The stale ad Hitlerum fallacy used by progressives to demonize violators of the Party Line.A great essay.
Donald Trump’s success in the primaries and his rhetoric have sparked troubled meditations about an awakening of fascist impulses among his supporters. Bret Stephens has drawn an analogy with the Thirties, “the last dark age of Western politics,” and compared Trump to Benito Mussolini. On the left, Dana Milbank, in a column titled “Trump Flirts with Fascism,” wrote about a campaign rally at which Trump was “leading supporters in what looked very much like a fascist salute,” a scene New York Times house-conservative David Brooks linked to the Nuremberg party rallies.
Much of the rhetoric that links Trump to fascism or Nazism is merely the stale ad Hitlerum fallacy used by progressives to demonize the candidate. They did the same thing when they called George W. Bush “Bushitler.” This slur reflects the hoary leftist dogma that conservatives at heart are repressed xenophobes and knuckle-dragging racists lusting for a messianic leader to restore their lost “white privilege” and punish their minority, immigrant, and feminist enemies. As such, the attack on Trump is nothing new or unexpected from a progressive ideology whose totalitarian inclinations have always had much more in common with fascism than conservatism does.
What Auden called the “low dishonest decade” of the Thirties, however, is indeed instructive for our predicament today, but not because of any danger of a fascist party taking root in modern America. Communism was (and in some ways still is) vastly more successful at infiltrating and shaping American political, cultural, and educational institutions than fascism ever was. But the same cultural pathologies that enabled both fascist and Nazi aggression still afflict us today. These pathologies and their malign effects are more important than the reasons for Trump’s popularity–– anger at elites, economic stagnation, and anti-immigrant passions–– that supposedly echo the “waves of fear and anger” of Auden’s Thirties.
The most important delusion of the Thirties still active today is the idealistic internationalism that had developed over the previous century. A world shrunk by new communication and transportation technologies and linked by global trade, internationalists argued, meant nations and peoples were becoming more alike. Thus they desired the same prosperity, political freedom, human rights, and peace that the West enjoyed. Interstate relations now should be based on this “harmony of interests,” and managed by non-lethal transnational organizations rather than by force. Covenants and treaties like the Hague and Geneva Conventions, and institutions like the League of Nations and the International Court of Arbitration, could peacefully resolve conflicts among nations through diplomatic engagement, negotiation, and appeasement.
The Preamble to the First Hague Convention (1899) captures the idealism that would compromise foreign policy in the Thirties. The Convention’s aims were “the maintenance of the general peace” and “the friendly settlement of international disputes.” This goal was based on the “solidarity which unites the member of the society of civilized nations” and their shared desire for “extending the empire of law and of strengthening the appreciation of international justice.” Two decades later, the monstrous death and destruction of World War I should have shattered the delusion of such “solidarity” existing even among the “civilized nations.” Despite that gruesome lesson, Europe doubled down and created the League of Nations, which failed to stop the serial aggression that culminated in World War II.
But the League wasn’t the only manifestation of naïve internationalism. The Locarno Treaty of 1925 welcomed Germany back into the community of nations with a seat on the League of Nations council. Nobel Peace prizes, and wish-fulfilling headlines like the New York Times’ “France and Germany Bar War Forever,” were all that resulted. The Kellogg-Briand pact of 1928 “condemn[ed] recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce[d] it as an instrument of national policy” in interstate relations. The signing powers asserted that “the settlement or solution of all disputes or conflicts . . . shall never be sought except by pacific means.”
All the future Axis Powers signed the treaty, and they all soon shredded these “parchment barriers.” In the next few years, Japan invaded Manchuria, Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland in gross violation of the Versailles Treaty, and Italy invaded Ethiopia. By the time Germany annexed Austria, and Neville Chamberlain’s faith in negotiation and appeasement handed Czechoslovakia to Hitler, all these treaties and conventions and conferences were dead letters, and the League of Nations was exposed as a “cockpit in the tower of Babel,” as Churchill suggested after the First World War.
However, such graphic and costly evidence showing the folly of “covenants without the sword,” as Hobbes put it, did not discredit this dangerous idealism over the following decades. Indeed, it lies behind the disasters of Obama’s foreign policy. Just consider his “outreach” to our enemies, his acknowledgement of our own “imperfections,” his reliance on toothless U.N. Security Council Resolutions, his preference for non-lethal economic sanctions to pressure adversaries, and his belief that negotiated settlements and agreements can achieve peace and good relations even with our fiercest enemies. All reflect the same failure to recognize that our adversaries in fact do not sincerely want to reach an agreement, for the simple reason they are not in fact “just like us,” and so they do not want peace and prosperity and good relations with their neighbors and the “world community.”
The catalogue of Obama’s failures is long and depressing...