What’s wrong with mentioning Hitler or the Nazis? At best we use the word “fascist”, which is like swearing with the word “darn.” The fascists were 2nd stringers. The Nazis were the epitome. Why are we afraid to see how they operated?
Evil is still evil and humans are still humans. We do have some things to learn from how “we” (humans) have behaved in the past. Hitler appropriately represents to our minds a massive and almost-contemporary evil in a civilized, European, and “Christian” nation. Thus he is very likely a valuable point of reference as we watch the unfolding of certain evils in our own society.
The question is not whether “we” will do exactly the same things. It’s not possible to repeat exactly the same things. The question is not whether the power-lust, or even the hate, define themselves in the same ways. That also is not possible. And the question is not the size of the victim-lists, as in “Look how many he murdered. We have a LONG way to go before we can be compared to that.” That is not a moral argument. If only size matters in this universe then the human race is nada.
But humanity and morality are greater things. Hitler and his methods were evil even if he’d been assassinated in ’39 or ’40 before the “final solution” really got rolling, or in ’31 or ’32 before he came to power and began implementing other specific aspects of his program. Still we need if possible to discern the evil character? What are those evil patterns? Are they being repeated in general outline, or even in specifics, today?
It looks to me like we’re having an emotional reaction, a problem with what Hannah Arendt called the “banality” of the evil she saw in the Nazis who implemented Hitler’s policies. She use the word “banal” because the evil was NOT extra-terrestrial. It was not sub- or extra-human. It was us. It was humans living in our time on our planet, raised in similar cultures, with spouses and children, going through life one day at a time. We must not imagine that good ‘Christian’ Americans could never go to similar lows. Both Christian theology and the ideals of American constitutionalism should keep us more realistic than that.
The American founders 220 years ago knew the terrible potentials. They knew the oppressions their relatives in England were visiting on India and elsewhere. They knew the evils that could arise within themselves. So they made us a Constitution. It isn’t perfect. But if it is despised and rejected by those in power, then the doors really are open to anything, even here, even by us.
This American government has access to the greatest powers for war-making and oppression the world has ever seen. They could, if they chose to, surpass Hitler with very little effort. We already know our current leaders are willing to use those powers. So far that use has not been just and good.
Of course there is hope. Perhaps they are so monumentally incompetent that they can’t do even apocalypse well (but that also is a sobering thought). Perhaps – and I do think this will happen – perhaps there will soon enough be too many of us seeing too much and pushed beyond what we will endure. But we are not playing checkers here. It’s really not just business as usual.
As I said in yesterday’s article, “It is not pleasant to study the face of evil, but it seems good [to review] its common habits, intentions, and techniques. I’ve been browsing again in the speeches of Adolf Hitler. There are several patterns of manipulation and verbal violence that quickly stand out to me.” In that article and an earlier one I gave some small indications of how Hitler talked and proceeded, suggesting that some similar patterns are at work around us today. That certainly is the case.
Obviously history does not repeat itself with the same personalities, or the same paths of development or sequences of events. But values, patterns, personal moral character, techniques of manipulation – there’s a lot of repetition there, and we would be safer for recognizing some of those repetitions, no matter how emotionally distasteful it is.