Posted tagged ‘Hitler’

I’ll Take Godwin for $1,000: Wisconsin Rule of Law Edition*

March 29, 2011

Via TPM, we find that Wisconsin Judge Maryann Sumi (echoing a commenter here, what a great name for a judge) has again enjoined the state of Wisconsin from implementing the union busting law passed in dubious battle last month.

Based on the following, I’m guessing she’s seriously pissed (a legal term of art, you know):

Apparently that language was either misunderstood or ignored, but what I said was the further implementation of Act 10 was enjoined. That is what I now want to make crystal clear…

adding that

Now that I’ve made my earlier order as clear as it possibly can be, I must state that those who act in open and willful defiance of the court order place not only themselves at peril of sanctions, they also jeopardize the financial and the governmental stability of the state of Wisconsin.

Most sentient puddles would conclude that perhaps they should obey the court’s order until the substantive issues had been fully litigated.  Governor Walker and his henchmen do not share that conviction:

But minutes later, outside the court room, Assistant Attorney General Steven Means said the legislation “absolutely” is still in effect.

Please note that the speaker quoted there is an Asst. Attorney General. As in a lawyer.  As in an officer of the court.

So, I guess this is the time to go all Godwin.  It is important to remember that authoritarians almost always use the simulacrum of law to provide a tattered aura of legitimacy for their lawless exercise of power.  Hitler did certainly; his critical powers derived from  grants by the Reichstag.

Please note:  I am not saying Wisconsin is going the way of Berlin, c. 1933.  I am saying that the disdain for the ordinary structure of governance and law is how people behave when democracy is an accessory, and not essential to the entire idea of legitimate authority.  Courts are convenient to such folks when complaisant, and superfluous if not.

To be sure, Walker is a pissant way out of his depth, but as many others have noted, he’s important precisely because he is so overt and obvious in his anti-democratic hatred of that messy business of governing.  He lets us see plainly what his slicker and more sophisticated co-conspirators plan to do:  achieve ends that could not command popular support on their own by any means necessary.

For that, I suppose we should be grateful to the claque of clumsy thugs now in power in Wisconsin.  They are showing us what lurks below the hood of the Republican machine. And so I’ll say to all those right bloggers who maunder on about Obamacare or the Libyan attacks or birth certificates or whatever, if you wish to invoke the words “rule of law” you better have something to say here.

Gotta give them time, I guess, but my bet is on crickets.

Image:  Lucas Cranach Allegory of Justice, 1537

*By the way.  I do know I’ve been conspicuous (as in, unnoticed) by my absence lately.  There have been two reasons.  The first is a press of work so insane that I have ended each day by curling up with a scotch bottle for the five spare minutes alotted me between unconsciousness and panic.

The second is that I occasionally have these funks brought on by the sheer catastrophe of the world.  Sometimes, the accumulation of stupidity, misery, disaster and sheer capricious accident/horror leaves me gobsmacked for something to say.

It’s been that way lately, and I cannot say how much I admire, for example, the front pagers and commentariat here who sustain articulate smarts and anger despite the evident awfulness of existence.  But I’m better now (though still wrecked by an insatiable inbox), so expect more Hitler references and baroque painting on a semi-regular basis.

You have been warned.

I Love the Smell of Godwin in the Morning: Rich Iott/Gay Mexican Muslim edition

October 18, 2010

I’m as jaded on the snark-subtitled Hitler-in-the-Bunker vids as the next blogger, but this version did have a bit of a kick to it.  So in the spirit of Monday, enjoy:

Andrew Bacevich and Me On Tea Parties: Fringe Ephemera, or Brown Shirts Looking for their Couturier

September 15, 2010

Yesterday I attended a fascinating, depressing talk by Andrew Bacevich (live blogged!) in which he discussed the way the Washington consensus on national security is (a) disastrous and (b) perpetuates itself by trading on the myth of Washingtonian competence and the willingness of those beyond the beltway to defer to the presumed superior expertise and access to hidden information of the national security elite.

He made a powerful case, fleshed out in his new book, Washington Rules, positing that American national security thinking (such as it is) rests on two poles. First there is a “credo”:  that “the US and the US alone should lead, save, liberate, transform the world.” (Bacevich added yesterday that his choice of verbs was deliberate — they are all those used by American policymakers.) And then there is his trinity  — the idea that the US should maintain a global military presence, configured for power projection, and used for that purpose as needed.  (And yes, Bacevich at one point did refer to his atavistic commitment to the Catholic Church of his raising, as if you couldn’t tell…;)

Go check out the live blog if you want more, or better, buy his book.  My focus here is on an answer he gave to a question late in the session, on what he made of the meaning of the rise of Tea Party.  Here, as close to a transcript as I could make it, is his answer:

My bet is that the Tea Party is an epiphenomenon. Despite all the hooptedoo (sic) and the expectations that the Tea Party will have an impact on the elections this November — don’t think that they will be around much longer .  The substance is so thin, and is so based on anger that it isn’t enough to sustain a lasting organization.

I think that’s right…

…but not all that long ago I spent a number of years immersed in the history of 1920s Germany as I was writing Einstein in Berlin.  The book was, as advertised, an account of Einstein’s years in Germany’s capital — 1914-1932, but the question I was really trying to understand was how the 20th century went to hell, using Einstein as my witness at the epicenter of the disaster.

So when Bacevich argued that mere rage and the vague and incoherent sensation that the aggrieved Tea Partiers have somehow been done dirt is not enough to propel a political movement to lasting impact, it immediately reminded me of this:

Asked in December of 1930 what to make of the new force in German politics, he [Einstein] answered that  “I do not enjoy Herr Hitler’s acquaintance.  He is living on the empty stomach of Germany.  As soon as economic conditions improve, he will no longer be important.” Initially, he felt that no action at all would be needed to bring Hitler low.  He reaffirmed for a Jewish organization that the “momentarily desperate economic situation” and the chronic “childish disease of the Republic” were to blame for the Nazi success. “Solidarity of the Jews, I believe, is always called for,” he wrote, “but any special reaction to the election results would be quite inappropriate.”

We know how that turned out — but rather than just make the facile juxtaposition, I’d add that Einstein was almost right, or should have been right.

There was nothing in 1930 to suggest that Hitler was more than just one more raving rightist whom the establishment would dismiss as soon as conditions improved even slightly.  And in fact, through 1930 up to the end of 1932 there remained (IMHO) nothing inevitable about Hitler’s rise to power.  He benefitted from all kinds of chance circumstances, all the while riding (skillfully) the larger and overt waves of economic dislocation and political crisis.  He was certainly helped by the incompetence of his opponents.

But, certainly, even if the attempt to draw exact parallels across historical space and time never work, the lesson of end-stage Weimar Germany is that it is surprisingly easy in moments of crisis for seemingly fringe movements to rise — and that in their ascent, to seize power that could never be theirs in any ordinary time.  And once seized, authority feeds itself — we don’t need to Godwinize the argument to see that; the rapid accumulation of state power by the minority Bush II administration offers plenty of object demonstrations of what happens once folks, however thin or nonexistent their mandate, get their hands on the mechanical levers of power.

All of which is to say I believe we should not wait for the ordinary flow of events to sweep the Tea Party from the stage.  Active opposition is what’s needed, rather than the passive certainty that they’re crazy, wrong, and so openly whacked out that no one could possibly actually hand them the keys to the car.

Above all, what the example of the rise of the Nazis tells us is that rage is enormously powerful, and real hardship combined with a sense of class or race or identity-based grievance is yet more potent.  Tea Partiers, on all the evidence do believe that something has been stolen from them, and plenty of them, including one running for the United States Senate in the state of Nevada (with a reasonable shot at getting in) have suggested that violence to retrieve their God-given right to rule is acceptable, perhaps required.

Bacevich did speak to that as well.  Despite his sense (wrong, in my view) of the minor, temporary danger posed by the rise of the nativist, crazed right, he still  painted a picture of establishment GOPers as analogues (my interpretation) to the elite bosses of the German right:

You may have heard Trent Lott the other day — “We need to co-opt these people.”  And I think that reflects the cynicism of the Republican party –but the GOP is not going to become the Tea Party.

Recall the former Chancellor of Germany, Franz von Papen, crowing at the deal that brought him the Vice Chancellorship to Hitler’s ascension to the top spot in a short lived coalition, replying to charges that he had been had: “You are mistaken.  We have hired him.”

Oops.  Whatever else happens, I think Mike Castle would beg to differ with Mr. Lott.

Just one more thing:  I agree entirely with Bacevich when he said this:  ty ’20s:

You can’t divorce subject of race from all of this — and it is the most troubling part of our current politics.  It seems to me that too many of our fellow citizens refuse to accept the legitimacy of this presidency because it is unacceptable to have a black man as President.  Republicans would deny this, but I think they are lying through their teeth.  Race has not been left in our rear view mirror.

Well, yes.

And if we needed any more glances in the 1930s rearview mirror, then I’d suggest that we have a pretty good idea why in times of crisis demagogues go out of their way to paint as less than properly human a minority group that historically has been corralled into segregated settlements and has been both disdained and feared (by majorities wielding disproportionately more power than their scapegoats) — and we have more than just one precedent of what can happen when they do.

Bacevich bets that the Tea Party cocktail of rage, entitlement, ignorance, viciousness and the studied, cynical attempts at co-option will evaporate as times get less fraught.  I look at the next few months, and think of the three elections of 1932 in Germany, and wonder…if enough of the madness slips into Senate and House seats this fall, how sure can we be the rump of the GOP won’t follow?  And if times remain as hard as they may well through 2012?

Do you feel lucky today?

Well, do you?

I don’t.  I’m finally waking up; my personal enthusiasm gap has closed — I’ve hit the “donate” button three or four times today, and as the election gets closer, I’ll be heading up to New Hampshire to see what I can do to help Paul Hodes get over the hump.  I urge you all to act similarly as your wallets and geography permit.

Images:  Albert Einstein in 1929, playing a benefit concert in a synagogue in support of the Berlin Jewish community.  This is the only photograph I’ve been able to find (and I’ve looked) showing Einstein wearing a yarmulke.

Francisco de Goya, “Courtyard with Lunatics,” 1794

In Which I Godwinize the iPad — alternatively titled, “Fun with subtitles.”

January 28, 2010

Via Twitter’s #JimMacMillan, I learn that there is a very uncomfortable bunker somewhere beneath Berlin in which the presumed shortcomings of the iPad are being discussed.

Enjoy:

McCain, Palin, Incitement to Riot, and the Occasional Necessity of Violating Godwin’s Law

October 10, 2008

The grotesque sight of major party candidates standing mute and in apparent agreement as their supportors call for the murder of their opponent is not supposed to be part of the American political process.

It is now.

It’s obvious what’s going on, and it’s obvious why.  John McCain and Sarah Palin have already lost this election on the arguments:  for just one of many examples, by an overwhelming margin economists (chasing the rest of us) favor Obama/Biden over  McCain/Palin on an economy in crisis.

But if the actual business of the election is over — we’ve pretty much sorted out which candidate is better for the job at the moment — what is there left for the losing side to do?

Desperate measures of course, which gets me to the Godwin side of the post.  (I.e. if  you don’t like going where Godwin’s law takes you, stop reading now.)

Here’s the background:  Two notable political triumphs were won in the early 1930s as responses to the economic crisis marked by the stock market crash of October, 1929.

One was that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose temperament was praised  by Oliver Wendell Holmes as well suited to calm the frenzy of the moment.  There is, as the conservative humorist Christopher Buckley notes in his endorsement of Barack Obama, one candidate now who is living that role.

And then there was the rise of a German politician with a mesmerizing speaking style and perhaps the most exquisitely honed sense of shared resentment any public figure has ever had.

On the Republican ticket, it is Sarah Palin who has taken the lead as the exponent of a strategy more like this figure’s, one that seeks to focus broad feelings of betrayal and anger onto a single stock figure of treachery and deceit that she labels with the name of her opponent.

In this, she plays on the same chords struck by that other young, little-known politician making his first foray onto the national stage in 1923.  Here’s an account of one of those early rallies:

The writer Carl Zuckmayer attended several of his speeches that year, once getting so close to the platform that he could “see the spittle spraying from under his mustache.”  To Zuckmayer, he was “a howling dervish,” but he wrote that for those who believed, the speaker dominated “not by arguments but by the fanaticism of his manner, the roaring and the screeching..and especially by the hypnotic power of his repetitions delivered in a certain infectious rhythm.”  It was a style, Zuckmayer wrote, that “had a frightening, primitive force.”

(This is taken, lightly edited, from my book Einstein in Berlin, which was, in part an attempt to understand how things went so very wrong between 1914 and 1932, the years Einstein lived in the German capital.)

That line on rhythm is right on; just listen to Palin as she hits her spots, and see how skillfully she allows her listeners to finish the thought just as she delivers her punchline.  She’s good, just not Good.

I’m not the first to go here — consider Jon Stewart’s only slightly elliptical reference to Palin’s speeches as the kind of thing heard in the late days of the Weimar Republic.  And I am not saying that Sarah Palin wishes to do as Adolf HItler did — far from it.  I loathe just about everything I can find out about her politics, but she is a small-time American style faux-populist demagogue, not, in my humble opinion, a likely architect of global conflagration and mass murder.  Just to be clear.

But what people forget when viewing Hitler only as the monstrous force he was in power is that he was a masterful manipulator of genuinely democratic processes on his path to the German Chancellorship.  The speeches Zuckmayer witnessed were shockingly effective, coming as they did during the devastating economic crisis of the German hyperinflation, at time when the German middle class was largely wiped out.  Their themes and the framing of crisis as the focus of shared bitterness and resentment now serve as a model for what Palin and to a lesser extent McCain are now trying out.

Thus the reason that the current tack by the McCain and Palin team is leaving so many observers disgusted, frightened and angry:   it is because it does not take much historical memory to see the danger, the inherent dishonesty, and the moral bankruptcy of such an approach.

It was once possible to view this election as one that either side could lose without assaulting what Bruce Springsteen so beautifully described as “the repository of people’s hopes and dreams and desires” that is America.

Now, with the echoes of some of the worst moments in the long, sad twentieth century sounding in our ears, it has become clear that one side has now shown itself as the ticket that should lose.  John McCain, the engineer of his own dishonor, should be ashamed of himself.

Let Springsteen have the last word:

Update: Credit where credit is due.  John McCain today began pushing back against the worst impulses of his crowds.  As reported on Time‘s Swampland blog, McCain on several occasions corrected questioners who sought to demonize Barack Obama.  Key quote:

he … snatched the microphone out the hands of a woman who began her question with, “I’m scared of Barack Obama… he’s an Arab terrorist…”

“No, no ma’am,” he interrupted. “He’s a decent family man with whom I happen to have some disagreements.”

The post above still stands, however, (a) as an indictment of Sarah Palin, and (b) as a reminder that John McCain has let this cancer eat away at his candidacy to this point.  But if he sustains this effort to remind his supporters of the need to distinguish between hating the (political) sin and loving — or at least respecting — the (from one vantage) political sinner, then he will have reclaimed some part of the honor that his campaign to date has cost him.  The next step is to make sure that Governor Palin gets the message — but this is a welcome first gesture.

Update 2: Of course, if we keep getting reeking nonsense like this from the McCain campaign, then shame doesn’t begin to cover that first full measure of moral degredation with which the Senator from Arizona will have achieved by the end of this election season.

A Day That Lives in Infamy: Remember January 30.

January 30, 2008

(This post winds up on a science-ish blog because of my long history with Albert Einstein, in the course of which I did the work that enables me to write what follows.)

As this New York Times piece reminded me, seventy five years ago, this was a truly bad day. Just past noon (about six hours ago, Berlin time) on January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler took an oath administered by President Paul von Hindenburg, and assumed the office of Chancellor of Germany.

That this would be a disaster was obvious to some. General Erich Ludendorff knew both the players in that disastrous moment. He had been, with Hindenburg, the leader of the de facto military junta that ran Germany in the last years of the so-call “Great” War, and he had conspired with Hitler in the Beer Hall putsch of 1923. After Hitler became chancellor, Ludendorff wrote to the President in despair: “I solemny predict that this accursed man will cast our Reich in the abyss…Future generations will damn you in your grave for what you have done.”

Albert Einstein also undertood what Hitler’s rise meant, much earlier than most. He and Winston Churchill, then in the political wilderness, commiserated in the summer of 1933, and that September, Einstein’s frustration with the world’s myopia burst out in a newspaper interview: “I cannot understand the passive response of the whole civilized world to this modern barbarism,” he said. “Does not the world see that Hitler is aiming at war?” (From Abraham Pais, Einstein Lived Here.)

Einstein, of course, was right, which doesn’t surprise me — I hear he was a pretty smart guy.

But what I want to emphasize here is one lesson I learned in the writing of that tome that seems to me to have resonance in other circumstances, even ours now, perhaps.

That is: Hitler’s ascension to the chancellorship was a disaster—but not an inevitable one.

He certainly did his part to reach that pinnacle, but there were literally dozens of points at which he could have been stopped – even up to the last months and weeks. The outcome turned on many factors of course, but certainly among them were the inaction of those who might have defended the German republic throughout its troubled birth and early years; and then, at the end, the disastrous folly of those who were trying to destroy it for their own ends – and hoped to turn Hitler to their purposes.

From which I conclude:

It doesn’t only require active, purposeful malice to incinerate a civil society (h/t Balloon Juice). Aloof disdain and especially pure self-interested stupidity act as accelerants to the bonfire. (I had a couple of links there – but I don’t want to Godwinize this post, so fill in the blanks as you will).

Remember January 30.

(If you want a little more on the background to the tragedy or errors that propelled Hitler to power, go to the jump for an excerpt from my bookthat talks a little bit about the disastrous choices made by a range of German political actors in the early thirties that created the opening Hitler took. There is a lot more to the story, in versions written by many others, of course – but this gives a bitter taste of the events in question.)

Image: Brandenburg Gate Quadriga at night. Photo by Johann Gottfried Schadow, used under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 license.

Update: tweaked a little for readability (horrible word).

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