Fascism in America

Today we have conquered the health-care insurance exclusion for pre-existing conditions. Tomorrow, Poland!
Today we have conquered the health-care insurance exclusion for pre-existing conditions. Tomorrow, Poland!
Nuremberg rally
Die NRA sind unser Unglück!

I remember many years ago when I first saw a car bumper sticker saying “First round up the guns, then round up the Jews!”, which I assumed to be suggesting that the owner disapproved of both confiscations. Just now, the “Nazi gun control” trope is all over the place: for instance, here and here and even here.
It’s weird, because this story seems to have literally zero basis in fact. I’ve read quite a few books about the Weimar Republic, the rise of Nazism, and the Third Reich, and I’ve never come across any reference to a Nazi interest on the question of private gun ownership. Sure, Jews were forbidden to have guns, but they were also forbidden from owning cats. It’s not that the Nazis feared the wrath of the Hebrew feline defenders.

The only reference I’ve come across to a nexus between Nazi ideology and private guns (as opposed to military armaments, in which they obviously had an abiding interest) is a passage in Ian Kershaw’s masterful biography of Hitler. Discussing the extraordinary thoroughness of the campaign of “Gleichschaltung” — the “coordination” of all institutions, whether large or petty, with Nazi goals and ideology — in 1933, he quotes an “activity report” from the small town of Theisenort (population about 750) in Upper Franconia:

The Veterans’ association was coordinated on 6.8.33, on 7.8.33 the Singing Association in Theisenort. With the Shooting Club in Theisenort this was not necessary, since the board and committee are up to 80 per cent party members.

So there would have been no need to round up the weapons of regime opponents, because the shooting enthusiasts were all Nazis to begin with. That doesn’t really support the whole bulwark against fascism idea.

Now on to the list of fascist crimes we can add universal health insurance as well. This morning I heard an interview with Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, in which he was asked whether he actually considered (as he suggested) the recent US expansion of health insurance to be socialism. Of course not. “Technically speaking,” he opined, “it’s more like fascism.” (You have to love that “more like”. Maybe his opponents should use that phrase. “Do you see Whole Foods anti-union tactics as comparable to early 20th century industrial union-busting?” “Technically speaking, it’s more like Stalinist enforced collectivization.” “Is John Mackey a psychopathic serial killer?” “No, technically speaking, he’s more like an ideologically driven terror bomber.” See, I didn’t say he was actually either of these things, not even that he was like either of these things, only that he is more like the one than like the other. The way a guppy is more like a blue whale than it is like a tyrannosaur. Which is not to say he’s like either. So far as I know.)

Listening to him, you can hear his smug cleverness in saying “Technically speaking”. You see, he is only using a technical definition, where “fascism” means government regulation of business, as contrasted with government ownership of business. And if you have other associations with the word fascism, that’s just because you’re not as technically-minded as John Mackey. Of course, fascists did many things. They built roads and bridges. They applied fiscal stimulus to bring down unemployment. They told convenient political lies. They dissolved elected political institutions and murdered their political opponents. They invaded their neighbours and plunged much of the world into war. And they annihilated millions of people on racial grounds in mass shootings and gas chambers. Now, you could say any government that uses tax money to build highways is “acting like fascists”, but it’s not surprising that people who hear it might miss the subtle historico-political argument, and mistakenly believe that the analogy was meant to refer to some of the, shall we say, more distinctive characteristics of the Nazis, like rascism, antisemitism, and industrial-scale slaughter.

As we all know, Hitler loved children and dogs. Presumably John Mackey would say that anyone who promotes the welfare of children and/or dogs is acting like a Nazi. (Actually, the Nazis did have some progressive animal welfare legislation…)

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