Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Nazis and Father-Son Conflicts

In Weimar Culture, the outsider as insider, Peter Gay notes that many of the books and plays written during the 1920's had a father-son conflict as a major theme.

Just after the end of World War II, in the study The Authoritarian Personality, Theodor Adorno and others, identified the personality traits and beliefs that predisposed individuals to favor "anti-democratic propaganda." The study was commissioned by the American Jewish Committee. Anti-democratic propaganda meant racist propaganda, specifically anti-Semitic propaganda.

The study developed an "F-Scale" to identify the Authoritarian personality -- the "potentially fascistic individual" -- and sure enough, a severe father-son conflict was likely to be present in those most susceptible to anti-democratic propaganda.

While the study set out to analyze how Germans became so racist as to accept, or at least not challenge, the industrialized murder of Jewish citizens, it holds lessons for us today.

Republicans have succeeded in turning authoritarianism into patriotism -- the bogus reasons for going to war are irrelevant; patriotism demands that we support the war. If we continue down that road, where will our journey bring us? Adorno's answer: fascism.

Peter Gay describes "the Weimar Republic in 1932: clear vision [of the dangers that lay ahead] and political impotence, fear, suspicion, and moments of irrational hope; among the politicians of the middle, politics as usual, but with everyone else, a sense of emergency." I hate to say it, but that's not a bad description of the USA today.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

'Pitchfork Ben' Tillman Still Honored in S.C.

The majority of Southerners still refuse to recognize the grotesque crimes of their forefathers, both during slavery and during the 100 years of institutionalized race-hatred following slavery's official end -- there is strong opposition to a resolution introduced recently by a South Carolina Representative to remove the statue of "Pitchfork Ben" Tillman from the State House grounds.

Tillman was a notorious racist, governor of South Carolina (founder of Clemson) and U.S. Senator. In an 1892 speech, he famously pledged to lead the lynch mob against any black man accused of raping a white woman.

As a young man he was one of a number of leaders of private militias that kept blacks and Republicans from voting in the 1876 election that effectively ended Reconstruction in South Carolina. He never stopped boasting of his violent participation in making the election a fraud.

As governor, Tillman had two goals: white supremacy and the unity of the Democratic Party, which was critical to maintaining white supremacy.

To accomplish his goal of white supremacy he led the state constitutional convention that introduced restrictions to voting -- literacy, education and 'understanding' provisions -- along with a poll tax, that reduced the number of black voters to 5,500 compared to 50,000 whites in a state with a majority black population. (The provisions also disenfranchised many poor whites, whose only compensation was the law's blind eye to the murder of more prosperous blacks. Lynching was used to drive black families off the land they owned.)

Those who want to keep the statue say that a plaque that "simply tells the truth" is all that's necessary. "History is what it is and there's an argument that you can't change it (by removing the statue)." That's a fine rationalization for leaving things the way they are -- no need for a 'truth commission' in America. That's all ancient history.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Not Some Remote Barbaric Land

"This utter denial of everything liberalism had ever stood for was arousing wild enthusiasm, not in some remote barbaric land outside the pale, but in one of the most highly educated countries . . ."

No, those words weren't written to describe America, though they fit well enough. The quote comes form W. H. Auden, written about the state of Germany in 1933.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Reichstag Fire - Twin Tower Destruction

The similarities between the Reichstag fire in February, 1933 and the destruction of the World Trade Center had similar consequences, although fortunately for us. so far, George Bush's actions have been thwarted, somewhat.

In response to the fire, Hitler persuaded an old and weak but still much-revered Hindenburg "to sign emergency decrees that virtually ended all civil rights that the Weimar Constitution had granted." Nazi propaganda then whipped the population into conformity. The Germans had a word for it -- Gleichschaltung -- like many German words, not really translatable into English, but approximately meaning "coordination," literally, "putting into the same gear," an amazingly impersonal, mechanical word for the "elimination of all opposition, either by decree or murder."

The fire so suited Nazi aims that for many years people assumed it was the Nazis who set fire to the Reichstag -- as now people believe that our government in some way was responsible for the destruction of the twin towers -- but in fact a deranged Dutchman set the fire. No matter, the Nazis moved against the Communists and the Jews the way the Bush Administration moved against Muslims and anyone of middle-east ancestry.

The same yearning for a "healthy fascism," a "new religious commitment" made by "strong human beings in a united nation," as Fritz Stern describes the German yearnings that preceded Hitler, can be heard in all of the Republican candidates for President. What Bush started, others appear ready to continue, in even more radical terms.

We have lost habeas corpus, the right to privacy, the security of the ballot box, a free press of dispersed ownership. We are giving the government and its private contractor armies the right to jail and torture us in the name of protecting us from a different "ism" and a different race. The effectiveness of such a strategy and its sad results are clearly spelled out in German history, another nation that felt it had a special destiny, a German exceptionalism between East and West. We're right there, unless we can stop those who profit from promoting anxiety and fear. The Germans didn't find that possible. The odds may be against us as well.

Quotations are from "Dreams and Delusions, the Drama of German History," by Fritz Stern, 1987.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

George Bush in The Eclipse of the Sun

Substitute George Bush for Paul von Hindenburg in Georg Grosz's "The Eclipse of the Sun" and you have an accurate depiction of America today -- war-profiteering corporations, brainless political opposition, religion and war.

With just two word substitutions, Ian Buruma's description of the Weimar Republic describes who is ruling America today: "autocratic media moguls, disaffected generals, dim-witted elites, Fundamentalist reactionaries and ultra-nationalist schemers."

It was this gang of venal bunglers who handed over the Weimar Republic to Hitler. Oh, but the Weimar Republic was the Germans' first attempt at democracy. We're so much better at it than they were . . . we'll be able to handle it, won't we? Any ideas how?

[The two substitutions: "elites" for "aristocrats" and "Fundamentalist" for "Catholic."]

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Circle the Wagons

Just a few similarities:
1. Communists then, "Islamofascists"/terrorists today
2. Defeat in World War I then, 9/11 now
3. Emperor deposed, ending the hierarchical social structure; 2000 electoral coup, ending the democratic structure
4. Private armies: Freikorps then, BlackWater now
5. Germany's special destiny; America's special destiny
6. Government-created inflation to defeat war reparations then; government-created inflation to defeat credit crisis now
7. Rampant business corruption and speculation; ditto
8. Commercialized sexual drepavity; ditto
9. Jews as the enemy of the nation (despite their economic contributions) then, illegal immigrants as the enemy of the nation now (despite their economic contributions)
10. "The stab in the back" ploy then, political opposition branded as traitors now
11. The publication of hundreds of competing books, journals, newspapers as the society fragmented across ideological lines then; the publication of thousands of competing blogs, web sites, newsletters, magazines as the society fragments across ideological lines now
12. Weak political leadership that allowed a ruthless dictator to seize power -- the Nazis did well in only one election; they were not "popular" but economic hardship caused by the worldwide Great Depression gave Hitler the opportunity he needed
13. Our Great Depression is on its way. And our dictator? Only if we continue to ignore history's lessons.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Stab in the Back

There are some frightening similarities between the Weimar Republic -- which gave birth to Adolf Hitler's Nazi Third Reich -- and the American government under George W. Bush, the most recent being the Bush "stab in the back" strategy.

After the incompetence of German military leaders cost the lives of 3 million Germans in World War I, the disgruntled losers, unwilling to accept the blame, came up with a propaganda ploy accusing Jews in the German army, war profiteers (excluding of course Krupp and Thyssen) and socialists as those who undermined the German military and caused it to lose the war. Of course, it was a lie. But a popular one.

Now, the Bush administration is attempting a similar ploy, blaming US political leaders -- Hillary Clinton specifically and "leftist" citizens generally -- with causing the American military to lose the war in Iraq because of their criticism that the war has hurt America's standing in the world and only strengthened the terrorists who hate us. And, while this is a frightening similarity to Weimar realities, it's not the only one.

Francine Prose, in a recent review of the book, Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920s, coined such similarities "a Weimar moment." ("Berlin Stories," Harper's, April, 2007). One such moment occurred to her as she watched TV news the day after Thanksgiving: "One minute, an Iraqi woman was scrabbling in the dirt and throwing sand in her own face in an agony of grief. A minute later, a woman was nearly trampled by people struggling with boxes of flat-screen TVs. It was what, I suppose, might be called a Weimar moment . . . the wounded passing right alongside the gluttonous patrons of the pork store."

Here are a few more similarities:
  • Hatred of immigrants.
  • Inflation (ours is just getting started).
  • Reckless speculation in financial markets.
  • Sexual license.
  • Private armies (the Freikorps then, Blackwater USA today).
Most troubling of all is the rise of religion coupled with nationalism. Islam-Iran vs. Christian-US is the nightmare world our intellectually bankrupt leadership has led us to. In Germany, decades of preaching by 'social critics' who linked a 'pure' Christianity with the German Volk led them to the Nazi dictatorship. The last of these critics just happened to pen a book titled The Third Reich. Are our neo-con incompetents with their theory of pre-emptive war and their dependence on the religious right for political power any different? Both then and now, the damage done to the Republic is dreadful. (Although there is one difference. The 'social critics' in Germany were all anti-semites. The leading neo-cons happen to be Jewish. On the other hand, their philosophical idol, Leo Strauss, fled Weimar Germany for the U.S. Just another connection.)

Anyone who is concerned about the direction the United States is taking should study Germany's Weimar Republic. We are headed toward dictatorship, financed by corporations linked to government, just as the industrialists of Germany financed Hitler's rise to power. That dictator isn't George Bush. Bush is only laying the groundwork for a future politician, who will no doubt be wildly popular at first, and who will become our Absolute Ruler.