How could fascism take hold in America when most of the populace finds it repugnant? Well, how did it take hold in Germany in the 30s?
Let's look at a passage from the memoirs of Sebastian Haffner, an upper middle class German who grew up during the Weimar Republic, began a legal career only to see the rise of the National Socialists. He watched as his society succumbed to fascism before he fled, with his Jewish-born wife and infant to Britain as war approached. On Haffner's death his son used those diaries to publish a memoir, "Defying Hitler."
Here is how Sebastian Haffner saw what happened as Hitler rose to power:
The Complacent Revolution
The Nazis celebrate the 30th of January as their day of revolution. They are wrong. There was no revolution on the 30th of January, 1933, just a change of government. Hitler became Chancellor, by no means the Fuhrer of a Nazi regime (the cabinet contained only two Nazis apart from him). The general opinion was that it was not the Nazis who had won, but the bourgeois parties of the Right, who had 'captured' the Nazis and held all the key positions in the Government. In constitutional terms, events had taken a much more conventional, un-revolutionary course than most of what had happened during the previous six months...The Deadly Illusion of Normalcy
The morning headline was 'Hitler called to President'. That produced a certain nervous, impotent irritation. Hitler had been called to the President in August and November. He had been offered the vice-chancellorship and then the chancellorship. Both times he had set impossible conditions, and both times there had been solemn declarations 'Never again...' Each time, 'never again' had lasted exactly three months...
At midday the headline said: 'Hitler makes impossible demands'. We nodded, half reassured. It was only too credible. It would have gone against his nature to ask for less than too much.
At about five o'clock the evening papers arrived: 'Cabinet of National Unity formed - Hitler Reichschancellor'.
...That evening I discussed the prospects of the new Government with my father. We agreed that it had a good chance of doing a lot of damage, but not much chance of surviving very long; a deeply reactionary government with Hitler as its mouthpiece. ...Even with the Nazis it would not have a majority in the Reichstag. Of course that would always be dissolved, but the Government had a clear majority of the population against it, in particular the working class, which would probably go Communist, now that the Social Democrats had completely discredited themselves. One could prohibit the Communists, but that would only make them more dangerous. ...Besides, who were the people who had suddenly started voting Nazi in the last three years? Misguided ignoramuses for the most part, victims of propaganda, a fluctuating mass that would fall apart at the first disappointment. No, all things considered, this government was not a cause for alarm. The only question was what would come after it. It was possible that they would drive the country to civil war...
The next day this turned out to be the general opinion of the intelligent press. It is curious how plausible an argument it is, even today, when we know what came next. How could things turn out so completely differently? Perhaps it was just because we were all so certain that they could not do so - and relied on that with far too much confidence. So we neglected to consider that it might, if the worst came to the worst, be necessary to prevent the disaster from happening.
Through the whole of February 1933 everything that happened remained a matter of the press, in other words, it took place in an arena that would lose all reality for 99 per cent of the population the moment there were no newspapers. ...The Nazis no longer felt any restraint; with their gangs, they regularly broke up election meetings of other parties. They shot one or two political opponents every day. ...The new Prussian regional interior minister (a Nazi: a certain Captain Goring) promulgated an incredible decree. It ordered the police to intervene in any brawl on the side of the Nazis, without investigating the rights and wrongs of the matter, and furthermore to shoot at the other side without prior warning.The March Revolution
All this was still something one only read about in the press. There were brown SA uniforms on the streets, demonstrations, shouts of 'Heil', but otherwise it was 'business as usual'.
...I must admit that I was inclined to view the undisturbed functioning of the law, and indeed the continued normal course of daily life, as a triumph over the Nazis. They would behave as raucously and wildly as they wished. They could still only stir up the political surface. The depths of the ocean of life remained unaffected.
The Last Election, a Cowed People Votes
The Nazi revolution of March 1933 was not a revolution. Everything went strictly 'by the book', using means that were permitted by the constitution. At first there were 'emergency decrees' by the President of the Reich, and later a bill was passed by a two-thirds majority of the Reichstag giving the Government unlimited legislative powers, perfectly in accordance with the rules for changing the constitution.
...From a simple common-sense point of view, one would say that the essential characteristic of a revolution is that people violently attack the established order and its representatives, police, army, etc., and overcome them. ...At all events, we expect revolutionaries to be on the attack, to show courage, risk their lives.
None of that was to be found in March, 1933. The events were a combination of the most disparate ingredients. What was completely absent was any act of courage or spirit by any of the participants. The month of March demonstrated that the Nazis had achieved an unassailable position of power: through terror, celebration and rhetoric, treachery and finally a collective breakdown - a million individuals suffered a nervous collapse. More bloodshed had accompanied the birth of many European states, but none came into being in a more loathsome way.
European history knows two forms of terror. The first is the uncontrollable explosion of bloodlust in a victorious mass uprising. The other is cold, calculated cruelty committed by a victorious state as a demonstration of power and intimidation. ...It was left to the Nazis to combine both forms of terror. ...The external picture was one of revolutionary terror: a wild unkempt mob breaking into homes at night and dragging defenceless victims to the torture chambers. The internal process was repressive terror: cold, calculated, official orders, directed by the state and carried out under the full protection of the police and armed forces.
These elections, the last that were ever held in pre-war Germany, brought the Nazis only 44 per cent of the votes... The majority was still against the Nazis. If you consider that terror was in full swing, that the parties of the Left had been prohibited from all public activity in the decisive final week before the elections, you have to admit that the German people as a whole had behaved quite decently. However it made no difference at all.One by one, the opposition parties, Left to Right, abandoned the German people. Communist Party officials looked for the exit doors, emigrating to refuge. The Social Democrats capitulated:
A week later Hindenburg abolished the Weimar national flag, which was replaced by theswastika banner and a black, white and red 'temporary national flag'. There were daily parades, mass meetings, declarations of gratitude for the liberation of the nation, military music from dawn to dusk, award ceremonies for heroes, the dedication of flags and, as a final climax, the tasteless display of the 'Day of Potsdam'.
...The weather in March, 1933 was glorious. Was it not wonderful to celebrate in the spring sunshine, in squares decked with flags? To merge with the festive crowds and listen to high-sounding patriotic speeches about freedom, and fatherland, and holy vows? (It was certainly better than having one's belly pumped up with a water hose in some hidden SA cellar).
People began to join in - at first mostly from fear. After they had participated, they no longer wanted to do so just from fear. That would have been mean and contemptible. so the necessary ideology was supplied. That was the spiritual basis of the National Socialist revolution.
True, something further was necessary to achieve all this. That was the cowardly treachery of all party and organizational leaders, to whom the 56 per cent of the population who voted against the Nazis on the 5th of March had entrusted themselves. ...Naturally the Nazis had no interest in drawing attention to it, since it would considerably devalue their 'victory', and as for the traitors themselves: well, of course, they did not want to draw attention to it. Nevertheless , it is finally only this betrayal that explains the almost inexplicable fact that a great nation, which cannot have consisted entirely of cowards, fell into ignominy without a fight.
In the month before they were finally dissolved, the Social Democratic faction in the Reichstag had unanimously expressed their confidence in Hitler and joined in the singing of the Horst Wessel Song, the Nazi anthem.
The great middle-class, Catholic party, Zentrum, hd already fallen in March. It was this party that supplied the votes necessary for the two-thirds majority that 'legalized' Hitler's dictatorship.
Finally, the German nationalists, the right-wing conservatives, who venerated 'honour' and 'heroism' as the central characteristics of their programme. Oh God, what an infinitely dishonourable and cowardly spectacle their leaders made in 1933 and continued to make afterwards! One might at least have expected that, once their claim in January proved illusory - that they had 'tamed' the Nazis and 'rendered them harmless' - they would act as a 'brake' and 'prevent the worst'. Not a bit of it. They went along with everything: the terror, the persecution of the Jews, the persecution of Christians. They were not even bothered when their own party was prohibited, and their own members arrested.
...There was not one single example of energetic defence, of courage or principle. There was only panic, flight and desertion. In March 1933 millions were ready to fight the Nazis. Overnight they found themselves without leaders. Some tried to join the Stahlhelm and the German nationalists, when it became clear that none of the others were going to fight. For a few weeks their membership numbers showed an exceptional rise, then the organization was disbanded - and it, too, capitulated without a fight.I had been meaning to post these passages from Haffner's chilling memoir for some time now but the white nationalist, anti-fa rallies in liberal Portland this weekend and Trump's warning at his latest rally that his government might declare the anti-fa a terrorist movement and would be "keeping its eye" on Portland left me asking myself if not now, when.
...It was out of this treachery of its opponents, and the feeling of helplessness, weakness and disgust that it aroused that the Third Reich was born. In the elections of the 5th of March the Nazis had remained a minority. If there had been elections three weeks later, the German people would almost certainly have given them a true majority. This was not just the result of the terror, or intoxication resulting from the constant festivities. The decisive cause was the anger and disgust with the cowardly treachery of their own leadership. That had become for a moment stronger than the rage and hate against the real enemy. Hundreds of thousands, who had until then been opponents, joined the Nazi Party in March 1933.
Trump is no Hitler. Trump is stupid and lazy. He does, however, prove that you don't have to be as smart and tenacious as that German lunatic to be every bit as devious, ruthless and destructive of your own country. Complacency, among the opposition and within the population can be all the leg up any tyrant requires.