Clearing up once and for all the idea that Nazism is leftism;
and the differences between traditionalism, liberalism, and leftism

David H. from Oregon writes:

Your European correspondent Stil should note that the Nazis are men of the left, not the right. This has been shown repeatedly by John Ray in his blog. Ray is quite knowledgeable about this subject.

LA replies:

But of course the idea that Nazism is leftism is not accepted by most people, including me. Yes, there were leftist, collectivist elements in Nazism, aimed at the equality of all Germans. But the core of Nazism—the glorification of the German race over the rest of mankind—cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called leftist. We might put it this way. Internally, with regard to the ordering of German society and the relations of the German people among themselves, Nazism was a form of leftism. But externally, in its relation with non-Germans, Nazism was an extreme form of rightism. And obviously the aspect of Nazism that is of most interest to the world is its relations with the rest of us, in the same way that the aspect of Islam that is of most interest to the rest of us is the jihad war and subjugation that Islam commands against non-Muslims, not the putatively egalitarian practices followed within the Muslim community by Muslims.

But apart from the specifically socialist aspect of National Socialism (and also apart from the understandable desire on the part of some conservatives to free conservatives from the constant liberal charge of Nazism by saying that Nazism is really leftism, an attempt that will never succeed in a million years), I think that there is a more fundamental reason for the belief that Nazism is leftism rather than rightism. It is that both the right and the left believe in an idea of the collective, as distinct from the liberal notion of the individual.

We can clear up this confusion by considering the basic ideas of right, left, and center. (Let’s remember that the three types described below rarely appear in pure form but are intermixed with the others.)

On the right, traditional conservatives believe in “larger wholes”—the realities of nature, society, and God—of race, culture, and religion—that make us what we are. They believe in natural and spiritual hierarchies that are implied in these larger wholes. Inequality is built into existence. Of course there are various kinds of traditional conservatism, each of them placing particular emphasis on certain aspects of the natural, social, and transcendent orders, while downplaying or ignoring others.

In the middle, traditional liberals (right-liberals) believe in individualism: all individuals have equal rights, the individual is free to create himself, he is not determined by the larger wholes into which he was born. We should just see people, all members of the human race, as individuals deserving of equal dignity.

On the left, socialists and Communists, like traditional conservatives, believe in larger wholes, but the wholes they believe in are seen in terms of equality: the whole of society—equal; the whole of the human race—equal. They believe that man has the ability to engineer this larger, equal whole into existence, wiping out the unequal, inherited orders of class, sex, nation, race, religion, morality, and thus creating a New Humanity. Only the largest whole—humankind—is good, because only at the level of all humanity can there be true equality and fraternity uniting all people.

So, both the traditionalist conservatives on one side and the leftists on the other believe in larger wholes and reject the pure individualism of liberalism. But beyond that, the right and the left are radically at odds, since the left seeks to destroy the natural and traditional wholes that the right believes in.

Nazi race worship is thus not a form of leftism, aiming at the equality of all people, but an extreme, perverted form of racial rightism. It takes the biological reality of the German people and makes it into the source of all moral and spiritual values, a god elevated above the rest of mankind, which in turn is seen either as having no right to exist (Jews and Slavs), or as having the right to exist only as slaves or allies to the Germans. Yes, there is a leftist aspect in the Nazi attempt to engineer into existence a New Order for all mankind, rather than respecting and preserving the existing orders, as normal rightists do; but the Nazi construction of a New Order is secondary to the extreme racial particularism and supremacy which are the core of Nazism, and which the New Order is designed to serve.

There is thus a continuum between traditional, moral racialism, consisting of the normal and legitimate desire of a people to preserve and carry on its existence, and the fascistic and demonic racialism of Nazism. Moral racialists need to acknowledge this reality and justify their position by explaining that Nazism is an extreme and perverted form of racialism, rather than trying to escape the problem by pronouncing the mantra, “Nazism is really leftism.”

* * *

Note: I will not be posting comments on this topic, as it has been discussed to death at this site in the past. However, comments may be sent, and if new arguments are made I will reply to them in further additions to this entry. I will also post comments that don’t require further reply or argument, as well as comments that help me explain and expand on my idea. Those who have the weird misconception that I only post commenters who agree with me should know that this is the first entry in the history of VFR in which I am imposing such a rule.

For a previous discussion of this issue, you can check out this entry from 2003, where I have one of my debates with VFR’s brilliant commenter Matt. He and I saw eye to eye on most issues, but on this issue we were intellectually on different planets.

- end of initial entry -

Mencius Moldbug writes:

You are scandalously right on this one. You are even right to reject any further discussion. People who believe that Nazism is leftist are simply deniers of history. In political English as spoken in the ’30s “right” and “left” meant exactly the same things they mean now. And you will find ten references to Nazis as right-wing for every one you find as left-wing. If not 100. “Conservatives” who fail to grapple with this fact, as you so creditably have, are just delusional.

September 16

Gilbert B. writes from the Netherlands:

You say that “the core of Nazism—the glorification of the German race over the rest of mankind—cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called leftist.”

But what do you think about the comment below?!

The essentials of Hitler’s racism, indeed, can actually be found in Marx and Engels. The latter wrote:

The universal war which [is coming] will crush the Slav alliance and will wipe out completely those obstinate peoples so that their very names will be forgotten…. [It] will wipe out not only reactionary classes and dynasties but it will also destroy these utterly reactionary races…and that will be a real step forward. [from the Neue Rheinische Zeitung]

Marx also spoke in terms of eliminating “reactionary races” like “Croats, Pandurs, Czechs and similar scum.” Toss this together with Marx’s anti-Semitism—“We discern in Judaism…a universal antisocial element of the present time”—and Hitler’s crude prejudices have bona fide Marxist roots. We also see the combination of racism and anti-Semitism in comments Marx made in a letter to Engels, dated 30 July 1862, about the German social democrat and labor organizer, Ferdinand Lassalle, a Jew:

It is now perfectly clear to me that, as the shape of his head and the growth of his hair indicates, he is descended from the Negroes who joined in Moses’ flight from Egypt (unless his mother or grandmother on the father’s side was crossed with a nigger). This union of Jew and German on a Negro base was bound to produce an extraordinary hybrid.

A “hybrid” that Marx otherwise characterized as the “Jewish Nigger” or “a greasy Jew disguised under brillantine and cheap jewels.” Marxists, of course, rarely quote passages like this.

LA replies:

That’s fascinating. So it wasn’t just Darwin (as I learned recently) and some later progressives (such as H.G. Wells) and eugenicists who spoke of destroying backward races so as to clear the way for human progress, but Marx himself.

My answer would be that this shows the commonality of Marxism and Nazism as forms of totalitarianism. As far back as we can remember, Communism and Nazism have been seen as the two main forms of modern totalitarianism. But that well-known commonality obviously didn’t lead most people to conclude that Nazism was a form of leftism.

Also, the commonality of Nazi and leftist totalitarianism has already been implicitly dealt with and incorporated in my analysis in the original entry. I’ve acknowledged that the Nazi program to transform the human race and create a New Order was a non-conservative, non-rightist, aspect of Nazism, but, because the motive for that transformation was Germanic race power over other races, not universal equality, therefore Nazism in its central motivating core must still be seen as an extreme, perverted form of rightism rather than a form of leftism, though, again, Nazi totalitarianism qua totalitarianism has certain things in common with leftist totalitarianism, a fact that has always been acknowledged and indeed is a truism.

Thus, as totalitarianism ideologies, Communism and Nazism both include programs to destroy retrograde peoples or classes whose existence stands in the way of the realization of the totalitarian program. Communism, as a leftist totalitarian program, mass murders retrograde peoples in order to achieve an equal humanity. Nazism, as a rightist totalitarian program, mass murders retrograde peoples in order to achieve the ascendance of the Germanic race over humanity. Again, while we must carefully qualify the word rightist when applying it to Nazism, it remains the case that Nazism in its core motivation—the preservation and elevation of a single people—has more in common with the right than the left. Nazism may be a perverted form of rightism, but it’s still a form of rightism more than it is a form of leftism.

And here’s a further difference. The Nazi program to eliminate retrograde peoples is an expression of the Nazi belief in war as the activity necessary for the unfoldment of the highest spiritual (i.e. Germanic) qualities in man. The Communist program to eliminate retrograde peoples is an expression of the Communist program to eliminate war and create a peaceful, unified humanity.

* * *

Alternatively, even if, given the Nazi aim to create a New Order, it’s too far a stretch to say that Nazism is form of rightism, that would still not mean that Nazism is a form of leftism.

James P. writes:

Moldbug says, “you will find ten references to Nazis as right-wing for every one you find as left-wing. If not 100.”

No doubt that is true, but so what? Today you will find ten or a hundred references to Dubya Bush (or McCain) as a “conservative” for every reference to him as a liberal. Does that mean it is true that Dubya and McCain are conservatives? Moldbug’s whole site is an effort to prove that the conventional wisdom on such things as “democracy” and “global warming” are false, so for him to cite “consensus” in this case is somewhat droll.

You have it exactly right that what this argument is really about is the left’s constant charge that anyone on the right is a Nazi or would-be Nazi, that conservatism is Nazism, and conservatism leads to Nazism. The right will never evade this charge with the counter-charge that the Nazis were really leftists.

While the Nazis are clearly on the right, it is wrong to call them “traditionalists” or “conservatives.” They were revolutionaries. There was literally NO institution in German society that the Nazis did not want to transform, revolutionize, and Nazify. They sometimes used the rhetoric of German traditions and German history as part of this effort to transform German society, but this false rhetoric and perversion of history should not mislead us into thinking that they were “conservatives.” (The left, after all, does not have a monopoly on the abuse of history for political ends.)

LA replies:

James writes:

While the Nazis are clearly on the right, it is wrong to call them “traditionalists” or “conservatives.” They were revolutionaries.

Just to clarify, I did not call Nazis traditionalists or conservatives. I said that they represent an extreme, perverted part of the rightist spectrum of which traditionalism and conservatism are also a part. I brought traditionalism or rightism into the discussion in order to show that both rightists and leftists believe in some larger collectivity as opposed to the pure individualism of Old liberalism, and, further, that Nazism shares with traditionalism the belief in a culturally particularist collectivity, namely the German race. These considerations led up to my main point, which is that the fact that Nazis believe in a collectivity, and that leftists believe in a collectivity, has led some people to think that Nazism is leftism. But this is mistaken because the collectivities that rightists, including Nazis, believe in consist in some cultural or religious particularity, while the collectivity that leftists believe in consists in the equality and oneness of the human race. I then pointed out that while this analysis connects Nazism and traditionalism as forms of rightism, Nazism seeks to create a New Order and is thus revolutionary and totalitarian rather than traditionalist.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 15, 2008 10:56 AM | Send

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