Godwin’s Law should force us to remember & fear our shared heritage with Nazi Germany

Summary: American discussions often end in references to Hitler or Nazis. That’s usually seen as an oddity or fun fact, when in fact it warns us of deep aspects of American society that have roots in 1930s Germany — and that still shape our future. We prefer amnesia to confronting this. Perhaps events in the next four years will remind us of this heritage, and its dangers. (A version of this was posted in 2013.)

“As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 100%.
Godwin’s Law, formulated by Mike Godwin in 1990.

1936 German poster
1936 German poster.

Godwin formulated his Law as a description of an oddity of internet discussions. Since then it’s become normative — a behavior to be condemned or mocked. In fact it is a reflection of so many aspects of modern American society with roots in 1930s Germany. That should not surprise us. Germany played a central role in western religion, philosophy, and science. Which adds another disturbing note — its people so quickly fell into evil. If it happened to them, might it happen to us as well?

These matters are too disturbing to contemplate, so we suppress them. But we can do so only imperfectly, so these insights surface anyway. Hence Godwin’s Law.

What are the roots of Nazi Germany in our America? They were the first nation to break through from traditional modes of western society into modernity, which produced an amazing number of innovations. The list of Nazi breakthroughs we have copied is long; here is a sample.

  • Eisenhower built our autobahn (interstate highways), for the same reasons the Third Reich did. We drive compact cars derived from Volkswagens, the people’s car ordered by Hitler in 1934.
  • Our military uses technology developed by the Nazis. Some examples are wire-guided missiles (one of which hit the battleship  HMS Warspite in 1943), infra-red night vision systems, ballistic and cruise missiles, jets, and rocket-propelled aircraft.
  • We use military tactics pioneered by the Nazis, such as our maneuver war methods (descended from their WWI stormtroopers and WWII blitzkrieg) and strategic bombing of civilians.
  • The Nazis normalized both pre-marital sex (a benefit of Hitler Youth membership) and out-of-wedlock childbirth.
  • The Nazi’s ran the first anti-smoking campaign (30 years before the US did), funded research about the effects of smoking, and in 1941 banned smoking in public places.
  • Nazi Germany was the first nation to aggressively implement feminism. By 1939 a larger fraction of German’s women worked for pay than in any European nation except France. The Nazi trade union, the Arbeitsfront, was proud of raising women’s wages to those of men in many industries. “Five years of Nazi rule in some ways did more for professional women than a decade of feminist pressure in the Weimar Republic” (from Feminist Movement in Germany).
  • Perhaps their greatest long-term influence: the Nazi party introduced modern propaganda techniques, which became the basis for political tools used in WWII, the Cold War — and today.
  • We wear Hugo Boss suits, for the same reason as the SS did (the Nazi’s contribution to fashion might be one of their long-term contributions to the world). We wear Adidas footwear, as did the Wehrmacht.

In so many things Hitler was not wrong, just early. Some of these innovations we applaud; some we prefer not to see. Some we see in our future.

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The Left steps across a line and embraces political violence

Summary:  People on the Left have become disoriented by Trump’s win, and become ever more dysfunctional. Now they take a big step to embrace political violence, from reformers of America to its enemies. It’s a small step over the line. Unless they rethink and pull back, expect more serious violence coming. It might be back to the future, back to the violence of the 1960’s and 1970’s — which contributed to the start of the Left’s long decline into political irrelevance.

“Yes, I’m angry. Yes, I am outraged. Yes, I have thought an awful lot of blowing up the White House, but I know that this won’t change anything.”
— Madonna at the Women’s March. Trump is fortunate that she didn’t calculate that it would change things! Transcript here; video here.

"No Violence" by shit2009
“No Violence” by shit2009.

America’s bien pensant leftists have gone quite bonkers at the rise of Trump. Before the election they condemned Trump for saying he might refuse to accept the election’s results as legitimate, and for failure to condemn political violence (some of which was by his supporters; most was by the left against his supporters). Now they refuse to accept the election’s results as legitimate (on the flimsiest of evidence) and advocate personal violence against those who disagree with them. Both are potentially destabilizing for the Republic; the latter especially so.

The latter is displayed and explained at Lawyers, Guns, and Money. Richard Spencer, a white supremacist, was sucker-punched by a good leftist — which they applauded. Daniel Nexen (assoc. prof of government at Georgetown) wrote “How is this Even a Thing?“, a tepid condemnation of “some dude {who} sucker-punched an asshole racist neo-Nazi (or post-Nazi or whatever) who was giving an interview.” The comments were mostly full Stalinist, cheering street violence against the enemy of the people.

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The success of the NAZI atomic bomb program can inspire us today

Summary: Why did NAZI Germany not build an atomic bomb, despite their long head start? This is a powerful story of individuals under intense pressure, with conflicting moral obligations and facing great personal risk, deciding to do what’s bestt for America. It is one of the great success stories of WWII, and can inspire us today. Perhaps future historians will ask why America’s scientists built the bomb, unleashing the horrors of the atomic age (with its several close encounters with WWIII).

Atomic bomb explosion

One of the mysteries of WWII is why Germany did not build the atomic bomb. By summer 1939 they had two development programs running. In September they combined under the leadership of Werner Heisenberg, perhaps the world’s most qualified scientist to lead the program in terms of reputation, experience, and skill. Germany had the industrial resources, uranium ore (in Czechoslovakia), scientific talent, and financial resources (see the last section) to build the bomb. But they didn’t.

The US shifted the Manhattan Project into high gear two years after the German program began, on 9 October 1941 when FDR decided to build the bomb. We had an operational reactor in December 1942, which the NAZI’s never accomplished. We exploded the first bomb in July 1945, after three years and nine months of work.

Most of the senior scientists in the NAZI bomb program shared five goals, which produced this disparity of results between their results and ours. First, to not build a bomb. Second, to avoid questions from the Gestapo about treason. Third, to keep their younger scientists out of the army (their enlistment would follow the program’s end). Fourth, to continue their atomic research. Fifth, to avoid persecution by the German people after the war for failing to build the bomb. They accomplished all five goals, one of the rare moral successes of WWII. This demonstration of what individuals can do should inspire us today.

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The Left calls Trump a fascist instead of focusing on the issues

Summary: Campaign 2016 is the most ideological election since 1982, perhaps since McKinley-Bryan in 1896 (our most expensive election). Rather than deal with these issues, and the serious reasons to oppose Trump, the Left prefers to focus on bogus condemnations of him as “fascist”. This preference for cartoon-like fantasy over messy reality is why they have been losing to the Right (& its hard focus on money and power) for generations.

Definition of Fascism

During the past generation the Left has fallen into the lazy habit of attempting to defeat its foes by declaring them as illegitimate — rather than addressing what they say. The Left fires off labels such as racist, deniers, sexists, or fascists — with an increasingly flimsy basis for these accusations. These efforts have become futile through repetition and now only further diminish their influence in America,. The faithful thrill at these chants while they are ignored by the larger public. It’s a way to avoid debating serious issues. it’s another way to lose.

The rise of Trump and populism brings forth another round of knee-jerk claims. Authoritarian! NAZI! Hitler! These words have been drained of meaning by generations of mindless use, an now mask the serious reasons to oppose Trump and conceal the overlap between populism and progressivism that might lead to an alliance capable of winning (which neither can do by itself).

Dylan Matthews consults experts, whose analysis will end this daft comparison in the reality-based community (which unfortunately has little overlap with today’s Left — or Right — in America).

I asked 5 fascism experts whether Donald Trump is a fascist.
Here’s what they said.

By Dylan Matthews at VOX.
Excerpt; it’s worth reading in full.

To be blunt: Donald Trump is not a fascist. “Fascism” has been an all-purpose insult for many years now, but it has a real definition, and according to scholars of historical fascism, Trump doesn’t qualify. Rather, he’s a right-wing populist, or perhaps an “apartheid liberal” in the words of Roger Griffin, author of The Nature of Fascism. He doesn’t want to overthrow the existing democratic system. He doesn’t want to scrap the Constitution. He doesn’t romanticize violence itself as a vital cleansing agent of society. He’s simply a racist who wants to keep the current system but deny its benefits to groups he’s interested in oppressing.

Griffin, who is a professor of history and political theory at Oxford Brookes University, puts it best: “You can be a total xenophobic racist male chauvinist bastard and still not be a fascist.”

…Matthew Feldman, a fascism expert at Teesside University in the UK, agrees. “He’s still in the democratic family,” he says. “Trump is calling for ethnocratic small-l liberalism. It’s liberalism that’s racially tinged.

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We love the Constitution yet hate our government. The past tells us why.

Summary:  The pasts of other nations provide insights into the problems of America today, free lessons of what works and what fails. Some pasts are more relevant than most. Some are more disturbing. Some are both; these are the ones that deserve your attention.

The Hitler Myth

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As discussed here previously, NAZI Germany was the first nation to break from traditional modes of western society into modernity. During and after WW2 the West followed Germany into a world with a new morality, plus new physical and political technology.  Although we recoil from direct comparison to NAZIs, we seldom feel uncomfortable from the aspects we have in common. Perhaps we should.

Excerpt from “The Good Tsar Bias

By Xavier Marquez
Prof Political Science, Victoria University of Wellington

At his website, 16 July 2014
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Ian Kershaw’s remarkable book The “Hitler Myth”: Image and Reality in the Third Reich {see Wikipedia} is a really clever piece of public opinion archeology. It attempts to reconstruct the rise and fall of Hitler’s popularity in Nazi Germany, drawing primarily on secret reports compiled by the Gestapo, the Security Service of the SS, and the clandestine agents of the banned Social Democratic Party.

…Among other things, the book makes the case that, at least until the war started turning sour in late 1942, Hitler was far more popular than the Nazi Party, which quickly grew to be disliked, even despised, by the vast majority of Germans,  despite the initial improvement in economic conditions they experienced in the early years of the Third Reich:

At the centre of our enquiry here is the remarkable phenomenon that Hitler’s rising popularity was not only unaccompanied by a growth in the popularity of the Nazi Party, but in fact developed in some ways at the direct expense of his own Movement.

In Kershaw’s telling, the contrast arose primarily from the fact that the “little Hitlers” (as Party functionaries were sometimes derogatorily called) were constantly encountered in everyday life, where they were perceived, not without ample justification, as corrupt and overbearing, while Hitler operated on a “higher” plane, concerned with the “big questions” of war and peace.

America has no Leader as the foundation of our political regime. But the dynamics Kershaw describes might explain the largest anomaly of modern American politics: we revere the Constitution — increasingly so, if the Tea Party is representative — but have low and falling confidence in the Republic’s political institutions. From Gallup’s 2014 Confidence in Institutions poll:

  • Supreme Court:…….30%
  • Presidency:…………..29%
  • Congress:……………..07%
  • executive agencies:..???   (most probably rate very low)

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How we became what we are today. See some dark origins of the New America.

Summary: We need to dig in order to understand what’s happening with America. Today look back to a critical moment in western history, a moment that’s shaped what we are today and will be for uncounted years to come. Tomorrow we look at how NAZI innovations in political mechanics have become mainstream in America.

“As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 100%.
— Godwin’s Law, formulated by Mike Godwin in 1990.

1936 German poster
1936 German poster.

 

Godwin formulated this as a description of the world, like the law of gravity. Since then it’s become normative — a bad behavior. That’s unfortunate; it’s an expression of our amnesia about one of the Third Reich’s worst horrors. Germany had a central role in western religion, philosophy, and science. We prefer not to remember that its people fell so quickly into evil. That we might fall so quickly into evil is too disturbing to contemplate.

Why do discussions about US society and politics so often end with analogies to the NAZIs? Perhaps because NAZI Germany was the first nation to break through from traditional modes of western society into modernity. During and after WW2 the West followed Germany into a world with a new morality, plus new physical and political technology.  Although we recoil from direct comparison to NAZIs, we feel no ill conscience from this evolution. For good reason. The list of NAZI breakthroughs we have copied is long; here is a sampler:

  • Eisenhower built our autobahn (interstate highways), for the same reasons the Third Reich did. We drive Volkswagens, the people’s car, and its successors.
  • Our military uses much technology developed by the NAZIs. Some examples are wire-guided missiles (which hit the battleship  HMS Warspite in 1943), infra-red night vision systems, ballistic and cruise missiles, jets, and rocket-propelled aircraft.
  • We use military tactics pioneered by the NAZIs, such as strategic bombing of civilians.
  • The NAZIs normalized both pre-marital sex (it was a benefit of Hitler Youth membership) and out-of-wedlock childbirth.
  • The NAZI’s ran the first anti-smoking campaign (30 years before the US), funded research about the effects of smoking, and in 1941 banned smoking in public places.
  • On a trivial level — We wear Hugo Boss suits, for the same reason as the SS did (the NAZI’s contribution to fashion might be one of their two long-term contributions to the world). We wear Adidas footwear, as did the Wehrmacht.
  • Perhaps their greatest long-term influence: the NAZI party introduced modern propaganda techniques, which became the basis for WW2 and Cold War politics — and beyond.

In so many things Hitler was not wrong, just early. Some of these innovations we applaud; some we prefer not to see. And then there’s the holocaust.

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A lesson from the Weimar Republic about balancing the budget

Introduction:  This is another in a series of dashed off speculative opinions.  Normal procedure on the FM website for these topics would be 3 thousand word posts, supported by dozens of links.  I dont’ have the time to finish them, and too many of these outlines have accumulated in my drafts file.  Perhaps these will spark useful debate and research among this site’s readers. 

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Delong on the end of the Weimar Republic
  3. For more information and an Afterword

(1)  Introduction

If the economy does not recovery soon, I believe it will fall into another decline.  In the third year of this recession the reserves at all levels are drained — households, businesses, and governments — so another downturn might be worse than the first.  In this scenario the Democratic Party members of Congress will face a stark choice:  pass another large stimulus bill in  March or April or face electoral defeat in November.

Less obvious is the peril of the Republican Party.  Their strategy of “the worse, the bettter’ (see here for more) seems likely to win, riding on the “stimulus has not worked” platform.  But what do they do following success?  The Weimar Republic provides an example worth attention.  A balanced budget can destroy a nation.  Change does not necessarily mean better.  Hope is not enough.  As Weimar proved.

(3)  Delong on the end of the Weimar Republic

When economists speak of liquidationist economics, they usually mean the first two years of Hoover’s Administration.  Under the advice of Andrew Mellon, one of the foremost experts of that time, the government did little to arrest the unprecedented conflagration of what became the Great Depression.  While true, this is not the strongest example. 

The myth has become well-established that Germany’s hyper-inflation wrecked the Weimar Republic and brought Hitler to power.   While the hyper-inflation weakened its foundations, it was cured in November 1923 — the same month as the NAZI’s Beer Hall Putsch.  By 1928 it was a flyspeck party, getting 2.6% of the vote in the May elections (9th place).  The Depression and Weimar’s adoption of liquidationist economics gave Hitler his opportunity.

Excerpt from “Nazis and Soviets“, Chapter 15 of Slouching Towards Utopia?: The Economic History of the Twentieth Century, February 1997:

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