicago and told us that all the Nazis were gay and satanists. Actually they were held in good opinion in their church and hetero. Gay people, were, let us say, not welcome to the party. It must hurt to admit that the Nazis were just normal Christian guys on a power trip.

Meanwhile, the right can compare anyone left of the GOP as "communist' (think stalin), socialist (think Castro), etc with no similiar rules.
posted by skallas at 5:47 PM on October 17, 2004


It must hurt to admit that the Nazis were just normal Christian guys on a power trip.

Troll.
posted by Kwantsar at 6:30 PM on October 17, 2004



posted by H. Roark at 6:45 PM on October 17, 2004


traditionally most everyone agrees that in most circumstances, the person who mentions the Nazi's loses, and the person who points out Godwin's law also (unfortunately) loses.

That formulation of Godwin's law is idiotic, and anyone who would refer to it non-ironically...well, you see where I'm going.
posted by rushmc at 6:53 PM on October 17, 2004



posted by quonsar at 7:14 PM on October 17, 2004


>Troll.

Not at all. Its Alan Keyes whose a troll. The Nazi party was not full of Homosexual Satanists like he would have us believe. Wow, I dont believe stating the facts is now "trolling." Hitler et al were still good with the Church, both in Germany in Rome. So was Franco. They did not practice Satanism. And yes, they were on a vicious and destructive power trip. They were very ordinary people who bought the ideology of conservatism and bigotry to win political office and followed this ideology to its logical end.

Again, sounds like western guilt to me. Its scary to know that your government, the checks and balances, the opposing parties, the media, etc can easily fail and produce a corrupt democracy which justifies warmongering with patriotic pride.
posted by skallas at 7:52 PM on October 17, 2004


Thank god for some common sense comments about that Godwin crap. If you were talking about Neo-Nazis, would the argument be "over" as soon as someone brings up the topic?

How about this ammendment to that "Law": Godwin's Law only applies to trivial matters that in no way compare to the actual Nazi party, facism, or the holocaust.

There are a lot of important things to learn from how the Nazi party took hold in Germany during the 30s. Let's not let this Godwin junk stop people from being able to talk about it.
posted by Stuart_R at 8:02 PM on October 17, 2004


Let's not let this Godwin junk stop people from being able to talk about it.
I think that was the intention all along.
posted by amberglow at 8:05 PM on October 17, 2004


The reason it hasn't happened again (yet) is that people keep saying that it could happen. Keep saying it, and ignore the schoolyard taunts.

Godwin is a joke. Cut it out.
posted by majcher at 8:27 PM on October 17, 2004


You now claim that the statement "Nazis were just normal Christian guys on a power trip" is a fact?

Let's say that 77% of the US is Christian.
Let's say that 48% of the US population is male.
Let's say that 294 million people are Americans.

That's 110 million Christian males in America. I would further posit that a majority of these men are normal. So, we have at least "55 million normal Christian guys" living within the borders of the US. Is the lack of a power trip from this body of 55 million all that stands between us and 15 million dead Jews, gypsies, gays and communists?

Or were you just trolling?
posted by Kwantsar at 8:36 PM on October 17, 2004


Do you know what a Venn diagram is, Kwantsar?
posted by notsnot at 8:40 PM on October 17, 2004


I like the first link best : but, Ron Susskind needs to stop beating around the burning bush :

This is about Dominion Theology

".....As he considered the prospect of his candidacy, Bush met frequently with evangelical leaders. In October 1999, he addressed the Council for National Policy, a "powerful but secretive" group that attracts the "who's who of the evangelical movement," including Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, Senator Jesse Helms, Congressmen Tom DeLay, Oliver North, and Christian Reconstructionist, Rousas John Rushdoony.[25] The founder of the Council is none other than Tim LaHaye, the author of the best-selling Left Behind series of novels, which center around an evangelical interpretation of the Book of Revelation as played out in contemporary global politics.  In LaHaye's narrative, the Rapture has taken place, the Antichrist has taken control of the U.N., and the struggle between good against evil is being waged in the Middle East. This narrative, interestingly enough, also happened to fit well with the Neoconservative plans for the Middle East as the center of America's geopolitical struggle:

LaHaye…added a new foreign policy dimension to its agenda, specifically with regard to the Middle East. According to LaHaye, the armies of the Antichrist would soon have their final battle with Christ and 'witness the end of history' after a series of conflicts in the Middle East—- not unlike those taking place today. The belief that the events in the Middle East were part of God's plan, that Christ would return only after Israel truly controlled the Holy Land, put the Christian right on course for a low-profile liaison with a highly unlikely political ally—hard-line, pro-Israeli, neoconservative defense policy intellectuals.....As Kevin Philips observes, many of the Christian leaders with whom Bush has been associating are connected to a large and influential movement known as Christian Reconstructionism or Dominion Theology.....Dominion Theology is based on the belief that all human behavior is inherently religious and that Christian law should infuse every aspect of social life. The movement has been controversial for its strong political agenda, which calls for the dominance of the Church in political affairs and the creation of a single kingdom ruled by Christian leaders."

Dominion Theology

" I never thought I would live long enough to see the revival of the thoroughly discredited doctrine of postmillennialism. But it has occurred, and it has happened quickly.

The doctrine is sweeping through Christendom today, and strangely enough, it is appealing primarily to two segments at opposite ends of the spectrum — namely, the Charismatics and those with a heritage of Reformed theology.

The doctrine is being presented in new clothes. Although it appears under many different names — Restoration, Reconstruction, New Wave, Latter Rain, and Manifest Sons of God — the two most frequently used titles are Kingdom Now Theology and Dominion Theology."

posted by troutfishing at 8:51 PM on October 17, 2004


"If Christian people work together, they can succeed during this decade in winning back control of the institutions that have been taken from them over the past 70 years. Expect confrontations that will be not only unpleasant but at times physically bloody.... This decade will not be for the faint of heart, but the resolute. Institutions will be plunged into wrenching change. We will be living through one of the most tumultuous periods of human history. When it is over, I am convinced God's people will emerge victorious."
-- Pat Robertson, Pat Robertson's Perspective Oct-Nov 1992

"We at the Christian Coalition are raising an army who cares. We are training people to be effective -- to be elected to school boards, to city councils, to state legislatures, and to key positions in political parties.... By the end of this decade, if we work and give and organize and train, THE CHRISTIAN COALITION WILL BE THE MOST POWERFUL POLITICAL ORGANIZATION IN AMERICA."
-- Pat Robertson, in a fundraising letter, July 4, 1991
posted by troutfishing at 8:55 PM on October 17, 2004


Do you know what a Venn diagram is, Kwantsar?

Sure, notsnot. Do you think that women are disproportionately Christian? If not, where have I erred?
posted by Kwantsar at 8:59 PM on October 17, 2004


If not, where have I erred?
It was a dark and stormy night. Your mother went into labor.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 10:16 PM on October 17, 2004


Is the lack of a power trip from this body of 55 million all that stands between us and 15 million dead Jews, gypsies, gays and communists?

I'll say it if no one else will: Yes.

This group is consolidating power, and preaching a xenophobic, theocratic agenda of hatred.

Every school board that starts teaching Creationism is one small step closer to concentration camps for muslims.

Every prayer breakfast in the halls of power is one small step close to forced re-education camps for gays and lesbians.

Every new faith-based program is one small step closer to the violent extermination of pro-choice medical providers.

The distance is not that far. Hitler was the subject of a nice little puff-piece in "Homes and Gardens" less than 10 years before places like Auschwitz were liberated.

Do you really think we can afford to ignore this problem and hope it goes away? Or are you one of those people who doesn't see the rise of theocratic fascism in the U.S. as a problem at all?
posted by bashos_frog at 10:53 PM on October 17, 2004


Everyone should read Hannah Arendt. I can't recommend it enough. David Neiwert's work is also superb. Look for his pieces on fascism. Good FPP. Great riff bashos_frog.
posted by filchyboy at 11:27 PM on October 17, 2004


Bravo, bashos_frog.

One of the more interesting things I've learned from reading papers from the 30's/40's is that these were ordinary guys aiming for power. It can happen anywhere. The homes and garden piece is just a classic example of how mainstream these fellows were.

There's this hollywood-like assumption that "evil" exists and its easily recognizable, like someone sporting a goat-tee. In real life, highly immoral and dangerous people tend to have really good PR. If they didn't they wouldnt be in positions of power to begin with.
posted by skallas at 11:56 PM on October 17, 2004


Well said, bashos_frog.

People chuckled and pooh-poohed the Nazis when they were coming into power. Maybe if we take these guys seriously now they'll never get to be that bad. If so, I'll take all the taunts Kwantsar and his buddies want to dish out. I'd rather be known as an alarmist who was wrong than live in a Christian police state cribbed from Leviticus.
posted by RylandDotNet at 12:05 AM on October 18, 2004


People chuckled and pooh-poohed the Nazis

Very true. Even the word "Nazi" was originally a term of derision for members of the NSDAP.

Ignore history at your own peril.

Amen, brother. Unfortunately, people seem to love focusing on the years 1933-1945 to the exclusion of the rest of history. Just once I'd love to see someone say that Bush is, like, totally Fath Ali Shah. Even if it's a terrible analogy, it would help prevent our brains from atropyhing under the constant barrage of "Bush is Hitler, Sharon is Hitler, my 3rd-period social studies teacher is Hitler, Hitler is Hitler, etc..." Human history is thousands of years old, and there's no shortage of leaders who were inept, vicious, foolhardy, greedy, or whatever other insult you prefer. Unless Bush unveils new liquidation camps during his next term and declares a war of elimination on "racially inferior" sub-humans, the Hitler analogy is embarassingly premature.
posted by Ljubljana at 3:18 AM on October 18, 2004


Part of this Godwin business comes from the fact that people don't understand what an analogy is - a comparison, not an equivalence. Only someone who is trying to ignore the meaning of a statement making the comparison would confuse it with equivalence. Calling Godwin on this FPP is a straw man argument if I ever saw one.

Metafilter: mentioning Godwin is the new Godwin.
posted by eustacescrubb at 3:34 AM on October 18, 2004


I would just like to say that I find the high level of sanity in this thread quite refreshing.

There is no doubt that the Hitler analogy has been made for hyperbole countless times, hence Godwin. But Godwin is a copout because it relieves you of the need to actually think. I don't see anyone here saying that Bush and his pals have created anything remotely close to a second Holocaust. The point is, we must learn from the past and do whatever we can to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Just read about what people were saying in Germany in the 1930s (both before and after Hitler became Chancellor). Quite intelligent people convinced themselves that there was no reason to make a fuss. And people just couldn't believe that anyone would do what we now know was actually happening. They found ways to rationalize it. It's OK to lose all our rights because we need a strong leader, too bad that we have to get rid of the Jews and gays but they had it coming anyway, and so on.

I'm not saying that I know for sure where things are headed in the US. But thinking it could never happen again and ignoring the warning signs... the mind boggles.
posted by caveday at 3:40 AM on October 18, 2004


caveday - see my newest post, on the new Christian Dominionist militancy - the new Chrisitian right, under rhetoric which has called for the "fumigation" and destruction of whole sectors of the American population, readies itself for battle.
posted by troutfishing at 6:08 AM on October 18, 2004



One of these guys is a scary monster from history. The other is just a normal Christian guy on a power trip. Can you spot the difference?
posted by bashos_frog at 6:55 AM on October 18, 2004


bashos_frog:

At the time of the first photo, the scary monster was just a normal Christian guy on a power trip.

I'm sure that was the justification that Bush's grandfather gave for continuing to do business with the country he was running when he was starting to get a little scary.
posted by mygoditsbob at 8:01 AM on October 18, 2004


My point exactly.
posted by bashos_frog at 8:14 AM on October 18, 2004


anyone have a link to the essay?
posted by iamck at 8:39 AM on October 18, 2004


Is the lack of a power trip from this body of 55 million all that stands between us and 15 million dead Jews, gypsies, gays and communists?

Or "Islamofascists." Human nature doesn't change, nor do the possibilities that dwell within it suddenly disappear.

What do you think the Nazis were, aliens?

Part of this Godwin business comes from the fact that people don't understand what an analogy is - a comparison, not an equivalence.

Thank you. Yet another failure of the American education system.
posted by rushmc at 9:03 AM on October 18, 2004


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