May 31, 2003


Weimar Whiners (JAMES TRAUB, June 1, 2003, NY Times Magazine)
Have you heard that it's 1933 in America? God knows I have. Three times in the last few weeks I have been told -- by a novelist, an art historian and a professor of classics at Harvard, none of them ideologues or cranks -- that the erosion of civil liberties under the Bush administration constitutes an early stage, or at least a precursor, to the kind of fascism Hitler brought to Germany. I first heard the 1933 analogy a few months back, when one of the nation's leading scholars of international law suggested at a meeting of diplomats that Bush's advisers were probably plotting to suspend the election of 2004.

Now, I think I understand the argument that compares the United States with imperial Rome, or with one of the unwitting great powers of 1914. But 1933? Hitler? That's grotesque; and the fact that is has achieved such currency among what the French call the bien pensant is vivid proof that in much of the left, 9/11 and its aftermath have increased the visceral loathing not of terrorism or of Islamist fundamentalism but of President George Bush.

Like all forms of reductio ad Hitler, the 1933 analogy constitutes a gross trivialization of the worst event in modern history. Do we remember what actually happened in 1933? Hitler ascended to the chancellorship, suspended constitutional rights and banned all opposition political parties, sent the Brown Shirts into the streets and issued the first decrees stripping Jews of their rights. To compare the passage of the U.S.A. Patriot Act and the proposed -- but scotched -- program to get ordinary citizens to pass along tips about suspicious dark-skinned strangers, not to mention the cancellation of Tim Robbins's invitation to appear at the Baseball Hall of Fame because he might criticize the war in Iraq -- to compare these and other inroads on our liberties to Hitler's budding terror state is repellent.

But 1933 theorists, at least the more sophisticated ones, look beyond current policy to what they consider the structural similarities between contemporary America and various fascist states. In a recent article in The Nation, Sheldon Wolin, an emeritus professor of politics at Princeton, described the contemporary Republican party as ''a fervently doctrinal party, zealous, ruthless, antidemocratic and boasting a near majority.''

That last bit from Mr. Wolin is particularly delicious: just because the majority is not Democratic does not mean they aren't democratic. Fascist is not the opposite of Leftist. Posted by Orrin Judd at May 31, 2003 7:08 AM
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