Posts Tagged ‘Hitler’


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Sometimes a book review is more than a book review.

That’s certainly true in the case of Michiko Kakutani’s [ht: ja] essay on the first volume of Volker Ullrich’s biography of Adolf Hitler. He implies but not never explicitly states the contemporary comparison.

Consider the following bulleted points (not in their original order):

•Hitler was often described as an egomaniac who “only loved himself” — a narcissist with a taste for self-dramatization and what Mr. Ullrich calls a “characteristic fondness for superlatives.”

•Hitler was known, among colleagues, for a “bottomless mendacity” that would later be magnified by a slick propaganda machine that used the latest technology (radio, gramophone records, film) to spread his message.

•Hitler was an effective orator and actor, Mr. Ullrich reminds readers, adept at assuming various masks and feeding off the energy of his audiences.

•Hitler increasingly presented himself in messianic terms, promising “to lead Germany to a new era of national greatness,” though he was typically vague about his actual plans.

•Hitler’s repertoire of topics, Mr. Ullrich notes, was limited, and reading his speeches in retrospect, “it seems amazing that he attracted larger and larger audiences” with “repeated mantralike phrases” consisting largely of “accusations, vows of revenge and promises for the future.”

•Hitler had a dark, Darwinian view of the world.

•Hitler’s rise was not inevitable

And perhaps most important:

•Hitler’s ascension was aided and abetted by the naïveté of domestic adversaries who failed to appreciate his ruthlessness and tenacity, and by foreign statesmen who believed they could control his aggression.

Not once does Kakutani mention the name of the politician, current presidential candidate of one of the two major political parties in the United States, who has also ascended “through demagoguery, showmanship and nativist appeals to the masses.”*


*If readers have any doubts about the veracity of Kakutani’s implied comparison, read this BBC [ht: ja] report about a recent rally in Florida.

“For 90 minutes on issue after issue, Hillary Clinton defended the terrible status quo,” he said. “We have to have dramatic change.” . . .

“Washington DC will soon come face-to-face with the righteous verdict of the American voter,” he said.

For the crowd in Melbourne, “soon” isn’t soon enough.

On my list of blog posts to write was a response to Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson’s argument that Hitler’s economic policy was really a form of Keynesianism.

But, instead, I will outsource this one to Brad DeLong:

The question of what technocratic interventions work best–pegging the price of gold, constant reserve stock, stable money growth rule, lender of last resort, nominal GDP targetting, automatic stabilizers, deposit guarantees, expansionary fiscal policy at the zero nominal lower bound–is not a question of values and goals, but rather a pragmatic question of what works, of what macroeconomic policy is properly “neutral” rather than deflationary. And that is an empirical-technocratic question, rather than a value-philosophical one.

But, even so, right here and right now both the policies of fiscal expansion in a depression advocated by John Maynard Keynes and the policies of massive quantitative easing in a depression recommended by Milton Friedman are strongly left-wing policies–not right wing ones. And, right here and right now, higher income and wealth inequality in our system of money-driven politics has strengthened the right. Thus I have a hard time reading Acemoglu and Robinson’s resort to Hitler as anything other than an attempt to divert attention away from these facts.

But why do they do this?

I think that, once one recognizes this fact that both Keynes and Friedman are to the activist left of even the left edge of today’s policy spectrum, one cannot then escape the conclusion that today the entire right wing and a good part of the center is simply not sane. The position of the right today is, in essence, that (a) because the top managements of highly-leveraged money-center banks were unable to understand or control their derivative books, (b) tens of millions of additional people must be doomed to poverty and unemployment, for (c) the market giveth and the market taketh away: blessed be the name of the market.

And this is simply nutso.

Our technologies, resources, and preferences are what they were in 2007, and high unemployment because we will not repair our magneto is a choice, and a disastrous one, and an insane one, and a right-wing one.

Acemoglu and Robinson, I think, want at some level to be thought of as Very Serious People, as part of the Bipartisan Center. They do, I think, fear that if they took those additional logical steps that they would find themselves dismissed as “shrill”–as like Paul Krugman and company.

So they try to avert their own–and everybody else’s–gaze from the fact that right now to be truly technocratic and nonideological is to be advocating policies that are left of the entire political structure.