The Modern Landscape
In The Illusion of Left And Right we discovered that the terms “Left” and “Right” in politics came from the French Revolution. One important takeaway from that is that those who seek to preserve the status quo are on the Right, and those who seek radical change are on the Left.
So how well does this principle of conservation vs. change fit with the modern view of Left and the Right? Not very well. This is a simplistic depiction of how many perceive the political spectrum today:
The first thing you should notice is that the Nazis are shown on the right along with Republicans and Conservatives. Does that make sense?
The goal of the historical German Nazis was to radically change the society of the Weimar Republic. They accomplished that by taking Germany from a democracy to an absolute totalitarian government where one’s only justification for existence was to serve the state and the Führer. The desire for radical change is a trademark of the Left.
Compare that to the Conservatives in the above diagram. Conservatives, among other things, want to conserve the principles of the United States Constitution with limited government power and protection of individual rights. There is a huge divide between the views of the Founders of the United States who created a government with intentionally limited power and the Nazis who created a ruthless, totalitarian regime.
The Communists, indisputably on the Left, also created a totalitarian government just as ruthless and murderous as the Nazis. By those standards we ought to take the Nazis in the diagram above and put them on the Left right next to the Communists (where they truly belong).
One claim is that both the Nazis and the Right in America were racist. Any realistic survey of world history and cultures will turn up a lot of racists with a variety of cultures and politics. To say that somehow the characteristic of racism unites the Nazis and the Right in America is to ignore a lot of human history.
Secondly, it is arguable that in today’s America the Left is far more racist than the right. A racist is by definition a person who pre-judges the value and character of a person based on their race. The Left today in America pre-judges Caucasians as guilty based just on the color of their skin and blacks as innocent, again based on the color of their skin. By any logical definition that is racism.
A person who is definitely not a racist is one who judges a person’s character and actions and not the color of their skin. However today in America it is clear that the color of a person’s skin is the first thing the Left wants to know when they are deciding who is innocent or guilty in any confrontation.
That racism has been part of American history is obviously true. Tolerance of slavery by some Americans early in its history reflects that racism. However it is also true that slavery predated recorded history and still exists in parts of the modern world. America did not invent racism or slavery. It inherited it both.
The difference is that Nazism embraced the racism that led to the extermination of millions. America and Western civilization were at the forefront of outlawing slavery in the Western world. America fought a bloody Civil War to end slavery in the United States. America inherited slavery but then based on its founding principles abolished it, and at great cost.
The Soviet Union which is depicted on the Left was also deeply racist and genocidal in its policies – see Racism in the Soviet Union (Wikipedia). Communist leaders like Stalin were highly antisemitic and shared a belief in a Jewish world conspiracy (Wikipedia), exactly as the Nazis had.
Racism to some degree is one of the more common of human faults. But that doesn’t make most people, including Americans on the Right, into genocidial Nazis.
Another claim equating Nazism with the American Right is that both support Capitalism. The official name of the Nazi Party in Germany was Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP) which translated means “National Socialist German Workers’ Party.”
Despite having “Socialist” in its official name, detractors will say that the Nazis were not true Socialists. There were radical members of the Nazi Party that very vocally wanted to implement true Socialist principles, for example, nationalizing industry in Germany. Many of those were eliminated in the Night of the Long Knives in 1934.
It is not likely that Hitler eliminated these purer Socialists in support of Capitalism. The very obvious answer is that Hitler eliminated them because they were a serious threat to his authority in the Nazi Party. With their murder Hitler solidified his power.
Leading up to World War 2 and through the end of the war, the Nazis did not officially nationalize the large German industries. That does not mean these industrialists were practicing any form of free enterprise.
On strictly legal grounds the Capitalists were still the owners, but in no practical way did they “own” in the sense of having real control. They were the managers of industries that the Nazis required for their war machine. If they seemed to not support the Nazis, then they would most likely have ended up in the concentration camps themselves.
The late Ludwig Von Mises explained it very clearly:
The fact that the capitalists and entrepreneurs, faced with the alternative of Communism or Nazism, chose the latter, does not require any further explanation. They preferred to live as shop managers under Hitler than to be “liquidated” as “bourgeois” by Stalin. Capitalists don’t like to be killed any more than other people do. — “Progressive” Attacks on Capitalism Were Key to Hitler’s Success, Ludwig Von Mises
It is clear in his writings and speeches that Hitler was no great fan of Capitalism. I think it is most likely that Hitler thought he had a war to win and a world to conquer and he needed proven managers of the industries of his war machine.
Proponents of the idea that Nazis were on the Right comes from the accusation that they were rabid nationalists (they were) and that nationalism is a phenomenon exclusive to the Right. It is largely forgotten that the Soviet Union sought to motivate its citizens against the Nazis in World War 2 almost exclusively with nationalistic appeals to saving “Mother Russia,” and not appeals to save Communism.
Countries are not simply “nationalistic,” or “not nationalistic.” It is not the case that it is one or the other with nothing in between. “National Socialism” was a combination of both extreme nationalism and aspects of Socialism (including state control of most aspects of human life).
Citizens of almost very country on earth are nationalists to some extent. In that form it means concern for the welfare of ones own country and to give that welfare some priority in your values.
To love one’s country and it traditions doesn’t make you a Nazi. Nationalism in itself does not place the Nazis on the Right.
Nazis fought Communism
According to this theory both Nazis and the American Right were against Communism. Since both were against Communism they both must be on the Right since Communism is on the Left. As a logical demonstration this is nonsense.
Consider this situation. You have two gangs in Chicago both of who’s primary source of income is selling illicit drugs. So if gang A attacks and kills some members of gang B that doesn’t make gang A “anti-drug”, does it? They are just two gangs with a similar goal fighting over territory. The Nazis and the Communists were both similar gangs (totalitarian states) fighting over who would run things.
The Right in America has been anti-communist for the simple reason that Communism attacks the basic principles of individual freedom and individual rights that are at the core of the values of the American Right. The American Right opposes Communism on principle, the principle that government doesn’t have the right to run every aspect of our lives.
Nazis and the Left
Nazis actually have a lot more in common with Communism on the Left than they do with those on the Right in America. Both the Nazis and the Communists were regimes intolerant of dissent or individualism that in any way challenged the doctrines of the state. Both Communism and Nazism murdered millions of their citizens. Both Communism and Nazism had plans to expand their dominance worldwide by force.
The illusion revealed
As we have seen above, trying to place political positions on a Left/Right axis doesn’t work very well today. Nazis are not on the Right because they are racists, capitalists, nationalists, or because they didn’t like Communists. In terms of individual rights/freedom the Nazis and Communists both are on the same side, the side of a totalitarian government, a “Big Brother” state wanting to control every aspect of human conduct and belief.
Fascists and Nazis were for radical change, another sign of being on the Left, at least using the principle of what Left/Right meant in the French Revolution – the source of the terms for Left and Right in politics (see The Illusion of Left And Right ). Modern American Conservatives, the American Right, are primarily for preserving limited, small government.
The correct measure
As I see it the correct (i.e. most useful) measure of politics is not Left or Right, not conservation vs. change, but rather individual freedom and rights vs. totalitarian control of every aspect of a person’s life.
It looks something like this:
Libertarians are on one extreme. They are the most consistent defenders of individual rights. On the other extreme are the varying degrees of totalitarianism, the Nazis and the Communists – the most prolific murderers of the 20th century. Somewhere in between are the Republicans and the Democrats. The Republicans lean towards freedom. The Democrats lean toward the totalitarians.
Forget the old ideas of the Left and the Right. Above is the reality today.