What the hell, let’s start off the week with a good flamewar. However, this will be a different kind of flamewar so don’t map STFU p33n to the F1 key just yet. For this thread only we plan to delete any comment that doesn’t advance an actual argument. Sure, flame somebody’s argument as historically misinformed, fallacious and outright neanderthal but attacks on the person or group (even within an otherwise-substantive post) will disappear as soon as John, Tom or I spot them.
So, what about? Heh. This past week I noticed that a preferred jackalope (that is to say, irrelevant side-track spawned by someone in order to change the subject) between our regular commenters and the recent influx of Instapundit readers concerns whether the left or the right owns the Nazi party. The question itself is of course ridiculous unless people bother to define their terms, since decades of hard work by jingoists has made the words ‘leftist’ and ‘liberal’ useless as anything more than empty pejoratives (for example see here, or frequent comments on this blog). Insofar as people want to hash out this silly point we ought to figure out whether we’re even talking about the same things.
To start off, what do we mean by left and right? Historically liberalism has been defined as the political philosophy of human equality and government policies which support that. The Declaration of Independence and its opening line that …all men are created equal comes directly from the liberal philosopher John Locke and is widely considered to be the most liberal experiment of its time. At the extreme left, communism is essentially an effort by government to reach the maximal limits of human equality (in theory if never in practice). Conversely I would define the political ‘right’ as comfortable with inequality in the sense of social, economic and sometimes (but not always) racial stratification. This is supported, for example, by social science data accumulated during the past century.
So where do the Nazis fit? I will advance three points, two original and one a response to a point raised elsewhere, and people can hash it out in the comments.
First, what’s in a name…The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, otherwise known as North Korea, is neither Democratic nor in practice a Republic. Political parties can choose names for many reasons other than accurately describing their politics, so the ‘socialist’ in ‘National Socialist’ by itself means very little.
Second, the statement that ‘all men are created equal’ would hardly have occurred to the Nazi party. National Socialist dogma held the most extreme views imaginable about religious and racial division and their economic policies, while recognizing the interest in protecting some workers’ rights, are widely regarded as more friendly to business interests than competing parties at the time.
Speaking of competing parties, an understanding of the political makeup of Weimar Germany will help to understand where the Nazi party stood. In the absence of a strong, unbiased security force (local police were usually run by and for local parties) each party built security and influence through its own violent gangs organized through partisan newspapers, social clubs and beer halls. Importantly, among the largest, most violent and terrifying to middle class Germans was the Communist party.
The Communist promise of revolution (and regular attempts at it) posed enough of a threat to the German order that many ordinary Germans, including the business interests, supported the equally-violent gang which promised to politically oppose communism/leftism and support the established social order, the National Socialists, as the less-unappealing alternative. Nazi symbolism swam in appeals to traditional German values, old-time German religion (to the point of calling out the old pagan gods on occasion) and ‘progress’ was largely presented as a return to the qualities that once made Germany great. In between the Nazis and Communists on the Weimar political spectrum a number of politically-moderate parties gradually lost influence. Those two observations, that the National Socialists supported (and were supported by) established business interests and that they advertised themselves as defenders of traditional German values, suggest that they were both to the right and conservative.
What do you think? It’s a silly argument to be having at all, yes, but as long as it keeps happening we might as well consolidate it into one thread. If you disagree with my definitions of ‘left’ and ‘right’ by all means point out what you would put in their place and why. Point out my historical fudging, or post some of your own. Have at it, but not each other.