Paying Attention to Hitler: Some Centennials

September 18, 2021

I will not surprise anyone by observing that authoritarian populism has taken hold in the United States. Donald Trump never made the slightest pretense of valuing democracy as a system of choosing leaders. There were other things that were much more important, such as, for instance, “Making America Great Again.” In light of that, it occurred to me this morning that we might pay more attention than we have to the various Hitler centennials. [1]

If we did that, we might begin that observation with a paragraph that starts like this:

On July 29, 1921, Hitler assumed leadership of the organization, which by then had been renamed the Nationalist Socialist German Workers’ Party.

For this part of Hitler’s career, we might take the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 as an orienting event. This connection came to me a little late, so I failed to notice that only 52 days ago—that’s a century and 52 days, of course—Hitler became the official leader of the Nationalist Socialist German Workers’ Party (the NSDAP) in Munich. By starting there, we would have laid a good foundation to begin noticing what he did to plan military-style action (premature, it turned out) against the state and the strategy he adopted afterwards.

It would be fatuous to claim that the rapid rise of populist authoritarianism in Germany in the 1920s would look just like the rise of populist authoritarianism we are facing in the United Statess in the 2020. On the other hand, it would be just as silly to refuse to see the similarities. Here are three:

Hitler believed, as did many Germans, that Germany had once been great and that its greatness had been stolen from it. All he wanted was to “stop the steal” and return Germany to the status it deserved.

Hitler believed that democracy as a system was weak and specifically, that it was inadequate to the present crisis. On the other hand, especially after the failed military action in Munich in 1923, Hitler saw that the democratic system was the best chance for the Nazi party to take power. It could be—and was—discarded after that.

Hitler exploited the economic difficulties of a large swath of the German people after the war. They were angry anyway. Hitler only needed to focus their anger on useful projects and on vulnerable populations

Macht Deutschland wieder gross

English and German don’t line up all that well as languages, but I notice that Hitler’s Stormtroopers the Sturmabteilung wore something that looked very much like an American baseball cap. That being the case, it is easy to imagine MDWG—Macht Deutschland wieder gross—printed across the front very like MAGA is used by Donald Trump partisans. My German isn’t all that good, but I claim that is a plausible version of “Make Germany Great Again,” which was, in fact, the heart of Hitler’s early rhetoric in Munich.

[1] This does not require that we celebrate them, of course, but it might be worth our while to begin tracking them.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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