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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Nazis and Neo-Nazis

Ernst Zundel
A Jewish friend once worked with Ernst Zundel. Zundel is the most famous Canadian “neo-Nazi.” Aside from prison time in Canada for "spreading false news," he spent five years in German prison for Holocause denial, and time in detention in Canada for supposedly being a threat to national security. Zundel was a professional graphic designer before his notoriety, and a successful one until his politics were discovered. My friend, an editor, was shaken that Zundel once refused, for a client, to airbrush effluent coming out of a pipe from a photograph, on the grounds that this was misleading and hence immoral.

From this, my friend concluded, uncomfortably, that Hitler and the Nazis might have been entirely upright by their own lights. They were just working from different assumptions.

This is, to my mind, necessarily false. Begin with the example that gives him pause, the photograph showing pollution. If morality were really up for grabs, he would not know that Zundel was exhibiting morality in this instance. Instead, he, my friend, instantly recognized morality when he saw it, and was moved by it. Immorality should be just as recognizable in principle. Either killing Jews is wrong, or it is not.

The idea of crimes against humanity affirms the same idea. Right is right regardless of the local laws of the country, or such a category of crime could not exist. Slavery does not become okay because the laws of the US once supported it; killing Jews was not moral because the laws allowed it. If this is not so, we have no business condemning Hitler or Himmler, the Nuremberg Trials were illegitimate, and it was all just a case of the victors imposing their will. If Hitler had won, it would have been as proper and objectively moral to hang the followers of de Gaulle or Churchill.

One wonders why anyone gave their lives for the difference.

Swedish neo-Nazis march

No; morality is objective. We all have a conscience, an internal compass that tells us what is right and wrong. We do, of course, have the choice not to follow it. Sometimes it is not in our own best interests to do so. That does not mean it is not there.

Hitler therefore cannot have been sincere. Nor does the evidence suggest that he was. Nazi ideology was philosophically incoherent. Was it a doctrine of the left, right, or centre? The debate continues. Did the Nazis intend to abolish private property? Nobody was or is sure. Did they intend to abolish Christianity? The same. The Nazi programme was highly adaptable and ambiguous depending, it seemed, on what Hitler thought would gain public support, or the support of the group he was currently addressing. This was his great talent as an orator, as William L. Shirer has pointed out. Hitler's standard technique in diplomatic negotiations was to make promises of any sort, then immediately break them when it was in his interest to do so. This is not a man of principle. Mein Kampf devotes itself almost entirely to tactics, not bothering much with principles. The principle, such as it is, is simple: personal and group power. Far from being some kind of ideologue, fanatic, or true believer, Hitler was the ultimate opportunist.

This leads to some uncomfortable conclusions. Hitler came to power democratically. He tailored his policies to what was popular and politically expedient. This means he would not have attempted the Holocaust if he did not believe the majority of Germans supported it. Granted, there was a financial reason as well: Nazi budgets were a Ponzi scheme, and the Jews were rich. Confiscating their property delayed the day af reckoning, at least perhaps until the next nation could be conquered and looted. It is doubtful whether Hitler ever allowed himself the emotional indulgence of hating Jews; the point is that the average German did.

Certainly Hitler was a very bad man, the worst of men, but he has also been made a scapegoat to avoid assigning due blame to Germans (not to say this could not have happened elsewhere; people are people) generally. He is referred to as a “madman.” This is nonsense. People do not take orders from madmen. Nor could a madman be nearly so calculating. Hitler, with his cunning, was spectacularly sane. He was a bad man, not a mad man, and to pretend the latter is a terrible slander against the insane.

Bad, not mad.

The second uncomfortable conclusion to be drawn here is that those we call "neo-Nazis," like Zundel, are really the opposite of Nazis. They are certainly not opportunists. There is no personal advantage to be gained anywhere by claiming to be a fan of Hitler. Zundel himself lost his career, his freedom, his residency in Canada; vandals did $400,000 worth of damage to his home, and were not prosecuted. He has to have been motivated by a strong sense of principle. He believed, and believes, that Hitler has been scapegoated, and in part he is indeed certainly right. Nor does he endorse the killing of Jews, which would be objectively immoral; instead, he believes that Jews were not killed, which is a quite different matter.

We do nothing to prevent the rise of another Hitler by persecuting the neo-Nazis. We certainly do nothing to prevent it, and indeed give Hitler a kind of legitimacy, with laws against "hate" or "Holocaust denial." It makes the intelligent and morally sensitive suspect we have something to hide. Which of course we do--our own guilt, not, as they suppose, Hitler's innocence. Instead, by such laws and such prosecutions we are harassing the very people most likely to stand up and resist should another figure like Hitler arise. At the same time, we are training the great bulk of the population to stay good Germans in any eventuality.

Cat. After all, this is the Internet.

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