Or Is It that All “Evil Forces” Are the Same?

In the series-within-the-series– “This Evil Force” can be seen “Moving Through Time” — I have argued that the force that has arisen on the political right in our time represents the “re-emergence” to a position of central power of “the Spirit that Led Us to Civil War.” In showing this, my purpose has been to help substantiate the reality of “Evil,” i.e. of a force that maintains coherence and that has a consistent thrust in spreading the pattern of brokenness on whatever it touches.

To document the way such a force has moved, in a coherent fashion, through American civilization, I delineated a set of parallels between the manifestations of this alleged force in the two eras, describing their similarly destructive conduct along three lines: 1) the “Spirit of Domination,” 2) the “Spirit of the Lie,” and 3) the “Spirit of War.”

An alternative interpretation might be offered, however.

Maybe, it could be argued, rather than seeing today’s force as evidence of a coherent pattern moving through time, we might instead say that all forces of evil bear a family resemblance. After all, we’re talking about a force that works to impart “a pattern of brokenness” to whatever it touches. Surely, “brokenness” in the human system (as well as “wholeness”) will have common properties wherever its patterns are manifested.

In making that alternative argument, one could point to that quintessential example of an “evil force” in modern times — the Nazi regime in Germany, from its beginnings in the early 1920s until its destruction in 1945 — and describe some important parallels with the what we see in those destructive eras in America.

With the Nazi example, too, we find:

** The “Spirit of Domination” is in florid display. The whole idea of a “Master Race” implied that other “races” would be subservient to their Aryan masters. And indeed, during World War II, the Slavic peoples in particular who came under Nazi domination were often treated like slaves.

** The “Spirit of the Lie” was likewise an essential part of the modus operandi of the Nazis. It was Hitler and Goebbels who put forward the idea of the “Big Lie,” and the American assessment of Hitler during the war proposed that one of his chief rules was that “people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.”

** The “Spirit of War” is at the heart of the whole Nazi enterprise. They took a continent at peace and virtually single-handedly ignited a conflagration of armed conflict that was the largest, deadliest war humanity had ever seen.

In all these ways, the “evil force” of the Nazis has parallels to the force that has taken over the American right in our times.

I’m aware that there’s a widespread taboo that’s been imposed in America in our times against bringing the Nazis into any discussion of the forces at work in the American political sphere. This is an understandable reaction to the completely irresponsible purposes to which Nazi comparisons have occasionally — particularly from the right– been put. (Irresponsible, and sometimes — were it not a symptom of such serious pathology — even laughable, e.g. in likening the recent health care reform to what Hitler did.)

But, understandable or not, this taboo is also an unwelcome obstacles to our understanding the nature of our current dilemma. While it is quite true that there are irresponsible uses of the Nazi comparison, not all uses are irresponsible.

I’ve been studying the Nazi phenomenon for more than fifty years. I’ve written about it in most of my major works. And for me, since 2004, it has been impossible to think about the crisis in America today without drawing upon what I know about the dynamics of the rise and operation of that destructive force that created the Nazi nightmare. Impossible, and undesirable: for that important, and much studied piece of world history helps bring into focus some of the deeper realities.

That said, I see important differences, as well as the similarities, between the force that’s operating in America today on the political right and the force for which the Nazi regime was the instrument.

In particular, there was in the Nazi regime an impulse of murderousness that is largely absent from the force that has arisen on the political right in America in our times.

True, when it expressed itself through the GW Bush presidency, this force gave us wars that cost many people their lives. And it is true that, with its current instrument of the GOP as an opposition parties, this force has had an impact on policies that increases the death rate in the nation.

But dealing in death is not a central impetus of today’s GOP, nor was it of the Slave Power. Death by Civil War, and death by depriving poor people of health care, or deaths in the future as a result of failing to respond to climate change — these are are far cry from the kind of murderous impulse that was at the heart of the Nazi chapter of German history.

In no scenario I can foresee will America — even if this evil force gains complete hegemony over the nation — is America in danger of creating anything like an Auschwitz.

The evil force in America — leading up to the Civil War, and again in our times — is far more focused on exploiting (maybe even enslaving) people than on killing them.

So, yes, all evil forces may have a kinship with one another– from one that expressed itself in the Romans crucifixion of thousands of rebellious slaves in the wake of the Spartacus revolt to the one that created the Gulag in the Soviet Union. But no, they are not all alike. Specific cultures have their own patterns, and cultural and historical differences will impart specific patterns of brokenness to the evil forces that arise in different societies.

Let me propose two factors that infused the impulse toward murderousness into the evil that expressed itself through the Nazi regime — one factor being cultural, another a result of the history that immediately preceded the Nazi era.

First, through the German dueling culture, Germany trained its dominant class in an ethic of bloody violence. When the evil Nazi force took over the nation, this powerful socializing agent provided a channel for murderousness energy to express itself. In his outstanding book, The Germans, the German sociologist (and eventual German Jewish refugee) Norbert Elias described how a “cultural syndome” growing out of the dueling culture, created “a particular human attitude, a socially regulated fostering of violence.” “If one asks how Hitler was possible,” Elias writes, “one cannot help concluding that the spread of socially sanctioned models of violence and of social inequality are among the prerequisites of his advent.” (p. 19)

By contrast, if one looks at those parts of America from whence today’s American right-wing force draws most of its power and spirit — such as Koch Brothers capitalism — one finds very little of this kind of violent spirit and tradition of bloodiness. The “Rogues’ Gallery” I presented contains no faces that would wear dueling scars, as did the German elite, as prestigious badges of honor.

A second important source of the murderousness that differentiates the evil force of the Nazis from that which has taken over today’s Republican Party is the trauma of World War I. The Nazis rose to power a scant fifteen years after the conclusion of a war of futile butchery on a massive scale. The impact of that trauma — dealing out death, and suffering death in one’s own ranks, in the millions — cannot have been anything less than huge.

I will not take the space here to explore in any depth how the victors and the losers in that war manifested two contrasting ways in which people respond to trauma: while the victors (the British and the French) responded with a determination to avoid any repetition of the trauma (an avoidance that proved powerful enough to endanger their national survival), the losers (the Germans) responded with a compulsion to repeat it.

We in America have had no such trauma. (9/11 was hardly on anything like the same scale.) And the evil spirit that’s arisen in America does not have any deep fixation on death, or eagerness to control death by filling the landscape with the corpses of others. Dealing in death is not at the heart of the evil force at work in America, as it was in the force of brokenness that took hold in Germany in the aftermath of World War I.

While there is kinship between all evil forces, therefore, there are also differences. While the Nazi example can help bring some aspects of our crisis into clearer focus, because of similarities in some of the gross patterns of brokenness, the two forces also differ because of both cultural and historical dissimilarities.

But between the spirit that led to Civil War and that which infuses the right on America today — I claim on the basis of considerable examination of both eras — there is visible a truly deep kinship, a continuity of important cultural patterns.

More on that kinship in future entries of this series.

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  1. re: “In no scenario I can foresee will America — even if this evil force gains complete hegemony over the nation — is America in danger of creating anything like an Auschwitz.”

    Virginia provides a prime example of the evil force: enabled by the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, UVA’s role in promoting eugenics, and the forced movement of citizens of the Blue Ridge Mountains, often to Lynchburg Training School and Western State Hospital where they were sterilized. All done to support the wealthy Washingtonians’ wish to have a nearby national park for their weekend retreats.

  2. I’m not sure why you’re not starting with the Crusades, or perhaps during the rioting and bloodshed of 324 A.D. when Jesus became God. This is one of a number of books on that topic, by the way.

    When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity during the Last Days of Rome (Amazon link)
    by Richard E. Rubenstein (2000)
    I’d say something was wrong during those times also, just to pick two. Picking Nazi Germany seems a bit arbitrary and also has the disadvantage of bringing Jews into it. Yes Jews are important, but they’re a bit of a distraction right here, right?


  3. Re the part about the recent large trauma of WWI as a factor in the rise of Nazi power, I recall a conversation I had with an elderly German man I met when I was about ten years old. That would have been in the early 1960’s.

    He came to the United States in 1922, the year my father was born. He still had a very thick German accent, even after all that time. When he and his wife were in my presence they tried to speak English, but often had to resort to German for short bursts of conversation with each other. Maybe they tried to fill in each others’ gaps of knowledge of English. He had been a soldier in the German army in WWI.

    I asked him why he came to the United States. He replied that he had fought in WWI and did not want to fight in WWII. The clear but unspoken bit was that he personally expected that the next big war would happen soon enough that he would still be very much of military combatant age.

    He was no aristocrat with dueling scars — such a person probably would have stayed, itching for the next war to be fought as soon as possible. He was one of what I guess those aristocrats would consider “riff raff”. And also one of the most gentlemanly people I have ever met in my life.

  4. Re forces, brokenness, and the contemporary United States, here is a snippet from around the middle of an interview with David Cay Johnston. He’s not saying that it WILL happen, but that it COULD. The quote below is about one tenth of the text of the published interview.



    It seems to me that Andy is trying as best he can to help all of us — and not only the “us” who hang out here who read NSB and comment on posts — avoid tumbling off the brink.

    Worth avoiding? What do you think?


    Q: So when you say it will be very bloody, I know you’re speaking of a wild hypothetical to some degree, but do you really think we’re on track for violent social upheaval?

    A: Oh, yes. I’ve written about people on the far right and the far left since the ’60s. Back in the ’60s, I was in the homes of people who built bombs, both left and right. And we live in a country now where we have members of Congress who have either questioned, or ignored questions about, killing the president of the United States. We are seeing all these laws passed allowing people to carry guns openly. We are coming apart as a society, and inequality is right at the core of that. When the 90 percent are getting worse off and they’re trying to figure out what happened, they’re not people like me who get to spend four or five hours a day studying these things and then writing about them — they’re people who have to make a living and get through life. And they’re going to be swayed by demagogues and filled with fear about the other, rather than bringing us together.

    Q: When you mention demagogues, are there people currently on the scene that give you a shiver up your spine in that regard, or are you speaking hypothetically?

    A: I think it would be easy for someone to arrive in the near future and really create forces that would lead to trouble in this country. And you see people who, they’re not the leaders to pull it off, but we have suggestions that the president should be killed, that he’s not an American, that Texas can secede, that states can ignore federal law, and these are things that don’t lack for antecedents in America history but they’re clearly on the rise. In addition to that, we have this large, very well-funded news organization that is premised on misconstruing facts and telling lies, Faux News (formerly Fox News), that is creating, in a large segment of the population — somewhere around one-fifth and one-fourth of it — belief in all sorts of things that are detrimental to our well-being. President Theodore Roosevelt said we shall all rise together or we shall all fall together, and we need to have an appreciation of that.

    So, no, I don’t see this happening tomorrow, but I have said for many years that … if we don’t get a handle on this then one of these days our descendants are going to sit down in high-school history class and open a textbook that begins with the words: “The United States of America was …” and then it will dissect how our experiment in self-governance came apart. By the way, the Founders were very worried about this. John Adams said his fear was that instead of having yeoman farmers who owned their own land, and workers who owned their own tools and therefore were independent, that we would become a country in which a business aristocracy would arise, and the mass of people would simply work for wages and the business aristocrats would persuade the wage-earners to support those policies that were actually against their interest and favor the business aristocrats and, when that happened, we would lose our liberties and our democracy.

  5. I think inequality of ‘income’ was probably as great or even greater at the time of the founding of this Nations than now except many of the dirt poor were hard scrabbling on the land etc, etc than now running ahead of the bills coming or past due in the overcrowding cities.

    The greatest thing disuniting Americans Is Inequality of Values and Andy’s crew supporting and clamoring for the impersonal Bango as the creator of it all
    (albeit we are waiting for the source of old Bang) AND since old Bang has left Andy et al to discover truth and morality for themselves, they are separating themselves and claiming the traditional Americans are divisive .

    Ho! Can you really believe it ?!

    AND not doing much of the real productive work here either as far as seen to date. Worrying mostly about who has more . . the traditional howl of the non-producers. We all know the laborer is worthy of his/her hire . . but these having enough are concerned with others having more. I guess that is a value bequethed by old Bango ?

    Tell me how?!

  6. http://www.nonesoblind.org/blog/?p=12607#comment-552076

    David R said: “We all know the laborer is worthy of his/her hire . . but these having enough are concerned with others having more.”

    I think you have your facts wrong, David R. I think many or most of us who have enough and are not asking for more are concerned with those of extreme wealth–much richer than you are I would guess having more on behalf of those who cannot find work, cannot find a place to live, and cannot find a school that teaches reading, writing, and arithmetic. And more and more of those who once did have those things no longer do, despite working hard.

    People are also concerned about nothing being done about big problems that have nothing to do with people starving or not having enough but that poor people do not have enough to pay to fix by themselves.

    For me, not having a single dime extra, politics–to the extent that it is worth bothering with at all–comes out of my concern for others, fighting against the increasing numbers who loudly proclaim total indifference for others, including their own children, and proud of it!

    David R: I guess that is a value bequethed by old Bango ?

    Now that I have straightened out your facts this should be moot/irrelevant. But I have to say it sounded very silly to me. A concept of science as a competing source of values. Yeeks what a thought. Just sayin’, my friend.

    Wow, great resource, ToddR. Thanks!


  7. P.S. Something especially for you, David R, reinforcing my correction of your erroneous facts–about the 47 percent being all lazy people, may I interpret what you said that way? Yes this is anecdotal, only one place, only one experience, but I think it counts as among the facts of who these poor people really are even so.:

    What I Realized When I Finally Decided to Sign Up for Food Stamps
    by Dennis Powers, Huffington Post, May 14/15, 2014.


  8. “The greatest thing disuniting Americans Is Inequality of Values and Andy’s crew supporting and clamoring for the impersonal Bango as the creator of it all
    (albeit we are waiting for the source of old Bang) AND since old Bang has left Andy et al to discover truth and morality for themselves, they are separating themselves and claiming the traditional Americans are divisive .

    Ho! Can you really believe it ?!”

    Repeated for clarity of intent.
    Always intended as observation . . not contradiction . . aiming for Truth.

    I do recognize Andrew’s remarkable tolerance for the views of others on your own site.

  9. It is clear that you 6,000 years ago so called
    Young Earth creationists (Wikipedia link)
    are stubborn, David R. I have of course been seeing that for years. But you are a minority, stubborn or not. Thirty percent only.

    And you don’t have a lock on God, Godliness, or Jesus, by the way. It’s just that many Christians believe that God and science are and MUST BE harmonious, that science helps us appreciate the creation, however and whenever it took place, and I personally really don’t care when.

    But my question for you now, David R, with you 30 percent being so stubborn against us 70 percent–and I don’t think we’re going to change our minds, HOW CAN WE INDEED work together toward something positive??? What do YOU think.

    In answering, I suggest leaving Andy’s intelligent and knowledgeable acceptance of science out of it as a factor. He’s just one guy even if he is does talk about what is the opinion of 70 percent of the people on science being the result of gathering hard evidence and not being about personal opinions.

    Note that I am not suggesting seriously that you change your beliefs. My question is about how we can keep from driving each other down the tubes and what do you think about that?

    Ho indeed!


  10. It’s simple. I see about every type at the grocery store, or the restaurant, or the gasoline station or the Bank or moving in next door or down the street.
    Personally I simply see people as people.

    If they behave as orderly fellow citizens living their own life, well, what else.

    Now if they want to create problems of whatever kind , naturally we are going to take another look. Otherwise there is no reason not to get along.

    Down at the Rescue Mission all types are coming. Used to be mainly addicts or alcoholics but today even families with children . .some even employed just not currently making enough. The mission facility is now much larger and these folks are in a separate section than addicts, but one Mission caring for all.

    These children still attend school and are sent off to school dressed as well as any and arrangement with the Public School System has the Bus come by the Mission first so other kids do not see them picked up there and then in the afternoon the bus drops off the other kids first and then comes back by the Mission. What do you think?

    People are people.
    Unless and until; it’s their choice. How else should it be ?

  11. David R., people become desperate when they do not eat, or don’t know when the next dime or quarter will come their way, where they have been kicked out of unemployment after trying hard to get one of those jobs that three people are trying to get. Let’s hope he/she is the lucky one. The person whose family is living from meal to meal, living in homeless shelters because they lost their home years ago. People become desperate, because we, as a society, show disdain to those less fortunate.

    I am glad you have that service at the mission. Unfortunately, not all communities can either afford it or have the will to provide it. It helps but it isn’t the total solution. The point is it works in your community but there are many communities in this country and many cannot support that model because too many are unemployed.

  12. Acknowledging David R’s response and saying thanks and thanks to Robin Pettit.

  13. Yes Robin, It’s really an incredibly distorted situation/economy.

    I have a few practical ideas beginning locally; that may be the best way we ‘little’ people can begin.

    But a clear analysis step by step how ‘we’ arrived at this state of affairs traces back partly to what has been done intending to make employment more secure and life better for more people; the ‘law’ of unintended consequences seems forever in play.

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