You Got to Be Kidding Me!

Is It 1932 All Over Again?

Posted in Politics by Stacy McMahon on October 12, 2008

Ann Althouse posts the minor news that Austrian neo-fascist leader Jeorg Haider has died. The hook is that Haider’s death calls to mind the old “what if you could go back in time and kill Hitler?” The first commenter suggests (rightly, in my mind) that it’s more like killing the ugly but irrelevant David Duke. From there the discussion moves through claiming that the current financial crisis is a lot like the Great Depression and we shouldn’t discount the possibility of fascist elements taking advantage. Most other commenters do discount that possibility, but Ann says that it’s important to remember history since “History should be a stronger subject, but humans universally refuse to learn it deeply enough to understand the past and the present.” Thing is, they’re all talking about fascism as a rightwing movement, even back in the 30s.

At least we can be sure they all need history lessons. Fascism grew out of the left. In Hitler’s Germany, the rightwingers were the royalists. Fascists and communists were seen as (because they were) two sides of the same coin. Both were collectivist, totalitarian movements that cast themselves as alternatives to capitalist democracy, with its glorification of the individual. The reason that’s important to understanding today’s politics is that if we (Americans specifically) are on guard only against extremism of the right, we’re missing the more realistic threat. Identity politics and a national party based on a coalition of groups, trendy anti-capitalists, career bureaucrats and ideologically neutral career elected officials with a personal stake in expanding government – these are the people who will turn dot com America into Orwell’s Oceania. That kind of coup can only come from a populist charismatic enough to inspire millions to see him as more than merely human, yet cagey and socially acceptable enough (like Hitler) to convince the power brokers that they can do business with him.

Just for the record, I don’t see 1932 in today’s events. There was a lot more than financial pain to the psychology that elevated fascism in Europe. But whomever (if anyone) you see in what I wrote above, you’ll also begin to see the problem. This person might be a Hitler-in-waiting, or they might be “just” a Chavez, or they might be an FDR – wrongheaded, but ultimately benign (at least with respect to life and limb) Someone did kill Salvador Allende, thinking they were saving Chile from going Cuba’s route, or North Korea’s. Were they right? Who’s got a crystal ball?

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