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Linkpost, 11/15/2010

National Socialism

If you go over to the Wikipedia, and looks at the Socialism page, you’ll notice something funny with the history presented there: there’s an awful gap between the Russian Revolution and the end of World War II. (A week ago, the gap was even worse: it went from 1923 to 1946.)

So why the gap? Well, it should only take you one guess, given what I titled this post.

That the Nazis are not mentioned is not really that surprising: nobody likes being associated with Nazis, and modern socialists like computers. But control of Wikipedia’s edits doesn’t make something so: the Nazis themselves called themselves socialists, and their contemporaries (e.g. F.A. Hayek) agreed with them.

The Nazis were neither lying nor mistaken: they believed that their efforts would lead to a (German) National Socialist Utopia. Socialism wasn’t the only thing found in that utopia — Environmentalism and animal rights, of all things, also played roles in their vision. (See Blood and Soil, if you can find it.)

Given that we’re taught that the Nazis were a right-wing party, this sounds more than a little odd. However, the “right wing” label was given to them by their German contemporaries — contemporaries who’d grown up under the welfare state pioneered by Otto von Bismarck. All Germans in the 1930s were conditioned to be socialists to one degree or another, so their definition of “left” and “right” wings had nothing to do with socialism.

Instead, Germans differentiated their parties via different criteria: the most obvious is the nationalism of the Nazis, especially when compared with the internationalism of their Communist opponents. Even today, nationalist parties tend to be described as “ultra-right” parties in Europe, and supporters of the internationalist E.U. are “center-left” parties.

Now, I object to socialism in general, but it’s worth pointing out that the Nazis’ insanity was in how they expected to achieve their Utopia — similar (as Paul Berman pointed out) to the Communist insanity, and the current Islamicist insanity.

On Words

So the missus bought me a copy of F.A. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom for my birthday this year, and I was struck by something Hayek mentioned in his foreword (for the 1956 edition). Simply put, he noted that we Americans play strange games with words.

The ones I’m thinking about are conservative and liberal. Consider their root meanings: to be conservative is to defend the status quo; to be liberal is to promote the liberty of the individual.

At the birth of the United States, these two philosophies were not conflicting. Consider: our Constitution is essentially a document that enshrines liberal values. Defense of that status quo was both a conservative and liberal position — in contrast to Europe, where conservative meant royalist and generally put one in opposition to the liberals.

Consider also our extant parties. The Republican party started out as a liberal party: the party of abolition. At the time, you could easily describe the Democrats as the conservative one: defending slavery, and the Constitution of the day. After the Civil War was over, though, the Republicans had turned into the party of government, and the Democrats, the party of the opposition.

But it was not a simple division: the Republicans (not so “Grand” or “Old” yet) still included its Radical members (still liberals, but now conservative in the defense of their victory), who counterpointed the moneyed industrialists born of the War (your stereotypical business conservatives); and the Democrats were an alliance of Northeastern Labor (liberals, leaning towards socialism) and Southern Copperheads (reactionaries, who some would call conservative).

These alliances created schizophrenic parties, ones that tried to redefine words to their pleasure. It is how you get “conservatives” who are more classically liberal than the “liberals” who defend a conservative bureaucracy.