On May 8, 1945, the Nazis capitulated to the Allied Forces. What have we learned from that, and is the United States in danger of repeating history?
I would encourage you to read the books that I have researched for the purpose of this essay. I am gravely concerned that the world is now guided more by fear (which the Nazis used to rule), than reasonable public discourse (what a liberal state ought to be defined by).
Two of these are films are available on YouTube.
- Randall L. Bytwerk, Bending Spines: The propagandas of Nazi Germany and the German Democratic Republic (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2004)
- The Eternal Jew Nazi Party (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlHVin56U2w)
- Triumph of the Will Nazi Party (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVCUsKkXq3Y)
- Robert Paxton, Anatomy of Fascism (Vintage, 2005)
- A Commentary on Triumph of the Will (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7hJVaTW45M)
Robert Paxton, in his book Anatomy of Fascism writes that fascist thought is centered not on a person, or political party, but on “a set of ‘mobilizing passions’ that shape fascist action”. This essay will discuss Paxton’s theory of mobilizing passions, by defining them and by analyzing the following examples.
The content of Paxton’s conception of fascist evangelism can be reduced to a set of ideas and symbols he calls ‘mobilizing passions’ that are borne of a very rudimentary concept of history, self-identification and self-understanding. These “mobilizing passions” focused on a foreign, unclean, contagious and subversive race: the Jewish people. They also consisted of “anxieties about decline and impurity” of the Aryan race. National unity, citizen participation, contempt for compromise, fear of any person who wasn’t German and select myths and symbols which best suited their purpose were also included.
The Nazi Party called for a “mass movement of regeneration, unification, and purity” (Paxton) directed at liberalism, constitutionalism and a Leftist class struggle.” As the Reich became more cohesive, “a nebula of attitudes was taking shape” (Bytwerk, 40) as a battle between good and evil, purity and corruption. All of these “mobilizing passions” are presented in sets of pictures, films, sounds, and words meant to communicate to a target audience a crisis that requires a response, often related to nationalistic pride and purity. They were not well-developed philosophical systems of thought, nor were they even well-developed ideas. They were simply crises or beliefs invented to promote action on the part of the German people and the Nazi Party.
Fascist propaganda was “constantly presented and hammered into [the people].” (Goebbels) The Nazi Party’s system was simple so that even a block warden could understand and communicate them to his charges. They were intended both to instill Nazi values and to call people to action in the midst of some crisis, real or contrived. I shall now set these out, as Paxton has, and show them in the context of Nazi propaganda.
A sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solutions
The Nazi conception of the Jewish people is one of a parasitic race that is similar to rats in the way that they rapidly infiltrate, feed on the food of the German people and spread disease in the midst of the Reich. Rats, of course, must be exterminated, and millions of Jews eventually were in the concentration camps. This is vividly and grotesquely explicated in The Eternal Jew with video footage of rats running along sideboards and rats heaped on top of one another vying for the first crack at whatever there was waiting for them off-camera. This may very well have been the beginnings of the Nazi Party’s plans to purify themselves of “the dirty Jew.” Further to this, there was the infiltration of Jews into high society. In the film The Eternal Jew, Jews are depicted in expensive suits, drinking cocktails and bumping elbows with pure Aryans. “Outwardly,” says Hitler “they try to act just like the host peoples.” Again, we see the picture of the Jew as a parasite.
The level of suspicion this must have raised mobilized people to be ever more mindful of the possible presence of the Jew in every walk of life. Once Jewish people shaved their beards, took off their skull-caps and dressed in expensive clothing, they were nearly impossible to discern from a pure-blooded German, as is outlined in this short film. When this part of society is pictured through the lens of the hordes of rats all climbing on top of each other for pride-of-place it, without doubt, caused people of be ever more mindful of the company they kept, and on constant lookout for imposters.
“We must remove from our midst the elements that have become bad. They do not belong to us,” says Hitler in The Triumph of the Will.
The primacy of the group, toward which one has duties superior to every right, whether individual or universal, and the subordination of the individual to it
The Aryan nation was this primal group. Even the smallest unit of the German populace – the family home – was not immune from the call to allegiance with the Reich. Block Wardens were charged with ensuring that something as simple as a sign hung on the family radio was present, reminding them that listening to foreign radio stations was forbidden. In this particular context, every individual was subordinate to the group.
The most ingenious method of maintaining this subordination was what people already knew: religion. Here the Nazis had a familiar pattern from which to preach the primacy of the group. In the film Triumph of the Will we can see some of these echoes of religious piety in action. Hitler processes through the midst of those gathered. He speaks from an elevated stage from behind a podium, both of which would be familiar to the audience as signs of authority in the Roman Church, and both of which subordinate the audience to the speaker. Hitler is a prototypical Pope, infallible in his intellect, preaching only that which is contained in the Nazi Party’s catechism.
Dread of the group’s decline under the corrosive effects of individualistic liberalism, class conflict, and alien influences
The Nazi Party maintained a very short leash on the arts, particularly plays. Playwrights were expected to produce only plays that cast the Reich in a good light, showing its goodness toward the German people and the protection of the Reich and German purity from the Jewish people. This is not surprising considering that the Nazi Party had risen to such frenzied power in just seven years, from a mere seven original members. A good example of a source of this “dread of the group’s decline” is found in a quote from Goebbels, where he says that “the modern state … [could not] withstand the subterranean forces of anarchy and chaos without propaganda. The cleverest trick, he said, used in propaganda against Germany during the war (WWI) was to accuse Germany of what our enemies themselves were doing.” As noted earlier, there was also the ever present danger of infiltration by the Jews. The rats (the prototypical Jew) were “cunning, cowardly and cruel”. Their subterfuge existed only to destroy, much as the Jews did among mankind. They were parasites, guilty of international crime, and purveyors of prostitution.
The need for closer integration of a purer community, by consent if possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary
This integration was accomplished through the use of propaganda that redefined Germany as a state in which purity of thought was just as important as purity of deed. In the absence of either, the Stasi were not far from one’s heels. All people were expected to subordinate themselves to the State in order to bring about this close integration and purer community.
The need for authority by natural leaders (always male), culminating in a national chief who alone is capable of incarnating the group’s destiny
In the film The Triumph of the Will, Hess makes the statement that Germany is Hitler and Hitler is Germany. Not only does this identify Hitler as the central authority, but it also presents him as an almost god-like personality who is the only person capable of ushering in the Third Reich.
This is seen in the footage of the youth rally seen in this film. Thousands gathered to hear Hitler speak, like a well-beloved evangelist. Those in attendance were instructed to be “peaceable and courageous” at the same time; hard, not soft in a pureness of flesh and blood. “In us Germany marches” proclaims Hitler. “Us” being the best racial member of the German nation who alone can claim the leadership of the Reich and the people. They were a holy order of political leaders.
The superiority of the leader’s instincts over abstract and universal reason
Through the strict control of the arts, Hitler’s officials carried out censorship and sometimes coercion if some play or piece of art was seen as damaging or subversive to the Reich.
The beauty of violence and the efficacy of the will, when they are devoted to the group’s success
Anything or anyone that did not completely submit him/itself to the overall good of the group was the target of violence, sometimes to the point of death. In Film as a Weapon, Hippler says that the most useful and effective form of propaganda delivery is through film. “The impact of the message is greater if it is less abstract, more visual” and that it must be “directed at mass sensibilities.” This rings true in the preceding paragraphs, and is telling of how a group could be manipulated into believing that the Nazi Party must move forward by any means necessary. One must not forget that propaganda’s “moral value is determined by the goals it seeks”.
The right of the chosen people to dominate others without restraint from any kind of human or divine law, being decided by the sole criterion of the group’s prowess.
The chosen people were part of Hitler’s body. As we have seen elsewhere, Hitler is Germany and Germany is Hitler. Therefore any action taken to “dominate others” was permissible, including routing Jews out of society, screenings of propaganda films and isolating Jews in general. Even then, the Jews were not alone. Anyone who did not toe the party line was to be subject to imprisonment and sometimes death. The prowess of the group was the prowess of Hitler: Hitler as savior, Hitler as Pope, Hitler as Germany, and the German people as constituent parts of Hitler. Anything was permissible if it served to advance the Nazi Party and rout out the Jew. This was the Reich personified at its most obscene.
In conclusion, it is worth noting where Nazi fascism led. Nazi Germany waged a war against millions of Jews. Goebbels said that “the age of extreme Jewish intellectualism has now ended, and the success of the German revolution has again given the right of way to the German spirit.” This is yet another excuse – or perhaps mobilizing passion – that led to the wholesale slaughter of millions of human beings because of something as simple as racial hatred. Nervousness at the decline of purity in Germany began with the influx of Jewish people into western Europe. This dilution of the cultural and spiritual norms in the “host country” was unwelcome as nationalistic pride, identity, appearance and wealth were replaced by what was seen as an invasion of foreign people from foreign lands. Foreign states were seen by fascists as enemies.
At about the same time that this influx of men, women and children moved into Germany, scientific discoveries were being made about the role of bacteria in contagions, and the mechanisms of heredity. This made it possible to let the imagination run rampant over the humanity of these new ethnic minorities. It was “possible to imagine whole new categories of internal enemies” delivered by those who were not welcome. Perhaps, had there not been these discoveries, millions of lives may have been saved.
For now, we listen to the screams of Auschwitz, Nuremberg, and countless other concentration camps where Jews and other unwanted people were murdered. It is a part of our history that is almost too painful, obscene, grotesque for us to acknowledge. Yet, we must, if only to be better human beings.
Have we really learned our lesson?