All posts filed under: Totalitarian Socialism

The Language of the Third Reich (Victor Klemperer)

Victor Klemperer is famous today for his diaries covering the Nazi era in Germany. But those were published in 1995, thirty-five years after his death. The only book he published in his lifetime was this one, in 1947: The Language of the Third Reich. Its original title, Lingua Tertii Imperii: Notizbuch eines Philologen (i.e., Notebook of a Philologist), with the Latin evoking Imperial Rome, is more precise and informative, but I suppose we’re too uneducated today for that title to be used. Either way, this book is fascinating in its description of the twisting of language by the Nazis, who, like all ideologues, turned words to their own ends of power.

Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt’s America, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany, 1933-1939 (Wolfgang Schivelbusch)

This book, a brief work of cultural history, outlines four parallel aspects of three political systems: the American New Deal, Italian Fascism, and German Nazism.  The point of Three New Deals is that these political systems shared core similarities in certain programmatic manifestations.  The author, Wolfgang Schivelbusch, fortunately does not claim that the three systems were essentially the same.  He offers, instead, a discussion of the interplay between the governed and the governors in each of these systems—how each shaped the other, in ways that can be compared and contrasted across systems.  The result is a book of modest interest from which, perhaps, something more can be spun.

Gun Control in Nazi Occupied-France: Tyranny and Resistance (Stephen P. Halbrook)

This is an academic monograph, rather than a work of propaganda or political inspiration. Those looking for a rabble-rousing polemic in the style of today’s mass-popular conservative authors, or of a Wayne LaPierre speech, will be disappointed.  What the reader gets instead is far more valuable:  an understanding of modern history as it relates to gun control, and illumination of how gun seizures may work in practice if our own government turns criminal.

The Enemy: An Intellectual Portrait of Carl Schmitt (Gopal Balakrishnan)

Carl Schmitt, preeminent antiliberal, is that rare thing, the modern political philosopher relevant long after his time.  The simple remember him only for his grasping embrace of Nazism, but the more astute, especially on the Left, have in recent times found much to ponder in Schmitt’s protean writings.  He did not offer ideology, as did so many forgotten political philosophers, but instead clear analysis of power relations, untied to any specific system or regime.  So, as the neoliberal new world order collapses, and the old dragons of man, lulled for decades by the false promises of liberal democracy, rise from slumber, such matters are become relevant once more, and Schmitt informs our times, echoing, as they do, his times.

Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (Christopher R. Browning)

It seems to me that we in the West are like men in a cavern, out of which lead many paths, none signposted.  Some paths lead to bright futures, but other paths lead to terrible ones, among them those where, once again as we did not so very long ago, we slaughter each other over ideology.  And the way back is closed, so we must choose one path forward.  The service of this book is that it illustrates Solzhenitsyn’s dictum, that the line between good and evil runs through every human heart.  Thus, reflecting upon this book may help us choose the correct exit from the cavern, and to that end, it is worth bearing the unease that comes over us when we read books like this. This book, a staple of Holocaust studies for twenty-five years, has recently risen to fresh prominence due to repeated mentions of it by Canadian psychologist, and superstar, Jordan Peterson.  His focus on the book arises from his own decades-long study of evil regimes, and his thought on how …

The Forest Passage (Ernst Jünger)

Ernst Jünger was one of the more fascinating men of the twentieth century.  Remembered in the English-speaking world primarily for his World War I memoir, The Storm of Steel, he was famous in Europe for a range of right-leaning thought spanning nearly eighty years (he lived from 1896 to 1998).  His output was prodigious, more than fifty books along with voluminous correspondence, and not meant or useful as a seamless ideology, although certain themes apparently recur.  This book, The Forest Passage, was published in 1951, and is a compelling examination of how life should be conducted under modern ideological tyranny.

The Saboteur: The Aristocrat Who Became France’s Most Daring Anti-Nazi Commando (Paul Kix)

This is the story of a man—Robert de La Rouchefoucauld, scion of one of the oldest noble families in France, who lived from 1923 to 2012.  He led a life in full; the focus of this book is his three years fighting against the Germans in France, as a résistant.  It is a tale of bravery and derring-do, and it is gripping.  But even more, it is terribly sad, because reading about this past makes us realize how masculinity and duty as exemplified by La Rouchefoucauld are no longer celebrated, but rather denigrated, to the detriment of all of us.

The Russian Revolution: A New History (Sean McMeekin)

I am currently very focused on the ascent to power of Communism in Russia, not because it had anything to recommend it, but for the lessons it can teach us.  Some of those lessons are ones the author of this book, Sean McMeekin, wants to impart—the dangers of left-wing ideology, primarily.  Those are valuable lessons, certainly, but if we haven’t learned them after many decades of left-wing horror shows, we’re not going to learn them from this book.  The lessons I am seeking, therefore, are more dynamic:  how power can be grasped and used in fluid, chaotic situations, and by what kind of people.  And those lessons are also on full display in this book, even if I did not learn any new ones.

Lenin: The Man, the Dictator, and the Master of Terror (Victor Sebestyen)

When we think of the Soviet Union, we mostly think of it as a fully realized totalitarian state.  We think of Stalin, of World War II and of the Cold War.  Lenin is a shadowy figure to most of us, usually lumped in with the chaos that preceded and surrounded the Russian Revolution.  As a result, biographies of Stalin and histories of the Cold War are a dime a dozen, but there are few objective biographies of Lenin.  Lenin, though, was the true author of Soviet totalitarianism, and, more importantly, he, and he alone, was the indispensable man to the creation of Communism as a realized state, even if he did not live to see it.  His life, therefore, is important, in that it illuminates history, and also in that it provides, in some ways, an instruction book for those seeking change today.

The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics (Mark Lilla)

Mark Lilla’s books are all polished gems, perfectly and fluidly written, brief yet complete within the ambit Lilla sets for each of his works.  This book, The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics, was written about a decade after the collapse of Communism.  From its title, the casual browser might think it was a general attack on intellectuals.  It is not that at all—Lilla is nothing if not an intellectual himself, and he sees a lot of merit in the world of ideas, if he also sees its limitations.  Rather, this is an examination of why brilliant men and women of the modern world so often willingly dance with tyranny, and an attempt to draw a distinction between mere intellectuals, who often toady to raw power, and true philosophers, who pursue virtue.