Friday, November 4, 2011

Using a Broad Brush

by Libby Sternberg

On Facebook the other day, I took part in a discussion of the OWS crowd, and eventually we got around to discussing its anti-Semitic elements and whether they were representative of the crowd. I was trying to make the point that Tea Party gatherings had been painted with the broad brush of racism for a few outlandish fringe elements, whereas the OWS crowd seemed to get off scot-free on the anti-Semitism charge despite some signs with messages decrying Jew Bankers and the like.

This discussion eventually led to one poster claiming: "Anti-Semitism is a right wing sickness."

I didn't ask her why she thinks that, but I know that many people think of Nazism as a "right wing" movement, one that was responsible for the slaughter of millions of Jews.

As the holder of center-right views, I have often bristled at the conflating of a movement like Nazism with "conservative" or "right wing" ideals--at least in the understanding of those ideological labels today.

Today, conservatives, or "right wingers" are the ones favoring freedom and limited government. The one broad link between conservatives, right wingers, Tea Partiers and the like, in fact, is that belief in limited government, especially fiscal restraint in government.

I know that opponents would argue that a limited government outlook doesn't jibe with some conservative views, such as restrictions on abortions. But it's a mistake to assume these conservative pro-lifers favor government intervention on a grand scale. They see abortion restriction as necessary in protecting the "life" in that "life, liberty and pursuit of happiness" ideology they hold dear. (It's worth noting that other movements to restrict "happiness" and "liberty," such as Prohibition, were advanced and supported by liberal Progressives.)

Using these broad brush definitions, then, Nazism was never a right wing movement but, rather, a left wing one, if you define the term "left wing" the way it is used today--an ideology that favors more government.

But before my left wing friends start throwing bricks at me, hear me out! I don't think Nazism was any more left wing than it was right wing, any more liberal than it was conservative.

Yes, it was ultimately a totalitarian state governed by sociopaths, and in that regard it lies to the left of what I view as a broad stroke political ideology continuum:

Totalitarianism<--Communism<--Socialism    --   Dem/GOP     --       Libertarianism-->Anarchy

But it did not represent current left-wing thought any more than anarchy -- no government at all -- represents conservative thought.

Nazism was precisely the opposite, in fact, of conservative, right-wing limited government views. It was government everywhere and all the time, even down to the stipulation of how to use words as aids in spelling out other words (anti-Semitic laws stipulated that Germans could no longer say "D as in David" or "S as in Samuel," because those were Jewish names -- you don't get much more "big government" than that.).

So, I hope we move past the linkage of Nazism with "right wing" or conservative views as they are understood and meant today. It's awfully tiresome and downright wrong.

1 comment:

  1. Libby, I think you're being too kind. As Jonah Goldberg notes in his book, Liberal Fascism, the Nazis were in fact a left-wing group closely associated with socialism (Nazi = National Socialism). I'm not trying by this to suggest that today's liberals are fascists, just to inject some historical accuracy into the debate. There's always the faint chance that increased accuracy would make people think more about what they're saying and what they actually mean.