We easily forget how fascism works: as a bright and shining alternative to the mundane duties of everyday life, as a celebration of the obviously and totally irrational against good sense and experience. Fascism features armed forces that do not look like armed forces, indifference to the laws of war in their application to people deemed inferior, the celebration of “empire” after counterproductive land grabs. Fascism means the celebration of the nude male form, the obsession with homosexuality, simultaneously criminalized and imitated. Fascism rejects liberalism and democracy as sham forms of individualism, insists on the collective will over the individual choice, and fetishizes the glorious deed. Because the deed is everything and the word is nothing, words are only there to make deeds possible, and then to make myths of them. Truth cannot exist, and so history is nothing more than a political resource. Hitler could speak of St. Paul as his enemy, Mussolini could summon the Roman emperors. Seventy years after the end of World War II, we forgot how appealing all this once was to Europeans, and indeed that only defeat in war discredited it. Today these ideas are on the rise in Russia, a country that organizes its historical politics around the Soviet victory in that war, and the Russian siren song has a strange appeal in Germany, the defeated country that was supposed to have learned from it.
[originally written on September 11, 2012]
“I believe that the witnesses, especially the survivors, have the most important role. They can simply say, in the words of the prophet, ‘I was there.’ What is a witness if not someone who has a tale to tell and lives only with one haunting desire: to tell it. Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future. After all, God is God because he remembers.”
On March 4, 2014, Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, held a press conference, answering questions about the crisis he spawned in Crimea. Echoing the lies of his representative before the UN Security Council a day prior, Putin maintained that neither he nor Russia as a whole was responsible for recent events in Ukraine. He attributed the crisis to an illegal, American-backed coup against the legitimate government in Kyiv. Continue reading
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
[Lt. Col. Dr. John McCrae, Canadian Army, 1915]
“It is twenty-three years now since I first attended a National Socialist meeting, saw (without particular enjoyment) Herr Hitler at close range, and listened to the flood of nonsense — or so it then seemed to me — that he was spouting. It was only gradually that the effects of these speeches made me realize that behind all the nonsense there was unrivaled political cunning….Hitler was able to enslave his own people because he seemed to give them something that even the traditional religions could no longer provide; the belief in a meaning to existence beyond the narrowest self-interest. The real degradation began when people realized that they were in league with the Devil, but felt that even the Devil was preferable to the emptiness of an existence which lacked a larger significance. The problem today is to give that larger significance and dignity to a life that has been dwarfed by the world of material things. Until that problem is solved, the annihilation of Naziism will be no more than the removal of one symptom of the world’s unrest.”
Excerpted from Der Fuehrer by Konrad Heiden, published in 1944.