This essay is dated but very pertinent today. Dorothy Thompson is just a name to most who are younger than I am but she had things to say that still speak to us 70 years later. Of course, Nazis are extinct, at least in the classical sense. They survive, however, as a type. This is as up to date as a guide to personality as it can be.
It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times–in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis.
It is preposterous to think that they are divided by any racial characteristics. Germans may be more susceptible to Nazism than most people, but I doubt it. Jews are barred out, but it is an arbitrary ruling. I know lots of Jews who are born Nazis and many others who would heil Hitler tomorrow morning if given a chance. There are Jews who have repudiated their own ancestors in order to become “Honorary Aryans and Nazis”; there are full-blooded Jews who have enthusiastically entered Hitler’s secret service. Nazism has nothing to do with race and nationality. It appeals to a certain type of mind.
It is also, to an immense extent, the disease of a generation–the
generation which was either young or unborn at the end of the last war. This is as true of Englishmen, Frenchmen, and Americans as of Germans. It is the disease of the so-called “lost generation.”
This part of the essay is an anachronism since Nazism and Jews were two sides of an argument at the time. Let us, however, rename the two sides “leftist and Israeli.” Makes more sense doesn’t it ?
Sometimes I think there are direct biological factors at work–a type of education, feeding, and physical training which has produced a new kind of human being with an imbalance in his nature. He has been fed vitamins and filled with energies that are beyond the capacity of his intellect to discipline. He has been treated to forms of education which have released him from inhibitions. His body is vigorous. His mind is childish. His soul has been almost completely neglected.
At any rate, let us look round the room.
The gentleman standing beside the fireplace with an almost untouched glass of whiskey beside him on the mantelpiece is Mr. A, a descendant of one of the great American families. There has never been an American Blue Book without several persons of his surname in it. He is poor and earns his living as an editor. He has had a classical education, has a sound and cultivated taste in literature, painting, and music; has not a touch of snobbery in him; is full of humor, courtesy, and wit. He was a lieutenant in the World War, is a Republican in politics, but voted twice for Roosevelt, last time for Willkie. He is modest, not particularly brilliant, a staunch friend, and a man who greatly enjoys the company of pretty and witty women. His wife, whom he adored, is dead, and he will never remarry.
He has never attracted any attention because of outstanding bravery. But I will put my hand in the fire that nothing on earth could ever make him a Nazi. He would greatly dislike fighting them, but they could never convert him…. Why not?
Beside him stands Mr. B, a man of his own class, graduate of the same preparatory school and university, rich, a sportsman, owner of a famous racing stable, vice-president of a bank, married to a well-known society belle. He is a good fellow and extremely popular. But if America were going Nazi he would certainly join up, and early. Why?… Why the one and not the other?
Anybody think of John Kerry just then ?
Anyway, read the rest of it. It is startling and sobering to think how little has changed but the names. Credit for my finding it should go to The Anchoress
Another brief thought occurs, maybe this is a repeating theme in our history.
We think of ourselves as a meritocracy but we all know someone who wanted just a bit of a thumb on the scales. Maybe more than a thumb. I think my one complaint about Dorothy Thompson is that she might give more credit than is due to family and background. I think the blood of such families has gotten very thin the past 50 years. Many years ago, in Boston, I knew a few men who had used their family fortune to allow then to seek achievement in medicine and to ignore the necessity of earning a living that would support a lifestyle like that of John Kerry, although not so flamboyant. One such was J Gordon Scannell, chief of thoracic surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1965. As Scannell Moving Company trucks passed outside, he spent his life in a taxing profession. Another, who became famous (although unknown as a real person) was Edgar Kahn, whose life was fictionalized by Lloyd C Douglas in his novel, Magnificent Obsession, in 1929.
I see the parallels today and wonder about human nature and how little it has changed.