So what if Tom Perkins is right?
Billionaire venture capitalist Tom Perkins has suggests that “the progressive war on the American one percent” might be analogous to developments in “fascist Nazi Germany”*. Anti-rich media reporting, he tells us, may be the precursor of something much worse, if only we could think things through like him:
This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent [sic] “progressive” radicalism unthinkable now?
Perkins has attracted ridicule but he may actually be right. Historian Karl Dietrich Bracher seems to concur that something on the scale of Kristallnacht, and what followed, was so out of keeping with what had gone before as to be “unthinkable” until it came to pass.
Prior to Hitler’s emergence, outbreaks of anti-Semitic violence were rare in Germany, unlike eastern Europe. Of course, anti-Semitic was ever present, waiting for fresh opportunities, particularly in times of poitical and economic crisis. It flared up with great intensity in 1873-1895, 1918-23, 1930-33, but its influence on political life and the terrible realization of its barbaric goals became possible after it had become part of an anti-democratic mass movement (p.66).
Bracher goes on to trace how and why this anti-democratic movement developed during the 1920s, and at the heart of his story is the way in which the “army and bureaucracy, middle class and business” (p.66) sided with the emerging forces of Nazism, enabling it ultimately to gain power via the democratic route, for two main reasons: a dysfunctional democracy in the form of the Weimar republic, and the ‘Red spectre’ of Communist revolution (p.66). In the end, says Bracher, the Germans got the Nazis because they thought the alternative might be worse:
The History of National Socialism is, in effect, the history of its fatal underestimation (p.69)
Fast forward to 2014 America** , and arguably it is this dynamic that Perkins has identified for us: a deep distrust of the political establishment, conflated with a growing fear of what “progressive” forces from the Left, such as Occupy, might mean for the status quo, leading to a growing hankering after a maverick figure of authority in whom we can all trust.
On this side of the Atlantic, UKIP is doing its best to provide that kind of “authority”, winning popularity via a leader who disrespects the fundamentals of democratic politics while making use of those same fundamentals to increase his coverage. He can’t be any worse, we say, even though by normal standards of judgment, he very clearly is.
UKIP won’t itself last as a political force, but its methods, including a very English form of völkish nationalism (unwittingly abetted by those who see the development of an English identity as a panacea) may well be taken up more talented and ruthless operatives.
Of course, on one narrow point Tom Perkins is wrong. The victims of such a rise in nasty, anti-democratic forces will not be the likes of Perkins – he and his sort will be busy collaborating on the identification of who the victims should be, and making the most of the new opportunities afforded to them by the spirit of post-democracy.
But we should be grateful, at least, for this quick history lesson.
* I assume Perkins wants to distinguish ‘fascist Nazi Germany” for other types of Nazi Germany, though I’m not immediately aware of there having been any other types.
** Here I do Bracher a blatant disservice, as he is very clear that the rise of Nazism was a very German phenomenon, with a very specific set of drivers which do not lend themselves to explication of the rise of fascism in other countries. Sorry, Karl Dietrich.