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Saturday, May 31, 2003

It isn't 1933.

Maybe it's because I live in Cambridge. Or maybe it's because many of my friends are graduate students. Or maybe it's because I'm a Unitarian Universalist and read a lot of the e-mail that the perpetually-aggrieved political activists in liberal churches send each other. (They're the squeaky wheels of liberal religion.) But I know where James Traub is coming from in the Times Magazine (reg req'd) when he blasts back at left-liberal comparisons of the post-9/11 United States to the rise of the Third Reich:

Like all forms of reductio ad Hitler, the 1933 analogy constitutes a gross trivialization of the worst event in modern history. Do we remember what actually happened in 1933? Hitler ascended to the chancellorship, suspended constitutional rights and banned all opposition political parties, sent the Brown Shirts into the streets and issued the first decrees stripping Jews of their rights. To compare the passage of the U.S.A. Patriot Act and the proposed — but scotched — program to get ordinary citizens to pass along tips about suspicious dark-skinned strangers, not to mention the cancellation of Tim Robbins's invitation to appear at the Baseball Hall of Fame because he might criticize the war in Iraq — to compare these and other inroads on our liberties to Hitler's budding terror state is repellent.

(You haven't heard the comparisons? Then your friends probably don't read Common Dreams, which one UU seminarian told me is his only reliable news source.)

"And this is really the fundamental point," Traub argues: "fascist states arise not simply because a mesmerizing leader seizes state power in unsettled times but because the democratic institutions that might oppose him have rotted away, as they did in Weimar Germany." The important thing is to put energy into the democratic institutions — the political parties, the civic associations, the churches, the press — that keep a liberal society alive. Liberal churches can play their part best when they recognize allies across a broad spectrum of American society, not when they retreat into small enclaves of ideological purists at the most marginal edges of American society. When we think that anyone to our right is quasi-fascist — and we say so! — we're setting ourselves up to fail dramatically.

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 31 May 2003 at 1:04 PM

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