Everybody hates the Nazis. The Nazis are so useful as a focus for self-righteous anger, that if they did not exist, as the saying goes, they would have been invented. And to a degree, the Nazis, in modern parlance, were invented. If you don’t like someone and want an excuse to ignore them without having to address any of their points of debate or argument, well – poof – call them a “Nazi’ and they become someone unworthy of your regard. The problem with that, of course, is that after a while folks forget what the Nazis really were, and the historical and moral lesson of the National Socialist Workers Party is lost, to the point that Holocaust deniers and historical revisionists begin to claim support from people who really should know better. Before going further, I would mention that this is not an article meant to compare any American political party to the Nazis, because in truth the Nazis were strongly opposed by both the Democrats and Republicans.
A reader brought up the Nazis recently, though not by name. He posted a comment that said anyone who used “fascist” and “socialist” in the same sentence was not to be taken seriously. The statement, however, proved his own limits. The Nazi party, after all, was both fascist and socialist. What’s more, the terms ‘Fascist’ and ‘Socialist’ may seem relatively modern, at least 20th Century in their coinage, but the concepts go a long way back. The Roman Empire, for example, used Fascism as its standard foreign policy ever since their war against Carthage – ‘don’t make us mad, or we’ll kill you and everyone who ever knew you’. Rome not only executed criminals for violent crimes, but as examples to curb demonstrations, political statements, and at the whim of procurators. These are the guys who came up with a brand new form of death-by-torture: Crucifixion, from which we derive the word excruciating, which means the most extreme form of pain and suffering. Brutal reprisals and power through force is hardly new. What the Nazis did with Fascism, was to try to develop the most efficient means to punish enemies, whether in combat or in repressing ‘undesirables’. It’s hardly a coincidence that the Nazi regime called itself a Reich (in Nazi propaganda, the ‘First Reich’ was the Roman Empire).
As for Socialism, that goes even further back. Consider Plato, for example. In his book “The Republic“, when discussing the ideal city, Plato wrote about a city where the “philosopher king” and a class of elites would make decisions for everyone, from protection of the city to wages, to who could marry whom and where everyone would live. That’s a pretty fair description of Socialism in theory, folks, and so that idea goes all the way back before the time of Christ who, for the record, was neither a Fascist nor a Socialist. So far as the Nazis were concerned, Socialism meant that the State would take care of everyone, in exchange for complete and eternal loyalty to the State. I would even go so far as to suggest that Adolf Hitler imagined himself a kind of philosopher king. Hitler made great shows of his war decoration from World War I, his love of animals and vegan diet ( I kid you not), and his desire for “reasonable” accommodation in negotiations. In practice, of course, the little Corporal demanded absolute control and his temper was infamous and greatly feared, but that is common to many totalitarians who combine Socialism with Dictatorship (another Roman innovation in leadership). Besides Hitler, other famous Socialist Dictators include Josef Stalin, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, and of course Saddam Hussein.
The terms “Fascist” and “Socialist” have not only fallen from favor in the last couple generations, they are taken by most Americans as pejorative in their own sense. Look, for example, at the umbrage taken by Barack Obama and his supporters at being described as ‘Socialist’. There is a distinction between the literal meaning of the word and its connotation, although marketing attempts to use tenebrous terms like “Progressive” do not help the matter. But back to the Nazis …
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The kind of Nazis one sees in the movies, and even the occasional television show (wherein even 70 and 80-year-old Nazis are supposed to still possess innate evil that is to be feared), are frankly caricatures of the movement. The scary thing about the Nazis, to me at least, is how many millions of ordinary people bought into the party’s promises and supported it with money, votes, and enthusiasm. It’s chilling to realize that the people of Germany did not react to repression of Jews, Gypsies, and other minorities when public outrage would have mattered. It’s discomforting to think that, in spite of conventional wisdom, that Adolf Hitler was very popular in Germany before the Second World War started, even after he began preparing for war and instituted programs for which the Nazis would justly be despised around the world.
It’s often said that the Nazis did not come to power legitimately, but that’s not really true. The Nazis manipulated the political system in Germany, in a manner which many modern political parties could imitate to their advantage, such as concealing financial support from covert influence groups, such as leveraging a plurality to gain control of the legislature, to playing rivals against one another so their party appears to be the most palatable to ordinary people. In fact, many of the issues and positions taken by the Nazi Party could appear to be quite reasonable, and in line with modern mainstream political views:
The Nazi Party argued for a strong national defense;
The Nazis argued for a national health program;
The Nazis argued for strong punishment as a deterrent to crime;
The Nazis argued for the right to abortion;
The Nazis supported state-sponsored moral values;
The Nazis argued for wage controls and nationalized industry.
On the face of such positions, the Nazis could appear quite reasonable. But of course the actual practice of the Nazi positions was anything but comparable to American political values. The Nazi’s idea of strong national defense included taking over neighboring countries; the Nazis’ national health program was based on Eugenics and the grooming of a Master Race; the crime prevention initiative in Germany became a blank check for secret police forces and terror squads; the abortions approved in the Third Reich included coerced abortion of ‘undesirable’ infants, and so on. The political structure of the Nazi Party was not merely deceitful, but malicious to the spirit of the nation which gave birth to masters of Art, Literature, and Theology. The lesson for us, is to consider that such a catastrophe could happen anywhere, including here.
Continuing on, the hierarchy of the Nazi Party was in many ways unpredictable. The figurehead was a legitimate war hero, whose rhetoric about national pride and public service resonated with a lot of people. The head of the Luftwaffe was the squadron leader of Germany’s most famous aces from World War I, the Jagdstaffel of the Baron Manfred von Richtofen (the Red Baron, whose death in April 1918 also changed history). The head of the state media under Hitler was an almost-invisible mandarin with extensive political connections and leverage on almost every print and broadcast company in Germany. But beyond that triumvirate, the Nazi Party expanded in a method later copied by the Crips and Bloods gangs in the United States: Seek out and recruit the disaffected, offer them purpose and power, and set them against your enemies in whatever way they could serve. And like criminal gangs, the Nazis often found violence and threats to be their most effective weapon. Even before gaining significant political power, the Nazis had an organization for violence (the ‘brownshirts’ of the SA), a paramilitary police organization which spied on opponents and government agencies, and a propaganda arm which coordinated the flow of money into the party and the public access to its leaders. What started as a fringe movement in 1924, by 1930 enjoyed substantial public support and had already begun to gain national prominence through increasing control of media, the courts, and financial centers. While similar tactics have been used in other countries, nowhere has the combination worked so effectively as it did for the Nazis. But this was not so much a ‘perfect storm’ of conditions, as it was the manipulation of conditions to produce the desired opportunity.
This is not to make the claim that “it can’t happen here”. It can all too easily happen here, with the freedoms in place that Americans enjoy, because as we have seen the evil ones among us can and do abuse their freedom to deprive others of their own. The warning is that we must understand the essence of the Nazis to prevent their like coming to power here. The threat that the Nazis represented in 1930-38 Germany is not reflected in the marches or screeds of badly-groomed malcontents unable to tolerate diversity or comprehend globalism, but the actions of political leaders to suppress grassroots dissent from the people they claim to represent. The next generation of Nazis will not come from activists walking in protest marches, but from universities which allow only one end of the political spectrum free access to support and their resources. The danger of totalitarianism does not come from people who work for a living and own their own business, but from those who believe they are entitled to tell others how much money they may earn and keep. The Nazis of today are not those who remember their obligations to the people and the nation, but those who collect grudges and dream of punishing their enemies. The defense of America lies, ultimately, not with Democrats or Republicans, nor even with Independents or Tea Partiers, but with Americans across the political spectrum.