When Everything is Hitler
The last desperate refuge of the stupid is to accuse their opponents of being Nazis.
I see that my defense of my teachers and colleagues from National Review’s Nazi slander has upset some people. It’s hard to know exactly what they are so upset about, because all they do is snark-tweet (if that phrase is not redundant) and it’s hard to glean much substance out of 240 characters of junior high level taunting. Those who welcome Elon Musk’s attempted buyout of Twitter because that platform is now the only real public square left in what passes for American “discourse” are correct in the latter assessment but, in my view, much too sanguine about the effects of the proposed remedy. Twitter is so fundamentally and structurally flawed as to be irredeemable. I suspect that’s why so many midwits love it. It allows them to be “in the game” and to have “said something” without doing any of the hard work required for real thought.
It is said, in response to my objection to my friends and I being called Nazis, that if we don’t want to be called Nazis, we shouldn’t quote Nazis.
But we didn’t quote any Nazis. We had the thought of one Nazi maliciously and falsely attributed to us as a slander by a backstabbing magazine that lives to tear down anyone to its right.
This is basic, elementary stuff. If after calling someone a Nazi, your response to “How dare you call me a Nazi” is “Don’t quote Nazis” when in fact we haven’t, you’re not only losing; you’re a liar.
It’s true that those of us educated in Claremont, or many of us, have read Carl Schmitt. So did Leo Strauss. Was he a Nazi? So did Harry Jaffa. Him too?
We, and they, read Schmitt not just to understand the history of political philosophy, which is important enough in itself, or to understand how theory can affect practice, which is also important. The deepest reason we read him (and Heidegger, and others) is to understand the crisis of late modernity and the various (in our view) failed attempts to find a way out. To find a way forward, one must understand the dead ends.
For those who don’t know, Strauss himself coined the titular phrase reductio ad hitlerum. As formulated in Natural Right and History, it states that “a view is not refuted by the fact that it happens to have been shared by Hitler.” We may restate it here as: “a view is not refuted by the fact that it happens to have been stated by Schmitt.”
Schmitt is not refuted by repeating that he was a Nazi. He is refuted only via the painstaking work of reading, understanding, and thinking through his ideas and finding the mistakes or wrong turns. Strauss and Jaffa did that work. Many of my friends and I have tried to do it, too. I can be confident that neither Mike Watson, his editors, nor his Twitter counter-attackers have. Before they say any more, they ought to, if from no other motive than the simple humility not to opine on things they don’t understand.
The notion that Schmitt’s “ideas … undermine everything the Constitution is meant to protect” is at once trite and stupid. Trite in that, of course Schmitt himself rejected the United States Constitution as emblematic of the Enlightenment liberalism that he rejected and sought a replacement for.
Stupid in that, as formulated (that 240-character limit is a bitch), it seems to demand that every one of Schmitt’s insights be discarded simply because he states them. This is the sort of logical error first mocked on UseNet when monitors still emitted cathode rays: “Hitler was bad; Hitler was a vegetarian, therefore vegetarianism is bad.” In like measure, we were scolded, in the original article, to ditch the friend-enemy distinction because Nazi.
I dealt with that particular idiocy in my earlier piece. I wish here only to state that, the idea that the friend-enemy distinction is anathema to the U.S. Constitution is laughable. The very preamble begins “We the People”—which people? As distinct from which others? It talks of a “more perfect Union” and “domestic Tranquility”—things to be cherished among civic friends. It urges a “common defense”—against whom? It refers to “ourselves and our Posterity”—again, who? As opposed to who else?
The document twice refers explicitly to “enemies,” both in the Constitution of 1787 (Art. III, Sec. 3) and in the 14th Amendment.
I could go on, but why bother. The unblinkered will have grasped the point long ago. The blinkered—the backstabbers—don’t care about the substance of the issue. For them there is only one point: always punch right. Facts, logic, texts be damned. Also, make sure to slander those to your right as Nazis, and whine when they point out that one definition of an enemy is someone who calls you a Nazi. He called me an enemy! How uncivil!
These little exchanges may not illuminate much of substance, but they make this particular dynamic clearer and clearer, just as they make the present disposition of National Review clearer and clearer. I can only hope readers—and donors—are paying attention.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.