We know that Hitler and the Nazis were impressed by racist and eugenics ideas in the US and that they coopted many of those ideas in their theory and program of Aryan supremacy that led to the mass killings of Jews, the Romani people, and others. We now have the reverse phenomenon, where some Americans are taking inspiration from those Nazi ideas and express admiration for Nazis. As a result, we have had various groups of white nationalists and anti-Semites recruiting people to their cause using neo-Nazi rhetoric..
I have been struggling to figure out what exactly is the contemporary appeal of Nazism in the US. Let me be clear about what puzzles me. The appeals to quasi-eugenics ideas such as the ‘great replacement theory’ according to which there is a deliberate plan to displace white Christians from their dominant position by immigrants and people of color and Jews and other religions, have been around in the US long before the Nazis came to power in Germany.
In many ways, this is a return of an old American political tradition rather than a wholly new phenomenon, but it has taken on a new form and uses a language that must be properly understood if it is to be successfully challenged. Concepts of white supremacy were at the heart of the defense of slavery and central to the Lost Cause myth that justified segregation after the fall of the Confederacy.
The fear of immigrants of different religious traditions also has a long history in the United States; it fueled nativist political party the Know Nothings of the 1850s and the racist rules of the 1924 Immigration Act, which among its many outrages prevented immigration from Asia and remained in effect until 1965. The renowned U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was one of the most distinguished proponents of eugenics, and the idea that immigrants bring crime and disorder dates back to the anti-Irish panics that occurred throughout the 19th century. Anti-Semitism, meanwhile, had been an ugly feature of American political discourse well before the 1913 lynching of Leo Frank prompted the founding of the Anti-Defamation League.
So racists and other bigots do not need to invoke Nazis to their cause since they have a longer homegrown tradition that they could draw upon. In addition, Hitler and Nazism, while they wreaked a lot of suffering and destruction, were ultimately losers and have been repudiated, though not completely eradicated, even in the countries in which they were born. I can understand that some Germans, seeking to reclaim what they think of as past grandeur, yearn to go back to Hitler’s time when Germany threatened to conquer the world and would like to have a second chance at succeeding. But why would Americans, especially right-wingers who tend to voice uber-patriotic rhetoric and think that their country has always been the greatest in every way, want to be followers of a movement that originated in a nation that once sought to defeat them?
I wonder if it is because Hitler and Nazism, and even their swastika and salute, are now seen as highly visible brands, names and symbols that are immediately recognizable and can be used as group identity signifiers, similar to the way that certain clothing and accessory brands are used to immediately signal that one belongs to a certain group or class. We know that recently the Nazi movement has shifted in the way that adherents present themselves, moving away from tough-looking, tattooed skinheads to a clean-cut, khaki-clad, preppy look. From what I have read, the Nazi youth movement in Hitler’s Germany also had that clean-cut look.
I have not seen many articles in which reporters ask young people exactly what they find attractive about Hitler or Nazism that they could not find in home-grown racist ideologies. This article looks at young women who have been recruited to the movement and act as spokespeople.
In one of her online videos from her suburban Toronto bedroom, 19-year-old Veronica Bouchard slouches before the camera in a low-cut dress and a choker, lamenting the Jewish conspiracy to control society by corrupting minds with degenerate inter-racial pornography.
In another, she offers cupcakes decorated with swastikas to a portrait of Adolf Hitler, as she sings him Happy Birthday.
“Hitler actually wasn’t that bad. He wasn’t evil at all. And he’s one of my favourite people of all time,” she says.
Petite and pretty, she speaks variously in an over-acted breathy whisper, or a treacly, girlish singsong, sometimes blatantly trying to force tears about the supposed genocide of white people. At other times, she is vulgar, smug, sarcastic, agitated and angry, swearing at the suggestion she is uneducated and ignorant.
Ignore what she says, and she could be any other petulant teenager talking to her phone. But Bouchard, known as Evalion, is fast becoming a leading star of neo-Nazism, and her runaway popularity threatens to upend the nearly unbroken tradition of male dominance in white supremacy.
But while these women express admiration for Hitler, unfortunately they are not asked exactly what it is that they admire about him or find appealing about Hitler or Nazism.
That is the puzzle.
I don’t know what the appeal is, but in Bouchard’s case it might have something to do with this previous article.
“I can understand that some Germans, seeking to reclaim what they think of as past grandeur, yearn to go back to Hitler’s time when Germany threatened to conquer the world and would like to have a second chance at succeeding.”
This is way too simple. German neonazism is especially popular in former East-Germany. Its a reaction to the disappointment after the reunion 30+ years ago. Except for Berlin eastern states like Brandenburg are still much poorer. In The Netherlands I blame the (former) leftis parties. They failed to serve the interests of the poor, while the consequences of neoliberalism (partly supported by those leftist parties, compared to whom Joe Biden still is a conservative) have resulted in a bigger welfare gap, worsening education (eg illiteracy is rising), worsening public services and worsening health care become more and more apparant. The leftist parties fail thus far to offer answers. Extreme right wing parties have used this to their advantage via the classic scapegoat model (blame the immigrants) and occupy 31 out 150 seats in parliament. Add to this picture that most media these days are owned by millionaires. Dutch neonazis, while still marginal, are on the rise too.
I suppose a correct explanation is different for each country. But I think the general patterns are the same everywhere. For the USA, as far as internet is representative, I’ve noticed something typical for the country.
and then especially WL Craig’s defense of it. This is essentially the Führer Principle. So it’s not hard to combine DCT with neonazism. Don’t forget that christian theologians have argued for white supremacy and antisemitism too. So those who think Donald the Clown and other Republican nuts still too moderate easily can find an ideology that’s even more raidcal and keep on calling themselves christians. Christofascism is not an empty accusation. Your
“who tend to voice uber-patriotic rhetoric and think that their country has always been the greatest in every way”
is exactly what Hitler stood for. Remember, the presidents during WW-2 were social progressives. Before Hitler declared war he was quite popular in the USA too. Actually Roosevelt provoked Hitler to declare war -- de facto the USA had attacked Britain (or defended, given perspective) at least half a year. Call Roosevelt a war monger, point out that Hitler wanted to avoid war with the USA (a proven historical fact) and they can call themselves “true” patriots while blaming the left for entering WW2. Then Hitler becomes an underdog who fought for justice. What could appeal too is that Hitler acted like a messias claimant -- saviour of the white race and western civilisation.
I hope this helps.
John Morales says
Nazism is a form of fascism.
Benito Mussolini should be given the credit, he founded Partito Nazionale Fascista (National Fascist Party) in Italy in 1919. Hitler thought it was a pretty good thing but didn’t go far enough, so he took it to the next level.
Anyway, credit where credit is due.
John Morales says
I remember watching The Blues Brothers back in (checks) in 1980.
Morales when I said think before you type I didn’t mean think any random thought and type it.
But that’s exactly what fascism teaches! Uber patriotism and believing your country is the greatest in every way. (Notice your use of a German word there by the way -- not coincidental.)
I suggest it’s not because of any fondness for Germany, so the “nation that once sought to defeat them” part is irrelevant. It’s the appeal of fascism; Hitler just happens to be the exemplar.
As to why fascism should appeal, I’ve read about this and will make some suggestions, but what I say should not be understood to be my own original thoughts -- I’m summarizing what I’ve learned:
First fascism is all about traditional values -- patriotism, family -- so it’s understandable it would resonate with conservatives in the US who have long espoused these values.
It’s also about submerging the individual into the group. For all the conservative rhetoric about individuality, there is something appealing about being part of something larger than oneself, and fascism exploits this desire. Mussolini’s motto was, “Believe, obey, fight”. Not being responsible for oneself but “only following orders” is actually attractive to some people.
Also, fascism positions itself as the opposite to the right’s ideological “enemies” -- socialism, “cultural marxism”, “the woke”. In the 1930s part of the appeal of fascism was that it wasn’t communism, which was seen as the bigger bogeyman. Today, if you want to be the opposite of “woke” and BLM and antifa -- well, that would be fascism.
And finally, it’s just because it’s an ideology in which bigotry is okay. Fascism holds that democracy is “weak” because it gives an equal voice to the “inferiors”. The master race should rule. So if you’re a bigot against some minority, fascism tells you you have every right to be. There’s none of this, “all men are created equal” stuff. The world rightly belongs to the ubermensch.
John Morales says
Silentbob, heh. I get that you don’t get it. Too oblique for you.
(Your plaintive cries are as music to my ears)
John Morales says
“Democracy is a kingless regime infested by many kings who are sometimes more exclusive, tyrannical and destructive than one, even if he be a tyrant.”
“Fascism holds that democracy is “weak” because it gives an equal voice to the “inferiors”.”
Incidentally this post has reminded me that when I was a youngster, there was a TV movie that attempted to explain the appeal of fascism.
It was called The Wave, and it’s on YouTube in full today.
IMDB describes it thus:
If you can stand the cheesy acting and appalling quality of a copy of a copy of 1980s TV you may enjoy it. X-D
It’s only three quarters of an hour and was actually powerful in conveying to me, as a youngster, the nature of the appeal of fascism. Recommended despite archaic production values.
As I read it, Mano’s question is not about the appeal of fascism generally, but the appeal of Nazism, specifically in its WWII-era German incarnation, with its distinctive iconography and leadership. Why the swastikas and portraits of Hitler?
I think Mano has it right -- it’s a brand. Whatever else you say about Hitler and the Nazis, their branding was absolutely on point. I can’t help thinking if Hitler hadn’t had the toothbrush moustache, and had hence just looked like a bad tempered middle aged man, people wouldn’t have been as inclined to venerate his picture.
There’s also the point that if you crave attention, then talking about how great Hitler and the Nazis were and / or dressing up as a Nazi are pretty reliable ways of getting it. “Look at me, aren’t I edgy!”
True… but that only works because there’s a reliable cohort of pearl-clutching morons who very very loudly topple towards the fainting couch at the sight of someone in an SS uniform in 2023. I don’t think they deserve the oxygen of publicity (indeed, like the late and wonderful Linda Smith, I don’t really think they deserve the oxygen of oxygen), but as long as people will get attention and clicks for condemning them, the two crowds will feed off each other. I blame social media. And young people generally. Get off my lawn, and so on.
It my also have something to do with fascism’s rather casual relationship with the truth. So while there might be some inconvenient facts along the way (such as the Nazis having been enemies), they’ll just ignore those bits. Problem solved.
Er… what on earth are you trying to say here? The USA did not attack Britain during WW2, from any perspective, but supplied it with weapons. It’s true Hitler’s declaration of war was extremely useful to Roosevelt, who would otherwise have found it difficult to persuade Congress and public opinion to prioritise fighting Germany rather than Japan, as made complete sense in terms of grand strategy. But Hitler did not declare war until after Pearl Harbor, and had absolutely no need to do so -- it was pure foolishness.
The epitome of bothsiderist idiocy. There is absolutely no evidence the neo-Nazis would reduce their activities if they were ignored.