I haven’t been writing much lately. Too many things on my plate, too difficult to find the motivation, and – sometimes – too disheartening to keep shouting into the whirlwind knowing that so few people hear. The last thing I wrote was back in September, when I discussed the Golden Dawn and the beginnings of Nazism in Europe in the 30’s. I have not had the chance to research the fall of Weimar and the beginnings of the Reich as much as I would like, but as I mentioned there are some interesting similarities between the events after World War I and what happened to the Weimar Republic and the recent events and what has been happening in Greece, in particular.
Some of you may have heard of the economist John Maynard Keynes. A little background, for those who have not: widely considered to be one of the most influential economists and thinkers in modern history, he was born in Cambridge in 1883. His first book, Indian Currency and Finance, was published in 1913. He wrote a number of others, and his theories – in many ways – revolutionized the study of macroeconomics. He was a tremendously influential voice in the Bretton Woods economic conference after World War II, which laid down economic groundwork for most of the western world – many of the policies decided at that conference stayed in place all the way until the 1970’s.
One of Keynes’ most important works, however, came after the end of the first World War, when he wrote “The Economic Consequences of the Peace” – in which he decried the Treaty of Versailles and what he predicted would be the consequences of the terms of peace imposed on Germany. He wrote:
“I cannot leave this subject as though its just treatment wholly depended either on our own pledges or economic facts. The policy of reducing Germany to servitude for a generation, of degrading the lives of millions of human beings, and of depriving a whole nation of happiness should be abhorrent and detestable, – abhorrent and detestable, even if it were possible, even if it enriched ourselves, even if it did not sow the decay of the whole civilized life of Europe. Some preach it in the name of Justice. In the great events of man’s history, in the unwinding of the complex fates of nations Justice is not so simple. And if it were, nations are not authorized, by religion or by natural morals, to visit on the children of their enemies the misdoings of parents of rulers.”
When you look at the terms, the reparations demanded of Germany, the economic crisis they prompted; it becomes more clear how a person such as Hitler could come to power, how fervent nationalism could take hold. When the majority of your country’s nearest neighbors all conspire to oppress you, it actually becomes logical to dig in, retrench your loyalties to your own nation, to your own people; to view outsiders as a threat to any hope you might have of prosperity. The insularity grows until the point where a charismatic leader – or even a not-so-charismatic one – can take control, hiding the atrocities of their nature behind the rhetoric of trying to protect your own – your family, your neighbors, your country, but only people like you, not the others. Not the Romani, not the Jewish immigrants (and lacking those, not even the German Jews), certainly not Polish, the French, or anyone else in Europe.
When you look at the economic consequences imposed on Greece in the aftermath of the economic collapse of 2007, especially with the conditions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles in mind, the parallels become startlingly clear. Again, a country is made to pay reparations – this time in the form of repaying debts to the European Central Bank, loans offered but only with the condition of requiring austerity measures from the Greek government. Feeling as though they lacked alternatives, the Greek government acquiesced to the demands for austerity, and the people of Greece were made to suffer for an economic crisis not of their own making – much as the youth of Germany, uninvolved in World War I, were made to suffer for a situation not of their making.
(Is it any wonder that much of the early support for the Nazi Party came from the youth? Combined with the influential wealthy individuals whose support was guaranteed through systematic, conscientious privatization of public industry, it was the youth brought the Reich to power. In Greece, however, because almost none of the public at large was involved in the events that led to the economic crash, the nationalists were able to gain power much more rapidly.)
Now, all of this can seem very distant to us here in the United States – after all, we don’t have a neo-Nazi Party gaining prominence here, right?
Except, when you look at the current state of the Republican Party in particular, really look critically, the parallels are frightening. What are some major Republican Party platform points?
Anti-immigration: in spite of some lip service being given to immigration reform by some within the Republican Party, their overwhelming stance remains anti-immigrant. Laws like Arizona’s controversial SB-1070, which was even openly described as a “Show Me Your Papers” law; the border-fence between the United States and Mexico; the rhetoric that undocumented immigrants are “taking our jobs”; all of these are clear parallels to Nazi Germany nationalistic politics.
Privatization: much is made of the word “Socialism” in the “National Socialism” from which the Nazi namesake is derived – but a little known, or at least little discussed, aspect of Nazi Germany’s past was the privatization of public industries. There were a number of times that long-held public industries, from steel to transportation, were turned over to private ownership through methods such as common stock sales which, in turn, enriched the few already wealthy members of German society. While I have not yet found any economic studies to verify this, I would suspect that wealth inequality increased rapidly during this process. Watching both US political parties, but the Republicans in particular, worshiping at the altar of “privatization,” one cannot help but notice how they, like the Nazis before them, do all they can to enrich the already well-to-do in an effort to guarantee their seat of power. Think of how, during George W. Bush’s presidency, even the war – one of the most purely state functions – was turned over to private industries, in turn making certain that they secured the stalwart support of people such as Erik Prince and companies such as Halliburton, its former subsidiary KBR, International Oil Trading Co. etc.
Homogeneity: there has been a lot made of the homogeneous nature of the Nazi Party, of the Nazi vision of the “master race”. It is so commonly known that even the word “Aryan” has negative connotations associated with the Nazis. The idea that the “master race” of blonde haired, blue-eyed people in America taking control could almost be considered laughable… except that the only difference between the unparalleled dominance of white society in America and the Aryans in Nazi Germany is that modern white America is not as cleanly defined. Being white might not carry the same guarantee of societal acceptance in America that being an Aryan did in Nazi Germany, but it is certainly a benefit; and while being “other” (black, Hispanic, whatever) might not result in being rounded up and gassed to death in concentration camps, one cannot deny the many disadvantages faced by minorities, even including the danger of being killed because of the color of their skin. Nowhere is this more obviously prevalent than within the ranks of the Republican Party’s supporters. One needs look no further than the voting demographics from the last Presidential election to see this truth writ large.
Economics: the Nazis rose to power in the midst of terrible economic struggles for the German people. Think back to the midterm elections of 2010, though, and the parallel there is pretty obvious.
More subtle, however, is how the fervor of the political Right has driven the entire political spectrum farther right, in turn allowing the extremists at the farthest Right edges to grow louder, more open in their punditry, to push the envelope farther still. Characters like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have always done their best to shock their listeners, to push the extremes in a way that keeps people tuning in, even if only to hear what they’ll say next; but listen to the patent absurdity of Glenn Beck’s tear-filled rants and then listen to how many of the rank-and-file of the Republican Party actually believe what he says; pay attention to the fact that Limbaugh has actually called the Pope (the Pope!) a Marxist, not for even quoting Karl Marx or even paraphrasing him, but for not being an unabashed cheerleader for “free market” capitalism and not embracing income inequality as acceptable. Read John Bolton describing an agreement with Iran to *slightly* ease sanctions in exchange for concessions on their purported nuclear program as an “abject surrender” – and then question how far the whole political paradigm has shifted.
This is the climate in which we find ourselves in America today. Is it any wonder that you can go on Twitter and read countless people openly calling for the President to be assassinated? Is it any wonder that racially motivated murders such as that of Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride or incidents like the Sikh Temple shooting in Wisconsin are happening with frightening regularity, and more importantly – are passing almost unnoticed?
What is truly terrifying, however, is the way in which these patterns keep repeating; the ways in which we continue to delude ourselves that the reign of terror perpetrated by Hitler’s Nazis could never happen again. The assumption that it could only happen somewhere else, refusing to acknowledge that it is happening right here, that to the rest of the world, we are the terrifying force that has subjugated their cultures and their countries… the blind, un-self-aware nationalism that assumes that America is always right and that has no idea and no concept that it was that same sort of blind spot that allowed the people of Germany to be manipulated to the will of a mad man, hell-bent on world domination.