Joe Hendren

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Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Bush Administration: Historical parallels with 1930s Germany

Via About Town, No Right Turn cites a 'great article' by Jim Peron of the Institute for (classical) Liberal Values The Ugly Side of America. Peron is alarmed that his country has been taken over by fundumentalists and divided into competiting extremisms, and sees some historical parallels.
And although I've been proud to be an American for most of my life that pride is shattered. My friends will tell you that I annoyed them by telling them about all the great things about America. I loved the spirit of liberty that made up America and that is embodied in the Constitution. Today I fear that is all dead. It's been pushed aside because of a president who campaigns on fear. He terrorises people into supporting him. If "terrorism" isn't enough he has other bogey men to trot out - hence his campaign against gay people. His whole re-election strategy is built on fear. And when people are afraid - even people who love liberty - they start making excuses for tyranny.

That is what worries me about America. I go back historically to Weimar Germany and see the same type of polarisation and fear. The Weimar Germans were separated into warring camps of extremists. Extreme Left versus the Nationalist Right dominated Weimar politics. People were afraid. Each side feared the other and feared what would happen to their nation if something wasn't done. America is setting itself up for the same "solution" that the Weimar Germans sought.
While I share Jim Peron's concerns over the rise of fundamentalism in US politics and Bush's manipulation of the fear of terror for political ends, his example of Weimar Germany is a poor one.

The polarisation of German politics occurred because the previously prevailing liberal free market economics fundamentally failed. The key economic malaise during the 1920s and 1930s was unemployment and ‘Milton Friedman’ style economics consistently failed to address this problem. The continuation of such policies after the stock market crash simply made things worse. While free market ‘fundamentalists’ may argue this was due to the ideas of Saint Freidman (and the like) not being applied in full, this ignores the key point that during the 1930s economic liberalism was justifiably discredited.

In Germany people were looking for alternatives, and this explains the increase in support for the Nazis and the Communists, who both rejected, to varying degrees, the old liberal economic orthodoxy. In New Zealand the electorate dismissed the policies of the United/Reform government with the election of Labour in 1935. The free market remained in retreat for half a century. It is a sad irony that the ‘free market’ was resurrected as the ‘only alternative’ (sic) to deal with a similar depression during the 1980s and 1990s. The ‘intellectual façade’ of conservatism during the 1980s was a façade indeed – a central claim of the new right of ‘there is no alternative’ was a logical error and its prescriptions had already been demonstrated to be counterproductive during the 1930s depression.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary 'Fundumentalism' means 'the strict maintainence of the ancient or fundumental doctrines of any religion or ideology'. So while Peron is absolutely right to note the rise in religious fundumentalism in the state of America, it also could be said that the Institute for (classical) Liberal Values (ILV) demonstrates an ideological fundumentalism to free markets, in that it appears to believe such artifical creations can do no evil.

ILV, a thinly disgused cheer squad for a faction of the Act party, includes on its board such lumanaries such as Rodney Hide and Lindsey Mitchel. The later promotes himself as a campaigner for the abolution of the Domestic Purposes Benefit, an initiative that came from the development of the welfare state from 1935. So in a sense the ILV and their ideological buddies continue to oppose the policy framework that finally lifted the world from the 1930s depression.

Germany in 1933, after the Nazis gained power, offers a far better comparison with the polarisation and fear engineered by the Bush administration. Following the Reichstag fire, the Nazis claimed they needed new laws to deal to the ‘terrorists’. The Reichstag fire decree has an uncanny resemblance to the Patriot Act. Bush also appears to share the fascist rejection of reason in favour of ‘instinct and will’.

At present I am reading Eric Hobsbawn’s ‘Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century’. In attempting to explain how the capitalism of the US and the communism of the USSR became allies in the fight to defeat fascism, I think Hobsbawn comes up with a very interesting thesis. Both the “liberal democracies” (UK, US, France) and the USSR were founded on the ideals of the enlightenment and the French revolution. Fascism rejected these ideals in favour of an even more traditional order, and thus these ideals formed the basis for the anti-fascist alliance in World War II.

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At 3:09 pm, Blogger leftdog said...

Some very good analysis here. There are many parallels, the main one being a set of hard core ideological beliefs that do not have any basis in fact.

In nazi Germany, Jews were blamed as the supposed cause of many of the ills of the society and economy. In Bush's america, Gays are the new scapegoat.

Both 1930's Germany and 21st Century America had/have very unhealthy nationalistic fervour, flavoured with an unhealthy dose of self righteousness and massively huge military budgets.

Very scary.


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