Today is April 20. On this day in 1889 Alois Hitler and his wife had a baby boy. They named him Adolf.
Yes, it is downright weird to imagine a pudgy little bundle of smiles and drool, playing with mommy’s fingers as she feeds him and tries to get him to eat his vegetables (little Adolf of course grew up to become among history’s more prominent vegetarians).
Allow me to state that I don’t think anyone will ever know, in the sense of understanding at any meaningful level, how Hitler became Hitler (or how another Adolf — Eichmann — became Adolf Eichmann). I sure as hell don’t think that anyone will ever understand how an entire people could so take leave of its senses as joyfully (and they did it joyfully) to follow the Nazis down the path they did. I do not think the reasoning human mind is capable of understanding evil of that depth. I’m not even sure the people who stood by the roadside, throwing up the Nazi salute and screaming themselves hoarse as the big open-top Mercedes crawled past with the brown-haired little man with the odd haircut and funny moustache standing in the back, returning their salutes, could explain it, even if only to themselves, afterward.
Godwin’s Law has become something of an insider’s reference in the internet. Very briefly summarized, it holds that as the length of discussion of any topic increases, the probability approaches 1.0 that someone will make a comparison to Hitler and/or the Nazis. As a rule of thumb, this is the point at which further discussion becomes pointless, and in fact marginal intellectual return on investment turns negative. On the other hand, the historical fact of the Nazi party’s trajectory, and the sinister enigma at its center, in fact do spread a smorgasbord for meaningful moral comparison and reflection. I mean, generally speaking, if you find yourself proposing a moral or political position which was propounded by the Nazis, you’re very likely doing something wrong.
There are other helpful Just Don’t Go There reference points out there in history. The other day I got to listen to someone inveighing against abolishing the federal estate tax. I pointed out to my interlocutor all the flaws, financial, legal, practical, and moral about keeping this idiotic tax in place. And I finally observed that if your support for keeping an extortionate tax on gratuitous transfers is just to suppress some group of society (in this case, the successful, whether they built their success on their own or not), then you’re proposing to use the tax system to punish individuals and that’s no different from how Medieval Europe treated its Jewish population. “As a general rule, if you find yourself supporting something that closely aligns with how the medieval Europeans treated the Jews, you’re doing something wrong.”
But the spectacle of perhaps the most over-educated, hyper-cultural, super-literate society on the planet (I once saw a comparison of literacy rates among the major combatants in World War I; the Germans were head and shoulders above everyone else) willingly embracing that system just provides such grotesqueries as to be unsurpassed as a source of admonitory comparison. I mean, how likely are we here in the U.S. to be able to draw any useful inferences from Mao’s Great Leap Forward at any but the most abstract level? American society has never looked like mid-20th Century China. Ever. Not even when Jamestown was starving to death in the early years. The vicious, degraded, semi-savage settlements that Charles Woodmason visited, and about which he so scathingly wrote, didn’t resemble that China. Even the Russia that became the Soviet Union is sufficiently far removed from what Western Civilization has ever been that it’s hard to understand the parallels even when we observe them.
But the Germans under Hitler? The reason why those comparisons sting is that like it or not the Germans are us. Something like 40% of the U.S. population claims some sort of German descent. Our university system is patterned on the Prussian model. The modern welfare state traces its origins to 1881 when Otto von Bismarck established the first comprehensive social security system. The outdoors Sunday as a day of healthful recreation, including especially physical recreation, in the open air is a creature of German immigrants; until then the Scotch-Irish and English had decreed that Proper Folk glumly sat around all day, reading from the Bible or being hectored in church. We herd our tiny tots into kindergarten. We instinctively reverence our professoriate, even when its constituents have long since forfeited any reasonable claim to that deference. And so forth.
So here I’m going to violate Godwin’s Law.
Modern left-extremist America has joyfully embraced the notion of society not atomized into individuals who may freely combine to form (and yeah, I know this analogy is clumsy, but it’s valid) compounds whose properties are not only different from their individuals elements but wonderfully, usefully so, but rather compulsorily grouped into tribes of mutually repellent elements. The left-extremists (and here I would remind Gentle Reader that all leftists are inherently extremist) not only postulate that everyone is the member of a tribe, but they vehemently deny that the tribes can ever belong together, or mix in mutually beneficial ways. For that matter, “mutually beneficial” is a concept they do not recognize. In their cosmology, for any tribe to advance necessarily implies the diminution of the other tribes. The notion that your prosperity is no cause of my misfortune thus violates a fundamental premise. The recent silliness at a convention of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs is — while thoroughly, thoroughly silly — still perfectly emblematic. Likewise the White Privilege Conference (I thought it was a joke when I first came across reference to it, but it’s real . . . all too real).
Compare and contrast Point No. 4 of the Nazi party program, adopted on February 24, 1920:
“4. Staatsbürger kann nur sein, wer Volksgenosse ist. Volksgenosse kann nur sein, wer deutschen Blutes ist, ohne Rücksichtnahme auf Konfession. Kein Jude kann daher Volksgenosse sein.”
Here’s an English translation of the whole platform. Point No. 4 is rendered: “4. Only those who are our fellow countrymen can become citizens. Only those who have German blood, regardless of creed, can be our countrymen. Hence no Jew can be a countryman.”
The Nazis’ official position and the modern left-extremist position coincide beautifully. The world is divided into groups who do not overlap, whose interests cannot overlap, who can never be each other’s fellows. Each requires for its actualization the suppression of the other(s).
In fact, examine very closely all of the specific demands of that 25-point program. How many of them would or would not be applauded at an Elizabeth Warren rally? At an Occupy gathering? At a conclave of Dear Leader’s closest advisers in the Oval Office?
I’m afraid I just busted Godwin’s Law all over the floor. My apologies. But the fact remains: If you agree with the Nazis, you’re very likely doing something wrong.