Fascism expert warns that "2024 might be the new 1933" because "disinformation" is driving the rise of "far right parties" that will allow Vladimir Putin to annex Eastern Europe
Maybe, just maybe, the National Socialists are dead and gone, and these stupid historical comparisons have nothing to do with modern politics.
In three days, we will have had a full month of hysterical freaking out about Alternative für Deutschland and the mythological “right wing extremists” who are likely to overthrow the Federal Republic and re-establish fascism. Facile historical gestures towards National Socialism – never all that rare in German politics – have become so pervasive in this insane discourse that I’m now immune to them. They wash over me and I feel nothing. Der Standard, however, has succeeded in piercing my armour of indifference by running this piece, which asks in all seriousness whether 2024 is shaping up to be “the new 1933,” and which is so ridiculous, internally incoherent and generally idiotic that I can’t let it pass in silence.
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The column turns out to be the German translation of this item by University College Dublin Lecturer Mark William Jones at Project Syndicate. Jones is one of a whole clique of academics and pundits who make their careers by curating a highly ridiculous if politically useful mythology of National Socialism; here he is last year lecturing “about Hitler’s 1923 Putsch and its lessons for our times”:
2023 was the 100th anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch, an event so central and sacred to Jones’s political imaginary that he believes we are still “learning” from it:
One hundred years later, these events are more relevant than ever. Contemporary democracy is in crisis. The ‘strongman’ model of political leadership is back. In 2024, the United States will elect a new President. Will Trump return to the White House? Was the march on the Capitol a re-enactment of the Hitler putsch? Are the same forces that eventually destroyed German democracy in the 1920s fueling the anger behind the surge in populism in our world today? In 1923 Hitler was defeated; can the lessons of that defeat aide us as we mobilise to protect the future of liberal democracy?
We are always, in Jones’s mind, living in some semblance of the Weimar Republic – always teetering on the edge of totalitarian relapse every time voters support policies that Jones doesn’t like. If any of this were true, it would be the bitterest of indictments for postwar liberalism, which has had free run over Western Europe for 80 nears now, and is still apparently likely to be trampled underfoot at any moment by the undead corpse of its long-defeated archenemy. Perhaps this is why Jones’s fears parallel so precisely the unstudied, naive impressions of many right-wing nationalists, who likewise draw comparisons to Weimar at every opportunity and seem to believe, against all evidence, that we are caught in some kind of unusual time warp, a recurrent Groundhog’s Day in which secret fascists are always about to seize power.
From Jones’s column at the link above:
On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany … It was … a triumphant moment in the history of popular deception. Since the Weimar Republic’s early days, its politics had been defined by disinformation campaigns, including the lie that Weimar democracy was the work of a cabal of Jews and socialists who had “stabbed Germany in the back” to ensure its defeat in World War I.
Today, few people dispute that Hitler’s arrival was a turning point in world history … But Hitler did not “seize power,” as the Nazis later claimed. Instead … he was “levered into power” by a small group of influential men.
One of those men was Franz von Papen, who served as chancellor in 1932. He (infamously) thought that Hitler and the Nazi Party … could be used to advance a conservative agenda. Similarly, Germany’s president, former Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, wanted to use Hitler to restore the monarchy.
But these conservatives’ plans were soon swept away by Hitler’s ruthless leadership, Nazi violence, and the German public’s rush to join the regime and become a part of the promised national reawakening … All had been fooled by Hitler’s ability to look respectable in the final years of the Weimar Republic.
Within 100 days of Hitler becoming chancellor … the Nazis’ ruthless drive for power became all too clear … [I]n the summer of 1934, Hitler ordered the murder of his internal party rivals and, following Hindenburg’s death on August 2, declared himself German Führer. His dictatorship was complete …
This period of history remains all too relevant today. Hundreds of millions of people will vote in pivotal elections this year, and even though the warning signs are there, few commentators are prepared to say it out loud: 2024 might be the new 1933.
National Socialism in these analyses is always a vague thing that grows and shrinks, changing shape and colour as necessary to support whatever political demands the mythologists happen to be making. Thus for Jones and his fantasies of a liberal censorship regime, the defining feature of Nazism becomes “disinformation,” and the only lesson to draw from the final days of the Weimar Republic is the parliamentary ascent of the NSDAP. This makes democracy very dangerous, because every election is the potential end of democracy. For this polemic it is always necessary to construct the Nazis as secret fascists who played nice until they came into government. The historical reality is very much the opposite, but self-proclaimed fascists are too rare these days to constitute a credible threat. If Jones can’t impute cryptofascism to his political enemies, he’ll have very little fascism to complain about.
Consistent with the hysterical style that always accompanies appeals like this, Jones would have you believe that we are on the verge of catastrophe, because of “disinformation,” or something:
Just imagine the world a year from now, with disinformation having taken down democratic majorities around the world. President Donald Trump ends the United States’ support for Ukraine. NATO is no longer a restraint on Vladimir Putin’s dreams of building a new Russian Empire across Eastern Europe. A critical mass of far-right parties in the European Parliament blocks a unified European response. Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia are on their own. With the war in Gaza having expanded into a regional conflict, Putin seizes the opportunity to launch another blitz, accompanied by long-range missiles. And amid the chaos, China decides to seize Taiwan.
The prospects for 2024 are so bleak that many refuse to contemplate them. Just as liberals in 1933 predicted that Hitler would quickly fail, wishful thinking today is clouding our judgment. We are sleepwalking … into a new international order.
For Jones, the only legitimate “democratic majorities” are those that share his opinions; should the people succumb to “disinformation” – that is, views Jones disagrees with – then these “majorities” have been dissolved and are no longer legitimate. I can’t see any other way of parsing this argument. Democracy, for somebody like Jones, is when you want what the late-stage liberal system wants to give you, and the system gives it to you.
If you thought that was bad, it gets worse:
In her masterful two-volume history of the interwar era, Zara Steiner refers to 1929-33 as the “hinge years,” when idealism in international relations was replaced by the “Triumph of the Dark” …
Faced with today’s global crises, there is no room for optimism. We are potentially in another hinge year. If liberals act now, they can still prevail.
In a promising sign, hundreds of thousands of Germans recently took to the streets to support democracy and diversity, and to denounce the far right. But demonstrations in one country are not enough. German liberals must be joined by others across the continent. A continent-wide demonstration would send a powerful message. The sense of urgency must extend upward, particularly to business leaders like JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who, hedging his bets, has already started cozying up to Trump.
The insane regime-orchestrated German protests “against the right” are not enough for Jones. He wants a European-wide protest movement, which he somehow believes will scare Americans away from supporting Donald Trump. I don’t know how that is supposed to work even in Jones’s beleaguered imagination. Given the sheer, unvarnished moronicity of these lines, it seems superfluous to note that our mythologist has completely misconstrued Dimon’s comments, which are simple strategic advice to deprive Trump of support by refraining from vilifying his supporters.
Every aspect of Jones’s fairy tale fails the empirical test. The Weimar Republic bears no resemblance to present-day European states; it was weak and chaotic and riven by both political violence and the looming threat of Communism, to which hard-right nationalist parties were a reaction. Today, Europeans inhabit extremely powerful and stable nation states; what remains of the political right draws strength not from the threat of Communist revolution, but from the all-too-real and omnipresent postwar managerial order. Populist and liberal elements are both well expressed among the opposition, as critics of globaloid doom world believe that democratic mechanisms contain the solutions to their most pressing problems. In fact, their loudest complaint – the one thread that unites the “populist right” across Europe – addresses the profoundly undemocratic nature of modern technocracy and of the present NGO tyranny, which nobody ever voted for and which nevertheless has a stranglehold on all of our lives.
If anybody in the present political landscape is less-than-forthcoming about their agenda, it is not the opposition but the establishment left, which sells fantasies of cheap Green electricity from windmills while their intellectuals preach the necessity of degrowth to a confined audience of party faithful. Likewise, if there is anti-democratic authoritarianism to be found anywhere, it is among the supporters of the Covidian hygiene regime, the draconian home heating regulators and the self-appointed guardians of democracy, who every moment dream up new initiatives to stifle the free expression and political preferences of their own people.
Nothing reveals the sclerotic incapacity of postwar turboliberalism to confront reality, as its inability to conceive of opposition beyond the fascist frame. This comes at the cost of serious incoherence, because if you read Jones carefully, you’ll see that for all his talk of Hitler, he’s not worried about fascism at all. He’s anxious instead about the prospect of waning NATO influence in Europe and the advantage he thinks this might give America’s rivals. If Europeans don’t elect the right EU parliament in June, we will “sleepwalk into a new international order” in which Putin will launch a bunch of missiles and overrun Eastern Europe and China will invade Taiwan. None of that sounds anything like 1933. In fact, it is very nearly the opposite; these are Cold War-era fears about the rivals to American hegemony that emerged after the defeat of the Axis powers in 1945.
Reading old media commentary from even two decades ago is a curious thing. Morality tales about Hitler were much rarer then. With every passing year, these distant events become ever more central to establishment rhetoric. As the entire era vanishes from living memory, the possibilities for its opportunistic instrumentalisation only increase. Perhaps in the near future, as climate ideology decays, we will have an entire politics premised on opposition to National Socialism. All the major parties will field variations upon the same anti-Nazi platform, in the talkshows they will debate about nothing but the best means of stopping the rise to power of a man and a party that have been dead and buried for the better part of a century.
A telling difference between leftism and liberalism lies in the utopian vision. Marxists paint happy pictures of an egalitarian future, where everyone will produce according to his ability and take according to his needs, and they use this fantasy to judge the shortcomings of our evil capitalist present. Postwar liberalism, by contrast, deploys a dystopian mythology to measure its present success. We are striving not to achieve any improvement in human conditions, but merely to prevent a recurrence of the twelve dark years between 1933 and 1945. Everything that happened in this period is reduced to a one-dimensional moral fable about the righteousness of liberal politics. Every criticism of liberal military intervention is the Munich Agreement from 1938 all over again; opponents of mass migration are fascists in thrall to National Socialist racial ideals; Heinrich Himmler was a vaccine sceptic and so those who don’t like the Covid jabs are literally Nazis.
My crazy suggestion is that maybe none of this is about fascism at all. Aside from a few small groups of deranged and irrelevant larpers – who are thoroughly infiltrated by the security services and suspiciously eager to play the role of liberal villain – maybe there aren’t any fascists anymore. Maybe there is only on the one hand the turboliberal postwar political order, which is sparing no effort to subvert and dismantle liberalism itself lest unwashed voters make the wrong choice at the ballot box; and on the other hand a lot of ordinary people who demand a say in policies that effect their everyday lives in profound ways.
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