Once and for all: The leftist origins of National Socialism
The debate about where Nazism should be placed on the political spectrum has enjoyed a renaissance of late. The answer is so obvious that we really needn't have bothered
Okay, let’s pause for a minute, note the above title, and have a collective ‘face palm’ over how absurd it is that this article even needs to be written in the first place. But it does.
This debate has never gone away of course; but recent weeks have been something of a renaissance – largely thanks to the bizarre suspension (and eventual – and sensible – reinstatement) of Dr. Rachel Frosh from the Conservative Party candidate list due to a retweet linking Nazism to socialism.
This rather embarrassing affair is in fact a sad and clear indictment that the words ‘never again’ are little more than a hollow slogan. For if we refuse to accept, and more importantly challenge, the ideological origins of a movement that culminated in the systematic murder of millions of innocent human beings, there is absolutely no way we can prevent the same from happening again.
The easiest way of proving that the origins of Nazism are in no way remotely conservative is to start by looking at some defining features of conservatism itself, specifically the European variety.
These include: the belief that a society rooted in monarchy and aristocracy is preferable to mass democracy; that there is a transcendental moral order (what Kirk called the Permanent Things) which in Western Civilization has been preserved and passed down through the Christian Church; that property rights are the very foundation of ordered liberty; and, of course, the universal conservative belief that any necessary societal change must occur slowly and without structural damage to ancient and proven institutions – that problems in society come not from broken traditions and institutions but from broken men and morals.
It should go without saying that Nazism had no love of monarchy or aristocracy. Hitler didn’t reinstate the House of Hohenzollern; he made himself dictator. The notion that the son of a minor civil servant (Alois Hitler himself born a bastard and of peasant stock) had a right to rule over Germany can hardly be called traditionally conservative. Moreover, his great dislike of the aristocratic military establishment is well known; the lack of a ‘von’ in front of his surname was a permanent chip on Hitler’s shoulder. Granted, Himmler liked to play feudal lord with the SS, but his was a ‘feudalism’ based on a half-cocked interpretation of a quasi-mythical pagan past.
This brings us nicely to defining conservative feature number two: Christianity. Himmler’s obsession with paganism is very well-documented. Hitler may have viewed the SS as his personal bodyguard, but Himmler viewed them as a pagan Knights Templar, destined to recreate a utopic, pre-Christian Teutonic society.
Furthermore, the ‘official’ religion of Nazism was positive Christianity, a doctrine that can hardly be called positive or Christian. This ‘Christian’ ideology rejected the Jewish bible in its entirety, rejected Jesus’ Jewish origins, and wished to wipe Catholicism off the face of the earth (stalwart defender of tradition it is) and create a united Nazi protestant church.
Nor can it be said that the Nazis had any respect for traditional property rights. They nationalized industries, advocated progressive taxation schemes, and were virulently anti-capitalist. Now, that’s not to say that conservatism must necessarily be in favour of pure, unrestricted laissez-faire capitalism (see Kirk, Chesterton, etc.), but whereas the traditionalist objection to capitalism is at its heart an objection to the disastrous spiritual and moral effects of industrialisation, the Nazis’ objection to capitalism was rooted firmly in post-industrialist, Marxist interpretations of economics.
The conservative argues that socialism isn’t a cure for the disease of industrial society, but a symptom of the same sickness. As we all know, Nazi property violations weren’t limited solely to estate, they also infringed upon life and liberty with spectacular zeal, especially the life and liberty of those they deemed sub-human.
‘Aha’, says the skeptical reader, ‘this is where I have him! This crazy conservative doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He just wrote it himself, the Nazis were a bunch of racists, surely that means they were right wing!’ Now, unlike you, my dear liberal reader, I understand that man is fallen, so I’ll forgive you your ignorance on the matter. First, let’s briefly get this ‘right wing’ thing out of the way, shall we?
Yes, fascists and Nazis were almost from the start called ‘right wing’, but this was a slander employed by other socialists, meant to discredit these socialists of a distinctly nationalist bent in the eyes of fellow radical travelers. If they were ‘right wing’ at all they were the ‘right wing’ of the left.
As Jonah Goldberg explains in his brilliant (and apparently woefully under-read) Liberal Fascism, this is why street fighting between fascists and communists was so vicious in Germany; these people were fighting for the same hearts and minds, the same segment of middle class voters susceptible to revolutionary nonsense. The godfather of fascism himself, Mussolini, was a member of the International, and the term ‘national socialist’ was in use in leftist circles well before the Nazi party was created.
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