Tuesday, June 19, 2018

To Hell with the Hillbilly, the kleine Leute, the Little People.

Ruth Lepson writes in a recent FB post:

Three recent books on Hitler reviewed in the NYRB--authors believe that the only way to counter fascism is by individual acts--of course we need millions of them. We have to keep speaking out & calling congressional reps to express our opinions and helping in other ways like giving to groups that help immigrants, etc.

Her reading of that excellent, must read, NYRB piece is more optimistic than mine.


One of the books reviewed by Cass R. Sunstein is "They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933–45" by Milton Mayer.

Mayer, "An American journalist of German descent" went back to Germany to renew contact with ten Germans — self-described "kleine Leute, little people." His most stunning conclusion is:

"is that with one partial exception (the teacher), none of his subjects 'saw Nazism as we—you and I—saw it in any respect.' Where most of us understand Nazism as a form of tyranny, Mayer’s subjects 'did not know before 1933 that Nazism was evil. They did not know between 1933 and 1945 that it was evil. And they do not know it now.' Seven years after the war, they looked back on the period from 1933 to 1939 as the best time of their lives."

This is stunning. Not even complete and utter military defeat disabused these ordinary Germans of their fond view of the not so distant past.

What does it take?

It's worth noting that in securing the confidence of his informants, who he regarded, despite their views, as friends, and they him, Mayer held back one explosve fact, namely that he was Jewish.
. . .
Ok, the Nazis lost. But here they are, in one form or another, making a comeback, from Hungary through Poland on into the United States.

If I ask, again, what does it take, it's because I don't know, except that it takes a lot.

I do, I do think of Gramsci — I know, I know, we're not to quote Marxist authorities, how tiresome and outdated, and I agree except he was something special. He said, in even worse times than ours, "Optimism of the will, pessimism of the intellect."

The most memorable portrayal of Gramsci that I know of occurs not in any syllabus or summary of Marxism but in Penelope Fitzgerald's deeply satisfying novel "Innocence", where we encounter Gramsci in a Mussolini jail, dying of the tuberculosis that had worked its way into his bones.

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