Saturday, December 2, 2023

Ullrich's Hitler


Ullrich’s Hitler

Peter Schultz


            Volker Ullrich, in his book Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939, likes an analysis of Hitler written by Theodore Heuss in 1932, Hitler’s Way. The focus of Heuss’s analysis is what he labeled “the dual nature of the Nazi movement” and of Hitler himself.


            The movement was dual in that “Rationalistic power calculations coexist[ed] … with unbridled emotions.” Seems persuasive, but isn’t this what all political movements do essentially? Political movements appeal to popular or elite emotions while calculating how to get, maintain, or fortify their power. In fact, it might even be said that politics in general is characterized by an emotional rationality, and that this is in fact the nitroglycerin that leads to political explosions of the kind created by the Nazis. This is not Nazi politics; it is politics simply.  


            Regarding Hitler, Heuss claims he was a master manipulator of the people’s emotions, a mastery based on “psychological techniques” inspired by Hitler’s own “passion(s).”  But, again, isn’t this merely the same “chemical combo,” the same nitroglycerin that Heuss found lying at the heart of Nazi movement? It would seem so.


            Heuss also said, along with his emotional mastery, Hitler was merely “a politician who want[ed] power.” Of course he did, just like every other politician ever. If a person doesn’t want power, s/he doesn’t enter the political arena. And if s/he does want power, s/he enters the political arena. Seems almost self-evident, no?


            But Heuss goes on to say that Hitler’s respect for the law was merely “tactical.” Well, of course it was because law itself a merely a tactic that serves an existing order. In democracies, the laws serve democracy and democrats; in oligarchies, the laws serve oligarchy and the oligarchs; and in monarchies, the laws serve the monarchy and the monarchs. As is clear from campaigns for “law and order,” laws are tactics for maintaining an existing order. Hence, any politician who opposes the existing order, as Hitler did, will not, cannot unequivocally embrace the law(s). This is, again, just politics.


            Similarly, Heuss claimed that Hitler’s moderation was also merely tactical. Again, I must say that of course it was because, like law, moderation is merely a tactic, one that serves to maintain or fortify an existing order. Any politician, like Hitler himself, who opposes an existing order will not, cannot unequivocally embrace moderation. This is just politics.


Why is Heuss’s analysis worth deconstructing, as it were? Because when deconstructed, his analysis reveals one reason why political life so often moves toward extremism. In fact, Heuss’s analysis points us toward the conclusion that political life itself, that is, in all its forms, is essentially, congenitally extremist. And insofar as that’s the case, then the political task becomes taming political life, not affirming it in hopes of ameliorating the human condition.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Johnstone, Stone, and Political Extremism


Johnstone, Stone, and Political Extremism

Peter Schultz


            Caitlin Johnstone: “After the war they went to the suburbs and pretended everything was fine. (It wasn’t fine.) … pretending everything is fine.”


            These are Johnstone’s laments, powerful laments indeed. But what makes them so powerful is her own belief, a belief that rivals the belief that “everything is fine,” that everything should and could be fine. Otherwise, her laments would not be so powerful and conditions in suburbs – and elsewhere – would not seem so bleak.


            For example, there is another view of the suburbs presented in the television series, The Wonder Years. It is a show introduced and developed as a look at the suburbs – partly devastated by the Vietnam War, as Winnie’s brother has been killed in Nam in the first or early episode – that sees life there as filled with the dramas that are played out in families like the Arnolds [Kevin’s] or Winnie’s or Paul’s [who is Jewish]. What emerges are portrayals of human beings trying to navigate through life and its difficulties, doing the best they can which is often not quite good enough, but is certainly human. Kevin and Winnie are negotiating their romantic relationship, while Kevin is negotiating his relationship with his father and mother and, eventually, discovering that they are just human beings also trying to negotiate through life.


            The ugliness that Johnstone sees reflects her disappointment at the failure of American life to be beautiful or to acknowledge its defects. In other words, American exceptionalism underlies Johnstone’s laments, as she assumes that such an exceptional state not only should but could exist, if only there hadn’t been all those “corpses.” Johnstone is still a believer because she clings to the possibility of American (or human) exceptionalism. A marvelously peaceful, beautiful, and fulfilling world awaits, if only we could get beyond war and war criminals.


            Here’s a thought: assumptions of exceptionalism lie behind most of those lamenting the horrible state of US society. And such assumptions point toward extremism, e.g., of the kind embraced by Reagan and Bush I in “the new world order,” by Bush II post-9/11, or by Donald Trump who will “Make America Great Again.”


            Oliver Stone’s mistake evidences such assumptions. Regarding the Vietnam War, in his movie, Nixon, is the following speech from a young war protestor at the Lincoln Memorial talking to Richard Nixon, who appeared there one night unannounced: “You can’t stop it, can you? Even if you wanted to. Because it’s not you. It’s the system. And the system won’t let you stop it.”


            Insofar as it’s “the system,” the flaw is correctable and American exceptionalism would appear or re-appear in the new system, in a new world order. So, the issue isn’t philosophic; it’s systemic. The issue isn’t the idea of exceptionalism; it’s a faulty political system. The issue isn’t the embrace of power as the key to ameliorating or redeeming the human condition; it’s how that power is arranged or who has it that’s the issue. 


            History, however, reveals that Stone’s perspective is flawed because Nixon and Kissinger did stop the war, with the aid of the Chinese and the Soviets by the way, and without changing the system. But it is important to understand that Stone’s perspective is flawed because he fails to see that those who assassinated JFK were responsible for creating that war. But that connection had to be buried, and was by the Warren Commission, because otherwise it would be difficult to think of the United States and its elites as exceptional. And if that connection weren’t buried, it might lead some to wonder about the character of political life itself. And such wonderings might end up dismissing political exceptionalism as the delusional entryway to extremism.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Politics and the Seduction of Extremism


Politics and the Seduction of Extremism

Peter Schultz


            What drives politics towards extremism, the pursuit of the good or of the bad? Try the good.


            “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” Barry Goldwater/Harry Jaffa.


            Extremism in the eradication of evil, terrorism and radicalism is no vice.


            Extremism in the pursuit of purification, restoration, redemption, or reconstruction is no vice.


            Extremism in the defeat of treason, secession, or the eradication of slavery is no vice.


            Extremism in the pursuit of greatness, political, cultural, or economic greatness, is no vice.


            Extremism in the pursuit of the good is no vice.


            So, Hitler’s extremism in the name of a German rebirth or a rebirth of genuine Germanness was no vice. And his antisemitism was part of this project, which was admittedly extreme. Extremism, as Goldwater’s assertion indicates, is politically attractive, is politically seductive. We may even speak of the seduction of political extremism.


            Nat Hentoff, in his book Free Speech for Me but Not for Thee, argued that censorship is more powerfully seductive than sex. And it may be argued that political extremism is more powerfully seductive than political moderation. Witness the appeal of Reagan, Bush II, and Trump versus the lack of appeal of Carter and Bush I.


            Ullrich, in his biography Hitler, argues that people frequently underestimated Hitler’s appeal, which Ullrich may also be guilty of as well. Perhaps this is merely a reflection of how most people fail to recognize how powerfully seductive political extremism is. Hitler understood it.


            Interestingly, those most immune to Hitler’s seductive powers were “blue-collar workers” insofar as “despite [directing] their propaganda” at these workers, “the Nazis didn’t do well with this demographic group.” Hitler wrote: It is “difficult to win over workers who have belonged to the same organizations for decades.” As a result, in 1922, although the Nazis aspired to be “a popular movement, not at class movement,” they had not succeeded. Apparently, the middle class is more immune to political extremism than are other classes, including the upper classes. Perhaps it is because middle-class conditions impress its members with the limited potential of the human condition. So, for them, political extremism is a vice.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Political Extremism


Political Extremism

Peter Schultz


            What is it that drives politics toward extremism? Some interesting possibilities arise from a reading of Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939, a biography of Hitler by Volker Ullrich.


            Hitler appealed to the German masses as potentially virtuous. He appealed, it might be said, to their souls as Germans, to their Germanness. He even envisioned a “dictator who is also a genius…, a man of iron who is the embodiment today of the German spirit….” Those are Hitler’s words by the way.


            Hitler appealed to Germans to reclaim virtues they once had, when Germany was characterized by “orderliness, cleanliness, and precision… [where work was done] honestly and dutifully.” [98] Again, those are Hitler’s words. Ullrich argues the Hitler regarded the masses “as nothing more than a tool to be manipulated to achieve his political ambitions.” [102] Hitler might be said to manipulating German masses, but he might also be said to be “grooming” the masses so as to raise them up by appealing to them to recover the virtues that were shown in “the great heroic time of 1914” when Germany was forced to take up arms against the Entente of Britain, France, and Russia at the start of World War I.


            Hans Frank, who heard Hitler speak in January 1920, said that “He spoke from the bottom of his soul and all our souls.” There was a “unity of the word and the man,” according to Konrad Heiner, his first biographer. “A measure of authenticity flowed over the audience even when he was telling obvious lies.” Authenticity trumped lies.


            Was Hitler a populist? Yes and no. Yes, he was in that he appealed to the many as if they were capable of being, once again, virtuous, pure, hardworking, patriotic Germans. He didn’t sell the German people short. But, also, he wasn’t in that the people’s potential for virtue, for patriotism could only be actualized by the leadership of a few who were men of iron, men who were embodiments of the German spirit. Genuine or complete populists, on the other hand, trust the many and, therefore, empower them without seeing a need for dictators, geniuses, or men of iron. “Heil Hitler” showed the limits of Hitler’s populism.


            Genuine or complete populism points away from what might be called a politics of leadership or a visionary politics. Woodrow Wilson and Hitler thought of themselves as visionaries and both embraced a visionary politics, not genuinely populist politics. It might seem then that it is visionary politics that drives politics toward extremism, even though such a politics may be and has been called “soul craft.” And as the leader “ascends” while conveying his vision to the many, so too, it is thought, that the many and the nation “ascend.” Visionary politics understood as soul craft was well summed up by Barry Goldwater when he said, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” a line allegedly written by Harry Jaffa, the leader of the “West Coast Straussians.” Understanding politics as soul craft is most comforting but, among other things, it makes the issue of tyranny disappear. There is some danger in that.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Oligarchy and Elections


Oligarchy and Elections

Peter Schultz


To simplify: oligarchs don’t respect the outcome of elections, e.g., JFK’s, Nixon’s, Carter’s, Clinton’s, Trump’s. Some are respected, not as expressions of the popular will, but just because they more or less ratify the oligarchy’s power, its control: LBJ, Reagan, Bush I & II, Obama, Biden.

[Why Biden? At his age, he’s a most suitable representative for the oligarchy, just as Reagan’s age made him suitable. Their age conveyed the message: the oligarchy has been established for a long, long time, so it must be respectable and legitimate given its age! Just like grandfathers. And Obama’s election conveyed the message: this oligarchy isn’t racist. A message that Cornell West is now reinforcing.] 

But also: oligarchs don’t respect elections per se, and so they have no issue with manipulating them, with undermining their integrity: 1960, 1968, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1992, 2000, 2004, 2016, 2020. 

And the media facilitate these oligarchic manipulations by treating elections as “horse races,” focusing on who is winning, and who won, which is of course the only thing of importance in a horse race. Elections, however, have other important implications. 

In brief, in oligarchies, elections are a joke, and the joke is on the many, especially those who take the elections seriously! Talk about irony! It’s laughable. 

In sum: it’s all oligarchy, all the time! 

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Secrecy: The Coin of the Realm


Secrecy: The Coin of the Realm

Peter Schultz


            It’s been said that JFK tried to keep the US out of Vietnam covertly or secretly, while LBJ got the US into Vietnam covertly or secretly. In his book, Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, Ken Hughes has a section “Fear of a Damaging Disclosure,” in which he recounts how Nixon feared “that his own secrets would leak.” [104] And Nixon tried to maintain his secret Operation Menu – his secret bombing campaign in Cambodia – even after the national security rationales for doing so were no longer relevant. Question: What is going on here? Are these men all paranoids? Why the apparent obsessions with secrecy?


            It is important to ask: What does secrecy do, or what does it accomplish? One thing it does is to divert any questions about the overall impact of particular policies. Because of Nixon’s secrecy, “no stories had appeared in print drawing the connection between the secret bombing of Cambodia and all of its calamitous consequences. The ‘whole story of the Menu series,’ as Nixon put it, remained untold.” [105]


            So, secrecy diverts attention away from the underlying policies, thereby affirming those policies surreptitiously, without having to face debate or to gain consent for those policies. In other words, secrecy is a way of governing while bypassing the consent of the governed; it is an oligarchic way of governing, a way of governing favored by the few against the many. Oligarchs construct regimes of secrets because in that way they can govern the many without seeking the consent of the many. In oligarchies, and especially in oligarchies where the oligarchs pretend to be democratic, secrecy is politically compelling. Secrecy is oligarchic because it serves the needs of the few against the needs or desires of the many. Secrecy keeps power in the hands of the few, limiting or bypassing the power of the many.  


            So, when secrecy is the coin of the realm, so to speak, then it may be said that the realm is oligarchic. It will be practiced widely and continually, as it was during Nixon’s presidency, as well as during other, if not all other presidencies. While Hughes focuses, as most people do, on Nixon’s penchant for secrecy, he overlooks the facts that others, e.g., the Washington Post and the NY Times practiced secrecy as well by not revealing the source or sources of the Pentagon Papers. And, of course, Daniel Ellsberg practiced secrecy as well as he copied those papers and then gave them surreptitiously to others. Just like Nixon, the Post, the Times, and Ellsberg had to practice secrecy to successfully implement their policies and achieve their goals.


            Moreover, major governmental agencies practice secrecy as well, e.g., the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, the IRS. In fact, it is difficult to imagine these organizations being able to operate openly, i.e., without relying on pervasive and officially protected secrecy. If, as Hughes wrote, that “Legally, [there] was no reason to keep [Menu] secret, [while] politically [there] was a compelling one,” [105] then it may be said that there are politically compelling reasons – that is, oligarchic reasons – for bureaucratic agencies to practice secrecy.


            To accuse Nixon of practicing what may be called “a politics of secrecy,” as if this distinguished him from other presidents or other governmental officials and organizations, is either na├»ve or dishonest. Nixon practiced a politics of secrecy just as other presidents have done so, especially his two predecessors, JFK and LBJ, both of whom undertook, secretly, major policy initiatives, for better and worse. And, of course, those presidents, just like Nixon, had to engage in cover ups in order to keep those policies secret. Which is to say, all three presidents knew they were operating in an oligarchy and so they knew that they could not succeed except secretly.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Language and Its Consequences


Language and Its Consequences

Peter Schultz


            Daniel Ellsberg, in describing and defending his release of the Pentagon Papers, said that the Vietnam War was “a moral and political disaster, a crime.”


            Now, the words “moral disaster” and “crime” suggest that some kind violations had occurred, moral violations or criminal violations. As a result, the focus lands on the violators, and the question becomes, who violated and why. But what if there were no such violations? That is, what if the war was the result of a particular, let us say an imperialistic kind of politics? That war wasn’t a moral disaster or a crime. It was merely the consequence of an imperialistic political order. There was no “moral disaster” or “crime” at all. Rather, the political order worked precisely as it was meant to work, imperialistically. Spoken of in this way, the focus shifts from persons and their alleged “crimes” to the character of US politics. The war was not an anomaly or an aberration. As Leslie Gelb put it, although in a different way, “the system worked.”


            From this viewpoint, the Pentagon Papers were diversionary in that their focus was on events and personalities, on moral failings, crimes, or mistakes. Those papers led people to ask:  What was wrong with Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson? They did not lead them to ask: What was wrong with the American political order? And the unspoken implication was that that political order was healthy, even exceptional. For all the fuss they caused, the Pentagon Papers ultimately reinforced American exceptionalism and, therewith, American imperialism.