Friday, June 03, 2016

The Rise to Power of Hitler and Trump

Now that Paul Ryan has endorsed Donald Trump for President, the Republican Party has fully become the Party of Trump.  When I heard about that this morning, I was reminded of the rise of Adolf Hitler to become Chancellor of the Third Reich on January 30th, 1933.

Here are some excerpts from Ian Kershaw's biography of Hitler (volume 1, 423-27).
"'Hitler is Reich Chancellor. Just like a fairy-tale,' noted Goebbels.  Indeed, the extraordinary had happened.  What few beyond the ranks of Nazi fanatics had thought possible less than a year earlier had become reality.  Against all odds, Hitler's aggressive obstinacy--born out of lack of alternatives--had paid off.  What he had been unable to achieve himself, his 'friends' in high places had achieved for him.  The 'nobody of Vienna,' 'unknown soldier,' beerhall demagogue, head of what was for years no more than a party on the lunatic fringe of politics, a man with no credentials for running a sophisticated state-machine, practically his sole qualification the ability to must the support of the nationalist masses whose base instincts he showed an unusual talent for rousing, had now been placed in charge of government of one of the leading states in Europe. . . ."
". . . A few took him at his word, and thought he was dangerous. But far, far more, from Right to Left of the political spectrum--conservatives, liberals, socialists, communists--underrated his intentions and unscrupulous power instincts at the same time as they scorned his abilities. . . ."
". . . The underestimation of Hitler and his movement by the power-brokers remains a leitmotiv of the intrigues that placed him in the Chancellor's office. . . ."
". . . More than any other politician of his era, he was the spokesman for the unusually intense fears, resentments, and prejudices of ordinary people not attracted by the parties of the Left or anchored in the parties of political Catholicism.  And more than any other politician of his era, he offered such people the prospect of a new and better society--though one seeming to rest on 'true' German values with which they could identify.  The vision of the future went hand in hand with the denunciation of the past in Hitler's appeal.  The total collapse of confidence in a state system resting on discredited party politics and bureaucratic administration had led over a third of the population to place its trust and its hopes in the politics of national redemption.  The personality cult carefully nurtured around Hitler turned him into the embodiment of such hopes."
"And there were those, not just on the defeated Left, who foresaw disaster. 'You have delivered up our holy German Fatherland to one of the greatest demagogues of all time,' wrote Ludendorff--who had some experience of what he was writing about--to his former wartime colleague Hindenburg. 'I solemnly prophesy that this accursed man will cast our Reich into the abyss and bring our nation to inconceivable misery. Future generations will damn you in your grave for what you have done.'"

Am I wrong to see similarities--"aggressive obstinacy," "the support of the nationalist masses," "a few took him at his word, and thought he was dangerous," "the spokesman for the unusually intense fears, resentments, and prejudices of ordinary people," "the personality cult," "one of the greatest demagogues of all time"?

Or is this a bad use of what Leo Strauss called the reduction ad Hitlerum?  In Natural Right and History, Strauss remarked: "we must avoid the fallacy that in the last decades has frequently been used as a substitute for the reductio ad absurdum: the reductio ad Hitlerum.  A view is not refuted by the fact that it happens to have been shared by Hitler" (42-43).

We might wonder, however, as Will Altman has suggested, why Strauss didn't identify this fallacy as a noble fallacy.  Surely, it's good that our disgust with Hitler and the Nazis is so deep that we think a view is refuted by the fact that it happens to have been shared by Hitler.  I have written a post on this.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Give me a break. Every Republican presidential candidate has been called the next Hitler. How short can your memory be? No, but this time the Republican really really really is the next Hitler. Most of Trumps positions aren't really that different than Bill Clinton circa 1992.