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Hannah Arendt and a very familiar story

I have, as Bobby G knows, been slowly working my way through Hannah Arendt's The Origins Of Totalitarianism ever since he had her featured on a "Who Said It?" segment on his blog.  This is dense, and quite learned, material, and my lazy mind brought up on comic books has struggled at times with motivation- leaving me currently at page 64.  But like I said, this is a very densely packed book, and 64 pages like this is as much as whole books I have read in other venues.

This book is heavily into how we got from 1800's style anti-semitism to the Holocaust, and she makes a big point about the difference between being anti-semitic and anti-Jew.  Now I won't pretend that I quite yet grok her idea of the difference ( I do have 400+ pages to go), but it boils down to anti-jewish is just that, plain and simple, where anti-semitism takes on a host of economic, societal, and political conveniences.  It also makes you see the nations of that time period in a different light.

For example, take Hitler.  Many people would say he was a German nationalist, for all his "Fatherland" nonsense.  But she draws a difference between a nation-state- content to rule that ONE people, example France after the Napoleons- and someone like Hitler who wanted not to just rule his nation-state, but have that nation-state rule SEVERAL other nations.

Another way to look at the difference is when she examined the anti-semitic parties of Europe in the late 1800s.  For example, the parties under the A-S banner in Germany were LIKE socialists, but where socialists of the day were concerned with domestic issues, the A-S parties saw similar conditions across ALL nations surrounding them, and wanted to become "a party above parties".  In other words, a nascent New World Order.  However, that kind of existential politics didn't play well in the stix- until they put two ideas together.  One, their only real competition as a supranational force were the Jews, who lived in every nations but as citizens of none- even though they weren't at all aware for various reasons they could take advantage of this.  The other, because the rich Jews had been privileged in the old days when kings were the government and needed Jews to grant them loans for their wars, and because now the poor Jews were starting to get some civil rights- which impinge on them, they thought- the masses were ready to blame Jews for a plethora of items.  And if the A-S parties wanted to draw a crowd, why, just start bashing Jews!

In Austria, they already had a supranational state- held tenuously by rulers that imagined themselves far more powerful than they were- and also still had the despotic monarchy of the past, where rich Jews were an indispensible cog of government.  Thus, the A-S party there- unlike in Prussia/Germany- didn't WANT to change the government, and thus by and large left the Jews alone.

And in France, which met the definition of a true nation-state, and had for some time, the A-S parties, outside the decade surrounding the Dreyfus affair, had no traction whatsoever.  In fact, both they AND the socialists shied away from fighting Jews, because the Church was the biggest anti-semitic group in the country, and both the A-Ss and the socialists were willing to cuddle up to Jews to defeat the Church.  SO you see, her point was in the anti-semitic game, it was different strokes for different folks- at least until Hitler (and to a lesser extent, Stalin) made it a pillar of public policy.

I love the way she described the nations of Europe prior to WWI. 

Only two decades separated the temporary decline of the antisemitic movements from the outbreak of the first World War.  This period has been adequately described as a 'Golden Age of Security' because only a few who lived in it felt the inherent weakness of an obviously outmoded political structure which, despite all prophecies of imminent doom, continued to function in spurious splendor and with inexplicable, monotonous stubbornness.  Side by side, and apparently with equal stability, an anachronistic despotism in Russia, a corrupt bureaucracy in Austria, a stupid militarism in Germany, and a half-hearted republic in continual crisis in France- all under the shadow of the world-wide power of the British Empire- managed to carry on.  None of these governments were especially popular, and all faced growing domestic opposition; but nowhere did there seem to exist an earnest political will for radical change in political conditions. Europe was much too busy expanding economically for any nation or political stratum to take political questions seriously.  Everything could go on because nobody cared.  Or, in the penetrating words of Chesterton, "everything is prolonging its existence by denying that it exists." (Arendt, pp 50-51)

Wow.  See any parallels to these days?  If not, let me take you to an earlier section- and then a later one.  Back where she was discussing the German parties desire to be "a party above parties", she pointed out that only the nation-state was powerful enough to claim to be above parties.  So when these A-S parties claimed to be "above all parties", in her opinion, that meant they were announcing "clearly their aspiration to become the representative of the whole nation, to get exclusive power, to take control of the state machinery, to substitute themselves for the state." (Arendt p. 38, emphasis mine)  So you have a ruler who is the representative of the nation-state, versus a party that wants to suborn the government's position for itself.  That sounds awfully familiar...

And now, a bit ahead, as she looks at the social conditions of the United States circa 1948-51:

It is one of the most promising and dangerous paradoxes of the American Republic that it dared to realize equality on the basis of the most unequal population in the world, physically and historically.  In the United States, social anti-semitism may one day become the very dangerous nucleus for a political movement. (Arendt, p. 55).  

Change "anti-semitism" to "anti-Christianity" and I think we have a winner.  And if you look at those last two sections, it would make you wonder why the Left loves to accuse Trump of Hitlerism when the policies and proclivities that LED to Nazism are uncomfortably similar to themselves... just a thought.

This post first appeared on Tilting At Windmills, please read the originial post: here

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Hannah Arendt and a very familiar story


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