August 8th, 2010

Defying the abyss: a witness to the Nazi takeover

Commenter David Foster has written a two-part book review of historian and author Sebastian Haffner’s Defying Hitler (part I is here, part II here).

I would say “read the whole thing.” But I’ll amend that a bit and say instead, “you owe it to yourself, and to history and the future, to read the whole thing.”

And then read Haffner’s book, too—as I plan to—because the excerpts Foster offers seem more relevant now than ever before.

37 Responses to “Defying the abyss: a witness to the Nazi takeover”

  1. david foster Says:

    Thanks for the link, Neo. I’m really surprised that this book hasn’t gotten more attention in the U.S.

  2. Tom Says:

    I thank David for bringing Haffner to our attention. I’ve ordered it, appalled I didn’t know about Haffner.
    Perhaps more than I alone wonder, “What can, what will we do?” The old rules, which have served us pretty well, are being trampled by the Obamatons. They make new rules as they go (thank you very much, Alcee Hastings).
    It is incrementalism that paralyzes us. Surely they can’t do more? And then….

    If I were young, I would consider fleeing like Haffner did in 1939. One can always come back after things sort themselves out positively, But to where? Possibly India; we cannot all go to Costa Rica.

    I do not think things will improve. Symptom: McCain leads in AZ. Let’s see in November. I’d love to be wrong.

  3. Tom Says:

    What will you do, David?

  4. david foster Says:

    Tom….what I will do is everything in my (obviously very limited) power to help influence politics and society in the right direction. I do not believe there is anywhere to run *to*….Lincoln called this country “the last best hope of mankind”, and I don’t think that has changed. There are countries with many excellent attributes and good prospects…India certainly being one…but if the U.S. falls below a certain level of political sanity, military strength, and financial responsibility, I’m afraid it will, sooner or later,take these countries down with it.

  5. John Says:

    Very interesting thanks Neo, I will purchase and read the book.

  6. Tom Says:

    I too am trying to make a difference. But the more I reflect on Haffner v. us, based on David’s excellent review, the more I suspect reading him will be analogous to observing an autopsy being done on ones self.

  7. jon baker Says:

    If it gets bad enough, the US I think will fracture. I do not see the entire US going willy nilly without a fight down the path some think it might go at least not as long as there are still viable pockets of Conservative domination. Not that it would be a cake walk anywhere in the US. The less populated potions of the country might fare better than the more crowded ones- maybe. And as other have postured , outside parties might pounce once it got bad enough and/or maybe sneak in a nuke or two in the process.

  8. jon baker Says:

    I would say to the Jews, contrary to what the liberals would have you believe, your strongest support in this country is in the Evangelical Christian areas. It is seen as a command from God to bless the Children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Evangelicals are taught from youth to read the Bible themselves in their own time at home. Kinda makes you side with the Jews. Even if we think most of you have been voting for the wrong party for quite a while!

  9. jon baker Says:

    maybe not a command per se but a strong suggestion on the whole support the Jews-lol

    Does not mean we will agree with you on everything, though.

  10. J.J. formerly Jimmy J. Says:

    I’m old enough to have seen quite a lot. WWII, Korea, LBJ, Vietnam, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Desert Storm and 9/11 to name some highlights. Things have looked bleak in the past and there have always been worries about the stability of our system. It is when no one is worried that I would be most worried.

    The majority of people in this country are center right. A majority are losing faith in Obama and the Democrat controlled Congress. A fair number of those on the right own guns and know how to use them. The heart of our armed forces is conservative. The same is true of most in law enforcement. For a dictatorial takeover of this country we would have to see widespread denial of free speech and peaceable assembly by armed minions of the government. I just don’t see that happening.

    I do have some worries about the honesty of our elections. Organizations like Acorn are a worry and we must insist that there be adequate poll watchers and enforcement taken against thugs like the New Black Panthers. Campaign financing worries me too. We’re going to see a lot of vicious TV ads bought by obscure (Soros backed?) left wing groups in support of their candidates. They’ve already begun here in the People’s Republic of Puget Sound.

    Our vote is still our best weapon for keeping us free. On top of that we need to support good candidates with our dollars, time, and volunteer efforts. Write to your local paper, talk to neighbors, co-workers, family, and friends about the need to rein in spending and the size of government. If we can’t get enough fiscal conservatives elected to Congress in November, it will be because we didn’t work hard enough. If that happens, I will become more concerned than I am right now. Buck up folks, November is coming and a repudiation of Obama and company is in the air.

  11. Wolla Dalbo Says:

    Just from reading quotes from this book and the extended review linked above, it seems to me that there couldn’t be a more critically important book to read in today’s America, for trends and ideas, events, attitudes and behaviors very similar to those that made it possible for a Hitler to come to power and for the Nazis to parasitize and take over the German state are starting to occur again, right here, right now in America under Obama & Co.

    I believe the author’s contention that rather than the actions of “great men,” it is by the daily decisions and actions of millions of ordinary citizens that a country’s fate is sealed. So that, if we are to prevent the loss of our Freedom, the rise of a Tyranny, and the loss of the America we love, it is up to us as individuals to become informed and more aware, to be able to recognize the danger, and to do what we can to stop it and to organize against it. I believe that the insights contained in this book will help us greatly in this task.

  12. rickl Says:

    Interesting review, David.

    “Icy horror” neatly describes the feeling I had on Election Night 2008.

  13. expat Says:

    I found the part about the generational power change particularly relevant and scary. How do we get the young to appreciate all the levels of “honor thy father and thy mother”? How do we connect them with the past and show them that previous generations were not frozen at 40 or 55, but also had a life of growing and adapting to changes? We certainly don’t want to stop the exuberance of the young investment banker or techie, but we need to make sure they are connected. And for those of a community organizer bent, perhaps we need a history of community organizing that includes Ben Franklin and the women frying chicken for the church supper. ACORN isn’t the only game in town.

  14. jhankey Says:

    Remember it is an ideal not a place that is to be held and defended. Wherever you are THAT is the place for resolve.

  15. armchair pessimist Says:

    Long before Hitler, Germany had been known as the Beamtenstaat, the country where nearly everybody who mattered was some sort of public official or functionary. A robust private sector might have made all the difference. Perhaps this is why our president hoped in one of his countless campaign speeches to make working for the government seem “cool” to young people.

  16. Artfldgr Says:

    Both David and I brought this book up as far back as Apr and July 2009 (here at neo-neocon).

    I also brought up many similar informative tracts

  17. SteveH Says:

    Seems like nothing much is scarier than masses of people emotionally moved in the direction of righting some past wrongs. Which is pretty much what happened in Germany and threatening to happen here. A sort of vigilante based society.

  18. Mr. Frank Says:

    It is important to remember that Bush won about 80% of the counties in his two elections. Those people are going to resist an over reach by government much like the moonshiners of Appalachia where “revenuers” periodically disappeared.

  19. br549 Says:

    Generational power chnage….. if you mean the disconnect created by history revision, etc., we all knew, I think, that was coming. As most of us are parents, we have been watching it over the years.
    My own children know a different history than I was taught.

    It is funny (or scary) to watch the History Channel for an entire weekend (just to see) and any of the science / learning channels (just to see) and watch the various shows contradict each other on the very same subject matter.

  20. Steve G Says:

    While we still have to remain diligent the Dope and his crew have shot their wad. They are now the subject of deserved ridicule. He and they have proven themselves to be incompetent, unwilling (or more likely) unable to compromise, incapable of learning from experience, a national and international laughingstock, weak, vacillating, unfocused on the issues of importance to voters, willful in pushing wrong headed policies, disdainful of their allies, and borderline criminal in their tactics. Their moment has come AND GONE. The Dope’s approval rating was -5% on RCP a few days ago and is reaching new lows every few days. The Dope is earning his fair marks and has lost his audience in only 18 months.

    The Dope’s use of unconstitutional methods to gain his bizarre ends has solidified a middle class opposition that normally sleeps through elections and is now gaining its voice. Unlike Germany, we are not sheep that run away from every barking collie. We are a nation of cowboys (even greenhorn Jews are now cowboys) and won’t go along with BIG Brother government. We have to be persuaded. And, he couldn’t do it. Of course, the risk of runaway inflation is scary, especially to those like me who are on the cusp of retirement and could be wiped out. In my opinion the danger has passed. (Boy do I not want to eat these words.)

    Whether the Dope is evil or pure in spirit is not important to me. He is a doofus and can no longer command the masses as he could 18 months ago. If he had gone slower and given at least some lip service to the Republicans he could have taken the country deeply into some sort of fascist statism. He has the desire and the cold sort of mind that could have made that form of detestable government irreversible. He and his crew just do not have the talent (thankfully). Don’t underestimate the damage he is inflicting on the country (and the Democrat party). Just realize that it will soon be reversed.

  21. Matthew M Says:

    Sebastian Haffner’s book is quoted at the end of review:

    The most powerful dictators, ministers, and generals are powerless against the simultaneous mass decisions taken individually and almost unconsciously by the population at large…Decisions that influence the course of history arise out of the individual experiences of thousands or millions of individuals.

    In author Leonard Peikoff’s detailed analysis of the Nazis and the possibility of such a disaster in America, The Ominous Parallels, the role of bad philosophy in the direction chosen by those millions inhabiting “the land of poets and philophers” is explained:

    Although it was mediated by crises… German Nazism was the inevitable climax of a centuries-long philosophic development, preaching three fundamental ideas: the worship of unreason, the demand for self-sacrifice and the elevation of society or the state above the individual.

    America, the nation of the Enlightenment, has a different philosophical heritage. We will see if the decades-long assault on it has eroded the American sense of life to the point we accept tyranny.

  22. Lame-R Says:

    Compare this statement of Haffner’s:

    “They had never learned how to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful and worth while, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk.”

    With this one, by Dorothy Thompson in Harper’s “Who Goes Nazi” parlor game article:

    “Those who haven’t anything in them to tell them what they like and what they don’t-whether it is breeding, or happiness, or wisdom, or a code, however old-fashioned or however modern, go Nazi.”

  23. Artfldgr Says:

    How about the role of the same philosophies?

    but then again… how would the average american know as any time someone like Haffner and Peikoff, and Dodd, and any of the dozen or more names i listed, are not read, listened to, or believed?

    America abandoned the Enlightenment.
    The Philosophers that opposed the Enlightenment for unseating them, have come back to win. from the Dominican friar that campaigned to get the church to go after Galileo, to others.

    these are the ROMANTICS and they are ANTITHETICAL to the enlightenment… in fact, we today think the romantics were part of the enlightenment not antithesis.

    but the people like Moses Harmon would never focus on the enlightenment, as it was only the romantics that gave them language to describe hell as heaven unrealized.

    they have resurrected Martin Heidegger..

    If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life – and only then will I be free to become myself.
    Martin Heidegger

    Making itself intelligible is suicide for philosophy.
    Martin Heidegger

    the above quote show the animus to empiricism..
    and real knowledge vs philosophical reality

    Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man.
    Martin Heidegger

    Man is not the lord of beings. Man is the shepherd of Being.
    Martin Heidegger

    The possible ranks higher than the actual.
    Martin Heidegger

    ie… that if one is to convince people, then one should talk about wahts possible, irregardless whether it is or not. for if one talks of whats actual, then one loses to those others.

    how we doing now as we are chasing the impossible made seeming possible, and have abandoned the actual!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Thinking begins only when we have come to know that reason, glorified for centuries, is the stiff-necked adversary of thought.
    Martin Heidegger

    Transcendence constitutes selfhood.
    Martin Heidegger

    Whatever can be noted historically can be found within history.
    Martin Heidegger

    Why are there beings at all, instead of Nothing?
    Martin Heidegger

  24. Artfldgr Says:

    Lame-R,
    did you actually read a link i posted? 🙂

  25. JuliB Says:

    On a somewhat related note, I have started reading ‘A Concise History of the Russian Revolution’. I think I saw the recommendation here.

    In my college and 20s, I was quite fascinated by the USSR and its interactions. Now, reading this book from the 90s has made me very uncomfortable – I see way too many parallels.

    I would really recommend it, and I have just finished chapter 2.

  26. Lame-R Says:

    Art–I didn’t see that you posted a link.

    Judging by your quotations of his, this Heidegger guy sounds like a nut.

    Pfft, philosophers–who needs ’em?! 😉

  27. anna Says:

    I read both parts of the book review. What chilling words for those of us who think the Constitution will protect us. I don’t even think that buying stocks will be a good idea this time around (like it was for the young Germans). What else is valuable besides gold? Uranium?????

  28. anna Says:

    rickl, I had icy horror on election night 2006 as I watched the adoration of the crowds and the press, and Obama’s attitude as he won the senate seat. I knew this was not going to end well.

    BTW, if we go to pieces, my #1 strategy will be to move to Texas. If not before then.

  29. david foster Says:

    While searching for an old blog post, I ran into something Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote which is relevant to this discussion. Bonhoeffer was, of course, a German pastor who was executed for his part in a plot against Hitler.

    “Today there are once more saints and villains. Instead of the uniform grayness of the rainy day, we have the black storm cloud and the brilliant lightning flash. Outlines stand out with exaggerated sharpness. Shakespeare’s characters walk among us. The villain and the saint emerge from primeval depths and by their appearance they tear open the infernal or the divine abyss from which they come and enable us to see for a moment into mysteries of which we had never dreamed.”

    I was reminded of this passage last year by something Cara Ellison wrote in connection with the 9./11 anniversary:

    “I guess I thought they were all gone, those types of monsters, stranded on reels of black and white film.”

    When the monsters escape from the reels of film and emerge into the daylight, as they did on 9/11, then the kind of moral clarity that Bonhoeffer portrays so well is required in response. And I think one reason that many people are reluctant to admit the seriousness of the situation that faces us is that they prefer “the uniform grayness of the rainy day.” Seeing the brilliant lightning flashes can be dangerous, after all–look what happened to Bonhoeffer.

  30. david foster Says:

    Left out the link to Cara’s very interesting blog–here it is.

    Do not miss the post by Sean on the Ground Zero mosque.

  31. rickl Says:

    anna:
    Well, you were ahead of me, then. I missed that in 2006.

    I also second Matthew M’s recommendation of Leonard Peikoff’s The Ominous Parallels. I read that book about ten years ago. It seems a bit dated now though, as events continue to pick up speed.

  32. Artfldgr Says:

    Bonhoeffer disproves the lefts thesis that the church and its people did nothing… (as do many other facts).

    the idea that the main thesis in the mass mind as to the pope of the period is from a small German play shows the power of collectives ability to latch onto anything and raise it up for public consumption and their bloodletting of public

    Let me know if anyone wants to read stuff, I have pointed to books that are free, but the costs are too high it seems…
    [try Havelock’s change agent guide, that’s not free, its so expensive that people wont read what became a policy manual for indoctrinating children]

    Bonhoeffer puts forth similar points as i have made here, for we stand on the shoulders of those that come before in a totem pole called history.

    “Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.”

    To understand reality is not the same as to know about outward events. It is to perceive the essential nature of things.

    The best-informed man is not necessarily the wisest.

    Indeed there is a danger that precisely in the multiplicity of his knowledge he will lose sight of what is essential.

    But on the other hand, knowledge of an apparently trivial detail quite often makes it possible to see into the depth of things.

    And so the wise man will seek to acquire the best possible knowledge about events, but always without becoming dependent upon this knowledge.

    To recognize the significant in the factual is wisdom.

    – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

    The images we see on television reflect only the symptoms and consequences of a problem … When we see world events described by commentators this does not lead to understanding, but only to an emotional reaction and the acquisition of casual knowledge.
    Francis Pym // Former British Foreign Secretary in The Politics of Consent

    “The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.” DB

  33. Artfldgr Says:

    “Only he who believes is obedient and only he who is obedient believes.”

  34. Artfldgr Says:

    “Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom.” Herman Hesse – Siddhartha

    “wisdom consists of the anticipation of consequences.”
    Norman Cousins

    “The only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know.” Harry Truman

    and from one of my favorites to read
    “So much depends on being a person of depth. The interior must be at least as impressive as the exterior. Some people’s character is all façade, like houses that, due to lack of means, have the portico of a palace leading to the rooms of a cottage.”

    Baltasar Gracián – The Art of Worldly Wisdom

  35. Chris Says:

    There’s a lot of talk about the break between the generations and how it’s affecting our politics. Let me give you my perspective.

    I’m a young (27) conservative. I wouldn’t expect too much sympathy from my generation.

    I hear a lot of talk about “stopping big government” and how the silent majority (“80% of counties” WRT Bush) won’t stand for Obama and his policies. This seriously frustrates me.

    While I agree that Obama is losing a lot of favor in the middle, you’re insane to make the argument that conservatives elected and supported a conservative government in the 2000s. Things like welfare reform to the contrary, I’d also argue that you ultimately got duped by the “revolution” in 1994.

    How has the government fought to fight back to sane interpretations of, say, the Commerce Clause? Lowered spending? Fiscal conservatism?

    Our government has been on an endless spending orgy, WITH or WITHOUT our Baby Boomer “conservatives” at the helm.

    You elected representatives, and they spent all the money away, including the SS trust fund, and every dime of payroll tax income, year after year. And now, as many of you are just exiting the workforce into retirement, who are you expecting to foot the bill on all of your debt, and your healthcare, and portions of your retirement?

    It is so frustrating to hear.

    Our lives are more and more politicized. Part of my generation wants “progressivism” to lurch forward — they certainly disagree with you. Most in the middle don’t largely care.

    The rest of us on the right don’t have a whole lot of use for our parent’s politics. Frankly, as I see it, the Greatest Generation sowed the seeds of our societal upheaval, and the Baby Boomers watered the fields and ate more than their fill.

  36. Tom Says:

    I have now read Haffner. GET THIS BOOK. It is a treasure, written when Haffner was 32. He and de Toqueville drank from the same font of wisdom.

  37. Charmain Melcher Says:

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