Sunday, March 5, 2017

A frightening reminder

The historian Richard J. Evans, in his review of a recent book by Volker Ulrich ("Hitler: Ascent") in The Nation, shows that the type of literary creation does not need to constrain the power of the message. One can say absurd or trivial things in a novel, an essay or an autobiography. But you can also convey powerful messages in any of these, or in a book review, or in a poem, or in a textbook. More than his comments about Ulrich's book, I would emphasize that Evans' piece is one of the best I have ever read suggesting, just suggesting, analogies between current events and the Nazi past.The article starts by saying that there is more than one way to destroy a democracy, and one by one it reminds us of the risks that we face when we underestimate totalitarian tendencies. Hitler would make Germany great again and put it first, of course. His vulgarity was compatible with a clever use of the new media of the time and he took advantage of international and economic circumstances to sell panaceas and target scapegoats. Each period confronts inmoral leaders with specific constraints and social norms. Many of us believe that the current developed world has both formal and informal institutions in place that will stop the worst from happening. But also many people in the 1930s believed that Germany had a strong judiciary and Parliamentary system that would tame the Nazis once in power: "Few took  Hitler seriously or thought that he would actually put his threats against the country's tiny Jewish minority, his rants against feminists, left-wing politicians, homosexuals, pacifists, and liberal newspapers editors, into effect. Fewer still believed his vow to quit the League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations. But within a few months, he did all these things -and much more." History does not repeat itself, but sends us warnings.

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