Nazism’s war on the reality-based community

More from Milton Mayer’s They Thought They Were Free: the Germans 1933-45:

Because the mass movement of Nazism was nonintellectual in the beginning, when it was only practice, it had to be anti-intellectual before it could be theoretical… Expertness in thinking, exemplified by the professor, by the high-school teacher, and even by the grammar-school teacher in the village, had to deny the Nazi views of history, economics, literature, art philosophy, politics, biology, and education itself.

Thus Nazism, because it proceeded from practice to theory, had to deny expertness in thinking and then (this second process was never completed), in order to full that vacuum, had to establish expert thinking of its own–that is, to find men of inferior or irresponsible caliber whose views conformed dishonestly or, worse yet, honestly, to the Party line… The nonpolitical schoolmaster was, by the very virtue of being nonpolitical, a dangerous man from the first. He himself would not rebel, nor would he, if he could help it, teach rebellion; but he could not help being dangerous–not if he went on teaching what was true. In order to be a theory and not just a practice, National Socialism required the destruction of academic independence.

In the years of its rise the movement little by little brought the community’s attitude toward the teacher around from respect and any to resentment, from trust and fear to suspicion. The development seems to have been inherent; it needed no planning and had none. As the Nazi emphasis on nonintellectual virtues (patriotism, loyalty, duty, purity, labor, simplicity, “blood,” “folk-ishness”) seeped through Germany, elevating the self-esteem of the “little man,” the academic profession was pushed from the center to the very periphery of society. Germany was preparing to cut its own head off. By 1933 at least five of my ten friends (and I think six or seven) looked upon “intellectuals” as unreliable and, among these unreliables, upon academics as the most insidiously situated.

Throw the bums out, 1930’s edition

More from Milton Mayer’s They Thought They Were Free: the Germans 1933-45, which I can’t put down:

National Socialism was a revulsion by my friends against parliamentary politics, parliamentary debate, parliamentary government–against all the higgling and haggling of the parties and the splinter parties, their coalitions, their confusions, and their conniving. It was the final fruit of the common man’s repudiation of “the rascals.” Its motif was, “Throw them all out.” My friends, in the 1920’s, were like spectators at a wrestling match who suspect that beneath all the grunts and groans, the struggle and the sweat, the match is “fixed,” that the performers are only pretending to put up a fight. The scandals that rocked the country, where one party or cabal “exposed” another, dismayed and then disgusted my friends…

While the ship of the German State was being shivered, the officers, who alone had life preservers, disputed their prerogatives on the bridge…

My friends wanted Germany purified. They wanted it purified of the politicians, of all the politicians. They wanted a representative leader in place of unrepresentative representatives. And Hitler, the pure man, the anti politician, was the man, untainted by “politics,” which was only a cloak for corruption… Against the “the whole pack,” “the whole kaboodle,” “the whole business,” against all parliamentary politicians and all the parliamentary parties, my friends evoked Hitlerism, and Hitlerism overthrew them all.

“There was no open trial for enemies of the State. It was said it wasn’t necessary; they had forfeited their right to it.”

More from Milton Mayer’s They Thought They Were Free: the Germans 1933-45:

“Very early,” he went on, “still in spring, one of our SA leaders protested against the dismissal of the Oberburgermeister, a Social Democrat, a good, really nonpolitical man. The SA leader was arrested and taken away. And this, mind you, was when the SA still had great power in the regime. He never came back. His family is still here. We heard he was convicted, but we never heard fro what. There was no open trial for enemies of the State. It was said it wasn’t necessary; they had forfeited their right to it.” [emphasis added]

See Romney’s explanation of why he would have signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which enables the US military to abduct US citizens on US soil and imprison them indefinitely without trial; and if they get a trial, it will be in a closed military tribunal, and not in open court.

The logic here, as it is in every totalitarian regime, is that the moment you become an “enemy of the state” you lose your right to demand that the state actually prove that you’re its enemy in open court. We’re just to take the State’s word for it—just trust your government, is the answer. Or, actually, let’s roll the tape and quote Romney from the video above:

Romney: “I recognize that when you’re in a setting where there are enemy combatants, and some of them on our own soil, that could possibly be abused. There are a lot of things that I think this president does wrong—lots of them—but I don’t think he’s gonna abuse this power, and I know that if I were president I would not abuse this power. And I can also tell you that in my view, you have to chose people who you believe have sufficient character not to abuse the power of the presidency and to make sure that we do not violate our constitutional principles.”

How ordinary people come to support a Monster-in-Chief

Shortly after WWII, journalist Milton Mayer went to Germany and lived in Kronenberg for a year, in order to understand the lives and mindsets of ordinary Germans under Nazism. He wanted to know how it was that ordinary people could come to participate in such atrocities, so he befriended ten Germans who had the following occupations as Nazis under Hitler: a tailor, an unemployed tailor’s apprentice, a cabinetmaker, an unemployed salesman, a high school student, a baker, a bill-collector, an unemployed bank clerk, a teacher, and a policeman.

The resulting book, They Thought They Were Free: the Germans 1933-45, is a remarkable chronicle of an advanced civilization’s slide into tyranny. The following excerpt, from Chapter 3, is probably the best ~500 words I’ve ever read on this frighteningly relevant topic:

None of these ordinary Germans… thought then or thinks now that the rights of man, in his own case, were violated or even more than mildly inhibited for reasons of what they then accepted (and still accept) as the national emergency proclaimed four weeks after Hitler took office as Chancellor…

None of my friends, even today, ascribes moral evil to Hitler although most of them think (after the fact) that he made fatal strategic mistakes that they themselves might have made at the time. His worst mistake was his selection of advisors—a backhanded tribute to the Leader’s virtues of trustfulness and loyalty, to his very innocence of the knowledge of evil, fully familiar to those who have heard partisans of F.D.R. or Ike explain how things went wrong.

Having fixed our faith in a father figure—or in a father, or in a mother or a wife—we must keep it fixed until inexcusable fault (and what fault of a father, a mother, a wife is inexcusable?) crushes it at once and completely. This figure represents our own best selves; it is what we ourselves want to be and, through identification, are. To abandon it for anything less than crushing evidence of inexcusable fault is self-incrimination, and of one’s best, unrealized self. Thus Hitler was betrayed by his subordinates, and the [ordinary, rank-and-file] Nazis with him. They may hate Bormann and Goebbels—Bormann because he rose to power at the end, and they are ashamed of the end; Goebbels because he was a runt with a “Jewish mind,” that is, a facile and cunning mind unlike theirs. They may hate Himmler, the Bluthund, above all, because he killed in cold blood, and they wouldn’t do that. But they may not hate Hitler or themselves.

“You see,” said Tailor Schwenke, the littlest of my ten little men, “there was always a secret war against Hitler in the regime. They fought him with unfair means. Himmler I detested. Goebbels, too. If Hitler had been told the truth, things would have been different.” For “Hitler” read “I.”

“The killing of the Jews?” said the “democratic” bill-collector, Simon. “Yes, that was wrong, unless they committed treason in wartime. And of course they did. If I had been a Jew, I would have myself. Still, it was wrong, but some say it happened and some say it didn’t. You can show me pictures of skulls or shoes, but that doesn’t prove it. But I’ll tell you this—it was Himmler. Hitler had nothing to do with it.”

“Do you think he knew about it?”

“I don’t know. We’ll never know now.”

Hitler died to save my friend’s best self.