This morning I read Marina Fontaine’s review of Downfall (http://marinafontaine.blogspot.com/2017/03/netflix-review-downfall.html), yes, including mention of that scene, the one that’s been recaptioned several gazillion times, some with more humor than others. In the review, she asks why the fascination? What is it with the Nazis and Hitler?
I have a theory. It is purely mine, based on reading a metric crap-ton about all manner of things (and don’t ask me for cites because this stuff has stewed so long in the back of my head I no longer remember where I originally read whatever triggered any particular piece. You can get most of the raw facts off Wikipedia). It is also a very broad generalization. Coming years will determine whether or not it is correct in the big picture. I’m not optimistic (I hope I’ve got this horribly wrong. I fear I haven’t).
The ongoing fascination with Hitler and Nazi Germany.
Simply put, it’s the most well-documented and acknowledged demonstration of the allure of evil and how easy it is for a more or less civilized people to descend into utter brutality. As such, it holds an unclean fascination not helped by uniforms that were designed to look good as well as be practical (or by the simple fact that evil, when done effectively, is sexy. Because it is invariably power, and untrammeled power at that. We’re human. Power attracts and corrupts us. The wiser among us acknowledge this so we can fight the effect).
The various Communist regimes can be dismissed as “not counting” because to the minds of those who do the dismissing, Russia, China, North Korea, and Eastern Europe “weren’t civilized”, and so Communism/Socialism would work just fine implemented by civilized people (they usually point to one of the Nordic nations when they do this). These same people are a big part of why the wrong lesson keeps being drawn from Nazi Germany.
The problem was not nationalism. It was not even the disgusting racial laws. Those laws could never have been passed, much less enforced, without the one big thing Socialism, Communism, and yes, Nazism have in common.
The supremacy of the state.
That bare listing of facts accounts for the rise of Hitler, but not the continuing notion that the Nazis were conservative (only if you define ‘conservative’ as ‘nationalist’). That one comes from two sources. One was Soviet propaganda aimed at making Communist and Nazi ideologies seem much more distinct than they actually were. The other was Allied propaganda aimed at much the same thing. It wouldn’t do, after all, to have people realize they were allied with a dictator every bit as vile as Hitler.
So in American and British media, the evil of the Nazis was played up, while the evil of the Communists was minimized where it couldn’t be silenced altogether. The Communist plants and fellow-travelers in both nations helped.
They were – and are – almost the same. Both demand an all-powerful state. The state determines who is deserving and provides for the deserving. The state dehumanizes the undeserving prior to eliminating them. The state determines the direction of industry (in the case of the Nazis, by requiring business owners to support the regime where the Communists took over the businesses). The state cares for you – but if you’re no use to the state, your care will be an unmarked grave in a prison camp/work camp/concentration camp/gulag. All hail the state.
Kate Paulk, “The Ease of Evil”, guest-posting at According to Hoyt, 2017-03-21.
April 16, 2017
March 17, 2017
February 28, 2017
Interestingly, Mussolini found much of John Maynard Keynes’s economic theories consistent with fascism, writing: “Fascism entirely agrees with Mr. Maynard Keynes, despite the latter’s prominent position as a Liberal. In fact, Mr. Keynes’ excellent little book, The End of Laissez-Faire (l926) might, so far as it goes, serve as a useful introduction to fascist economics. There is scarcely anything to object to in it and there is much to applaud.”
After the worldwide Great Depression, Mussolini became more vocal in his claims that fascism explicitly rejected the capitalist elements of economic individualism and laissez-faire liberalism. In his “Doctrine of Fascism,” Mussolini wrote: “The Fascist conception of life accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with the State. . . . Fascism reasserts the rights of the state. If classical liberalism spells individualism, Fascism spells government.” In his 1928 autobiography, Mussolini made clear his dislike for liberal capitalism: “The citizen in the Fascist State is no longer a selfish individual who has the anti-social right of rebelling against any law of the Collectivity.”
Lawrence K. Samuels, The Socialist Economics of Italian Fascism, quoted by Perry de Havilland in “Mussolini admired ‘Mr. Keynes’ excellent little book'” at Samizdata, 2015-07-08.
February 11, 2017
… most nations of Central and Eastern Europe were occupied by or allied with Germany during this period. The Nazis made it clear that deporting their Jews to the concentration camps in Nazi territory was a condition for continued good relations; a serious threat, when bad relations could turn a protectorate-type situation into an outright invasion and occupation.
Pride of place goes to Denmark and Bulgaria, both of which resisted all Nazi demands despite the Germans having almost complete power over them. Most people have heard the legend of how, when the Germans ordered that all Jews must wear gold stars, the King of Denmark said he would wear one too. These kinds of actions weren’t just symbolic; without cooperation from the Gentile population and common knowledge of who was or wasn’t Jewish, the Nazis had no good way to round people up for concentration camps. Nothing happened until 1943, when Himmler became so annoyed that he sent his personal agent Rolf Gunther to clean things up. Gunther tried hard but found the going impossible. Danish police refused to go door-to-door rounding up Jews, and when Gunther imported police from Germany, the Danes told them that they couldn’t break into apartments or else they would arrest them for breaking and entering. Then the Danish police tipped off Danish Jews not to open their doors to knocks since those might be German police. When it became clear that the Nazis weren’t going to accept any more delays, Danish fishermen offered to ferry Jews to neutral Sweden for free. In the end the Nazis only got a few hundred Danish Jews, and the Danish government made such a “fuss” (Arendt’s word) about them that the Nazis agreed to send them all to Theresienstadt, their less-murderous-than-usual camp, and let Red Cross observers in to make sure they were treated well. In the end, only 48 Danish Jews died in the entire Holocaust.
Bulgaria’s resistance was less immediately heroic, and looked less like the king proudly proclaiming his identity with oppressed people everywhere than with the whole government just dragging their feet so long that nothing got done. Eichmann sent an agent named Theodor Dannecker to get them moving, but as per Arendt:
not until about six months later did they take the first step in the direction of “radical” measures – the introduction of the Jewish badge. For the Nazis, even this turned out to be a great disappointment. In the first place, as they dutifully reported, the badge was only a “very little star”; second, most Jews simply did not wear it; and, third, those who did wear it received “so many manifestations of sympathy from the misled population that they actually are proud of their sign” – as Walter Schellenberg, Chief of Counterintelligence in the R.S.H.A., wrote in an S.D. report transmitted to the Foreign Office in November, 1942. Whereupon the Bulgarian government revoked the decree. Under great German pressure, the Bulgarian government finally decided to expel all Jews from Sofia to rural areas, but this measure was definitely not what the Germans demanded, since it dispersed the Jews instead of concentrating them.
The Bulgarians continued their policy of vaguely agreeing in principle to Nazi demands and then doing nothing, all the way until the Russians invaded and the time of danger was over. The result was that not a single Bulgarian Jew died in the Holocaust.
Scott Alexander, “Book review: Eichmann in Jerusalem”, Slate Star Codex, 2017-01-30.
January 29, 2017
As Colby Cosh rightly says, you can find cheap “we’re now living in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four” pieces everywhere. On the evidence, you’d have to say that the majority of editorial writers working today know of Orwell for only two of his (admittedly brilliant) novels. I’m not an Orwell scholar (I’m actually no kind of scholar at all), but I’ve read much more of Orwell’s work — spoiler: he really was a socialist — and we sell the man’s message very far short if it can only be used as a quick literary check-off that the current president of the United States is bad:
I’ll start by admitting that I have a hipster’s childish, proprietary feeling toward the works of George Orwell. It’s a common disorder. Being an admirer of the man’s work I ought, reasonably, to be delighted by anything that makes it more popular. But, dammit, all anybody ever buys are the hits.
Donald Trump’s election to the U.S. presidency has set off such a mighty public hunger for Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four that the novel shot to the top of Amazon’s fiction charts. That, in turn, has created a land rush in Orwell-Trump thinkpieces. The Guardian even did a full workup of “Orwell experts” who all assure us that the parallels between the 1949 book and the current situation are strong and undeniable, with claims like “Trump takes doublethink to a new extreme” and “Trump is not O’Brien. He is more like a cut-price version of Big Brother himself.”
You can find “Are we living in Orwell’s 1984 (yet)?” articles printed in any year of the last 40 or so. But 2017 has already seen dozens, maybe hundreds. And the great majority of them seem to answer: “Yes, definitely. Here we are. Enjoy your Victory Gin.”
This is not a healthy or sensible reaction to the election of a bold, chauvinistic liar. That, after all, may be a good description most of the heads of government that have ever existed — the leaders under which most modern humans have lived. You’re allowed be afraid of or discouraged by Trump without losing your mind altogether. He displays a great deal of the style and technique of a classic caudillo, a Juan Peron or a Ferdinand Marcos; no sane liberal can be happy to see these things brought to the American scene. Trump has terrible power and may abuse it. He may be awful for the world, may even initiate wars.
In interests of full disclosure, this article triggered me enough to buy another couple of volumes of The Complete Works of George Orwell, these being from the post-WW2 era. I don’t yet have the full set, but I’m working on it (the full Orwell bibliography can be found here). I found A Patriot After All: 1940-1941 and Keeping Our Little Corner Clean: 1942-1943 to be absolutely fascinating, not only as informal war chronology, but also as a view into Orwell’s reasons for simultaneously fighting against totalitarianism in both Fascist and Communist forms.
January 2, 2017
September 9, 2016
One hears murmurs against Mussolini on the ground that he is a desperado: the real objection to him is that he is a politician. Indeed, he is probably the most perfect specimen of the genus politician on view in the world today. His career has been impeccably classical. Beginning life as a ranting Socialist of the worst type, he abjured Socialism the moment he saw better opportunities for himself on the other side, and ever since then he has devoted himself gaudily to clapping Socialists in jail, filling them with castor oil, sending blacklegs to burn down their houses, and otherwise roughing them. Modern politics has produced no more adept practitioner.
H.L. Mencken, “Mussolini”, Baltimore Evening Sun, 1931-08-03.
August 13, 2016
The declared portion of the Spanish Civil War lasted from 1936 to 1939. It has passed into legend among Western leftists as a heroic struggle between the Communist-backed Republican government and Nazi-backed Franco, one that the good guys lost. The truth seems rather darker; the war was fought by two collections of squabbling, atrocity-prone factions, each backed by one of the two most evil totalitarianisms in human history. They intrigued, massacred, wrecked, and looted fairly indiscriminately until one side collapsed from exhaustion. Franco was the last man left standing.
Franco had no aspirations to conquer or reinvent the world, or to found a dynasty. His greatest achievements were the things that didn’t happen. He prevented the Stalinist coup that would certainly have followed a Republican victory. He then kept Spain out of World War II against heavy German pressure to join the Axis.
Domestically, Spain could have suffered worse. Spanish Fascism was quite brutal against its direct political enemies, but never developed the expansionism or racist doctrines of the Italian or German model. In fact it had almost no ideology beyond freezing the power relationships of pre-Republican Spain in place. Thus, there were no massacres even remotely comparable to Hussein’s nerve-gassing of Kurds and Shi’as, Hitler’s Final Solution or Stalin’s far bloodier though less-known liquidation of the kulaks.
Francisco Franco remained a monarchist all his life, and named the heir to the Spanish throne as his successor. The later `fascist’ regimes of South and Central America resembled the Francoite, conservative model more than they did the Italo/German/Baathist revolutionary variety.
One historian put it well. “Hitler was a fascist pretending to be a conservative. Franco was a conservative pretending to be a fascist.” (One might add that Hussein was not really pretending to be about anything but the raw will to power; perhaps this is progress, of a sort.) On those terms Franco was rather successful. If he had died shortly after WWII, rather than lingering for thirty years while presiding over an increasingly stultified and backward Spain, he might even have been remembered as a hero of his country.
As it is, the best that can be said is that (unlike the truly major tyrants of his day, or Saddam Hussein in ours) Franco was not a particularly evil man, and was probably less bad for his country than his opponents would have been.
Eric S. Raymond, “Fascism is not dead”, Armed and Dangerous, 2003-04-22.
August 7, 2016
Pio Moa’s thesis is that the Spanish Civil War was not a usurping revolt against a functioning government, but a belated attempt to restore order to a country that had already collapsed into violent chaos five years before the Fascists landed in 1936.
I’ve studied the history of the Spanish Civil War enough to know that Moa’s contrarian interpretation is not obviously crazy. I had an unusual angle; I’m an anarchist, and wanted to grasp the ideas and role of the Spanish anarchist communes. My conclusions were not pleasant. In short, there were no good guys in the Spanish Civil War.
First, the non-anarchist Left in Spain really was pretty completely Stalin’s creature. The volunteers of the International Brigade were (in Lenin’s timeless phrase) useful idiots, an exact analogue of the foreign Arabs who fought on in Baghdad after Iraqi resistance collapsed (and were despised for it by the Iraqis). They deserve neither our pity nor our respect. Insofar as Moa’s thesis is that most scholarship about the war is severely distorted by a desire to make heroes out of these idiots, he is correct.
Second, the Spanish anarchists were by and large an exceedingly nasty bunch, all resentment and nihilism with no idea how to rebuild after destroying. Wiping them out (via his Communist proxies) may have been one of Stalin’s few good deeds.
Third, the Fascists were a pretty nasty bunch too. But, on the whole, probably not as nasty as their opponents. Perceptions of them tend to be distorted by the casual equation of Fascist with Nazi — but this is not appropriate. Spanish Fascism was unlike Communism or Italian and German Fascism in that it was genuinely a conservative movement, rather than a attempt to reinvent society in the image of a revolutionary doctrine about the perfected State.
Historians and political scientists use the terms “fascist” and “fascism” quite precisely, for a group of political movements that were active between about 1890 and about 1975. The original and prototypical example was Italian fascism, the best-known and most virulent strain was Naziism, and the longest-lasting was the Spanish nationalist fascism of Francisco Franco. The militarist nationalism of Japan is often also described as “fascist” .
The shared label reflects the fact that these four ideologies influenced each other; Naziism began as a German imitation of Italian fascism, only to remake Italian (and to some extent Spanish) fascism in its own image during WWII. The militarist Japanese fascists took their cues from European fascists as well as an indigenous tradition of absolutism with very similar structural and psychological features
The shared label also reflects substantially similar theories of political economics, power, governance, and national purpose. Also similar histories and symbolisms. Here are some of the commonalities especially relevant to the all too common abuse of the term.
Fascist political economics is a corrupt form of Leninist socialism. In fascist theory (as in Communism) the State owns all; in practice, fascists are willing to co-opt and use big capitalists rather than immediately killing them.
Fascism mythologizes the professional military, but never trusts it. (And rightly so; consider the Von Stauffenberg plot…) One of the signatures of the fascist state is the formation of elite units (the SA and SS in Germany, the Guardia Civil in Spain, the Republican Guard and Fedayeen in Iraq) loyal to the fascist party and outside the military chain of command.
Fascism is not (as the example of Franco’s Spain shows) necessarily aggressive or expansionist per se. In all but one case, fascist wars were triggered not by ideologically-motivated aggression but by revanchist nationalism (that is, the nation’s claims on areas lost to the victors of previous wars, or inhabited by members of the nationality agitating for annexation). No, the one exception was not Nazi Germany; it was Japan (the rape of Manchuria). The Nazi wars of aggression and Hussein’s grab at Kuwait were both revanchist in origin.
Fascism is generally born by revolution out of the collapse of monarchism. Fascism’s theory of power is organized around the ‘Fuehrerprinzip‘, the absolute leader regarded as the incarnation of the national will.
But…and this is a big but…there were important difference between revolutionary Fascism (the Italo/German/Baathist variety) and the more reactionary sort native to Spain and Japan.
Eric S. Raymond, “Fascism is not dead”, Armed and Dangerous, 2003-04-22.
July 5, 2016
May 28, 2016
Published on 12 Apr 2016
The rebirth of Germany and growth in power of the Nazi Party leading up to the outbreak of war. Interviewees include Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist-Schmenzin, Werner Pusch and Christabel Bielenberg.
March 27, 2016
If I could eliminate one thing about the Internet, it would be Godwin’s law. Why? It’s made it next to impossible to make actual comparisons about what is probably the best documented instance of the rise of a populist dictator. The instant the magic words come out, any semblance of rational discussion gets defenestrated and the next thing you know people are shouting past each other and the whole thing dies.
Consider: a nation whose people were known for hard work, for pride in their achievements, who — not without justification — saw themselves as having been betrayed by wealthy elites. Their savings were wiped out by what appeared to them to be a combination of malice on the part of the same wealthy elites who claimed they were shameful warmongers and financial mismanagement. Despite what they were being told, they could see themselves losing ground and becoming less well-off than their parents and grandparents had been.
Simply put, these people were immensely vulnerable to a charismatic populist willing to tell them that they had every right to feel betrayed; that they had been betrayed; and that he was going to change all this and make them a great people and a great nation again.
Sound familiar? It should: there are two populist demagogues spinning their separate flavors of this particular scenario through the USA right now. One of them has deployed rioters against the other, although it’s not impossible that the whole thing was staged the way the early NSDAP supporters would pretend to be opponents of the party to set off violence that made the NSDAP look like the victim. It made for good copy, and gave their leader some really good material for those crowd-pleasing speeches he became famous for… before he became a synonym for evil.
Kate Paulk, “Down with Godwin”, According to Hoyt, 2016-03-16.
March 21, 2016
During the war, the Allied nations had been told that it was being fought to make the world safe for democracy; but when it was won they found that the opposite was true. Instead of being safe, democracy was left so rickety that one dictator after the other emerged from out of the chaos, to establish autocracies of various kinds in Poland, Turkey, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Austria and Germany. These dictators held one thing in common — abhorrence of Bolshevism; therefore they stood in opposition, not only to the old democratic order, but also to the new Marxist order, which had taken root in Russia and which during the final lap of the war and throughout its aftermath threatened every non-Communist country.
Of the dictators, the one who attained the highest historical significance was Adolf Hitler (1889-1945): one of the most extraordinary men in history. He was born at Braunau-am-Inn on 20th April 1889. In the war he had risen to the rank of corporal, and after it he became the seventh member of an obscure political group in Munich, which called itself the “German Workers’ Party”. In 1923, when the French were in occupation of the Ruhr, and were fostering a Communist separatist movement in the Rhineland and a Catholic separatist movement in Bavaria, he sprang to fame. On 9th November, he and Ludendorff attempted a coup d’état in Munich, and although it failed, his trial was a political triumph, because it made him one of the most talked of men in Germany. During his imprisonment in the fortress of Landsberg am Lech, he wrote the first volume of his Mein Kampf.
Hitler was the living personification of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. As the one he raised Germany from out of the slough of degradation into which the Treaty of Versailles and the inflation which followed the French occupation of the Ruhr had engulfed her, and restored her national dignity and economy. As the other, he brutalized vast numbers of her people and made her name stink in the nostrils of the world.
He was a consummate psychologist and probably the world’s greatest demagogue, a man who could plumb to its deepest depths the irrational in human nature, and distil from the emotions of the masses potent political intoxicants. Above all, he had absolute faith in himself and a super-rational belief in his invincibility, which endowed him with an irresistible personal magnetism. As a statesman, his ability to sense and grasp the psychological moment for action was his outstanding gift. Once he said to Hermann Rauschning:
“No matter what you attempt, if an idea is not yet mature, you will not be able to realise it. I know that as an artist, and I know it as a statesman. Then there is only one thing to do: have patience, wait, try again, wait again. In the subconscious, the work goes on. It matures, sometimes it dies. Unless I have the inner, incorruptible conviction: this is the solution, I do nothing. Not even if the whole party tries to drive me to action. I will not act; I will wait, no matter what happens. But if the voice speaks, then I know the time has come to act.”
When that moment arrives, “When a decision has to be taken”, Goering once said to Sir Nevile Henderson, “none of us count more than the stones on which we were standing. It is the Fuehrer alone who decides.”
Rauschning, no flatterer of Hitler, writes:
“I have often had the opportunity of examining my own experience, and I must admit that in Hitler’s company I have again and again come under a spell which I was only later able to shake off, a sort of hypnosis. He is, indeed, a remarkable man. It leads nowhere to depreciate him and speak mockingly of him. He is simply a sort of great medicine-man. He is literally that, in the full sense of the term. We have gone back so far toward the savage state that the medicine-man has become king amongst us.
This rings true. Hitler was the product of the savagery of his age; he fitted it like a glove the hand. In this lay that inescapable power which made him the enchanter of the German people.
J.F.C. Fuller, The Conduct of War, 1789-1961, 1961.
March 13, 2016
I’m not Jewish. But I read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich at an impressionable age. Years later, what I learned in that book made me into an anarchist. What it did much sooner than that was to instill in me the same sense of the Holocaust as the central moral disaster of the 20th century that the Jews feel. It left me with the same burning determination: Never again! Ever since, I have studied carefully the forms of political pathology behind that horror and attended even more carefully for any signs that they might be taking root in the West once again.
So, yes, I worried about Jörg Haider and Jean-Marie Le Pen; twitched a little at reports of a resurgence by the British National Front. But there was nothing in my country that whispered of resurgent fascism. Well, nothing outside hard-left-wing rhetoric, anyway.
(One of the minor things that cheeses me off about leftists is the loose way they throw around “fascist” as a term of abuse for anything they don’t like. This is at best naive and at worst dangerously stupid.)
Fascism has many structural characteristics that distinguish it from even the worst sorts of authoritarianism in the mainstream of U.S.’s political spectrum. One of these is the identification of a godlike Maximum Leader with the will of the people. A fascist society demands not just obedience but the surrender of the self to an ecstatic collective consciousness embodied in flesh by the Leader.
George Bush, whatever his faults — and I could list ’em from here to next Tuesday — is not a fascist, does not behave like a fascist, and (most importantly for my argument) does not elicit that kind of ecstatic identification from his supporters. Thus, calling Bush a fascist confuses run-of-the-mill authoritarian tendencies with a degree of power and evil of which he will never be capable.
Here’s where it gets more frightening. Fascisms happen because people begin by projecting their own fears, hope and desires on the Maximum Leader, and end by submerging themselves in the Leader’s will. Neither George Bush nor John McCain has ever inspired this kind of response. But Barack Obama…does. More effectively than any American politician in my lifetime. And that is a frightening thing to see.
Note: I am absolutely not accusing Barack Obama of being a fascist or of having the goals of a fascist demagogue. I am saying that the psychological dynamic between him and his fans resembles the way fascist leaders and their people relate. The famous tingle that ran up Chris Matthew’s leg. the swooning chanting crowds, the speeches full of grand we-can-do-it rhetoric, the vagueness about policy in favor of reinforcing that intoxicating sense of emotional identification…how can anyone fail to notice where this points?
Eric S. Raymond, “Why Barack Obama sets off my ‘Never Again!’ alarms”, Armed and Dangerous, 2008-06-30.