Chicken Soup for the Progressive Soul

Kenneth Huey

posted on FB by Kenneth Huey

Contemplating American Fascism in Light of William Shirer
by Bryce Adams

Since the election, many liberals have been trying to make sense of the world via ingesting media that amount to Chicken Soup for the Progressive Soul. Me, I’ve been reading William Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. It’s a long, flawed, dated book. But it is also the opus of a reporter who spent years observing the growth of Hitler’s movement firsthand. Here are some of Shirer’s takeaway points about the rise of Nazism that might be useful at the present moment:

1) Nazism succeeded because actors from every other strain of German politics thought of the Nazis as a kindred phenomenon that could be addressed through traditional political tactics such as coalition-balancing and horse-trading. Few believed that Nazism was actually a cancer to be met head-on by a united front of citizens, even if those citizens might have otherwise disagreed on everything from the color of the sky to the wetness of water.

2) Following his release from prison, Hitler was adamant that Nazism must co-opt the state through legal means, not naked force. Rather, the law would be employed to enshrine the validity of force, not the alternative. Repeat: under the Weimar constitution, everything Hitler did was legal.

3) It didn’t trouble the Nazis that they never won an un-rigged plebiscite or receive anything remotely resembling an honest majority. Once arcane constitutional rules placed them in power, they were determined to use that power to suit their own ends, clear mandate be damned.

4) Hitler personally succeeded because other elites thought he was a naive outsider who could be used. They repeatedly failed to realize that Hitler drew his power through a keen, elemental understanding of human frailty that had nothing to do with urbane politicking and everything to do with demagoguery. By trying to use Hitler and outmaneuver him, too few other elites ever tried to fight him until it was too late.

5) Nazism was especially seductive to law enforcement, as well as the courts. Police officers and judges by nature want to serve as the agents of a powerful state apparatus. Once Nazism arose as a viable path toward strengthening the powers of the state, the police and the courts could no longer be trusted to defend citizens against the Party.

6) Nazism also went down well with industrialists. There’s no better customer for the production of heavy industrial shit than myopic cranks who love cyclopean architecture and war planning.

7) Almost everything the German people saw of Nazism, pre-war, was a calculated lie. Hitler might have been damn near unhinged in private, but in public everything was a manicured pageant of psy-ops dedicated to distracting the masses from the bureaucratically-driven wickedness that would have indelible behind the scenes impacts.

8) Magnanimity was an underappreciated tool in Hitler’s arsenal. Despite his ferocious public persona, if it suited his purposes Hitler could appear generous, nurturing, and even humble, as the occasion required. Everyone knew he was a narcissist, so little gestures of obeisance on his part were treated like superhuman acts of contrition. What Hitler’s marks failed to appreciate was that to a true narcissist, outward manifestations are irrelevant: Hitler could smile, bow, even kneel, and it never for a moment dented his own sense of divine ordination.

Lastly: Hitler’s entire worldview rested on his bedrock belief that humans were stupid, weak, and fundamentally indecent. He was able to put this weltanschaung into practice because nobody ever assumed the worst of him and concluded that he simply needed to be stopped. 

Coming to these conclusions might have sent a tingle up my spine, but the lawyer in me knows that we’re not there yet, for at least one good reason: Weimar Germany had weak non-governmental institutions and an anemic civil society. America lacks neither. We have the foresight, we have the numbers, we have the parallel institutions to ensure that none of the above facts need to become anything other than an uncomfortable historical overlap, as opposed to history genuinely repeating itself.

So keep your eyes open and your powder dry.

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