November 4, 2012

Weimar America?

Charles Derber and Yale Magrass, Truthout In the 1920s and early 1930s German Weimar Republic, the world witnessed the rise to power of far-right groups, supported by only a minority of the population, but aided by the conservative establishment. An American Weimar could emerge as far-right elements gain increasing dominance in the Republican Party...

The Weimar Syndrome involves the following elements:

    1. A severe and intensifying economic crisis

    2. A failure by majoritarian liberal or Left groups to resolve the crisis

    3. The rise of right-wing populist groups feeling economically threatened and politically unrepresented

    4. The decision of the conservative political establishment to ally with and empower these right-wing elements, as their best way to stabilize capitalism and prevent the rise of progressive movements against corporations or capitalism itself


 Sam Smith, 2006 - Germany's willingness to accept Hitler was the product of many cultural characteristics specific to that country, to the anger and frustrations in the wake of the World War I defeat, to extraordinary inflation and particular dumb reactions to it, and, of course, to the appeal of anti-Semitism. Still, consideration of the Weimar Republic that preceded Hitler does us no harm. Bearing in mind all the foregoing, there was also:

- A collapse of conventional liberal and conservative politics that bears uncomfortable similarities to what we are now experiencing.

- The gross mismanagement of the economy and of such key worker concerns as wages, inflation, pensions, layoffs, and rising property taxes. Many of the actions were taken in the name of efficiency, an improved economy and the "rationalization of production." There were also bankruptcies, negative trade balance, major decline in national production, large national debt rise compensated for by foreign investment. In other words, a hyped version of what America and its workers are experiencing today.

- The Nazis as the first modern political party. As University of Pennsylvania professor Thomas Childers explains, the Nazis discovered the importance of campaigning not just during campaigns but between elections when the other parties folded their tents. With this "perpetual campaigning" they spread themselves like a virus, considering the public reaction to everything right down to the colors used for posters and rally backgrounds. Knowing this, one can not watch the manic manipulations of public moments by the Bush regime without a sense of déjà vu.

- The use of negative campaigning, a contribution to modern politics by Joseph Goebbels. The Nazi campaigns argued what was wrong with their opponents and ignored stating their own policies.

- The Nazis as the inventors of modern political propaganda. Every modern American political campaign and the types of arguments used to support them owes much to the ideas of the Nazis.

- The suddenness of the Nazi rise. The party went from less than 3% of the vote to being the largest party in the country in four years.

- The collapse of the country's self image. Childers points out that Germany had had been a world leader in education, industry, science, and literacy. Much of the madness that we see today stems from attempts to compensate for our battered self-image.

So while many of the behaviors that would come to be associated with Nazis and Hitler - from physical attacks on political opponents to the death camps - seem far removed from our present concerns, there is still much to learn from their history.

We are clearly in a post-constitutional era; the end of the First American Republic. Depending on what day it is we think of its replacement variously - ranging from an adhocracy to proto-fascism. But one does not need to know the end of the story to know that we headed at a rapid pace away from the extraordinary principles of American democracy towards the dark hole of power with impunity, to the sort of world in which, as Rudolph Giuliani has calmly asserted, "freedom is about authority."

If we describe present differences only in contemporary terms then we have nothing to guide us but what happened yesterday.

For example, Article 48 of the constitution of the Weimar Republic stated, "In case public safety is seriously threatened or disturbed, the Reich President may take the measures necessary to reestablish law and order, if necessary using armed force. In the pursuit of this aim, he may suspend the civil rights described in articles 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124 and 153, partially or entirely. The Reich President must inform the Reichstag immediately about all measures undertaken . . . The measures must be suspended immediately if the Reichstag so demands."

It was this article that Hitler used to peacefully establish his dictatorship. And why was it so peaceful and easy? Because, according to Childers, the 'democratic" Weimar Republic had already used it 57 times prior to Hitler's ascendancy.

When you add to this the remarkable incompetence of the current regime, the collapse of both traditional liberal and conservative politics, and the economic crises, it feels like a new Weimar Republic setting the stage for awful things we can not at this point even imagine. It may be that history has something to tell us after all. - 2006


 Clues that your country might be turning into a fascist state


Anonymous said...

This economic crisis is not a mismanagement by capitalists, it is a permanent shock caused by reaching the limits to growth on a finite planet. I don't want to exxon-erate the elites who have mismanaged it, but the root cause is that growth could not continue forever. Neither political party dares discuss this, so blaming is likely to be worse as the crisis intensifies.

Uncle Goat said...

There is an odd detachment watching one's country go into tailspin, and we've been headed in this downward dive since 1980, if not earlier.
Bush the Lesser, was the Reagan Revolution realized. Obama is more of the same, mildly better, but the Reagan Administration has been unchallenged now for 32 years. Finally, we seeing not just the cracks, but the abyss such a government cannot help but to produce. That we have timed the demise of our government so closely with the demise of the planet makes it seem like it was all planned, but it's just human greed on crystal meth and we are in for one hell of a nasty burn out.

Anonymous said...

The 1933 Testament of Dr. Mabuse posits an Empire of Crime. The rise of American industry of the robber barons was a criminal enterprise. Greg Palast describes the recent gang wars, whereby Bain now takes its turn feeding on the wreckage of a financialized economy. The control of the Dept. of Justice means never having to go to prison. This motivates the Kochs and Romneys. The nation is a scotty dog to be moved around the monopoly board. The hatred of the government kills the republic, Washington warned, and opens the door to the enemy. There's been no mystery about this civil war since TR called out the robber barons at Osawatomie in 1910. But TR's monument at Rushmore was removed by demolition in 2010.

Capt. America said...

"Limits to growth?"

Yes, but that's the easy part. The fatal problem is that few of the benefits of technology are shared. The robot can do your job better, faster, and ceaselessly. Those who own have it all, and those who earn have less and less. There is no left and right, only owners and earners, and the earners are out of luck. In this brave new world, austerity is death for millions. There is no long term solution to this in any known ideology. The hell of it is that the end of work should be a good thing.

The interim solution, while there is still such a thing as a job, is a 30 hour work week with accompanying minimum wages and protective tariffs.

In France, a 35 hour work week is being discussed. At least some of them get it. I get a laugh when I suggest it for America.

Anonymous said...

Just read about the Spanish Civil War and you might see something very similar to today's political environment.

Also, today's Tea Party are doing similar stuff to Hitler's brown shirts.

Anonymous said...

The Nazis' political propaganda was guided by US propagandist Ivy Lee, Bernays's contemporary. Completely amoral, like Bernays, Lee thought nothing of making sure the Nazis' propaganda machine was the best in Germany: they paid him well.

Anonymous said...

Romney's concession speech, enjoyed spending time in your country, can now return to the important work of buying it.

Anonymous said...

Romney's cheerful concession recalls Gutman's enthusiasm at the end of the Maltese Falcon, upon discovering that it was a fake. Unlike Mrs. Shaughnessey who caught the rap, Romney moves on to the next deal in Argentina with Singer. The ultimate birther thrill: to run for president, and have one's true identity escape detection.

Carleen said...

U r all so wrong. Obamacare stinks as much as the English hate their system. Care won't be decent 'til Pelosi and I have the same plan.