Article — From the August 1941 issue

Who Goes Nazi?

It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis.

It is preposterous to think that they are divided by any racial characteristics. Germans may be more susceptible to Nazism than most people, but I doubt it. Jews are barred out, but it is an arbitrary ruling. I know lots of Jews who are born Nazis and many others who would heil Hitler tomorrow morning if given a chance. There are Jews who have repudiated their own ancestors in order to become “Honorary Aryans and Nazis”; there are full-blooded Jews who have enthusiastically entered Hitler’s secret service. Nazism has nothing to do with race and nationality. It appeals to a certain type of mind.

It is also, to an immense extent, the disease of a generation—the generation which was either young or unborn at the end of the last war. This is as true of Englishmen, Frenchmen, and Americans as of Germans. It is the disease of the so-called “lost generation.”

Sometimes I think there are direct biological factors at work—a type of education, feeding, and physical training which has produced a new kind of human being with an imbalance in his nature. He has been fed vitamins and filled with energies that are beyond the capacity of his intellect to discipline. He has been treated to forms of education which have released him from inhibitions. His body is vigorous. His mind is childish. His soul has been almost completely neglected.

At any rate, let us look round the room.

The gentleman standing beside the fireplace with an almost untouched glass of whiskey beside him on the mantelpiece is Mr. A, a descendant of one of the great American families. There has never been an American Blue Book without several persons of his surname in it. He is poor and earns his living as an editor. He has had a classical education, has a sound and cultivated taste in literature, painting, and music; has not a touch of snobbery in him; is full of humor, courtesy, and wit. He was a lieutenant in the World War, is a Republican in politics, but voted twice for Roosevelt, last time for Willkie. He is modest, not particularly brilliant, a staunch friend, and a man who greatly enjoys the company of pretty and witty women. His wife, whom he adored, is dead, and he will never remarry.

He has never attracted any attention because of outstanding bravery. But I will put my hand in the fire that nothing on earth could ever make him a Nazi. He would greatly dislike fighting them, but they could never convert him. . . . Why not?

Beside him stands Mr. B, a man of his own class, graduate of the same preparatory school and university, rich, a sportsman, owner of a famous racing stable, vice-president of a bank, married to a well-known society belle. He is a good fellow and extremely popular. But if America were going Nazi he would certainly join up, and early. Why? . . . Why the one and not the other?

Mr. A has a life that is established according to a certain form of personal behavior. Although he has no money, his unostentatious distinction and education have always assured him a position. He has never been engaged in sharp competition. He is a free man. I doubt whether ever in his life he has done anything he did not want to do or anything that was against his code. Nazism wouldn’t fit in with his standards and he has never become accustomed to making concessions.

Mr. B has risen beyond his real abilities by virtue of health, good looks, and being a good mixer. He married for money and he has done lots of other things for money. His code is not his own; it is that of his class—no worse, no better, He fits easily into whatever pattern is successful. That is his sole measure of value—success. Nazism as a minority movement would not attract him. As a movement likely to attain power, it would.

The saturnine man over there talking with a lovely French emigree is already a Nazi. Mr. C is a brilliant and embittered intellectual. He was a poor white-trash Southern boy, a scholarship student at two universities where he took all the scholastic honors but was never invited to join a fraternity. His brilliant gifts won for him successively government positions, partnership in a prominent law firm, and eventually a highly paid job as a Wall Street adviser. He has always moved among important people and always been socially on the periphery. His colleagues have admired his brains and exploited them, but they have seldom invited him—or his wife—to dinner.

He is a snob, loathing his own snobbery. He despises the men about him—he despises, for instance, Mr. B—because he knows that what he has had to achieve by relentless work men like B have won by knowing the right people. But his contempt is inextricably mingled with envy. Even more than he hates the class into which he has insecurely risen, does he hate the people from whom he came. He hates his mother and his father for being his parents. He loathes everything that reminds him of his origins and his humiliations. He is bitterly anti-Semitic because the social insecurity of the Jews reminds him of his own psychological insecurity.

Pity he has utterly erased from his nature, and joy he has never known. He has an ambition, bitter and burning. It is to rise to such an eminence that no one can ever again humiliate him. Not to rule but to be the secret ruler, pulling the strings of puppets created by his brains. Already some of them are talking his language—though they have never met him.

There he sits: he talks awkwardly rather than glibly; he is courteous. He commands a distant and cold respect. But he is a very dangerous man. Were he primitive and brutal he would be a criminal—a murderer. But he is subtle and cruel. He would rise high in a Nazi regime. It would need men just like him—intellectual and ruthless. But Mr. C is not a born Nazi. He is the product of a democracy hypocritically preaching social equality and practicing a carelessly brutal snobbery. He is a sensitive, gifted man who has been humiliated into nihilism. He would laugh to see heads roll.

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.

Mrs. E would go Nazi as sure as you are born. That statement surprises you? Mrs. E seems so sweet, so clinging, so cowed. She is. She is a masochist. She is married to a man who never ceases to humiliate her, to lord it over her, to treat her with less consideration than he does his dogs. He is a prominent scientist, and Mrs. E, who married him very young, has persuaded herself that he is a genius, and that there is something of superior womanliness in her utter lack of pride, in her doglike devotion. She speaks disapprovingly of other “masculine” or insufficiently devoted wives. Her husband, however, is bored to death with her. He neglects her completely and she is looking for someone else before whom to pour her ecstatic self-abasement. She will titillate with pleased excitement to the first popular hero who proclaims the basic subordination of women.

On the other hand, Mrs. F would never go Nazi. She is the most popular woman in the room, handsome, gay, witty, and full of the warmest emotion. She was a popular actress ten years ago; married very happily; promptly had four children in a row; has a charming house, is not rich but has no money cares, has never cut herself off from her own happy-go-lucky profession, and is full of sound health and sound common sense. All men try to make love to her; she laughs at them all, and her husband is amused. She has stood on her own feet since she was a child, she has enormously helped her husband’s career (he is a lawyer), she would ornament any drawing-room in any capital, and she is as American as ice cream and cake.

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  • freeulysses


  • Wankette

    Moving, and terrifying, all at once.

  • Pedro Nobre Correia

    Impressive how you can find Victor Davis Hanson in there, described to a T.

  • Dusty Thompson

    Wow, just wow. History always repeats itself because of these accurately described behaviors..

  • Dusty Thompson

    Every “tolerant” Liberal/Progressive should be FORCED to read this, lol…

    • Kerney

      Actually, I’ve noticed that Liberals/Progressives tend to fear corporate power more than government power. Considering that government has been a restraining influence on corporate power since FDR, this makes sense that they would want to work through and bolster government. Many people who are prominent have risen due to student loans or small business loans supplied by the government. Government in the U.S, has been about empowering people. It is part of the American tradition.
      Corporate power has always been about taming or controlling government so that they can do what they damn well please. Most Fascists were all about keeping people “in their place”, whether it is Franco cutting wages for workers by half or Mussolini getting his start beating up trade unionists with the corporate power quietly in the background reaping the benefits. It is the system many good German businessmen setting up new factories in Poland on the backs of the ‘cheap labor’ that Hitler has set up.

      So every Tea Party member should read this and wonder who among them would go Nazi. There would probably be more among them than the so called Liberal/Progressives who would be shouting ‘Seig Heil’.

      • tonguetiedfred

        “Believe me, nice people don’t go Nazi. Their race, color, creed, or
        social condition is not the criterion. It is something in them.”

        The Tea Party folks fit the description of the nice guys far better than the sour, screaming, spite filled Occupy crowd, the redistributionists, the people bemoaning their lot in life and demanding that anybody more successful than they are be forced down to their level. The overwhelming goal of the Tea Party is to scale back the power of the state in the everyday lives of the citizens. How scary!

        It is not empowering the people to engage in crony Capitalism, it is not empowering the people to restrict their freedoms to live their lives without government coercion. Government empowers people when it gets out of the way, not when it decides who wins and who loses…

      • Craig Zimmerman

        You should familiarize yourself with the term “The coercive power of the State”. Coca Cola cannot force you to drink Coke, as long as there is a Pepsi available. Which means that any governmental action should be to ensure that the Pepsi’s of the world are free to compete. Coca Cola is not permitted to murder the executives at Pepsi, Coca Cola is not free to burn down the Pepsi bottling plant, etc.

        On the other hand, Government CAN force you to drink Coca Cola. This is how Corporatism works. Corporatism (aka Crony Capitalism) is the economic foundation of Fascism (or in this case, it’s German manifestation).

        If you voted for Obama, you voted for Fascism.

      • The_Archon

        Absolutely false. Tea partiers are far more libertarian than progressives, whose belief in the power of the state as absolute is legendary. Tea party types would as horrified at Hitler’s fascism as they are at Obama’s fascism today. Libertarians want to limit government power, not turn government into the be all end all of a person’s existence. Progressives want to expand government control into every aspect of a person’s life, what they eat, how they consume, how they worship, where they work, how they sleep and breathe (and they know because they are spying on you), because progressives believe that a man has no value except what he can provide the state. Outside of his value to the state, a man has no value. Tea Partiers believe in the inherent intrinsic and divine value of a human being. The two beliefs are directly opposite of each other.

        As for who would be shouting Seig Heil like mindless zombies, worshiping, venerating and operating in lock step with their charismatic cult leader who tells them what they want to hear and makes them feel good about themselves and gives purpose to their otherwise meaningless lives, they are already doing that right now today.

  • Kevin Brent

    Fascinating reading. Substitute the word Nazi, with Obama voter or Democrat/liberal/progressive and you then understand why political discourse with any of the them is an absolute total waste of time. Only political defeat against them, will cure us of them.

    • shedidnthaveme

      Cure us of them? You sound like the Nazi.

      • thomaspainelives

        “Only political defeat against them, will cure us of them.” Maybe you didn’t get that part where he says political defeat. No TEA Party member wants to kill or enslave all Democrats/Leftists/liberals; they just want them to go away and maybe a more moderate, willing to listen to both sides of the argument Democrat to take their place.

        • Bonnie MacMahon

          And maybe you didn’t get the part where he says “cure of us of them”. You either know nothing about how the Nazis came into power or you’re purposefully being stupid. Either way, you’d make a great Nazi.

          • RSpung

            and you would make a great useful idiot.

      • Mark81150

        Well…. that was quick…. liberal progressives work hard to bring everyone under the heel of govrrnment, as long as THEY control it.

        tea party’s work hard to free people of every growing government control….

        of the two… you immediately compare the second to the nazi’s, because more freedom for the people is so much more like Hitler… or something….

        not very self aware, are you?

        the real difference, they fight for freedom and greater individual freedom..

        you fight for ever greater control in peoples lives, lest they not buy your agenda and think on their own… and we can’t have that now, can we..

        now WHO sounds like a nazi again?……

        • tully monster

          Yeah, and you know what sounds like Nazi?

          God, there are a lot of morons on this thread. Methinks thou all doth protest too much.

          • Steven Swenson

            Methinks thou didst not think a thought at all

    • The_Archon

      There is no cure, see the parable of the wheat and the tares.

      Just live your life so that you are the wheat, and not the tares.

  • Wheel

    Interesting read. Trade Nazi for teabagger and you have today’s world in a nutshell.

    • chicagorefugee

      Oh, absolutely. Because the Tea Party is all about expansive and authoritarian government ….

      • Kerney

        They are about letting our corporate lords and masters run roughshod over Mom and Pop or any other ‘little people’. They have a lot in common with fascists. Mussolini, after all, got his start organizing gangs to beat up trade unionists on on behalf of big business. Goebbels would be VERY comfortable working for the Coke brothers, for they both specialize in ‘big lie’ propoganda, whether it be about Jews or Obama.

        • John_Q_Galt

          “Nazi” is short for National Socialist Democratic Worker’s Party, you ignorant yokel.

          And it is spelled “Koch” brothers, not “Coke” brothers.

        • The_Archon

          Goebbels would be perfectly comfortable working in today’s DNC or running the OFA nee ACORN and organizing OCCUPY BERLIN protests, he would despise everything about the tea party. Too free thinking, too independent, too self sufficient, Goebbels and his ilk wanted zealous ideologues who would kill or enslave anyone who disagreed with them. It is the Liberals who want to control people, not the Tea Party. Liberalism = Progressivism = Communism = Fascism = Socialism = Marxism = Nazism. All birds of the same feather, same goals: total control of the people around them. Your so called Tea Baggers are the ideological diametric opposites of the Nazis.

          • Jay Stevens

            ” Your so called Tea Baggers are the ideological diametric opposites of the Nazis.”

            Oh, yes. Just on their stand on the Second Amendment.

          • Bonnie MacMahon

            Funny, your belief that “it is the liberals who want to control people” sounds a lot like Nazi propaganda towards the Jews.

      • Peter_Akuleyev

        The Nazis were not about “expansive and authoritarian government”, at least not in the minds of their supporters. Tea Partiers and Libertarians tend to judge Nazism by the results. But if you look at the origins of the Nazi movement, most of the early supporters were trying to overthrow what they saw as the “expansive” Weimar government, a government that was too inclusive and was neglecting the interests of “real” German. Democracy, at least in Nazi philosophy, results in excessive government, better to streamline everything in the hands of one national leader. The commonality between the Tea Party and the Nazis is that both draw support from angry middle and lower middle class people who feel that the ruling elites are traitors who hate the dominant national culture, and that the elites are engaged in giving away our national wealth to minorities, degenerates and parasites. I don’t think it is a stretch personality wise. Another thing the original Nazis shared with libertarians (and a reason why neither movement is truly “conservative”), is a love of technology, technological innovation and a naive faith that any social or environmental problem can be fixed by throwing more tech at it.

        • Steven Swenson

          Interesting intellectual pretzel you have there.

          • Peter_Akuleyev

            More like a Kaiserroll.

  • trevalyan

    If you read this only to say “The Tea Party/ Occupy movement are Nazis!” then you’ve probably missed the point of the article.

    I think the author is wrong, and the logic of the error is in his own article. The brave young German is nice and intelligent- no doubt his friends in Germany shared his niceness, if they didn’t quite have his drive and resolute ethics. And all went Nazi. If they were anything like their friend, they probably rose quite high. The point is, nice people can become Nazis- Germany itself didn’t become Nazi out of a commitment to being bastards. If you have a code, though, something that’s opposed to the values of Nazism- and kissing up to Krupp was never one of those principles- then you may have a chance.

    The point of the article is to look -people- over for weak points. What about them is susceptible to Naziism? If you think aristocracy and tradition will keep you from Nazi influence, just ask von Ludendorff how that worked out. If you think it’s holding to an opposite ideology like communism- well, there’s just no hope for you.

    As for me, I can say that ersatz Nazis trying to intimidate me would fail- probably badly enough that I’d go out like Jack Ruby and gut shot some Nazi Congress critter. But I like people, I like tradition, and I like stability: would the community provided by some inspiring demagogue be enough to bring me around? Would some senior officer saying, “Heil, my young friend… you look like a man who wants to be someone!” be enough?

    Well, ask me again in three years.

    • The Wet One

      Your three years is almost up.

  • Maggie Sullivan

    The Gov. and mayor of N.Y. are already fascists……’s an interesting world. This is why we in the Midwest are keeping our guns.

    • Mark81150

      We’re already getting political refugees, fleeing outrageous tax increases, lousy dumbed down schools, the trampling of the Bill of Rights, harassment and persecution in hostile progg circles..

      never heard of a progg fleeing for his sanity and well being from a conservative climate,…. but we often see the reverse. Progressives do not tolerate opposition well, just witness the presidential hissy fit lecture rant snotty brat whining press conferences when. Obama is blocked on something like gun control extremism…

      he acts like an angry king sneering only half the peasants bowed past the hips…. MAKE THEM BOW DEEPER HOLDER…. that in a nutshell is the Obama nightmare.

  • iconoclast

    Wow. It just goes to show you that regardless of all attempts to the contrary human nature just does not change.

  • Peejay70

    Wow. Harper’s used to be so much smarter than it is now.

  • Zebra Dun

    When in Rome do as the Roman’s do, if you are in a nation that is run by NAZI’s then for your own safety either leave if possible or go NAZI.
    A National Socialist political party in charge would make you join the NAZI party (or affordable healthcare) or else……..Dachau (or the IRS).
    I would become a NAZI as would everyone here if only with their lips and actions if not their hearts for survival.
    NAZI”S do not like competition nor the unbelievers.

  • therealguyfaux

    Less a question of who would “go Nazi,” and why, as that some would/n’t, from conviction, and some would/n’t, based on opportunity/lack thereof. And most people would never be put to the choice, and would simply plod along, and consider a fascistic regime a “new normal” that would just take maybe a little getting-used-to at first.

    The dichotomy (trichotomy?) is between those who believe that everything which is not forbidden is allowed, and those believe that everything not allowed is forbidden (and the non-participators who simply say, “Just tell me what I can and can’t do, just so I’ll know.”) Again, on the one side you have those who believe that all your wealth is only that which the Government allows you to keep, with the other side saying taxes are only that which we decide the Government should have (the nebbishes again saying, “Just so long as I have a few bucks, I’ll be OK– doesn’t have to be a LOT, mind you, just SOMETHING…”) Again, one side says that not everyone can know everything about everything, and that certain decisions must always be left to those who know better about these things, a body of people that usually includes themselves– while the other side says, I don’t know everything about everything, but neither does anyone else, most of all you, and who died and left you in charge? (The nebbishes say, “As long as there’s somebody who knows something about anything around here, we’re ahead of the game.”)

    It really becomes a question of, whose world-view accommodates that of the other side better– the libertarian is willing to entertain the thought that the authoritarian might be moved by noble motives or at any rate, what (s)he conceives to be noble and is just misguided, while the authoritarian cannot brook the non-conformity live-and-let-live of the libertarian and takes it almost (if not entirely so) as a personal insult. Those in the middle simply say, “OK, a line has to be drawn somewhere, and it might as well be here as there for the difference it’s going to make to most people, who are going to do what they want anyway, unless the risk becomes too great as balanced against the reward.” And the middle group just amorally turns into Justice Holmes’ Bad Man, who only cares what’s liable to happen to him in fact, as opposed to any conception of something being ultimately good or bad as a principle of governing the actions of oneself and others.

    Those in the middle are swayed either by the stick of the authoritarian or the carrot of the libertarian, and yet somehow, they are still to be convinced that there really IS either a stick OR a carrot, since both sides tell them there both IS and ISN’T– the authoritarian says, sure, carrot, maybe, a little bit, but only because you accept the stick’s importance first, while the libertarian says, maybe a stick, sure, a little bit, but only because you accept that it’s the carrot which is important.

    Here endeth the sermon.

  • Niall

    Supporting torture, endless war, and psychopathic leaders, most Americans today appear to have gone Nazi.

  • DonCarlos

    The idependents are the real subject of this article. The rest of us have chosen sides already, for good or ill.It is the ill-formed personas that are vulnerable to being tugged about and confused by the clashing, self-justifying words being shouted about. And the ill-formed folks morph from time to time, so they do not make reliable cadres even if they once hesitantly chose a side. Of course, some will be shot as traitors to their cause, whichever one it is.

  • Ron E Biggs

    The irony here? Person F? Minus the kids (since she died before she could have any)? Eva Braun.
    You’re welcome.


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