I happened to be lying in bed a couple of nights ago, and looking for some light bedtime reading, I picked up a copy of of Ian Kershaw's biography of Adolf Hitler. I was reading the part about Hitler's seizing of the Reichchancellorship in January of 1933, where Kershaw spent some time ruminating about how this colossal political disaster could have been deliberately created. I'd like to present some of Kershaw's thoughts here, along with my own (grossly inferior, I'm sure) comments.
Sorry, but I can't provide a link to this material- it comes from an actual book, which as far as I know is not available online. The quotes that follow start on page 424 of volume 1.
Before getting on with it, I want to make it clear that I am not comparing any current American Conservative leader to Hitler. All I am interested in here is the combination of malfeasance and corrupt intentions that result in a modern industrial nation turning itself over to the far right.
I want to make one more point. When Kershaw refers to right wing attempts to destroy democracy, what he is talking about is the Social Democracy of the Weimar government- i.e. moderate left government of the sort favored by (parts of) the Democratic party in the United States today. Well, here we go:
Hindenburg Appoints Hitler to head the German government.
"But...from right to left of the political spectrum- Conservatives, Liberals, Socialists, Communists- underrated his intentions and unscrupulous power instincts at the same time as they scorned his abilities... Socialists, Communists, trade unions were all little more than bystanders, their scope for influencing events emasculated since 1930. It was the blindness of the conservative Right to the dangers which had been so evident, arising from their determination to eliminate democracy and destroy socialism, and the consequent government stalemate they had allowed to develop, that delivered the power of a nation-state containing all the pent-up aggression of a wounded giant into the hands of the dangerous leader of a political gangster-mob."
Despite the clear rhetoric from the right, those on the left were simply unable to credit them with the sort of destructive intentions that they later demonstrated. But it was the right, blinded by hatred of a nonexistent "socialistic" threat that coalesced behind this patently evil party, which had done everything it could to destroy any attempt on the part of the government to deal with the economic problems of the Great Depression.
If this sort of thing doesn't sound sadly familiar to you, you can't have been following politics in this country very closely the last few years. Here's a little more on that point from Kershaw:
"But those miscalculations...that opened up the possibility, then the reality, of a Hitler Chancellorship, were not random acts. They were the miscalculations of a political class determined to inflict what injury it could on the new, detested, or at best merely tolerated democratic Republic. The anxiety to destroy democracy rather than the keennness to bring the Nazis to power was what triggered the complex developments that led to Hitler's Chancellorship."
Once again, I believe the similarity in intent, if not in ability to accomplish its ends, with the right in America today is painful to read. The hatred of the Teabaggers toward their synthetic "socialist" enemies has left them easy prey for even the most grotesque representative of the forces that brought our economy down; it has left them so enraged that they will trust the most patent demagogue rather than the basically decent people inevitably produced by the center-left.
"More than any other politician of his era, (Hitler) was the spokesman for the unusually intense fears, resentments, and prejudices of ordinary people not attracted to the parties of the Left or anchored in the parties of political Catholicism. And more than any other politician of his era, he offered people the prospect of a new and better society- though one seeming to rest on 'true' German values with which they could identify."
Again, I believe I hardly have to point out the similarities to our current situation.
"Democracy was surrendered without a fight...This was not least because powerful groups had never reconciled themselves to democracy, and were by this time actively seeking to bring it down."
Nazi poster capitalizing on the supposedly close relationship between Hitler and Hindenburg. Note that Hitler seems to have grown about 10 inches since the previous picture.
And this is the fear- that Barack Obama who, whatever his many virtues, is willing to "compromise" on so many issues, will eventually compromise on this too, ignoring the clear fact that half of a democracy is no democracy at all.
"There was no "class equalibrium" in 1932. The working class was cowed and broken by Depression, its organizations enfeebled and powerless. But the ruling groups did not have the mass support to maximize their ascendency and destroy once and for all the power of organized labor. Hitler was brought in to do the job for them."
There it is. A few years ago, I openly wondered if the likes of Dick Cheney might not be thinking to themselves, "That lucky Hitler guy. The only thing he had going for himself that we don't was a depression. If we had one of those, we could rule the world." Well, the Conservatives got their depression, with how much deliberate help from themselves, we may never know. Let's see what they are able to do with it.