Yesterday I blogged about an amazing woman, Dorothy Thompson, a journalist who spent quite a lot of time observing, and even interviewing, Adolf Hitler. She warned the world about fascism for years before most people were even paying attention. She was so outspoken about it before that was fashionable that she was actually the first American journalist to be kicked out of Nazi Germany.
Fascism does sneak up on you. That’s how it works. It chips away at your rights bit by bit until one day you look up and you have none. It attacks the media first. It targets minorities as it requires someone to blame. It whips up hate and violence and isolation and fear.
We’d like to think we conquered fascism with World War II when Dorothy Thompson was reporting, but nothing could be further from the truth. In light of that, I decided to read an article that she wrote in Harper’s Magazine back in August, 1941, entitled Who Goes Nazi?
This article is a work of art. The premise is that she is at a party, observing everyone, and based on what she knows about these people, she’s predicting which ones would become Nazis. As she takes you through the room from clique to clique and reveals their secrets, you kind of feel as if you’re watching a black and white movie from the 40’s. You hear her voice over, making her ghastly predictions, as the party goes on and everyone pretends to be pleasant. There’s a tension that’s not being acknowledged. This is society in microcosm.
But the scariest part about it is it could be applied to the present just as easily as that party from 80 years ago. The more things change, the more they stay the same. We have not learned from history.
Ms. Thompson doesn’t name names. She moved in rather influential circles in her time. She wasn’t attempting to shame anyone in particular. She was just identifying types. So she calls them Mr. A and Mr. B and so on. After revealing them to you, she then explains why each one would never become, or perhaps already is, a Nazi. I highly recommend that you read this article. But for my purposes, I’ll focus on Mr. D. Because we all know him.
I think young D over there is the only born Nazi in the room. Young D is the spoiled only son of a doting mother. He has never been crossed in his life. He spends his time at the game of seeing what he can get away with. He is constantly arrested for speeding and his mother pays the fines. He has been ruthless toward two wives and his mother pays the alimony. His life is spent in sensation-seeking and theatricality. He is utterly inconsiderate of everybody. He is very good-looking, in a vacuous, cavalier way, and inordinately vain. He would certainly fancy himself in a uniform that gave him a chance to swagger and lord it over others.
When I read that, the hair on the back of my neck stood straight up. Because we all know who this describes to a T. We may not have created a monster, but we’ve certainly elected it.
The crux of the article is that happy, confident, wise people don’t go for fascism. It’s those who are full of fear, resentment, insecurity, or self-loathing that feel quite at home with it. So take a good long look at yourself, as well as at the people you surround yourself with, and keep as far away from the dark side as you possibly can.