Socialism, Fascism & Racism


I’m running around like a headless chicken today [Why narrow it down to "today"? -- The Couch].

But I see that Michael Ledeen’s review is launching some interesting conversation over at Philosophoblog.

I really want to spend some considered time on this, but there’s one point I want to throw my two cents in. Michael seems to be saying that Nazism was primary about racism, not socialism. And that the socialism was a mere epiphenomenon. I think he’s right and wrong about that. I think he’s forcing a hard  intellectual distinction that doesn’t need to be made. Socialism today is seen as a purely economic doctrine. It’s not. The “social question” was aimed at how best to organize society and economics was merely the best empirical grounds for having that discussion (and then the Marxists said every thing was about economics, etc). But for many non-Marxist socialists, socialism was about more than economics. For many socialists and progressives, socialism was racism and racism was socialism. Nazism was socialism for a race. The Nazi view was uglier and more extreme than anyone else’s, but it was not philosophically so distinct from the views of many progressives in America and socialists in Britain. Oliver Wendell Holmes believed that the heart of social reform wasn’t economics but the eugenic program to “build a race.” An excerpt from the book:

Just as socialist economics was a specialization within the larger
Progressive avocation, eugenics was a closely related specialty.
Eugenic arguments and economic arguments tracked each other,
complemented each other, and, at times, melted into each other.

Sidney Webb, the father of Fabian socialism and still among the
most revered British intellectuals, laid it out fairly clearly. “No consistent
eugenicist,” he explained, “can be a ‘Laissez Faire’ individualist
[that is, a conservative] unless he throws up the game in despair.
He must interfere, interfere, interfere!” The fact that the “wrong”
people were outbreeding the “right” ones would put Britain on the
path of “national deterioration” or, “as an alternative,” result “in this
country gradually falling to the Irish and the Jews.”

And then elsewhere in a discussion of the Wisconsin progressives:

Charles Van Hise, Roosevelt’s close adviser,
was more emphatic. “He who thinks not of himself primarily, but of
his race, and of its future, is the new patriot,” explained Van Hise, the
founder of the American conservation movement and president of
the University of Wisconsin during its glory days as the premier
training ground for American progressives.19 Van Hise summarized
the American Progressive attitude toward eugenics well when he explained:
“We know enough about agriculture so that the agricultural
production of the country could be doubled if the knowledge were
applies; we know enough about disease so that if the knowledge
were utilized, infectious and contagious diseases would be substantially
destroyed in the United States within a score of years; we know
enough about eugenics so that if the knowledge were applied, the defective
classes would disappear within a generation.”

In short I think Michael’s right that Nazism was primarily concerned with racism and not socialism, but only if you define socialism in purely economic terms. That is a distinction I think he’s imposing, not one that was necessarily maintained by the Nazis themselves.  The Nazis were socialists because they were racists, and they were racists because of the kind of socialism they embraced. Two sides of the same coin. 


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