The Game: Who Goes Nazi?

Bookworm passed this on via email and I thought it was pretty fascinating: a Harper’s piece from August of 1941, written by Dorothy Thompson, Who Goes Nazi?

It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times–in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis.
Sometimes I think there are direct biological factors at work–a type of education, feeding, and physical training which has produced a new kind of human being with an imbalance in his nature. He has been fed vitamins and filled with energies that are beyond the capacity of his intellect to discipline. He has been treated to forms of education which have released him from inhibitions. His body is vigorous. His mind is childish. His soul has been almost completely neglected.

At any rate, let us look round the room.

The gentleman standing beside the fireplace with an almost untouched glass of whiskey beside him on the mantelpiece is Mr. A, a descendant of one of the great American families. There has never been an American Blue Book without several persons of his surname in it. He is poor and earns his living as an editor. He has had a classical education, has a sound and cultivated taste in literature, painting, and music; has not a touch of snobbery in him; is full of humor, courtesy, and wit. He was a lieutenant in the World War, is a Republican in politics, but voted twice for Roosevelt, last time for Willkie. He is modest, not particularly brilliant, a staunch friend, and a man who greatly enjoys the company of pretty and witty women. His wife, whom he adored, is dead, and he will never remarry.

He has never attracted any attention because of outstanding bravery. But I will put my hand in the fire that nothing on earth could ever make him a Nazi. He would greatly dislike fighting them, but they could never convert him…. Why not?

Beside him stands Mr. B, a man of his own class, graduate of the same preparatory school and university, rich, a sportsman, owner of a famous racing stable, vice-president of a bank, married to a well-known society belle. He is a good fellow and extremely popular. But if America were going Nazi he would certainly join up, and early. Why?… Why the one and not the other?

Read the whole thing. I think Thompson got it very right. And people haven’t changed so very much – the types she surveys here are all around us, in our homes, our communities and most certainly within our pundit and political classes; they are before our eyes in every venue, these sorts who will, and will never, go Nazi.

A macabre game, indeed.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Jay Manifold

    This seems apposite: “Many a university teacher during the 1930s has seen English and American students return from the Continent uncertain whether they were communists or Nazis and certain only that they hated Western liberal civilization.” — Hayek, _The Road to Serfdom_

  • Th_Ph

    Dorothy Thompson was one of the “innocents” recruited by Willi Munzenberg as an agent of the Comintern. Her views of Nazis and Nazism are not a good faith effort to understand, but propaganda to sell whatever perspective on Hitler would would advance the Soviet foreign policy objectives of the moment—anti-fascist during the Spanish Civil War, ant-war during the Nazi-Soviet pact, anti-Nazi once again when Hitler invaded the USSR. I would refer you to Stephen Koch’s excellent “Double Lives.”

  • Zachriel

    Sarah Kuvasz: To say Nazi support was primarily Protestant is to betray your ignorance.

    Hamilton, Who Voted For Hitler?, rinceton University Press, 1983.

    Childers, The Nazi Voter, University of North Carolina Press, 1983.

    Sarah Kuvasz: Now, having said that, I don’t think there was any more religious orientation to Nazism than there is to Democraticism in the modern USA.

    Agreed. It’s a proxy for other cultural values.

  • ThomasD

    From the source article,

    “[h]e believes that America is the country of Creative Evolution once it shakes off its middle-class complacency, its bureaucratized industry, its tentacle-like and spreading government, and sets itself innerly free.

    And from 1941 no less.

  • waltj

    To throw my own zwei Pfennig into the mix, German industrialists and bankers who backed Hitler often did so with the thought that they could manipulate him and use him to their own ends, only to find the tables turned on them. The heavily Prussian Junker officer corps deluded itself in much the same way. Some were true believers, like WWI fighter ace Goering, but most looked at Hitler and the Nazis as useful thugs. They were quite surprised when they found themselves swearing an oath of personal loyalty to the Fuehrer.

    On the other hand, Nazi supporters from the lower and working classes were often former enlisted soldiers from WWI who had sacrificed much during the war and its immediate aftermath, and wanted their pride back. They found the communists’ calls for international brotherhood and worldwide revolution demeaning to their recent struggles, so they listened to Hitler, who told them what they wanted to hear. If there’s one thing Hitler was, it was an oratory chameleon, who could expertly fit his message to the crowd, whether its was made up of pinstriped bankers or uniformed brawlers.

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  • Adam Greenwood

    That article skirts on the edge of self-congratulation.

  • c matt

    but most looked at Hitler and the Nazis as useful thugs. They were quite surprised when they found themselves swearing an oath of personal loyalty to the Fuehrer.

    Hmm…reminds me of the current progressive establishment’s fondness for Islam.

  • Scott Locklin

    The most chilling thing is that this sort of vacuous “thought” is actually taken seriously. Basically: “everyone Dorothy Thompson doesn’t like is a Nazi.” Brilliant. I’m sure Miz Thompson would have been a wonderful finder of witches, were she born a few hundred years earlier.

  • Anthony

    Interesting article and given some of the silly comments coming out of the intelligensia, such as Stone’s apologia for Hitler and Stalin or Thomas Friedman’s newfound enthusiasm for the Chinese regime, it makes you wonder. Intellectuals often end up supporting totalitarian regimes, especially those far away. Chomsky for example supported the Khemer Rouge from the comfort of his US arm chair.

    Why? I think intellectuals love power. And they feel powerless in the US. Totalitarians “GET THINGS DONE”. China banned plastic bags! (even though they didn’t). So what if there is little freedom — THEY GET THINGS DONE!

    So intellectuals get attracted to people like Castro and the like. Lest we forget, an earlier generation was attracted to Hitler and Stalin.

  • B. Durbin

    Scott— I took away, instead, the message that those who do not have a solid sense of self— those whose self-worth is measured by who they are friends with— are most apt to fall to the destructive trend of the day.

  • Scott Locklin

    B. Durbin: I don’t get that impression at all. Had she said something even vaguely negative about a single one of the “non-Nazis,” I’d have suspected this of being something other than the animal instincts of a crazy woman projected onto her political prejudices. Every single one of the non-Nazis she mentions is imbued with almost mystical purity of spirit, and every single one of the alleged “that person would be a nazi” people are of a type Miz Thompson would rather not invite to dinner. How convenient for her.
    Just because she was on the right side of history doesn’t mean she had any special insight into human nature. Reading this article indicates she’s a garden variety self-absorbed ninny who thinks her personal tastes map onto something measurable.

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