Saturday, October 3, 2009

Calling People Nazis

What does a person really mean when they call you a "Nazi"?

A socialist friend of mine recently attempted to insult me by calling me a "Nazi" -- despite the fact that she fits into National Socialist shoes much more comfortably than I ever have. To really be effective, an insult should have at least a molecule of truth in it. This got me thinking about why people use this insult even when it's completely inappropriate.

In the dictionaries, the first definition of a Nazi is always an actual member of the National Socialist German Worker's party of Germany, which came to power in Germany in 1933, under Adolf Hitler. These bona fide Nazis are obviously a dying breed, and I am obviously not one of them.

The second definition is a person who holds views similar to those of the historical Nazi party. Assuming that people have given up on Hitler and the establishment of Germany as a world power, the "similar beliefs" that people might still hold are anti-Semitism and the natural supremacy of Germans, Aryans, or white people. Um, no. That's not me either.

Because of the way in which Hitler seized and maintained control of his country, suppressed his opposition, and sought to strictly dictate every aspect of people's lives, the word Nazi is also associated with dictatorial control or fascism. It's sometimes used in a generic way to describe anyone who is fanatical about controlling people in some way. For instance, the smoking nazis, the local building nazis, the music nazis, the clothing nazis. Well, I'm pretty fanatical about not controlling people. Although, if you asked my family, they might say I was a spelling nazi or a nutrition nazi.

This is just a fun fact: in the south of Germany, the nickname "Nazi" was used to mean a clumsy, foolish person. Opponents of National Socialism thought this coincidence was quite apt.

In the Soviet Union, the terms "Nazi" and "National Socialist" were forbidden after 1932, probably because they wanted the word "socialist" for themselves, and didn't want it tainted. Soviet literature always refers to the Nazis as "fascists."

So let's look at "fascism" for a moment: This concept came into being with the anti-communist political movement of Benito Mussolini, formed in 1919. At, "fascist" is defined as "dictatorial or extreme right-wing views," and "reactionary or dictatorial views." A longer definition describes fascism as "A form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion. [Robert O. Paxton, "The Anatomy of Fascism," 2004]

"Socialism" is generally considered progressive, leftist, and the last stage before communism. Hitler's achievement was to weld socialism and fascism together, creating a completely authoritarian state, where no area of life was left uncontrolled.

One of the strange fictions of the 20th century is the attempt to place fascism and socialism/communism at opposite ends of a left-to-right political spectrum, when they are merely different aspects of authoritarian control. They belong together and complete each other, since a dictator can't completely control and mobilize his people unless he controls their economic lives.

The left-to-right political spectrum has changed so much over the centuries that it really should be scrapped altogether. The best reason for scrapping it, perhaps, is that it has no place for people who advocate and defend freedom. When this country was founded, economic freedom was considered "leftist." Anarchism has almost always been considered "leftist." But now the ideas of our founders are "reactionary," and there is no place for them in the managed economies of modern leftism. And here I have my friend trying to place me over on the "right" with the Nazis, when I believe in maximum freedom and no government at all. So what, exactly, do I have in common with those guys aside from the fact that some ignoramus thinks we all belong on the "far right" side of some nonsensical spectrum? In fact, if you look up "The Rise of Hitler - the 25 points of Hitler's Nazi Party" you'll find quite a few points that the average American voter (not to mention my supposedly "leftist" friend) would cheer for if they were cloaked in contemporary political language (with the United States and Americans substituted for Germany and Germans).

But I really don't think my friend was trying to insult me by implying that I was a socialist, or a nationalist, or even a fascist. I think she was trying to call me a racist, because I didn't vote for Obama. Silly as it may seem, she seems fairly convinced that all opposition to Obama is based on the president's partially African heritage. Never mind that I would pick Walter Williams for president over Hillary Clinton any day. Some people just can't seem to comprehend principled opposition to their new hero.

I sometimes call people Nazis myself, but I generally reserve this epithet for members of our own national socialist, empire-building, freedom-crushing government when I have the misfortune to come into contact with them. People who knowingly bring grievous harm to others by "just following orders" remind me very much of the Nazis at Nuremberg.


  1. You might like my own political hierarchy chart: link (scroll down)

  2. I like your chart, Kent. Of course, the problem with any chart or spectrum is that reality is always more complicated. And the closer your representation gets to reality, the more difficult it is for average people to hold in their minds. The appeal of the left-right spectrum is its simplicity -- the minor drawback being that it doesn't represent reality AT ALL!

    I would also like to explore the idea that different people see different "spectrums" according to their values. People like us tend to see a spectrum that goes from total control to total freedom. Others may see the spectrum going from total equality to -- total inequality? Inequality doesn't really have an endpoint. People who see the world this way may like freedom, but only insofar as it serves equality. Freedom is not their highest value, so they don't base their spectrum on it.

    Actually, freedom is not my highest value, either -- happiness is. If I believed that happiness for all of humanity could actually be achieved by a ruling elite, I would be okay with that. I believe that maximum freedom is the road to happiness for all, but anyone who wants to argue the point with me is free to do so!