One of my
libertarian friends on Facebook posted a link to an article outing another
"libertarian" as a neo-nazi. This apparent neo-nazi was "mutual
[Facebook] friends" with 101 other libertarians of note. That's a
conservative estimate, since the person who posted this is surely not Facebook
friends with every libertarian of note. So, it is disturbing to my friend that
over a hundred famous-among-libertarians people would be friends with a
libertarian friend of mine posted evidence on Facebook of famous philosopher
Hans-Georg Gadamer's being an actual, literal nazi. Gadamer is not well-liked
in libertarian circles, but his ideas have infected the sort of woke
left-libertarian social justice and/or disingenuous Niskanen Center crowd. One
even rose to defend Gadamer until this libertarian friend of mine presented so
much evidence that no one could argue favorably for Gadamer in good conscience.
Gee, are we
libertarians getting it from both sides, or what? What the heck is going on
with all this nazi stuff, anyway?
I'd like to present
a hypothesis that aims to explain the pervasiveness of such pernicious ideas,
not just among libertarians, but among people in general. I hope that part of
what I write here will unsettle you about your
own beliefs. We get nowhere in life by refusing to confront the
uncomfortable. Sometimes the world is uncomfortable in ways that threaten our
most highly regarded mythology.
Let me begin by
saying that this is not a uniquely libertarian problem. Gadamer, for example,
is beloved by the left, as is Heidegger.
So, the left has been quite affectionate toward the philosophies of nazis. Nor
is there any shortage of former clansman among right-wing politicians. Most
famously just this past month high profile Republicans and Democrats in
Virginia were both outed as people with a history of wearing blackface.
This kind of thing
probably seems bewildering to any of you who have never been to the "deep
south." It was bewildering to me for a long time, too. I spent the first
30-odd years of my life outside the deep south. Then I moved here and gained some
new insight. The ideas behind the Confederacy are still very much alive down
here. Not all of those ideas involve race hatred, of course, but we'd be fools
to deny the race hatred involved. I have seen a lot of heart-wrenching
mistreatment of African Americans since moving down here, to say nothing of
mistreatment of Latino and South Asian immigrants. It's bad. And, as far as I
can tell, it is based in culture, not in
political affiliation, which is to say
that it's not a Republican problem or a Democrat problem or a Libertarian
problem. It's a people problem. People are messed up, and the Confederacy
played a big role in messing people up.
While I'm at it, let
me follow a brief tangent here. I recently took a short trip to South Carolina.
While in Charleston, I took the time to visit some old Confederate memorials.
It was my first time ever having done so, and I can pretty much guarantee you
that it will be my last.
It's one thing to
think about Confederate memorials in the abstract, statues of war generals and
such. One can imagine a big bronze statue of Robert E. Lee on a rearing horse
or something. We've all seen statues like this, even if not explicitly Confederate
ones.What makes Confederate memorials
different -- what makes them physically nauseating to me, and I mean that
literally, as I was moved to physical nausea when I saw these memorials -- is
the bizarre, cultlike religious fervor baked into them. There is a sort of
"savior complex" idea permeating all of these memorials, religious
undertones and references to god, and the statues are super-human. The people
depicted in the statues are made almost into Ubermensch. The style reminded me
instantly of the art carved into the desert rock of Moab, Utah by a literally
Anyway, back to
nazis. In the early days of nazism, the German government was presented as a
sort of miracle. No one could believe that the loser of World War I could make
such an economic and social turnaround as Germany had made. For that matter,
Germany was one of the great cultural centers of the world leading up to World
War II, but also before. All of the great music composers and philosophers were
from Germany. All of the great social scientists were German. Many of the great
physicists who revolutionized our very understanding of reality were either
German or trained in Germany.
This is important
because these days nazis have a tendency to be the patsies in our social
commentary. "Nazi" is a general term for "mindless evil
zombie." To claim anything positive about nazis is to present yourself as
a fool, and if you happen to be writing fiction, nazis are the best possible
villains because none of us feel any kind of sympathy for nazis whatsoever. Our
current understanding of nazis is quite simply that they were all brainwashed
dolts who committed great atrocities because they were brainwashed dolts. They
are both maximally evil and maximally stupid.
recognize the truth about Germany is to rupture an important story we're
telling ourselves. The truth is that Germans were great, Germans were
brilliant, Germans achieved wondrous things. Germany was a cultural center of
the universe for hundreds of years.
All that cultural
greatness culminated in nazism. That's
the scary part. The scary thing isn't that stupidity and brainwashing overtook
a good nation. The scary part is that nazism is the ultimate result of all the
ideas that made Germany wonderful and great prior
to the rise of nazis. If you wanted to avoid re-creating a nation of
nazis, part of what you'd want to avoid is all the great sociological and
philosophical innovation produced by Germans in the 19th Century. You'd want to
avoid the conclusions of Marx, and Engels, and Heidegger, and Gadamer. You'd
want to throw those things away, recognizing them as the gateway to nazism that
is not what people in today's world want to believe. People would much rather
believe that nazism is just something Hitler made up that somehow overtook
every good brain in Germany, turning it to evil mush. People would much rather
believe that there are important things to salvage from Heidegger and Gadamer.
People would much rather believe that the Confederacy was a legitimate states'
These notions are
"escape hatches" designed to protect us from confronting the horrible
realities of life. The realities are that nazi Germany was a lot like pre-nazi
Germany, and even a lot like post-nazi
Germany. People who aided in the slaughtering of Jews had children whose views
toward Jews are only improved at the margins.
And, indeed, here in the States, the ideas of the Confederacy still infect the
south, because the south was inhabited by intelligent people who had abhorrent
ideas. Those intelligent people had intelligent children, whose ideas were only
marginally less abhorrent. And those children had children, and theirs had
children again, and so on marches time. Ideas have slowly improved over time,
but we trace their legacy back to something abhorrent.
In order to improve
the world, we must learn to discard what is abhorrent. We must not try to
salvage a good "states' rights" message out of the Confederacy. We
must not try to find worth in Heidegger or Gadamer. We must also not pretend
people who believed in the Confederacy or the "reich" were
brainwashed morons. We must recognize that terrible, noxious, infectious ideas
can very easily take hold of intelligent and good people, and cause them to act
in evil ways.
Remembering that ideas can be evil, and that they can infect
good people as well as bad people, is the only thing that will help us prevent
greater evil in the future.
Now having said
that, I realize that it is a core part of Jordan Peterson's message, as well.