With the word 'Nazi' tossed around promiscuously, let's understand the term

The word "Nazi" is suddenly everywhere.  This isn't the modern habit of calling everyone we don't like a "Nazi."  Instead, because of events in Ukraine, the word is showing up in the news, where it has real-world ramifications.

During WWII, the Germans occupied Ukraine and battled their way across the western half of the USSR.  In Ukraine, while Ukrainian citizens suffered greatly at Nazi hands, no Jew forgets that the Ukrainians enthusiastically joined in the Holocaust.  At Babyn Yar, where almost 34,000 Jews were shot to death over a couple of days, it was the Ukrainians who pulled the triggers.

Meanwhile, although Russia and Germany were once allies thanks to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, Hitler reneged on that agreement, probably to have access to Soviet oil supplies.  The Germans invaded Russia, leading to some of the bloodiest battles of WWII.

In both countries — Russia and Ukraine (which was then part of the Soviet Union) — the Nazi era seared itself so deeply into the respective countries' psyches that it's scarcely surprising that the word "Nazi," and accusations based upon that word, instantly appeared once Russia invaded Ukraine.

Here's just a small sample of headlines from the past week:

At American Thinker, Oleg Atbashian wrote a detailed essay explaining that the Azov battalion is being maligned when its fighters are tarred as Nazis.

Mostly, though, people have no idea what is meant by the word "Nazi."  The whole thing is especially complicated because the political notions of left wing and right wing, which infuse any conversation about "Nazis," have different meanings in America and Europe.


Image: The real Nazis at the Nürnberg Rally 1934.  Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-16196, CC-BY-SA 3.0.

For starters, continental Europe has never known liberty like America's constitutional liberty, which centers the government on the individual, not the state.  The origin of the terms "left wing" and "right wing" highlight this point.

The terms come from the French Parlement during the revolutionary era.  Those on the speaker's left were the radicals; those on the speaker's right were the monarchists.  Neither side believed in individual liberty; each was dedicated to statism.  They simply had different ideas about who would rule in that state.  That statist concept is still the norm in Europe.  The American constitutional-conservative idea about small government and inherent individual rights is alien to Europe.

Socialism, born in the French Revolution and refined through Marx, held that power and property should pass from the inherited aristocracy and the new generations of capitalists to "the people."  In practice, "the people" meant a totalitarian government lacking official hereditary aristocrats, and one usually more repressive than what it replaced.

Communism and fascism are the two bastard children of the socialist ideology.  Communism calls for the destruction of private property, with the government owning and controlling the means of production, ostensibly for the people's benefit.  Fascism allows private property to exist, provided that the property owners understand that they have no rights separate from the state.  Both are totalitarian systems that call themselves "democracies" because people are required to vote for pre-approved chosen candidates.  These governments are inevitably repressive.

Most of the world's governments today are fascist.  All power rests in the government, which allows private property to exist but subordinates that property to government control.  In China, the control is militaristic and obvious.  In Europe, through the E.U., it's bureaucratic and someone more subtle.  The current American system — a dominant political party disdainful of the Constitution working hand in glove with massive corporate, technocratic interests — is increasingly fascist.

Not all fascists, though, are Nazis.  The National Socialist Party in Germany added a few twists to baseline fascist totalitarianism: a quest for world domination and racial obsessions.  These two factors led Nazis to believe that it was their right to enslave all inferior races except for the Jews, whom they intended to exterminate.

If we are looking for people seeking world domination, believing that all outsiders are rightful slaves, and planning to exterminate the Jews, you'll find very few of those in America, a few more in parts of Europe, and tens of millions in the Muslim world.  But back to Eastern Europe...

In the fight for control in Ukraine, both governments are European-style right-wing (i.e., totalitarian) governments, and both are nationalists.  Putin is showing an unnerving yen for regional domination.  However, neither the governments nor their troops are Nazis, although each has the potential to be.

Here's what I hope is a helpful chart that I made a few years ago:

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