Nazism has a seductive power to it among the young. It makes promises in a confused world. It is a one people, one land, one culture movement. It offers to us the enemy on a silver platter – the other. It is a siren song of unfettered power and an unobstructed future.
One of the BIG questions of the twentieth century is how did this ever take hold in the most urbane and civilized country in Europe, Germany? How was it that the university and the church were its most willing and early cheerleaders? Nazism doesn’t begin as raw power. It begins as an idea rooted in a rejection of the Enlightenment project, that reason can shine light on meaning and purpose.
Nazism grew out of the Baroque and Romanticism movements of Europe. It was a reaction to the cold and depersonalizing demands of reason that stripped culture of its richness and meaning. It questioned every tradition and put in the dock God himself. Reason brooked no adversaries and was ruthless in its demands. The human spirit broke under its relentless gaze. The Romantic movement, fueled by its godfather, Rousseau, imagined a “back to nature” world, a simpler world, a world where the individual was not a cog in a machine but enriched and fulfilled by rejecting the delusionary constructions of a technocratic society constructed by rationalism. The Romantic movement inspired the world of fairy tales (a la Hans Christian Anderson), home, land and race, free from the forces of depersonalization. The picture gets complex philosophically speaking, but out of this arose images of blood and soil and roads to meaning and belonging. With a few philosophers sprinkled in, such as Hegel and Nietzsche, there is the phenomenon of National Socialism, a utopian paradise of meaning and fellowship.
You can take it from there, and you know where it led. But utopianism still calls! Nazism is not a phase of bad history. It is rooted in the soul’s desire for a simpler solution, a simpler time, an escape from complexity and the movement of the world against single cultures, whether they be Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, etc., overwhelming them with globalism, internationalism, free trade and immigration, and the ever roiling cauldron of mixing cultures, languages, and beliefs. There is no place to run. All traditions must give way to this massive force. Some resist and want their own place back, and they want it to be theirs and no one else’s. Let’s call it natural nationalism. It’s understandable and simple. But it can turn dark rather quickly in moves to expunge the other.
In our day there is a resurgent nationalism across the globe to push back against the forces of modernity and its campaign against homogeneous cultures. Stay tuned. The ending of this story is not foreordained. How it works out depends on choices we make. And that is where we are!