Saturday, September 19, 2009

Arugment ad Hitlerum

The ruling out of the Hitler argument as being automatically out of order, as being "hateful" (whatever that means) is a great disservice to our public discourse. When ever one makes a note of similarity between a contemporary figure and the policies of the Nazi/Fascist regime one is assumed to be imputing anti-semitism and genocidal intentions to a political opponent. But the are reasons to feel uneasy about similarities with the national socialists are disturbing for reasons having nothing to do with civil liberties, let alone genocide.

For the record I would like to say that those who compared Bush to Hitler not only had every right to do so they had a duty to do so. If they genuinely thought that was what Bush was and where his policies were tending they had a duty to point it out to their fellow country men.

I think the excellent book by Jonah Goldberg was ill served by some of his own writing. it is a very subtle and i think very profoundly true point.

There are in fact a lot of things to be learned from the example of Nazi Germany but we are not allowed to learn or even investigate them because any analogy involving the Nazi's is automatically viewed as illegitimate and an attempt to demagogue the issue.

One thing that is worth noting is that a lot of Hitler's power came not only from his willingness to use extra legal violence but his control of large parts of the economy. His resource dependency based power gave him a low cost way to stifle political dissent.

The rationales and rhetoric surrounding this expansion of government power was explicitly anti-capitalist, a fact that is often lost because the rhetoric was also explicitly (vociferously) anti-communist. Today his policies would be called third-way. He brought the power into the government while allowing private ownership. This makes sense. The good part was the power, what fun is it running a shoe factory? By expanding the power of the government to set prices and control market entry and exit the Nazi's were able to extract rents from productive businesses. It also gave them to power to have the noisome critic frozen out of the economy. It was the best a dictator could ask for: power without responsibility.

The transfer of power and decision making authority from the private sector to the federal government, the cult-like aspects of the Obama administration and the insouciant attitude toward rules, procedures and constitutional checks and balances, the affinity they seem to show for Claudioism in Latin America--all of these are in some important and disturbing ways similar to the National Socialist movement. We should be able to talk about this and consider the implications.

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