Our Fascist Moment—and Theirs

All of this talk from the left of Trump being a fascist is so much twaddle—or projection, since the left tacitly approves of Mussolini’s version of it (“Everything inside the state; nothing outside the state”). But even if there was some truth to the idea, liberals—or at least liberal academics—would be the last to figure it out. How do I know this? Because I’ve checked the academic literature on Hitler from the 1930s. The best one word description of it is “clueless.”

Herewith an excerpt from a certain forthcoming book (that Amazon started shipping yesterday!—but only nine copies left in stock this morning, so hurry!) on how the academic political scientists evaluated Hitler and the rise of Nazism:

In general most of the flood of books and academic articles about Hitler’s Nazi regime and the rise of fascism in Europe in the late 1930s partook of the current enthusiasms for historicism, evolutionism, behaviorism and positivism that reigned supreme over the interment of political philosophy. Hitler’s rapid and ruthless centralization of power, entailing the abolition of Germany’s previously robust federal structure, was analyzed with the clinical detachment of a biologist looking at bacteria in a petri dish under a microscope. In some cases the phenomena of fascism and Communism were treated as reciprocal symptoms for the weaknesses of democracy. The diffuseness of fascism as an ideology, in stark contrast with Soviet Communism, reinforced the tendency to analyze it institutionally rather than ideologically or philosophically. Eric Voegelin wrote about debates over the changing political scene in Germany: “At that time there was the great debate among jurists abut whether the Weimar constitution, which indeed was never abolished but only changed, was in fact still the constitution of the Hitler Reich or whether a revolution had occurred. Wonderful discussion among jurists. In the meantime, people were killed.”

Examples abound. One book at the time said that “the dictatorship of fascism is charismatic, nationalistic, and permanent.” In “The Nazis Reform the Reich,” Albert Lepawsky of the University of Chicago wrote in 1936:

This process of the internal balance of power may be fruitfully examined in Nazi Germany today. What has the National Socialist government set out to do, what has it accomplished, and which way is it tending in this matter of the shifts in power in national, state, regional, and local government and administration? . . .

The Nazis profess to be welding a true German Folk out of the confusion of social and economic groupings, but their job seems to be also one of fashioning an integrated state structure. Indeed, the class consciousness which the Nazis abhor may remain, and the Nazis themselves may pass it on. Nevertheless, they certainly will have made some contribution to the historic process of reforming the German Reich.

Roger Wells of Bryn Mawr College, writing in 1935 about Hitler’s rollup of the previously robust local governments in Germany, concluded: “There is some justification, therefore, for the National Socialist contention that the Deutsche Gemeindeordnung does not destroy local self-government, but, on the contrary, aims to build it anew upon more secure foundations so that it may once again recover and bloom as in the nineteenth century.”

Or take Arnold J. Zurcher of New York University, writing about Hitler’s popular referenda in 1935:

Although the ultimate form of the National Socialist political system in Germany is not yet clear, certain institutions are emerging which bid fair to make more than a passing claim to perdurance in that system. . .  Even after discounting intangible official pressure, of which there undoubtedly was a great deal, and downright coercion and intimidation at the polls, of which there was probably very little, the electoral record remains an amazing one, both as respects participation in the balloting and the endorsement given the cabinet’s policy.

A 1936 book, Fascism and National Socialism by Michael Florinsky, was an open apologia for Mussolini’s regime, comparing it favorably to FDR’s New Deal. A number of books and articles criticized fascism for failing to represent a true alternative to industrial capitalism, which was assumed to be on its last legs, even in the U.S. Voegelin recalled in his memoirs the conversation he had while applying for a visa to leave Austria for America following the Anschluss: “In waiting for the visa, I had dealings with the American vice-consul in Zurich, a very nice Harvard boy who had grave suspicions about me. He explained that, since I was neither a Communist not a Catholic nor a Jew, I therefore had no reason not to be in favor of National Socialism and to be a National Socialist myself.” It was ironically not an entirely risible suggestion. Not normally given to demonstrative poses, Voegelin expressed disgust with the disposition of the West: “In the wake of the Austrian occupation by Hitler, I even for a moment contemplated joining the National Socialists, because those rotten swine who called themselves democrats—meaning the Western democracies—certainly deserved to be conquered and destroyed if they were capable of such criminal idiocy.” Voegelin escaped from Austria barely a step ahead of the Gestapo, which had him on a list of academics whose passports they planned to confiscate.

When academics today say they discern “fascism” in Trump, all they’re really just expressing their partisan political bent, given the terrible track record of academia in perceiving political reality when it really mattered.

To find out more—well, you know what to to.

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