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16 Responses

  1. Murali says:

    What do you mean by good? The article gives me little reason to think that anything she says reflects anything more than her prejudices. Its one of those sneering little games that people might play. There are some parts where she gestures at the banality of evil, but the story she tells seems too simplistic. I’m pretty sure lots of Nazi officers were wonderful sons, husbands or fathers, always scrupulous and honest in their dealings. This doesn’t excuse their Nazi-sm but the implication that in order to be a Nazi, you have to be a nasty person in other aspects of your life seems more like wishful thinking and being in denial. Also, the assumption that Nazism is un-American is quaint. It is of course of German origin, but it is no more un-American than slavery, segregation, racism, xenophobia etc. Probably a lot more likely in the past (at the time the article was written), but given the popularity of Trump, not exactly unimaginable now.Report

    • Chip Daniels in reply to Murali says:

      My parents were from the Northern Plains, of the WWII generation and during the war traveled through the South.
      My mom told me of staying with friends who she said were the kindest, sweetest most generous and hospitable people she had ever met.

      She witnessed an ugly episode of racism on a bus when a northern black man sassed a bus driver, who beat him right then and there, in full view of everyone.
      My mom told me how astounded she was that her kind and gentle hosts nodded in full agreement with this episode.

      Her lesson to me was just this point. That people- all of us- can be both superbly kind and loving, and filled with darkness and evil, all at the same time, these things indivisible from each other.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Murali says:

      A lot of historians hate the Arendt’s banality of evil analysis of Eichmann because there is a lot of historical evidence that Eichmann was true believer Nazi for years before he came to power. Likewise, a lot of Nazis really did engage in pulp villain level moral depravity. Joseph Mengele was basically a mad scientist and torturer. The youngest Nazi hanged as a result of the Nuremberg trials, the twenty-two year old Hyena of Auschwitz, was enough of a monster to inspire a B-movie villainess. Others were sadist brutes. There were also plenty of normal people implicit in the Nazi regime but the worst of them really were nasty and morally depraved people.Report

      • Kim in reply to LeeEsq says:

        The Nazis are such comic book villains, you have to laugh.
        (and yes there are some awesome holocaust jokes).

        When you know Jews who have worked with Nazis (who else knows everyone important in East Germany?)…you find they have interesting senses of humor.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to LeeEsq says:

        How many of us possess some degree of sadistic tendencies? Probably, to a degree that is uncomfortable to contemplate, nearly everyone has at least a bit of sadist within themselves. I read the Thompson essay and find a significant level of anxiety about oneself in all of the mini-profiles that Thompson armchair-psychoanlayzes: the anxiety manifests in different ways, but there is always sufficient anxiety about self as to find attraction to authoritarianism and cruelty to be ways to assuage the fear within.

        So perhaps the better question is — how many of us would, if given cultural and legal license, permit those sadistic tendencies to manifest in overt behavior? Were the Germans of the 1930’s unusually less self-controlled by circumstance of their culture and immediate history? If so, what elements of their culture and history gave rise to this? If not, then why would be surprised to see parallel behaviors manifest within our own society?

        For myself, I don’t think Germany in the 1903’s was particularly unique. And I think that a certain segment of the populace here in the U.S. has always been attracted to the charismatic demagogue who promises to get things done and plays on the anxieties of his (so far pretty much always his, outside of the religious context) supporters.

        What we see happening today is remarkable for the visibility and apparent breadth of the phenomenon, but not its novelty.Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to Burt Likko says:

          I don’t think Lee would dispute this. I think he is pointing out that many Historians reject Arendt’s claim that Eichmann was just a little man following orders and not personally anti-Semitic. He was a true believer and anti-Semitic to the core. There
          is evidence that shows he accelerated the Final Solution after his superiors told him to slow down because Himmler and others saw the writing on the wall for an allied victory and were trying to mitigate damage.Report

          • One can acknowledge that Arendt had it wrong about Eichmann, that he wasn’t the bumbling bureaucrat who couldn’t/didn’t think for himself, and yet still believe that evil manifests itself–not always, but often and (in my opinion) usually–in banal ways and for banal motivations.

            There really are evil masterminds or people who wholeheartedly and enthusiastically carry out really evil things. From what little I know of Eichmann, he was one of those. Those people present a problem, but fortunately (I hope) most of us aren’t like that.

            And then there are those of us who like to see ourselves as people just trying to get by. I lie only when I have to. I do things I’d otherwise regard as immoral only because my job requires it, or (if it’s off work time) because I get x number of hedons from doing so and after all, I’ve had a long week and deserve it. I gossip, but I don’t mean anything by it, or I listen to (and therefore encourage) gossip because I don’t want to cut off the gossipper, and besides, the gossip is interesting. I refuse to give $20 to charity even though I won’t miss the $20. I sometimes make what I know, or at least intend to be, a hurtful comment in a blog, and after all, it’s just a blog and I’m pseudonymous.

            Or to return to Arendt’s argument, there were indeed really horrible people in the Nazi regime. But they weren’t all Eichmanns. Some collaborated when they could’ve (probably) gotten away with abstaining from collaboration. Others participated in killings but could have transferred to units that didn’t do killing. (The “Ordinary Men” argument.) Some might have had important jobs with employers who profited from the regime, and they could’ve resigned but stayed on because, well, that’s how things are and you have to make a living.

            Or to make it personal again, Big City, where I live, suffers from some pretty bad and racially inflected injustices. Whole areas of the city are desperately poor and the police have a proven and alleged track record of torture and sometimes murdering the city’s black and Latino residents. The most recent controversy to come to light has led to a police chief resigning and people calling for the mayor and state’s attorney to step down. What do I do? I walk to work because the trek goes through only safe neighborhoods. I when a police car drives by I feel a little safer. I avoid certain people. I don’t participate in the protests because I don’t have time and because “well, the issue is probably more complicated than it seems.”

            Those are mostly sins of omission, but what about my sins of commission? I have serious reservations about the usefulness of higher education, but I work for an institution of higher education and my job depends on that institution surviving, and that institution surviving depends on a critical number of students enrolling there. (I’m not right here making an argument about higher education, but I’m just pointing out my complicity in something that, according to me, presents a problem.)Report

          • Chris in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            She never claims that he wasn’t an anti-Semite. And the broader objection is one leveled at the work since it was published. She answered it several times, though whether she did so satisfactorily is of course a matter for discussion.Report

        • Kim in reply to Burt Likko says:

          How many people like tickling other people?
          … that’s sadism.
          Trolling is sadism…

          … it’s way the fuck different to enjoy watching someone bleed… or scream in agony. A difference of degree, perhaps, but a very significant one.Report

      • Murali in reply to LeeEsq says:

        We’re talking about every person who voted for them, who worked for the party, who was in the german army, concentration camp guard or the SS, not just the so-called movers and shakers. That’s a hell lot of dysfunctional people in a given society that is not mere complicity, but active participation.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Murali says:

      The article gives me little reason to think that anything she says reflects anything more than her prejudices.

      Well, one thing I keep in mind is that this is not a party game to be played in 1938 Germany but in 1940 America.

      I imagine this parlor game would play a lot differently in 1938 Berlin, after all.Report

  2. I’m inclined to agree with both @murali and @burt-likko , even though their comments conflict a little.

    Thompson seems to rely too much on ideal types that don’t really exist. One way of reading her, and if I’m not mistaken, this is how Murali reads her, is that she seems too quick to say, such and such a type is immune to Nazism and such and such a type is disposed to it. In that sense, her analysis and this part of her conclusion seems too simplistic or at least question-begging: “Kind, good, happy, gentlemanly, secure people never go Nazi….///….Believe me, nice people don’t go Nazi….///….”

    Yet as Burt mentions, there is, at least for me, a certain trepidation in reading about those types. I see myself in a lot of the “disposed to Nazism” types. I would not (I hope) become some high ranking official in a new fascistic state, but would I oppose it or just go along with it as long as it targets some group of people other than me? I’m not sure, but given what I know about myself, I’m not sure I have much of the courage necessary even to take the steps to disaffiliate myself.

    I think there’s a way to square the circle. If we consider the people Thompson writes about as “types,” then we can also explore to what degree those types are or aren’t realized in actually existing people. Maybe each of us, in other words, has something of both Mr. A and Mr. B (and the others) in us.

    Perhaps the point is not so much to identify and preemptorally accuse others of Nazism, but to cultivate those values or circumstances that might innoculate one to its appeal. From her conclusion:

    Those who haven’t anything in them to tell them what they like and what they don’t–whether it is breeding, or a code, however old-fashioned or however modern, go Nazi.

    Part of what she’s talking about is grounding in a certain value system or a sense of secure identify, and that grounding could provide a means to resist the appeal to a simplistic authoritarianism.

    My problem, though, is that such grounding can also devolve into a simplistic authoritarianism. If I become too focused on my pride of breeding, or my value system, or my identity, maybe that bespeaks a willingness to succumb to authoritarian appeals in the name of that breeding, value system, or identity.Report

    • Murali in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

      If I become too focused on my pride of breeding, or my value system, or my identity, maybe that bespeaks a willingness to succumb to authoritarian appeals in the name of that breeding, value system, or identity.

      Precisely, and it also speaks to the necessity of opposite, of being somewhat unmoored, beset by doubt, to question the things that others take for granted, including questioning the need for such questioning etc.Report