Sam Smith – One of the ways the editor of a progressive journal knows that things are changing is when a proposition he put forth as far back as a dozen years ago suddenly becomes respectable. This is not typically a joy but just reassurance that he wasn’t as crazy as some thought back then.
The most recent case in point: the ultra respectable Madeleine Albright has written a book about fascism and its growing impact on America.
Back in 2006, that was not a respectable way to talk. As I wrote:
Now that Frances Fukuyama has rediscovered history, the Nation Magazine’s Katrina Vanden Heuvel would like to put it to bed again. In the best tradition of the establishment’s view of “civil discourse” – i.e. avoiding the real issues – Vanden Heuvel suggested in the :Washington Post that we “stop equating our opponents with famous dictators, their chief executioners, police apparatus or ideologies. I’m all for learning from history, but times are hard enough in American politics – with war, threats to national security, the greatest divide between rich and poor in our history and deep cultural divisions. Present differences deserve to be described in contemporary terms. The purpose of public speech is not just to restate anger but to clarify the principles and evidence that fuel it — in ways that invite discussion, not inhibit it.”
Vanden Heuvel is dead wrong. The reason people get away with bad historical analogies is because we don’t discuss history enough. We are left with an assortment of myths, stereotypes, and trite metaphors. Our present state is in no small part the result of not understanding and discussing our past.
One of the examples I offered was this:
Article 48 of the constitution of the Weimar Republic stated, “In case public safety is seriously threatened or disturbed, the Reich President may take the measures necessary to reestablish law and order, if necessary using armed force. In the pursuit of this aim, he may suspend the civil rights described in articles 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124 and 153, partially or entirely. The Reich President must inform the Reichstag immediately about all measures undertaken . . . The measures must be suspended immediately if the Reichstag so demands.”
It was this article that Hitler used to peacefully establish his dictatorship. And why was it so peaceful and easy? Because, according to Childers, the ‘democratic” Weimar Republic had already used it 57 times prior to Hitler’s ascendancy.
There are eerie similarities between Article 48 and George Bush’s approach. When you add to this the remarkable incompetence of the current regime, the collapse of both traditional liberal and conservative politics, and the economic crises, it feels like a new Weimar Republic setting the stage for awful things we can not at this point even imagine. It may be that history has something to tell us after all