Tuesday, October 5, 2010

This Just In- Pot Calls Kettle Black

With a personna vastly eclipsing irony, Glen Beck sees Hitler in many places- except himself. In reality, Beck and Fox News are the closest thing to the Nazi movement we can see in the modern landscape.

The common story of the interwar period in Germany describes unhappy Germans rioting in the streets, turning in greater and greater numbers to the Nazi Party, and elevating Hitler to power, transforming him from a civilian failure to a masterful national leader. Murkier are the means by which Hitler gained power, with some photos of party rallies generally standing in for details.

Actually, Hitler did it the old-fashioned way- he used money. He used a party newspaper to raise money, and he spent the money on organizers, and printing more newspapers. More organizers enlisted more members, who paid more dues. In addition, Hitler got money from millionaires, and at times this was critical, but probably the basic money-machine structure provided the needful most of the time.

Hitler didn't just hire organizers, he also hired thugs and bought officials. If the success of a rally or demonstration seemed doubtful, brownshirts and stormtroopers would be moved to the spot, and, being mercenaries, naturally impressed onlookers with their assurance and discipline. (Everyone knew that brownshirt rioting and destruction was not indiscipline, but , instead, was exactly what they were paid to do.)

Hitler was, in short, a brilliant organizer and gangster, paying thugs who could be trusted, not only to extort money from storekeepers, Jews, and industrialists, but also to keep paying dues. In the 20s this nexus of the press, public fear, and gangsterism made Hitler a rich man, and in the 30s it made him and many others fabulously wealthy- except, of course, for the working class, whose living standards gradually fell for the entire decade.

And yet, for most of that decade, Germans felt good about themselves- such is the power of advertising. Like Fox News, the Nazi papers served up a distorted view of the world, and every year there were fewer other papers to offer alternate views. The linotype press, the radio, the movies- these tools of the 20th century achieved new heights of expression in German hands, from the monster rallies to the Berlin Olympics.

By 1939 the grinding poverty of Hitler's Germany (hardly anyone in Berlin could afford to buy an orange) had worn thin with the German people, and Bill Shirer reports an essentially sullen and distrustful populace viewing the beginning of war with no enthusiasm at all. Ironically, the greatest gangster of the 20th century had no talent for governing.

There are many examples in the world of people acting badly, and in South America it is common for the press to believe they can overthrow democratically elected governments. But nowhere, as far as I know, is the urge to overthrow democracy so seamlessly blended with a national press and the ability to mulct the followers, as at Fox News, with Glen Beck. He is, indeed, a key to understanding Hitler.

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