The Revival of Nazism in Europe — It’s Not Just Racism

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Thu, Sep 4 - 9:00 am EST | 3 years ago by
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    The Good Life - The Revival of Nazism

    An old specter is again haunting Europe – neo-fascist and neo-Nazi movements and political parties are returning to prominence.

    This feature in Britain’s The Guardian notes an increase in attacks on Jews in France, Germany, and the Netherlands. Further east and south, Nazi-like parties are surging in the polls in countries like Hungary and Greece, as this New York Times piece reports, accompanied by their supporters’ many verbal assaults and physical beatings on immigrants from Asia and Africa.

    It is all disgusting and disheartening. But there are serious forces at work that those of us who advocate freedom, individualism, and tolerance must grasp in order to be able to respond accurately and decisively.

    Much of the commentary focuses on the racism. In Greece, for example, supporters of the Golden Dawn party, which now has elected members sitting in parliament, have expressed their desire to “rid the land of filth.”

    More precisely, though, the commentary should focus on the ethnocentrism. The hostility sometimes targets individuals for their skin color, but more often it is focused on religion, nationality, and financial status, all of which cut across many racial categories. Seeing individuals as interchangeable members of racial groups is part of the problem, but treating individuals primarily as members of ethnic groups is another major part. Biological and cultural collectivism are both in play.

    But much of the commentary, unfortunately, misses another huge part of the phenomenon. One hint of this is that the neo-fascist parties are typically labeled as “far right” or “hard right” parties, as the writers for The Guardian and The New York Times do. And this is where the widely-discredited left-right way of presenting the political spectrum and a lack of research get many commentators into trouble.

    Take a look at this Golden Dawn manifesto, for example, as stated by one of its articulate advocates. Right there, in plain English and Greek, Point 8 states:

    “The state should have control over private property so that it is not dangerous for the survival of the People or can manipulate them. The economy should be planned so that it serves the national policy and ensures the maximum self-sufficiency without dependence on international markets and control of any multinational companies.”

    Packed into that are four key sub-points:

    1. State control of private property.
    2. A government-planned economy.
    3. Isolation from international markets for capital, goods and talent.
    4. Foreign companies not allowed or subject to extra controls.

    All of those are profoundly anti-capitalist and part of the long tradition of socialism – the other socialism, that is: National Socialism. As the manifesto’s authors put it in Point One, Golden Dawners are “opposed both to communist internationalism and universalism-liberalism.”

    “National Socialism” of course takes us back to Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini and forces us to reflect on the lessons of history. That history is alive in Greece, as Golden Dawn supporters gave Hitler salutes and sang the Horst Wessel song outside the parliament in Athens, and as the #HitlerWasRight hashtag now enjoys lively Twitter usage. (And, parenthetically, as Hitler’s Mein Kampf was a best-seller in Turkey in 2005.)

    A particular notion of human identity and a particular notion of economics are both important to national socialism. And according to its supporters, there are clear and important connections between the two. We might disagree, but to understand them we cannot ignore the persistence of that packaging and its continued popularity.

    Go back to 1920 when the German Worker’s Party, as it was then called, and its leader Adolf Hitler announced their new program and name-change to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. The NSDAP program listed 25 points: 14 of the 25 points itemize economically socialist demands. These include the nationalization of industries, the state-confiscation of lands, government-run welfare, retirement, education and healthcare, the abolishing of charging interest and stock market speculation, and so on.

    In speeches and pamphlets, Hitler and Goebbels regularly attacked free-market capitalism and endorsed socialism.

    “We are socialists, we are enemies of today’s capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are all determined to destroy this system under all conditions.” That’s Adolf Hitler in a 1927 speech.

    “The worker in a capitalist state — and that is his deepest misfortune — is no longer a living human being, a creator, a maker. He has become a machine. A number, a cog in the machine without sense or understanding. He is alienated from what he produces.” That’s Joseph Goebbels in a 1932 pamphlet, with rhetoric inspired directly from one of his intellectual heroes, Karl Marx.

    So, yes, the Nazis were racist and ethnocentrist, but they were also socialist. (Commercial advertisement: I discuss the socialism of national socialism in detail in my Nietzsche and the Nazis documentary and book.)

    The same holds for the fascist variant. Benito Mussolini was an orthodox socialist of the Marxist variety from his teen years until his 30s. He joined the Italian Socialist party, joined with unions to organize the workers, and wrote pamphlets urging violent revolution.

    World War I and a reading of Friedrich Nietzsche triggered Mussolini’s break with Marxism. He was struck by the intense nationalistic fervor the war wrought: Humans are moved most, Mussolini judged, not by workers-of-the-world class fellowship but by their ethnic identity as Italians, Germans, and Russians. So the socialist cause had to be recast in nationalistic terms to be successful in Italy.

    What Mussolini took from his reading of Nietzsche was that socialism could not wait for the masses to rise up – it required an iron-willed leader to impose it top-down.

    So Mussolini’s fascism was to be socialism for Italians, just as Hitler’s Nazism was to be socialism for Germans. Here’s Mussolini in 1932: “As regards the Liberal doctrines, the attitude of Fascism is one of absolute opposition both in the political and in the economical field” (my emphasis added).

    Golden Dawn and the others are the ideological grandchildren of Hitler and Mussolini. There is an organic connection between the fascism/nazism of the early twentieth century and the fascism/nazism of the early twenty-first. Its advocates have always taken both the nationalism and the socialism seriously.

    That is to say, they take collectivism seriously. Racism and ethnocentrism are collectivism applied to human identity: You are not primarily an individual, they say, but a member of a group. And socialism is collectivism applied to human action: You are not an economic free agent, it says, but an asset belonging to society. An effective response to the sorry phenomenon of neo-fascism in Europe must target both elements.

    The antidote to collectivism is individualism: Individuals are primarily individuals, and they should judge themselves and others primarily in terms of their individual beliefs, character, and actions. And individuals are free agents who should be free to chart their own courses economically and in life generally.

    Don’t miss last week’s column: Is Life Unfair? My Challenge to the Best Tennis Player in the World

    * * *

    Stephen Hicks is the author of Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault and of Nietzsche and the Nazis. He blogs at StephenHicks.org. For future columns on The Good Life, feel welcome to send your philosophical questions and moral dilemmas to him at ProfessorHicks@EveryJoe.com.

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      • darkcirclequeen

        politics…. not my thing

        • Apollo N. Morales

          You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you.

        • Edward Fox

          Excellent point Apollo. I’m sure that among the millions of victims of 20th century totalitarianism were many for whom politics wasn’t their bag.

      • Edward Fox

        Great analysis. Makes me think of the words of German poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht: “Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again.”

        Brecht, a Marxist, was thinking of Adolf Hitler. Yet Hitler’s carnage, if perhaps more concentrated and virulent, was surpassed in sheer scale by those waving the banner of Marx, though the latter was more hidden from Western eyes by “iron [and bamboo] curtains.”

        While leftist and rightist totalitarians fancied themselves polar opposites – though not above ad hoc alliances such as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact – they were two offshoots of the same philosophic root and shared the same mystical-collectivist-totalitarian premises. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini began as a socialist and shaped his theory of Fascism deeply influenced by the syndicalism of Marxist’ Georges Sorel in addition to Friedrich Nietzsche and others. Later Pol Pot, heavily influenced by the writings of Marx and Lenin, the French Communist party (which he joined as a student in Paris) and Maoism would blend Marxian and rightist völkisch (volk or folk) elements into a genocidal program to realize a classless, ethnically pure Khmer society. As Dr. Hicks notes, that root has not been extirpated and continues to sprout new shoots.

        The stark fact remains that the enslavement of a quarter of mankind and the direct murder of well over a hundred million people was perpetrated under the banner of socialism.

        Socialists and Marxists will plead that this is unfair, that their ideals were noble but perverted in implementation. But I’m not alone in suggesting that if every attempt to practice a noble ideal consistently produces tyranny, economic chaos and genocidal carnage the time has come to stop blaming human nature and rather call into question the nature of the ideal – and ask what makes it noble. One doesn’t typically hear the charge that Washington, Jefferson and Madison perverted Locke’s ideals.

        In my opinion a rational political spectrum would place individualism-liberalism at one end and collectivism-totalitarianism at the other.

      • Edward Fox

        Another culprit is official multiculturalism. While I love the gifts
        and challenges of cultural diversity multiculturalism as government
        policy has no place in a free society: It is no more the function of the
        state to promote cultures than to oppress them.

        Such a policy renders a
        disservice to the individuals of that culture and to society at large.
        Cultures are survival mechanisms, hence must adapt. Progressive and
        reactionary elements within immigrant cultural subgroups must be left
        free to grapple with the issues without the state taking sides, unless
        the law is violated. It’s part of the natural, albeit at times painful
        process of immigration and assimilation into a free society. In this
        matter the state’s role must be limited to securing the rights of its
        citizens including immigrants and minorities to freedom of expression.
        Multiculturalism is cultural and moral relativism that often enables the
        most reactionary elements of cultural subgroups. In Ontario, Canada, a
        proposal to subject Muslims to Shariah Law for resolving domestic
        disputes was endorsed by the government of Dalton McGuinty; it was only
        derailed by fierce advocacy by Muslim women themselves, eventually
        supported by non-Muslim feminists (who, according to one, had initially
        remained in the sidelines for fear of being perceived as anti-Muslim).
        Many immigrants fled to the West to escape their cultures;
        hence it must be up to them, not the state, to decide what they wish to
        keep and let go. They will sift out the best of the old culture to
        enrich the new, and discard the worst. Individuals, not cultures, are sacrosanct.

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