SODOM & GOMORRAH: In this section, I justify the scope of the study and explain my method.
If I demonstrate that fascism could rise again, the current order will be forced to deal with the consequences. The destruction caused by Nazism goes without saying. Over 12 million people were systematically organized and exterminated in death camps across Europe. Thousands of individuals participated in this process, most of them ordinary and not particularly malicious. The movement headed by Adolf Hitler declared war on most of the world and there were times when it looked as though Germany would be victorious (Mearsheimer 2001). A modern society that had grown up in the bosom of Europe’s intellectual culture of Enlightenment reason, turned homicidal and genocidal almost overnight. If the development of fascism was an anomaly, then we have nothing to fear; Hitler is dead, fascism is gone. If, however, was something that resulted from that intellectual culture or something immune to normal politics, then we may yet again become fascists or find ourselves unable to defeat fascists in our own society. Should some be correct when they suggest “there are some men who simply want to watch the world burn” then we owe it to the victims of the Holocaust to address the causes of fascism; there are new and more horrific ways to burn the world to the ground.
It would be a mistake to approach this as many previous writers have done and treat Nazis as simply “crazies.” The fanaticism of Nazi thought has been legendary among contemporaries. Instead, we should take the approach of writers like James Rhodes. Rhodes suggests that we understand Nazis as they understood themselves, since this is the only way to reach any kind of comprehension about the motives of individuals within the movement. (Rhodes 1980, Preface) If we approach the Nazis strictly from the outside, we will already conclude that the rise of fascism was an anomaly from the start. This paper would become superfluous. If we approach their views as they understood them, this will allow us to understand the movement; if the popular view is correct and the Nazis were simply insane, there will be no order to their thoughts. To do otherwise risks a dogmatic approach that overlooks the appeal that mythical politics holds. It is easy for intellectuals to look down on people’s “superstitions” as being stupid, but these approaches do nothing to prevent individuals from joining “superstitious” movements and groups. In order to defeat an argument, it is necessary to understand it.
A similar approach should be taken when dealing with points of view that we relate to. We must avoid dogmatism, since it over-simplifies arguments and hides the truth. As John Stuart Mill, one of the classical liberal thinkers, states, “the only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind.” (Mill 1859, 25) Our investigation must deeply and seriously consider the intricacies of liberal theory. If the argument of this paper, that liberalism cannot survive a conflict with mythical politics, is correct then defenders of liberalism will eventually be forced to reconcile their doctrine with this political reality. In order for this to take place, defenders of liberalism will have to engage in a serious consideration of any potential weaknesses.
Those of us who have benefited from liberalism’s guarantees of free speech and other liberties cannot fall into the trap of dogmatic allegiance to the status quo. In this investigation, we should look primarily to authors outside of Germany. This is not to discount the contribution of parliamentarians in Germany to liberal thought, but it is an attempt to form general opinions about liberalism. Kelsen, Weber, and others wrote in the intellectual climate of Germany at the time of its transformation to Nazism, and their writings may well be important in looking at the rise of Nazism specifically against the liberalism of Weimar, but their writings all operate on the general assumptions that liberalism has. (Kennedy 1985, xvii) However, this study is concerned with liberalism generally and its ability to withstand mythical politics generally.
The Nazi myth and the German liberals are simply a case study. It is, nevertheless, an important case study since the Nazis were decisively anti-liberal; they openly campaigned against the goals of liberal democracy. Unlike Marxism, which had tacitly accepted the legitimacy of democracy, the Nazis could in no way be characterized as liberal. That is not to say that people have tried, such as the recent attempt by Jonah Goldberg. (Goldberg 2007) Yet Goldberg is mainly arguing that the Nazis opposed Enlightenment virtues, much like, as he claims, the Democratic Party does in the United States. Goldberg’s claim that Nazi opposition to the Enlightenment made the fascists liberals merely highlights the need for some clarity about the Nazi movement.