Weimar without Nazis


Repeat after me: America today is not like Germany in the 1930s. The Republicans are not Nazis. Trump is not Hitler. To say, as so many otherwise seemingly intelligent and sane people do, that the United States is, if not already, than virtually on the verge of becoming some sort of a totalitarian nightmare is engaging in hysterical hyperbolising at its worst and should automatically disqualify you from being taken seriously in any adult conversation. Alas, instead it actually gets you tens of thousands of likes and retweets and an automatic and enthusiastic support by the legions of “the Resistance”. In case you are not following the pattern here, “the Resistance” is not the resistance either.

I’ve touched on the themes above many times in the past two years (for example here) because as someone who was born and brought up and remembers quite well what the life was like in a communist country under the decaying totalitarianism of the 1970s and the 80s almost nothing gets my blood boiling more than spoiled and ignorant brats (of all ages), who live in the richest and the freest societies in human history, fantasising that a giant jackboot is hovering above their heads and about to smash down on them. The combination of self-delusion, self-pity and self-importance necessary to dream of make-believe gulags doesn’t just border on obscene; it invades it with three and a half million men on a two thousand kilometre front in three broad armoured thrusts.

A lot of the pseudo-dystopian discourse revolves around the ignorance (both inborn and learned) of what fascism and Nazism are – or were, since they don’t really exist anymore and largely haven’t since 1945.

Those on the left who call Nazism far-right are playing from the old Stalinist playbook to guilt they opponents by association, as if if you move just a fraction further right of the Republicans or the Tories you end up goosestepping under a swastika banner, a sort of a natural progression of capitalism to its ultimate and scary omega point. In reality, the main juxtaposition of Nazism was always with liberalism. Nazism despises democracy, free market, personal freedoms and individualism. If this sort of liberal free market society is considered right wing, as it generally has been across the modern West, then Nazism is not far-right, it’s anti-right.

But those on the right who in turn call Nazism just another variety of socialism are only partly right; it’s just one aspect of the much bigger story. Nazism is not a particularly rigorous ideology – instead it takes aspects from various other creeds – ancient and new, progressive and regressive – and blends them into a unique and rather bizarre melange. Arthur Koestler had once described Nazism as a skyscraper built on top of a volcano.

Nazism does take from socialism, but it’s not an offshoot of Marxims, if only because it replaces class struggle with a racial struggle as its central precept. Socialism is internationalist, Nazism is ethnocentric. But like socialism, it despises liberalism (which is why it eventually resonated with much of the working class). It’s a collectivist creed that believes in the paramount role of the state in all aspects of life and the subordination of individual rights and interests to those of the greater whole. Nazism allowed for a profit motive and largely private ownership but it heavily regulated the economy and directed it to assist in achieving its political aims like rearmament, territorial expansion and the advancement of “the race”.

Nazism also takes from conservatism, but it’s not a conservative ideology either. In temperament it’s actually the very opposite – it’s radical and revolutionary, which is why in turn it appealed so much to the young. Nazism was conservative in its view of the family unit, gender roles and sexual morality, but unlike conservatism there was no religious element or inspiration behind it – Nazism merely tolerated of necessity the still predominant Christianity as long as it was supine and subordinate, otherwise it planned to eliminate it altogether further down the track – nor a desire to preserve the traditional status quo. Conservative social policy went only as far as it was necessary to contribute to the racial ends – the same can be said about the fervent environmentalism and penchant for health crusades, such as anti-smoking campaigns, which today are the hallmark of the left.

Another conservative borrowing, of course, was nationalism, which Nazis turned into racialism, glorifying the mythologised Aryans as the evolutionary peak of human development. While the Germans were the unquestionable top dogs (unless they had Jewish blood or were homosexual, disabled or degenerate), northern Europeans were generally seen as blood brothers. But it wasn’t white supremacism either, because other Caucasian ethnicities, like the Slavs, were considered subhuman while others, like the Mediterranean peoples, racially inferior and suspect.

If you still think that the American politics, particularly on the right of the centre, somehow reflects the 1930s German experience, I can only despair.  I could recommend you read more history if only I believed that reading Burleigh, Overy, Kershaw, Bullock, Roberts, Evans and others would make much difference. Your opinions are based on emotions, not facts, and as such are likely to be impervious to reading no matter however many excellent and classic works on the Third Reich.

Far from the actual historical Weimar, the American politics today is in fact more reminiscent of some alt-history post-Great War Germany in which Nazism never happened.

Remember that the Nazi Party was really called NSDAP or Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei – National Socialist German Workers’ Party. The word “Nazi” is formed from taking the first syllables from the first two constituent words – national and sozialistische – and then adding a colloquial suffix, the same way that for us an Australian becomes an Aussie (the Germans who had lots of long words and lots of long names were big on the practice; for example, Gestapo is a similar abbreviation of Geheime Staatspolizei or Secret State Police). As an added bonus trivia for today, note that the Nazis never referred to themselves as Nazis; that name was used, mostly derogatively, by their opponents, first domestic and then international, until it became the best known designation for the regime and its members.

There is no Nationalsozialistische party in America today. However, thanks to the bizarre political developments of the past few years on both sides of the aisle, the main contest now is between a “national” party and a “sozialistische” party. The party of Trump is becoming nationalist, the man himself unashamedly so as he has proclaimed many a time in speeches around the country – “America First” and all that. Meanwhile, the Democratic party is being increasingly driven to the left by the popularity of figures like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, both likewise unashamed in proclaiming their socialist beliefs and commitment. And they are far from alone.

In this polarisation, the American right comes to resemble more the mainstream German right during the Weimar years, the conservatives and nationalists, while the American left comes to resemble more the mainstream German left, the socialists and communists, both sides benefiting from the weakening of the centre. So we have Weimar without the Nazis. It’s not a great place, but it’s not an antechamber of the Third Reich either. In any case, historical parallels only get you so far; history might indeed keep repeating but it’s never the same. Today’s America is light years away in just about every respect from the inter-war Germany, as is the rest of the world. We’ve got our own mistakes to make, so cheer up everyone and stop being hysterical morons. Ghosts of World War Two look down upon you and weep.