Monday, June 28, 2010

Of Hitler & Hubris

Over the years I've heard an argument stated over and over again that's meant to silence debate. The argument is that Nazis were conservatives - that they are examples of the far right. I've always dismissed this argument for the grenade lobbing it is, but the last few months I've been reading a history book called "For the Survival of Democracy" by Alonzo Hamby. Written in 2004, the book looks at the leaders who were swept aside and those that replaced them in the aftermath of the worldwide economic collapse of the early 1930s. Hamby discusses the leadership in Germany, Great Britain and the United States and the social context that each leadership group was working in.

As he writes of the Nazi party's rise, Hamby has this to say about their first real party platform:
The contest would be primarily a test of Nazi staying power. The party presented for the first time a comprehensive economic recovery program. It called for extensive state control of the economy, national self-sufficiency (autarky), the abandonment of the gold standard, new means of credit based upon the productive power of the nation, the nationalization of the banking system, and the development of a home market in which German agriculture and industry, protected from foreign competition, would produce goods to be consumed by workers paid fair wages. it proposed returning hundreds of thousands of urban workers to small farms on reclaimed marshland. The state would control prices and manage industrial expansion, favoring it in areas that needed enlargement, prohibiting it in those that already were overbuilt. A special income tax would finance a fund for creating employment. Farmers would receive discounted credit. A generous social insurance and old-age pension system would be maintained. All young men - no exceptions for "the educated or the propertied: - would be enrolled in compulsory labor battalions at once serving the state and dignifying manual labor.
On what planet does that platform resemble conservatism?

One example I've often heard is that in the run up to gaining power the Nazis often violently clashed with Communists. But in learning more about the context of those clashes, it's become clear that they were based more on a struggle for power than they were over opposing ideologies. The Nazis staged most of those riots for the express purpose of weakening the fledgling German democracy. It was about power, and power alone. Hitler would have sent out his brownshirts after any rival political party, regardless of ideology.

So while I've always dismissed the Nazi charge as nonsense, it's been interesting to study history and learn that not only is the charge nonsense, it's also factually inaccurate.