Neocons: the Echo of German Fascism
By Todd E. Pierce
Exclusive: The “f-word” for “fascist” keeps cropping up in discussing aggressive U.S. and Israeli “exceptionalism,” but there’s a distinction from the “n-word” for “Nazi.” This new form of ignoring international law fits more with an older form of German authoritarianism favored by neocon icon Leo Strauss, says retired JAG Major Todd E. Pierce.
With the Likud Party electoral victory in Israel, the Republican Party is on a roll, having won two major elections in a row. The first was winning control of the U.S. Congress last fall. The second is the victory by the Republicans’ de facto party leader Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel’s recent election. As the Israeli Prime Minister puts together a coalition with other parties “in the national camp,” as he describes them, meaning the ultra-nationalist parties of Israel, it will be a coalition that today’s Republicans would feel right at home in.
The common thread linking Republicans and Netanyahu’s “national camp” is a belief of each in their own country’s “exceptionalism,” with a consequent right of military intervention wherever and whenever their “Commander in Chief” orders it, as well as the need for oppressive laws to suppress dissent.
Leo Strauss, an intellectual bridge between Germany's inter-war Conservative Revolutionaries and today's American neoconservatives.
William Kristol, neoconservative editor of the Weekly Standard, would agree. Celebrating Netanyahu’s victory, Kristol told the New York Times, “It will strengthen the hawkish types in the Republican Party.” Kristol added that Netanyahu would win the GOP’s nomination, if he could run, because “Republican primary voters are at least as hawkish as the Israeli public.”
The loser in both the Israeli and U.S. elections was the rule of law and real democracy, not the sham democracy presented for public relations purposes in both counties. In both countries today, money controls elections, and as Michael Glennon has written in National Security and Double Government, real power is in the hands of the national security apparatus.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership role in the U.S. Congress was on full display to the world when he accepted House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to address Congress. Showing their eagerness to be part of any political coalition being formed under Netanyahu’s leadership, many Congressional Democrats also showed their support by attending the speech.
It was left to Israeli Uri Avnery to best capture the spirit of Netanyahu’s enthusiastic ideological supporters in Congress. Avnery wrote that he was reminded of something when seeing “Row upon row of men in suits (and the occasional woman), jumping up and down, up and down, applauding wildly, shouting approval.”
Where had he heard that type of shouting before? Then it came to him: “It was another parliament in the mid-1930s. The Leader was speaking. Rows upon rows of Reichstag members were listening raptly. Every few minutes they jumped up and shouted their approval.”
He added, “the Congress of the United States of America is no Reichstag. Members wear dark suits, not brown shirts. They do not shout ‘Heil’ but something unintelligible.” Nevertheless, “the sound of the shouting had the same effect. Rather shocking.”
Right-wing Politics in Pre-Nazi Germany
While Avnery’s analogy of how Congress responded to its de facto leader was apt, it isn’t necessary to go to the extreme example that he uses to analogize today’s right-wing U.S. and Israeli parties and policy to an earlier German precedent. Instead, it is sufficient to note how similar the right-wing parties of Israel and the U.S. of today are to what was known in 1920s Weimar Germany as the Conservative Revolutionary Movement.
This “movement” did not include the Nazis but instead the Nazis were political competitors with the party which largely represented Conservative Revolutionary ideas: the German National People’s Party (DNVP).
The institution to which the Conservative Revolutionaries saw as best representing German “values,” the Reichswehr, the German Army, was also opposed by the Nazis as “competitors” to Ernst Rohm’s Brownshirts. But the Conservative Revolutionary Movement, the DNVP, and the German Army could all be characterized as “proto-fascist,” if not Fascist. In fact, when the Nazis took over Germany, it was with the support of many of the proto-fascists making up the Conservative Revolutionary Movement, as well as those with the DNVP and the Reichswehr.
Consequently, many of the Reichstag members that Uri Avnery refers to above as listening raptly and jumping up and shouting their approval of “The Leader” were not Nazis. The Nazis had failed to obtain an absolute majority on their own and needed the votes of the “national camp,” primarily the German National People’s Party (DNVP), for a Reichstag majority.
The DNVP members would have been cheering The Leader right alongside Nazi members of the Reichstag. DNVP members also voted along with Nazi members in passing the Enabling Act of 1933, which abolished constitutional liberties and dissolved the Reichstag.
Not enough has been written on the German Conservative Revolutionary Movement , the DNVP and the Reichswehr because they have too often been seen as victims of the Nazis themselves or, at worst, mere precursors.
The DNVP was the political party which best represented the viewpoint of the German Conservative Revolutionary Movement. The Reichswehr itself, as described in The Nemesis of Power by John W. Wheeler-Bennett, has been called a “state within a state,” much like the intelligence and security services of the U.S. and Israel are today, wielding extraordinary powers.
The Reichswehr was militaristic and anti-democratic in its purest form and indeed was “fascist” in the term’s classic definition of “an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization.” Mussolini merely modeled much of his hyper-militaristic political movement on the martial values of the Reichswehr.
German Army officers even had authority to punish civilians for failing to show “proper respect.” In its essence, the viewpoint of the DNVP and the Conservative Revolutionaries was virtually identical to today’s Republican Party along with those Democrats who align with them on national security issues.
These groups have in common a worshipful attitude toward the military as best embodying those martial virtues that are central to fascism. Sister parties, though they may all prefer to be seen as “brothers in arms,” would be Netanyahu’s “national camp” parties.
German Conservative Revolutionary Movement
The Conservative Revolutionary Movement began within the German Right after World War I with a number of writers advocating a nationalist ideology but one in keeping with modern times and not restricted by traditional Prussian conservatism.
It must be noted that Prussian conservatism, standing for militaristic ideas traditional to Prussia, was the antithesis of traditional American conservatism, which professed to stand for upholding the classical liberal ideas of government embedded in the U.S. Constitution.
Inherent to those U.S. constitutional ideas was antipathy toward militarism and militaristic rule of any sort, though Native Americans have good cause to disagree. (In fact, stories of the American conquest of Native Americans with its solution of placing them on reservations were particularly popular in Germany early in the Twentieth Century including with Adolf Hitler).
Historians have noted that when the German Army went to war in World War I, the soldiers and officers carried with them “a shared sense of German superiority and the imagined bestiality of the enemy.” This was manifested particularly harshly upon the citizens of Belgium in 1914 with the German occupation. Later, after their experience in the trenches, the Reichswehr was nearly as harsh in suppressing domestic dissent in Germany after the war.
According to Richard Wolin, in The Seduction of Unreason, Ernst Troeltsch, a German Protestant theologian, “realized that in the course of World War I the ethos of Germanocentrism, as embodied in the ‘ideas of 1914,’ had assumed a heightened stridency.” Under the peace of the Versailles Treaty, “instead of muting the idiom of German exceptionalism that Troeltsch viewed with such mistrust, it seemed only to fan its flames.”
This belief in German “exceptionalism” was the common belief of German Conservative Revolutionaries, the DNVP and the Reichswehr. For Republicans of today and those who share their ideological belief, substitute “American” for “German” Exceptionalism and you have the identical ideology.
“Exceptionalism” in the sense of a nation can be understood in two ways. One is a belief in the nation’s superiority to others. The other way is the belief that the “exceptional” nation stands above the law, similar to the claim made by dictators in declaring martial law or a state of emergency. The U.S. and Israel exhibit both forms of this belief.
The belief in German Exceptionalism was the starting point, not the ending point, for the Conservative Revolutionaries just as it is with today’s Republicans such as Sen. Tom Cotton or Sen. Lindsey Graham. This Exceptionalist ideology gives the nation the right to interfere in other country’s internal affairs for whatever reason the “exceptional” country deems necessary, such as desiring more living space for their population, fearing the potential of some future security threat, or even just by denying the “exceptional” country access within its borders — or a “denial of access threat” as the U.S. government terms it.
The fundamental ideas of the Conservative Revolutionaries have been described as vehement opposition to the Weimar Republic (identifying it with the lost war and the Versailles Treaty) and political “liberalism” (as opposed to Prussia’s traditional authoritarianism).
This “liberalism,” which offended the Conservative Revolutionaries, was democracy and individual rights against state power. Instead, the Conservative Revolutionaries envisaged a new reich of enormous strength and unity. They rejected the view that political action should be guided by rational criteria. They idealized violence for its own sake.
That idealization of violence would have meant “state” violence in the form of military expansionism and suppression of “enemies,” domestic and foreign, by right-thinking Germans.
The Conservative Revolutionaries called for a “primacy of politics” which was to be “a reassertion of an expansion in foreign policy and repression against the trade unions at home.” This “primacy of politics” for the Conservative Revolutionaries meant the erasure of a distinction between war and politics.
Citing Hannah Arendt, Jeffrey Herf, a professor of modern European history, wrote: “The explicit implications of the primacy of politics in the conservative revolution were totalitarian. From now on there were to be no limits to ideological politics. The utilitarian and humanistic considerations of nineteenth-century liberalism were to be abandoned in order to establish a state of constant dynamism and movement.” That sounds a lot like the “creative destruction” that neoconservative theorist Michael Ledeen is so fond of.
Herf wrote in 1984 that Conservative Revolutionaries were characterized as “the intellectual advance guard of the rightist revolution that was to be effected in 1933,” which, although contemptuous of Hitler, “did much to pave his road to power.”
Unlike the Nazis, their belief in German superiority was based in historical traditions and ideas, not biological racism. Nevertheless, some saw German Jews as the “enemy” of Germany for being “incompatible with a united nation.”
It is one of the bitterest of ironies that Israel as a “Jewish nation” has adopted similar attitudes toward its Arab citizens. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman recently proclaimed: “Those who are with us deserve everything, but those who are against us deserve to have their heads chopped off with an axe.”
Within Israel, these “Conservative Revolutionary” ideas were manifested in one of their founding political parties, Herut, whose founders came out of the same central European political milieu of interwar Europe and from which Netanyahu’s Likud party is descended.
Author Ernst Junger was the most important contributor to the celebration of war by the Conservative Revolutionaries and was an influence and an enabler of the Nazis coming to power. He serialized his celebration of war and his belief in its “redeeming” qualities in a number of popular books with “war porn” titles such as, in English, The Storm of Steel, The Battle as an Inner Experience, and Fire and Blood.
The title of a collection of Junger essays in 1930, Krieg und Krieger (War and the Warriors) captures the spirit of America in the Twenty-first Century as much as it did the German spirit in 1930. While members of the U.S. military once went by terms such as soldier, sailor and marine, now they are routinely generically called “Warriors,” especially by the highest ranks, a term never before used to describe what were once “citizen soldiers.”
Putting a book with a “Warrior” title out on the shelf in a Barnes and Noble would almost guarantee a best-seller, even when competing with all the U.S. SEALS’ reminiscences and American sniper stories. But German philosopher Walter Benjamin understood the meaning of Junger’s Krieg und Krieger, explaining it in the appropriately titled Theories of German Fascism.
Fundamental to Junger’s celebration of war was a metaphysical belief in “totale Mobilmachung” or total mobilization to describe the functioning of a society that fully grasps the meaning of war. With World War I, Junger saw the battlefield as the scene of struggle “for life and death,” pushing all historical and political considerations aside. But he saw in the war the fact that “in it the genius of war permeated the spirit of progress.”
According to Jeffrey Herf in Reactionary Modernism, Junger saw total mobilization as “a worldwide trend toward state-directed mobilization in which individual freedom would be sacrificed to the demands of authoritarian planning.” Welcoming this, Junger believed “that different currents of energy were coalescing into one powerful torrent. The era of total mobilization would bring about an ‘unleashing’ (Entfesselung) of a nevertheless disciplined life.”
In practical terms, Junger’s metaphysical view of war meant that Germany had lost World War I because its economic and technological mobilization had only been partial and not total. He lamented that Germany had been unable to place the “spirit of the age” in the service of nationalism. Consequently, he believed that “bourgeois legality,” which placed restrictions on the powers of the authoritarian state, “must be abolished in order to liberate technological advance.”
Today, total mobilization for the U.S. begins with the Republicans’ budgeting efforts to strip away funding for domestic civilian uses and shifting it to military and intelligence spending. Army veteran, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, exemplifies this belief in “total mobilization” of society with his calls for dramatically increased military spending and his belief that “We must again show the U.S. is willing and prepared to [get into] a war in the first place” by making clear that potential “aggressors will pay an unspeakable price if they challenge the United States.”
That is the true purpose of Twenty-first Century Republican economics: total mobilization of the economy for war. Just as defeated German generals and the Conservative Revolutionaries believed that Germany lost World War I because their economy and nation was only “partially mobilized,” so too did many American Vietnam War-era generals and right-wing politicians believe the same of the Vietnam War. Retired Gen. David Petraeus and today’s neoconservatives have made similar arguments about President Barack Obama’s failure to sustain the Iraq War. [See, for instance, this fawning Washington Post interview with Petraeus.]
What all these militarists failed to understand is that, according to Clausewitz, when a war’s costs exceed its benefits, the sound strategy is to end the costly war. The Germans failed to understand this in World War II and the Soviet Union in their Afghan War.
Paradoxically in the Vietnam War, it was the anti-war movement that enhanced U.S. strength by bringing that wasteful war to an end, not the American militarists who would have continued it to a bitter end of economic collapse. We are now seeing a similar debate about whether to continue and expand U.S. military operations across the Middle East...
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