The chains are locked and tied across the door

21 07 2017

How does helplessness become resentment?

I’m in the midst of reading Robert Gellately’s edited transcripts of psychiatrist Leon Goldensohn’s interviews with Nazis at Nuremberg, Nuremberg Interviews; what is striking are the protestations that they could have done nothing other than what they did.

They were helpless.

They were helpless before Hitler’s charisma, helpless before his charm, helpless to do anything other than their sworn duty—to the military, to Germany, to their own high moral principles. And those who weren’t personally helpless emphasized Germany’s helplessness following WWI and the victors and their unjust Treaty of Versailles.

And as for the Jews, well, while these Nazis disclaimed any personal anti-Semitism, they did point to Jewish dominance of German cultural life and that so many Communists were Jews—so really, was it so wrong to want to free Germans from the yoke of such an alien people? Goldensohn paraphrased Alfred Rosenberg:

The cause of the Jewish question was, of course, the Jews themselves. The Jews are a nation, and like every nation, have a nationalist spirit. That’s all every well, but they should be in their own homeland. … Why couldn’t the Jews be allowed to remain where they were , in other lands? They would have been all right if they didn’t do bad things, but they did. What did the Jews do? They spat at German culture. How? They controlled the theater, publishing, the stores, and so on.

Similar sentiments were expressed by others: Jews provoked anti-Semitism by their involvement in German life. What else could Germans do? Of course they had to defend themselves.

There has been a great deal of discussion of the role of resentment in politics, but isn’t behind resentment some notion of victimhood, helplessness? How does despair over the inability to control one’s own life become politically virulent?

Propaganda, inarguably, but that can’t be the sole catalyst, can it? What makes it work?

And while it is supremely easy to dismiss the rationalizations of Nazi defendants, what cannot be dismissed is that some peoples have been victimized, are being victimized, and may justifiably feel helpless amidst the conditions of their oppression. Is it not just that they be freed?

Political mobilization draws in part on moving people from a sense of apathy or despair and toward action; when is this mobilization just, and when is it malignant?

One quick response might be that any mobilization which relies on or stokes resentment tends toward malignancy, but, honestly, that seems too quick: what, for example, distinguishes “righteous indignation” from “resentment”?

It could be that this distinction is too caught up in ideology to be of any analytical use, that is, that my good views will always be based in righteousness, while your bad views are riddled with resentment.

Again, there’s a ton of work, both scholarly and journalistic, on resentment in politics, so likely nothing I’m saying here is at all original—for originality, I recommend Nietzsche.

Still, Nietzsche disdained the ressentiment of the weak toward the strong; the resentment of the strong toward the weak, well, that would not even have occurred to them: to be strong was to be above it all.

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Nazi punks fuck off

24 01 2017

So y’all have seen the video (or the many gifs) of Richard Spencer punched in the head, yeah?

Anyone conflicted by the sucker punch? Anyone conflicted by their lack of confliction over the sucker punch?

I’m not conflicted. Mind you, I wouldn’t exactly recommend sucker-punching Richard Spencer or any run-of-the-mill Nazi, but I took perhaps too much satisfaction in seeing that fist upside this guy’s noggin.

As an Arendtian, I’m leery of the introduction of violence into the arena of discourse, i.e., if you’re able to talk, do that—but what if your opponents don’t accept the terms of that discourse? What to do, for example, about a white supremacist who thinks ethnic cleansing gets a bad name, has advocated for the forced sterilization of black people, whose website ran an article called ‘Is Black Genocide Right?, and who is using the instruments of democracy to undermine said democracy?

What do you do with a guy who would get rid of you just for being you?

That longstanding dilemma in liberalism—how to deal with illiberalism—is longstanding precisely because there is no easy answer. I tend toward the civil libertarian view, which says tolerate the intolerant, because I don’t want the state to throw people in jail for bad views. Clear, direct threats—sure, but general espousal of an abhorrent world-view, even a Nazi world-view? No.

But what about in political society? How may we as citizens respond to our fellow citizens who would seek to strip us of our full status as citizens? If you (Nazi, ISIS fighter) say you want to get rid of ‘my kind’, can I hit you?

Legally, no. If I hit you and I get caught, I ought to be charged with assault.

And tactically, that might not be the wisest decision, for all kinds of reasons, not least because it could lead to greater violence, which will lead to the breakdown of politics right quick.

Finally, if you believe as fervently in politics as I do, then one ought to act politically, i.e., through speech and coordinated public actions, not violently.

Yet for all that, I honestly cannot condemn the guy who walloped Richard Spencer. This is one of those cases where the better angels of my nature are nowhere to be found.





When Johnny comes marching home again

11 10 2016

THE US IS NOT WEIMAR! I have shouted, hissed, flatlined, more than once.

And yet.

No, I’m not going back on that, but I wonder if a) the US was Weimar before Weimar was Weimar, and b) at least regarding the parties on the right, there isn’t something to the parallel.

B first: The Nationalist (DNVP, or German National People’s Party) was the main conservative party during the short-lived republic. It contained a mix of reactionaries and restorationists, militarists, aristocrats, and industrialists. It was anti-democratic, anti-Semitic, and rather constantly seeking to undermine whatever government (there were many)  was seated at the moment.

The old man, Hindenburg, won the presidency as an independent (but with the support of the old-line conservatives) in 1925 (thumping his former colleague Ludendorff, running as a Nazi) and beat Hitler for the job in 1932. When the Nazis won the most votes in the last free parliamentary elections in November of ’32, thereby paving the path to the chancellorship in January of 1933, Hindenburg crony (and Vice Chancellor) Franz von Papen famously told those worried about Hitler that ‘You are wrong. We’ve engaged him for ourselves.’ To another he said, ‘Within two months we will have pushed Hitler so far into a corner that he’ll squeak.’

Well, that didn’t work so well, not least for Papen: he and his wife were murdered during the Night of Long Knives in 1934. (Nope, wrong: Papen was only put under house arrest, served as an ambassador for Nazi Germany, was acquitted at Nuremberg, and only died in 1969. It was General Kurt von Schleicher and his wife who were cut down.)

Anyway, there are some rough parallels to be drawn, I think, between the Nationalists and establishment (such as it is) Republicans, and between the Nazis and anti-GOP Trump supporters.

Again, these parallels are rough: I don’t think Trump is Hitler or his more, ah, avid supporters Nazis, although there are certain shared enthusiasms across both sets of followers. And the GOP establishment cannot fairly be compared too closely to the Nationalists: while they certainly want to restrict voting and are less than fully committed to civil rights for all citizens, they’re not actively plotting coups or looking to eliminate the Constitution.

Caveats deployed, the energy and anger of the anti-GOP Trumpeters, their bitterness toward any Republicans not waving his flag does echo the melodramatic intensity of Nazis, with the more lukewarm GOPpers standing in for the old Nationalists.

And the hatred for Democrats and Clinton, the cries to make America great again, the sense that the country has been corrupted and must be cleansed? Well, yeah, that too.

Back to a.

My knowledge of American history isn’t great, so treat this comparison even more gingerly than the previous one:

Was the US, or, more specifically, the former Confederacy, during Reconstruction akin to Weimar? That is, a fragile republic, all-too-soon overthrown by forces which never accepted the legitimacy of the rule?

I’m not going to go on about this, because I know neither the history of Reconstruction and its dismemberment nor that of the imposition of Jim Crow, I don’t know how well the anti-republican (and -Republican) forces and the political cultures match up, and there are clearly major differences.

Still.

Still, the lines are there, aren’t they?





This whole frigging place will be down to the ground

2 09 2015

I’m teaching Weimar this semester.

Two months ago—a month ago—I didn’t know that’s what I’d be teaching, but once I hit on it, I thought Yessssss!!

This is actually the 4th version of my Politics and Culture course. The first one, based on women and human rights, was terrible; the second one worked well, but after teaching it a few years, I got bored and redid the syllabus; the third version was okay, but it never quite came together, and I was never fully comfortable with the course.

So, time for yet another revamp.

My first thought was that I’d use Acemoglu and Robinson’s Why Nations Fail. While I had a few issues with their argument (as I had with the Nussbaum book I used for v. 2), I thought the book would work well for the course: it’s well-written, and, importantly, it had the kind of big theory that was missing from one of the books (Banerjee & Duflo’s Poor Economics) I used in v. 3. The students in that course responded when I gave big-sweep historical lectures, so I figured Acemoglu & Robinson’s big-sweep historical analysis would go over well with them.

Except: I couldn’t figure out what to use as an adjunct to the text. Why Nations Fail is all about political and economic development, and while (political) culture plays a role in their argument, I still wanted to round out the course with something else.

Only, I couldn’t figure out what that something else would be. I’d spent a fair amount of time over the past few months looking over my books and pulling one, and then another, and then yet another off the shelf, but I couldn’t settle on one. Then, at some point in mid or late July, I was peering idly at my history books, and I scanned across Richard Evans’s Third Reich trilogy.

Huh, I thought. Then, Yesssss!!

My first thought was The Coming of the Third Reich, then I thought, The Third Reich in Power, but then I went back to The Coming.

Weimar. Perfect. It’s politics and culture galore, is a subject which I’d been reading about off and of the past coupla’ years, and, most importantly, it was something that I was immediately excited about.

I was not immediately excited about Why Nations Fail.

And that’s when I remembered the lesson I keep forgetting: teaching something I’m dutiful about is a pain; teaching something I’m excited about is a gas.

It also helps to teach something which is more rather than less in my wheelhouse. I certainly have interests in political and economic development, but I’m not a political-developmental economist: I’m a theorist, and I want to know how and why ideas move people to act. Material conditions absolutely matter, but they are not determinative; I’m interested in that great gauzy space beyond the material, and how that works out in actual political life.

So why wasn’t I teaching that? Why was I abandoning something that I think also matters? Why wasn’t I taking theory—and politics—seriously?

Weimar gives me a bit of everything; hell, the glory of Weimar as a teaching subject is its too-muchness: economics and diplomacy and monarchy and fascism and liberalism and communism and violence and art and theater and so much promise and in the end, too much peril.

I’ve only taught one session so far (the class meets on Fridays), and we won’t really get into Weimar until the third week, but the students seemed into it. They might not know much about Weimar, but they certainly know something about what came after—Nazis on the march do tend to get one’s attention.

Anyway, I don’t know if this course will work or not, but really, I think it will. And I think the students will end up digging it, too.

In any case, it certainly can’t go any worse than the Republic itself.





Woman please let me explain

1 08 2015

Former governor and never-president Mike Huckabee’s recent discourse on Iran, the president, and “march[ing Israelis] to the door of the oven” led Ed Kilgore to consider how much Pastor Mike like’s his  Holocaust analogies.

. . . . Fact is, Mike Huckabee has a remarkably intimate relationship with the Holocaust as he sees it, and has been prone to violating the unwritten rule against Holocaust analogies for years. For one thing, he is one of many anti-choice politicians and activists who cannot resist the temptation of analogizing legalized abortion to the Holocaust. There was the incident from back in 2007, during a speech at a pro-life event, when he referred to the deaths of 45 to 50 million unborn babies from abortion as a holocaust—and then connected those deaths to the country’s worker shortage.

Comparing the number of fetuses killed in the US since 1973 to the Holocaust is not uncommon among pro-lifers although the usual reference is to “a holocaust” than “the Holocaust”. Kilgore notes that Huckabee, however, has no problems equating abortion to Auschwitz, as he did in 2014:

If you felt something incredibly powerful at Auschwitz and Birkenau over the 11 million killed worldwide and the 1.5 million killed on those grounds, cannot we feel something extraordinary about 55 million murdered in our own country in the wombs of their mothers?

One of the problems with this analogy (in addition to all of the other problems) is the logical extension of this kind of thinking: women who have abortions are Nazis.

Oh, I know, Huckabee and the rest want us to think of Planned Parenthood and all of the rest of the “abortionists” as Nazis, and maybe to throw some shame on the rest of us as Good Germans, but if you think, as Huckabee apparently did in 2013, that a woman’s uterus “has become one of the most dangerous places for a baby to be”, then how can you avoid the conclusion that it is the women who endanger those babies?

It is the women, after all, who drive to the clinic, who walk into the office, who ask a doctor to perform an abortion, and who climb on to the table so that it may be done.

They are the one’s ordering the destruction of their children; the doctors are the ones simply following those orders.

Of course, that’s far too harsh a rhetoric to float in prime time; at most, perhaps, the women could be compared to sonderkommandos: victims themselves, if not wholly innocent.

That is the bind of the pro-life argument-by-Holocaust analogy: what to do with the women.

Which is not so far from the bind of the pro-life argument in general.

~~~

h/t Sarah Posner





Just like everybody else does

2 06 2011

Were slaves humans to those who enslaved them? Were Jews and the Roma and Slavs human to Nazis?

Yes. And no.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’s interests and mine once again intersect, this time on the question of who is human. TNC has posted a number of pieces in which he notes that the slaves-weren’t-human-to-slavemasters trope really doesn’t hold up; in his most recent post on the topic, he notes that

But throughout the South there were (poorly enforced) laws against the murder of slaves. Enslaved people were often encouraged to embrace Jesus, and ministered to by white preachers–treatment that mules and dogs were generally spared. Slave populations were filled with the progeny of white people who had sex with slaves–again treatment which most mules and dogs (as far as we know) were spared. It is surely true that blacks were seen as biologically inferior, but they were nevertheless generally recognized as human.

Frederick Douglass, as well, observed in What to a slave is the Fourth of July? that

Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man? That point is conceded already. Nobody doubts it. The slaveholders themselves acknowledge it in the enactment of laws for their government. They acknowledge it when they punish disobedience on the part of the slave. There are seventy-two crimes in the State of Virginia, which, if committed by a black man, (no matter how ignorant he be), subject him to the punishment of death; while only two of the same crimes will subject a white man to the like punishment. What is this but the acknowledgement that the slave is a moral, intellectual and responsible being? The manhood of the slave is conceded. It is admitted in the fact that Southern statute books are covered with enactments forbidding, under severe fines and penalties, the teaching of the slave to read or to write. When you can point to any such laws, in reference to the beasts of the field, then I may consent to argue the manhood of the slave. When the dogs in your streets, when the fowls of the air, when the cattle on your hills, when the fish of the sea, and the reptiles that crawl, shall be unable to distinguish the slave from a brute, their will I argue with you that the slave is a man!

The Nazis, too, did recognize that Jews, Gypsies, and Slavs were human, in their prohibitions and punishments, their sterilization campaigns, the theft of their goods, their enslavement, their use as experimental subjects, and, perhaps, above (or below) all, in their willingness to rape Jewish women, Roma women, Polish and Russian and Ukrainian and Serbian women.

Such practical recognition (one which is likely shared by all chauvinistic peoples) must be conceded: the superior knew the inferior to be human.

This concession does not, however, end the debate, for there is also the matter of the ideology of the slaver and the Nazi, one which also drove the practices of enslavement, brutalization, and extermination.

TNC admits to a kind of admiration for Cannibals All! author George Fitzhugh, largely due to Fitzhugh’s willingness to extend the logic of superiors/inferiors to all peoples, such that even many white people could justly be enslaved. Again, I’m not so sure that this consistency deserves any praise, but even more than that, I think a focus on such consistency itself obscures the practical reality of slavery, to wit, that those who were enslaved were both human and not human.

TNC, from the same post:

This posed a philosophical problem for the nascent Confederate intelligentsia. Thomas Jefferson’s notion that “all men are created equal,” particularly rankled. If black people were part of “man,” and all “men” were created equal, how could one justify slavery? Well, one could completely ignore the discrepancy, which is exactly what a lot of Confederates did.

He goes on to consider the “more radical position” that Jefferson was wrong, that the mere fact of humanity did not make one equal.

I happen to agree with this: the liberty and equality we grant to one another is just that, a grant in recognition, and one which could be either extended or withdrawn. (Arendt, too, noted that there was nothing particularly sacred about the “naked human”, and that acknowledgment of humanness is hardly sufficient to guarantee any sort of right.)

But TNC, having opened himself to this radical possibility, gives himself over to those who assert inequality  without also considering that they, too, were engaging in double-talk and legalistic bullshit, that is, that assertions of inequality or inferiority covered up their own discrepancies regarding humanness.

These discrepancies are, frankly, much easier to see in Nazi propaganda, what with their constant references to vermin and bacillus and disease and corruption (in the case of Jews) or weakness and stupidity and beastliness (in the case of Slavs): these people aren’t really people.

What you see, in other words, is that the Nazis had a kind of Platonic Form of humans, namely, the German* (with the asterisk indicating that to be truly German was to be not-Jewish, not leftist, not sick, not mentally ill, not handicapped, not Christian, etc.), and that those who were not-German—that is, those who deviated from the Form—were therefore less human. This dynamic could be seen as well in the belief that some Czechs and Ukrainians and Poles could, perhaps, be “Germanized”, that is, brought closer to  True Human Form.

In short, this is less about equality or inequality than about degrees of humanness: those who are closer to the Form are more human than those further away from it.

The question of the constitution of the form and the determination of relative distances to it is, of course, not a little caught up in questions of power, in particular, in the question of power over. This is where not a few of the discrepancies enter: are more human if you’re on top? if you win? If so, what does loss (as in, say, WWI) mean regarding your humanness? Et cetera. . . .

To bring the point closer to home: We Homo sapiens  use other species; norms and regulations over such use have both varied over time and space and from species to species, a variation dependent upon (among other things) utility and perceived nearness to us. In the US (as in many parts of the world), for example, the Great Apes—our nearest evolutionary relatives—are accorded rather different treatment than mice, rabbits, worms, and flies. And shall we discuss our agricultural and culinary uses of, say, chickens and cows and pigs. . . ?

This brings us back, then, to Fitzhugh, or at least, to the title of his work, Cannibals All! While cannibalism is not unknown among our species, it is an exceptional rather than normal practice—which itself indicates some widespread (if not quite global)  and basic acknowledgement of one another as being of the same kind.

That basic acknowledgement, however, is not quite enough: there is more to being human than, well, being human.





This war can’t end soon enough

26 05 2011

I’m not quite halfway through Evans’s The Third Reich at War, and by now all of the theoretical contradictions of Naziism come crashing into one another in practice:

1. Hitler sets out a goal of a racially pure Germany, but the need for labor means that hundreds of thousands of Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, and other racial inferiors are imported into Germany.

2. The belief that the conquest of the east would provide sufficient resources for Germans to wage war in both east and west—that war was necessary for Germany’s very survival—is turned upside down as the need and/or difficulty of holding these areas becomes a drain on the Old Reich’s (Germany proper) own resources.

3. The National Socialist’s disdain for, well, socialism, means that the rationalization and coordination of the war effort is fatally delayed. When Albert Speer does finally take over armaments production, he succeeds only insofar as he’s able to shutter small producers in favor of efficient larger producers; in doing so, he reneges on the 1930s promise to protect the petit bourgeoisie.

4. Hitler’s preference for his deputies to fight amongst themselves for position means he never imposes the discipline necessary to march them all in the same direction.

5. The Nazis are offended when the people in countries they overrun fight back; they consider such resistance to be so out of bounds as to provide justification for the initial invasion.

6. The Nazis claim to be acting according to the highest ideals in exterminating Jews, Gypsies, and Slavs, but go to great lengths to hide evidence of such extermination. (SS and Police Leader Odilo Globocnik did protest such subterfuge: he argued that instead of digging up the bodies of the dead to be burned, they should “bury bronze tablets stating that it was we who had the courage to carry out this gigantic task.”)

7. The most glaring contradiction, of course, is the contention that the German is the pinnacle of human being, a superbeing who is nonetheless threatened by the very existence of the weak and parasitic Jew.

Sure, you could spin this last point with reference to Jews as vermin or viruses or whatever, but it is nonetheless striking how much power Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, Goring, et. al., give to Jews, so much power that they in effect put the onus for the war on Jews themselves. The great and noble German will always be vulnerable as long as Jews exist.

(It is this last point, of course, which makes the Nazis nothing like Nietzsche’s Overman: the Overman is not only not threatened by the weak, he pays them no mind. And, of course, Nietzsche thought anti-Semitism was stupid.)

I should also mention one last, well, not contradiction, exactly, but avoidable tragedy: that in so many cases Communist and Zionist prisoners could not overcome their conflicts to coordinate resistance to camp guards and administrators. Even amidst the great gnashing of teeth of the Nazi death maw their antipathy was more important than death itself.

Anyway, by this point I’m reading less out of intrinsic interest than in a kind of savage anticipation of the end.

I cannot wait for the Nazis to end.