Liberal Fascism

The Good Germans, Cont’d

From a reader:

I’m certainly no expert, but the German aristocracy was inclined towards Nazi ideology to the extent that the Nazi Party was ethnically nationalist and authoritarian, rather than populist and totalitarian. Liah Greenfeld, the Harvard sociologist (Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity), shows that nationalism in Germany, to which the aristocracy was won over after the Napoleonic occupation, was an ideology of Nietzschean “ressentiment” against the West–a transvaluation of values to which Marx also was not immune. It championed collectivism over “bourgeois” individualism, statism over market capitalism, (ethnic) “racism” over humanism, spontaneity over individual reason, and the general will over individual liberty and participatory government. And it glorified martial valor. Given the traditional aristocratic suspicion about democratic movements, this toxic stew was like catnip. It was not surprising, therefore, that Junkers went along for the ride with Hitler, but to the extent they became disillusioned I doubt it was because they had secretly harbored liberal sympathies.

Thankß for all you do.

Again, I’d need to read up more on the specific personalities to say categorically none of them had liberal (i.e. democratic) sympathies. But the point of the Junker/Aristocratic animosity is not to say that these people were the wellsping of Jeffersonian democracy in Germany. No, my point has always been that they clung to a reservoir of pre-Nazi patriotism. As John Lukacs has noted to great effect, Hitler insisted that he was a nationalist, but not a patriot. The aristocracy, for all its flaws, maintained a sense of noblese oblige, of decency, of tradition and a notion that being German was something more than the animalistic will to power of the SS types. Nazism was crass. Nazis did things noblemen do not do.

Remember, Hitler despised what he considered to be bourgeois values. Admittedly, the bourgeois and the aristocracy did not share identical values, but Hitler’s dislike for both had the same source: He considered himself a revolutionary. He believed the Social Democrats’ greatest accomplishment was the destruction of the monarchy, which he had no interest whatsoever in restoring.

This is all an important conservative point, I think. The left tends to see in tradition a collection of bigotries outliving their relevance. But tradition is a great source for humane values. Germany would have been better off if its best traditions had been stronger in the face of Nazism.

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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