March 8, 2009
How the Great Depression brought Adolf Hitler to powerBy James Lewis
Oh goody! Looks like we're having another Depression -- maybe just a little one, but who knows how long we can stretch it out, if we give it a good try?
So now we can play FDR and The Glorious New Deal.
If that sounds insane to you, well, it's what both Charles Krauthammer and David Broder -- the Burt and Ernie of the Washington Post -- have now concluded about the Obama White House.
The Great Depression certainly empowered FDR to make big changes in America over his four terms. In spite of all the hoo-hah the country didn't get out of the long, long slump until 1940 or so, with the huge mobilization of men and industrial resources for World War II. But FDR did get to play to his heart's content, through the NRA, the WPA, the AAA, the CCC, the TVA, the NLRB, the FDIC and the SEC. By comparison all we've got is a measly TARP. So far.
Trouble is, the Great Depression also brought Adolf Hitler to power. (Darn, I knew there had to be a downside somewhere.)
For those who have forgotten history or never bothered to learn it, here's is the sixty-second version.
1. Adolf Hitler started out as just another Bohemian intellectual, a sort of fire-breathing hippie, hanging around the coffee houses of Vienna after the big defeat of World War I. Just like Lenin, Mussolini and all the other psychopaths who rose to power around the same time. (Look it up, kids). His ilk can still be found in all the big city cafes of Europe, along with Berkeley, California, Madison, Wisconsin, and other college towns. They all profess peace. But in the right conditions, they are all happy to set off sociological or real dynamite. (Viz., Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn; the Rev. J. Wright and all the rest.)
Today the cafe intellectuals are more likely to be Islamic fascists, but what's the big diff? They all follow Hitler's big maxim, "Alles muss anders sein!" ("everything must change") or, in Obamalingo, "Change you can believe in." They all hate whatever is; it doesn't matter where they want to go.
They want a perfect world, every single one of them. Therefore they all hate freedom, electoral democracy, and the blood-sucking capitalists. They all demand justice and equality. And millions of suckers always fall for it. Some things never change; even the words don't change, much less the marching music.
2. When Hitler got out of the Kaiserliche Wehrmacht with burned-out lungs from mustard gas, Germany was broke. The Reich had started the war as the wealthiest, most industrialized, most highly-educated, and perhaps even the most arrogant nation in Europe. (Although that's a tough one to judge, there being so much competition in the arrogance sweepstakes in Europe.) Anyway, if you remember the goose-stepping soldiers with the funny helmets with the little spikes on top, and all the cheering people standing on the sidewalks going Hoch! Hoch!, that's the one.
3. As punishment for the war, the Versailles Treaty required the Germans to pay their victims, to handicap their military and heavy industries, and to be nice to their neighbors. They did pay some money for a while, but then they just lied about all those other things. None of the victorious nations dared to actually find out if the Germans were re-arming or not. Besides, the Germans and Austrians felt threatened by the new and militant Soviet Union, accidentally created when the old Reich helped Lenin to overthrow the Czar of Russia. (Lenin was another cafe intellectual who turned into a ruthless mass-murdering tyrant, except that he hung around Zurich rather than Vienna.)
4. After WWI the Weimar Republic brought parliamentary democracy of a kind to Germany. But it also saw a wave of corruption, degradation of middle class values, attacks on religion, promiscuity, and glorification of "alternative lifestyles" -- which all agreed on their hatred of the bourgeoisie (who happened to be their parents) -- along with lots of artistic expressions of the same Up Yours! attitude that has made government-funded artists so popular in our day.
(A lot of our avant garde is just the derriere garde of Europe's Weimar period. Nothing new there at all.)
5. Having the Soviets practically next door was a big help to the German Communists -- who still called themselves Communists rather than Black Liberation Theologians, as ours do today. But just like Rev. J-Wright, they all hated middleclassness, or as they called it, the bourgeoisie. (That was their parents, remember?) So did Mussolini and Hitler, who also rose to power as radical world-changers in the turmoil of the day. They were also big ecofreaks -- because Mother Nature was good, you see. They practiced a fair amount of nudity and gayety, celebrated sex and violence, got drunk and carried on riots, and whipped up giant hatreds against scapegoats -- the French, other racially inferior peoples, and of course ... . Yes.
They also swore to eliminate the handicapped, the retarded, and any organized religion. Both the Communists and the Nazis really really hated Christianity. Not just Judaism and the Jews. They were equal-opportunity haters, without fear or favor.
6. The whole Ship of Fools seemed to go sailing along until the economy went kaput. But why did it? You can point to hyperinflation, long and deep declines in industry and agriculture, unemployment, and shaky currencies. Europe had decades of troubles before the United States caught the bug. Stock markets dwindled, trade barriers went up, and on October 29, 1929, far away in New York City, Wall Street went into a tailspin. It was followed by the other big stock markets. People lost their jobs and their savings. No capital, no productivity, just despair.
7. Europe decided that democracy wasn't its thing after all, and looked for nice trustworthy generals to take over the hopelessly ineffective parliamentary governments -- like in Germany. But the President of Germany, General Paul von Hindenburg, was elderly and out of his depth, and after a while was forced to ask that nice Herr Hitler to organize a new government. Hitler's National Socialist Workers Party had never gotten a majority, but the time was ripe, and the Nazis never cared much for rules. So they took power.
In the end United States kind of lucked out, compared to Europe -- but don't try to tell that to anybody who managed to live through it. It's not just our habit of democratic governance that brought us out of it without tyranny and the devastation of Europe and Asia. FDR had a certain amount of demagogue blood in him.
Or as he proclaimed in accepting the Democratic Party nomination,
A better "opportunity to share in the distribution of national wealth? ... A call to arms?" Has the Obama crowd seen this speech? FDR naturally attacked greed and wealth, coming from a family of old wealth and long-forgotten greed himself. Greed is in the eye of the accuser.
What's the bottom line? Well, certain politicians thrive in times of trouble; and if they don't see enough trouble, they're always happy to add some more. They always practice the same kind of demagogy. They always promise radical change. And they often bring the opposite.
Historians have long pointed to the breakdown of Europe's middle class as the single biggest earthquake, the one that shook all the other pillars of society until it crumbled.
In the 21st century, you can kill the middle class by teaching kids to despise their parents and their traditions; you can tax them into poverty; you can whip up nationalistic fervor against the Frogs or the Boches; you can inflate the currency so that everybody is equally miserable; you can teach the poor, the black, the women, the young, to attack the middle class values that brought prosperity over generations of toil; you can torpedo the currency and destroy retirement plans; you can turn the Organs of Propaganda -- pahdon me, the "news media" -- to assault middle class values; you can unify the very wealthy with the very poor to try to squeeze and whack the middle; you can take historic wrongs like black slavery or Christopher Columbus to turn people against each other; you can easily turn bubbleheaded movie makers and starlets against George W. Bush; you can break the banks and turn the desperate against the malefactors of great wealth; or you can unify white liberals with poor blacks and militant feminists against all the Evil White Guys...
But it's all the same, you see. Nothing ever changes except the color of the flags and the uniforms. And it's always the militant idealists, the obsessional clerks and scribblers, who seize the moment to raise yet another Hero of Change and Hope to the peak of power. Because, you see, Adolf Hitler was not the exception. In the century of Mao Zedong and Pol Pot, of Lenin and Stalin, of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, of Robert Mugabe and Saddam Hussein, of Ahmadinejad and Khomeini, of genocidal little tyrants in the Sudan and Rwanda, Hitler was by no means the exception.
He was just brought down faster than the others.
Heigh-ho. Interesting times.
See what a little history can teach you?