My final installment in this screed on fascism/totalitarianism:
The White Rose in Germany : A story of resistance
White Rose Flyers : The offending flyers
As reported in the New York Times, September 9, 1938.
Prof. Luccock Warns That It Will Bear The Misleading Label ‘Americanism’
Luccock was a prominent American Methodist on Faculty at Yale Divinity School. The words below come from a sermon he preached at Riverside Church, NYC in 1938. The material is from an article in the New York Times.
“When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled “made in Germany”; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will, of course, be called “Americanism,” Professor Halford E. Luccock of the Divinity School of Yale University said yesterday morning in a sermon at the Riverside Church, Riverside Drive and 122d Street.
“The high-sounding phrase “the American way” will be used by interested groups, intent on profit, to cover a multitude of sins against the American and Christian tradition, such as lawless violence, tear gas and shotguns, denial of civil liberties,” he said. “There is an obligation resting on us all to dedicate our minds to the hard task of thinking in terms of Christian objectives and values, so that we may be saved from moral confusion.”
“For never, probably, has there been a time when there was a more vigorous effort to surround social and international questions with such a fog of distortion and prejudice and hysterical appeal to fear. We have touched a new low in a Congressional investigation this summer, used by some participating in it to whip up fear and prejudice against many causes of human welfare, such as a concern for peace and the rights of labor to bargain collectively. . . “
Management guru, economist, and social theorist, Peter Drucker is best known by most for his management and organizational theories that were central to the development of the modern corporate model. Lesser known, but equally prescient is his first English language book, “The End of the Economic Man: The Origin of Totalitarianism,” written in 1939. Drawing on his years working for a German newspaper, this Austrian born, naturalized American had a unique vantage point to the early rise of fascist totalitarianism in Germany. In his book, Drucker is attempting to describe this rise of the totalitarian state in modern Europe.
Quoting from Drucker’s book:
“In 1939 fascist totalitarianism had assumed the proportions of a world revolution. It had become the only effective political force in Europe, and had reduced democracy to impotent defense internally and externally . . . The reasons why all resistance to the fascist menace has proved unavailing is that we do not know what we fight . . . The masses joined fascism not because they believe it its promises, which takes the place of a positive creed, but because they could not believe in them ( i.e. “ when enough people despair because of the failure of any rational system to meet their expectations, as a mass they become irrational and expect miracles. People no longer really believe that anything will work, but out of desperation they will follow a charismatic leader anyway, no matter how absurd his statements might be.” ). . . Fascism is the result of the collapse of Europe’s spiritual and social order . . . At first glance it might appear that the “science” of economics has never been more dominant than just now and that, therefore, the belief in the society of Economic Man could never have been stronger. Nation after nation has entrusted the management of its affairs to the trained economist. He is in demand as business executive and as a business leader, as lecturer and as radio commentator. But this superficial appearance is deceptive . . . It is not that the standard of knowledge of the economist has deteriorated. It is the belief in the desirability and in the necessity of the sovereignty and autonomy of the economic sphere that is disappearing; and with the belief, the reality.
The masses have realized that the exercise of free economic activity will not and cannot lead to the establishment of the free and equal society . . . He can no longer explain or understand his existence as rationally correlated and co-ordinated to the world in which he lives; nor can he co-ordinate the world and the social reality to his existence. The function of the individual in society has become entirely irrational and senseless. Man is isolated within a tremendous machine, the purpose and meaning of which he does not accept and cannot translate into terms of his experience. Society ceases to be a community of individuals bound together by a common purpose . . . , and becomes a chaotic hubbub of purposeless isolated nomads . . . The threats of sudden permanent unemployment, of being thrown on the industrial scrap heap in one’s prime or even before one has started to work. Against these forces the individual finds himself as helpless, isolated and atomized as against the forces of machine war . . . economic progress no longer appears to them as the supreme means to a supreme goal . . .”
Hannah Arendt was a German Jew born in 1906. She received her Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Heidelberg in the late ‘20s. Fearing the Nazis, she fled to Paris in 1933 and, when Germany occupied France, she fled to the US in 1941. In 1951, she published ‘The Origin of Totalitarianism,” a reflection of her observations of the rise of the National Socialist and Hitler in Germany and, more relevantly, the conditions required for such totalitarianism to ascend. Arendt noted several symptoms that appeared essential: expansion of exploitative capitalism more interested in itself than the state or people, a regionalization of national identity, and the decline of functional and engaged citizenry. According to Arendt, following WWI and the Great Depression, the normalcy and stability of German life was so disrupted that people were willing to reject the existing norms of governance and “open to the promulgation of a single, clear and unambiguous idea that would allocate responsibility for woes, and indicate a clear path that would secure the future against insecurity and danger.” Totalitarianism offered itself as a path to their former perception of greatness, real or imagined. Here are some of Arendt’s observations from “The Origins of Totalitarianism”:
“Just as terror, even in its pre-total, merely tyrannical form ruins all relationships between men, so the self-compulsion of ideological thinking ruins all relationships with reality. The preparation has succeeded when people have lost contact with their fellow men as well as the reality around them; for together with these contacts, men lose the capacity of both experience and thought. The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist . . .
. . . Terror can rule absolutely only over men who are isolated against each other… Therefore, one of the primary concerns of all tyrannical government is to bring this isolation about. Isolation may be the beginning of terror; it certainly is its most fertile ground; it always is its result. This isolation is, as it were, pre-totalitarian; its hallmark is impotence insofar as power always comes from men acting together…; isolated men are powerless by definition . . .
. . . While isolation concerns only the political realm of life, loneliness concerns human life as a whole. Totalitarian government, like all tyrannies, certainly could not exist without destroying the public realm of life, that is, without destroying, by isolating men, their political capacities. But totalitarian domination as a form of government is new in that it is not content with this isolation and destroys private life as well. It bases itself on loneliness, on the experience of not belonging to the world at all, which is among the most radical and desperate experiences of man.”
George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).
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