Weimar Germany, 1918-1933…and the USA in the Present Era

Victor Davis Hanson has published an article titled Weimar America, which begins with the line:

Something eerie, something creepy, is happening in the world—and now in America as well. 

Hanson sees some very disturbing similarities between Weimar then and the USA now.  Definitely read the whole thing.

Recent events in the US, such as the level of sympathy for Hamas and the outbreaks of virulent anti-Semitism, seem to have taken many people (not including Hanson) by surprise. But this has been building for a long time.  Hanson’s article reminds me that in 2016, I wrote a post titled The United States of Weimar? and updated it a month later.  I’m republishing these posts here, following the page break.  Some of the links may not work anymore.

From July 2016:  There is much political violence in the US these days, ranging from attacks on Trump rally attendees to protesters at those rallies being sucker-punched to the politically and racially-motivated murder of police officers in Dallas to the throwing of Molotov cocktails at police in the state of Minnesota (where the social climate was once characterized by the term ‘Minnesota nice’)—and there is every prospect that the violence will get worse as the political season moves into full swing.  Indeed, it seems that political violence is in the process of being normalized in this country. To understand the roots of this malign phenomenon, I think it is important to look at what has been going on in America’s universities for the past decade and a half.

In 2002, a pro-Israel event at San Francisco State University was interrupted by ‘protestors’, screaming things like “go back to Russia!” and “get out or we will kill you!’ and shoving Hillel students against a wall.  Laurie Zoloth, a campus Jewis leader “turned to the police and to every administrator I could find and asked them to remove the counter demonstrators from the Plaza, to maintain the separation of 100 feet that we had been promised. The police told me that they had been told not to arrest anyone, and that if they did, ‘it would start a riot.’  I told them that it already was a riot.”

“This is the Weimar Republic with Brownshirts it cannot control” is how Professor Zoloth summed up the situation on her campus.

This kind of Brownshirt behavior at an American university was by no means an isolated incident: there have been many, many cases of intimidation, vandalism, and outright violence being employed against campus groups and speakers which some people–those people being almost always self-defined ‘progressives’–do not like.

At St Cloud University in Minnesota, for example, the College Republicans had a kiosk supporting Israel, complete with Israeli flag.  Two professors approached the booth and asserted that since the members of the group were not Jewish, they had no right to fly the Israeli flag!  One of the professors told a student that she would break his camera if he took her picture, and then tried to grab the camera–also, according to this report, also grabbed the student by the neck and slammed him up against the wall.  The university administration backed the professors, also asserting that non-Jews have no right to fly the Israeli flag.  (The real issue, I’m pretty sure, wasn’t that the students were non-Jewish, but rather that they were Republican.)

At Yale in 2002, some students had set up a memorial to victims of a car bombing in Israel.  The memorial was destroyed by vandals. A week earlier, at the same university, a petition opposing divestment (ie, withdrawal of pension fund investments from companies doing business in Israel) was defaced–in the law school.

Theft of newspapers containing unapproved viewpoints has become common at universities. In 2004, the entire press run of the Yale Free Press, a conservative publication, was stolen by people who did not want Yale students to be able to read the opinions contained therein.

In Florida in 2004, a social sciences instructor at a community college walked into local Republican headquarters and punched a cardboard cutout of George W Bush…and then, according to this report, also punched a Republican official in the face.  The punchee reports that the assailant “proceeded to say how he had a Ph.D., and he was smarter than me. I’m a stupid Republican,” and other comments laced with obscenities.

In 2006, “Protestors” of the Brownshirt variety attempted to disrupt a scheduled speech by Congressman Tom Tancredo. The chairman of the campus organization that had sponsored the event was kicked and spat upon by some of the thugs, and the building fire alarms were pulled twice.

Also in 2006, at Columbia University, left-wing students distrupted a speech hosted by the College Republicans. Angry students stormed the stage, shouting and knocking over chairs and tables and succeeding in their intent to prevent Jim Gilchrist (founder of the anti-illegal-immigration group known as the Minuteman) from delivering his talk. Columbia Public Safety did nothing to prevent the disruption. Christopher Kulawik, the College Republican president, told The New York Sun he was berated afterward by Columbia University administrators for allowing the speakers to say anything that would infuriate the crowd.

A week later, Columbia administrators interfered with another event planned by the College Republicans. The scheduled speaker was Walid Shoebat, a former PLO terrorist who saw the error of his ways and is now a supporter of Israel and the U.S. Just 3 hours before the event was to take place, a Columbia administrator sent an e-mail uninviting many of those who had already RSVP’d for the event–some of whom were already in transit. Apparently, Columbia was afraid of a repetition of the earlier disruption, and preferred to deny legitimate attendees their right to hear Mr Shoebat speak, rather than to take effective action against thuggishness by beefing up security and expelling disrupters.

In 2008, Robert Spencer spoke at U Wisconsin-Madison, on the subject of the thread from jihad.  He says:

I got off the phone a little while ago with one of the student organizers of my address tonight at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He told me that I would be led to and from the stage via secret passageway; that thirty security personnel would be on hand (in addition to my own); that attendees would have to pass through metal detectors; and that a bomb-sniffing dog would also be on hand…and also: The Rushdiean security precautions and these warnings were all necessary because of the fascist tactics of trying to intimidate and shout down opponents that students and others at UWM have employed in the past against speakers such as David Horowitz. 

In 2003, former Israeli cabinet minister Natan Sharansky visited several US campuses:

When I got to Rutgers University in New Jersey last month, I almost forgot I was on a college campus. The atmosphere was far from the cool, button-down academic reserve typical of such institutions. It was more reminiscent of a battlefield…Things were not much calmer at Boston University: An anonymous bomb threat brought swarms of police to the lecture hall and almost forced a cancellation of my appearance. But here, too, some good resulted when the bomb threat caused the lecture to be moved to a larger hall, which was quickly filled with some 600 listeners who were unwilling to accept the violent silencing of pro-Israel views.


During a frank and friendly conversation with a group of Jewish students at Harvard University, one student admitted to me that she was afraid — afraid to express support for Israel, afraid to take part in pro-Israel organizations, afraid to be identified. The mood on campus had turned so anti-Israel that she was afraid that her open identification could cost her, damaging her grades and her academic future. That her professors, who control her final grades, were likely to view such activism unkindly, and that the risk was too great.

Having grown up in the communist Soviet Union, I am very familiar with this fear to express one’s opinions, with the need to hold the “correct opinions” in order to get ahead, with the reality that expressing support for Israel is a blot on one’s resume. But to find all these things at Harvard Business School? In a place that was supposed to be open, liberal, professional? At first I thought this must be an individual case, particular to this student. I thought her fears were exaggerated. But my conversations with other students at various universities made it clear that her feelings are widespread, that the situation on campuses in the United States and Canada is more serious than we think. And this is truly frightening.

That’s enough in the way of examples, I think…I could readily find dozens or even hundreds more of the same kind, or you can easily search for them yourself.  The point is that the use of violence, theft, and intimidation for political purposes has been in the process of becoming normalized on America’s campuses. And while American universities have been called ‘islands of tyranny in a sea of freedom,’ it was inevitable that the toxins nurtured on those islands would seep out into the larger society, and now it has.

There has always been a certain amount of political violence in America, of course.  The difference now is that we have millions of people who have learned in their colleges that this sort of thing is quite okay, when employed on behalf of Approved Causes.  Many of these people are graduates of ‘elite’ institutions, and some of them are in important government jobs, ‘nonprofit,’ and private-sector jobs.

What happens when political violence becomes common in a society?  The leading example, of course, is Weimar Germany.  Although the violence may have reached a peak just prior to the Nazi takeover in 1933, it had become a common feature of life since the chaos that surrounded the loss of the First World War and the Kaiser’s abdication.  Sebastian Haffner, in his invaluable memoir, writes about what it was like:

Some days there was no electricity, on other no trams, but it was never clear whether it was because of the Spartacists or the Government that we had to use oil lamps or go on foot.

A major milepost on Weimar Germany’s descent was the assassination of Walter Rathenau: “an aristocratic revolutionary, an idealistic economic planner, a Jew who was a German patriot, a German patriot who was a liberal citizen of the world..cultured enough to be above culture, rich enough to be above riches, man of the world enough to be above the world.” This was followed by the great inflation–“the unending bloody Saturnalia, in which not only money but all standards lost their value.”

Later, during the Stresemann chancellorship, when both the economic and the political situation stabilized significantly:

The last ten years were forgotten like a bad dream. The Day of Judgment was remote again, and there was no demand for saviors or revolutionaries…There was an ample measure of freedom, peace, and order, everywhere the most well-meaning liberal-mindedness, good wages, good food and a little political boredom. everyone was cordially invited to concentrate on their personal lives, to arrange their affairs according to their own taste and to find their own paths to happiness.

But…and I think this is a particuarly important point…a return to private life was not to everyone’s taste:

A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions…Now that these deliveries suddently ceased, people were left helpless, impoverished, robbed, and disappointed. They had never learned how to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful and worth while, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk.

Isn’t this phenomenon–a need to have their emotions fed continually by political chaos and violent or quasi-violent political activity–characteristic of a high percentage of the ‘activists’ in America today, particularly those who refer to themselves as ‘Social Justice Warriors’?

From the update post:

In Minneapolis, attendees at a Trump rally were attacked by a mob.  Police were present, but no arrests were made.

There have been similar incidents at other Trump rallies; see for example  this story from San Jose.

Meanwhile, establishment journalists and academics wring their hands about how dangerous Trump is, while mostly ignoring the danger to the democratic process driven by the destructive behavior of  ‘progressive’ thugs…often enabled by winks and nods from ‘liberal’ government officials, who are all too happy to let them get away with it.

Too much more of this, and I may have to remove the question mark from the line:  The United States of Weimar?

13 thoughts on “Weimar Germany, 1918-1933…and the USA in the Present Era”

  1. David,

    As you put it so well, the problem on antisemitism on campus is not new and in fact we can even predate it decades before to the whole “Zionism and Racism” slur. Hanson attributes its current rise to immigration; I’ll add to this argument by inserting psychology and philosophy.

    There has been a lot written since well, Nietszsche, about the social dislocation engendered by the collapse of traditional societies due to modernity that gave rise to the social turmoil in Europe before WW I, While accelerated by Germany’s defeat in that war, much of the turmoil Weimar is a continuation of trends from before the war. Desmet in his “Psychology of Totalitarianism” pointed to the political consequences of such psychological rootlessness in both the desire for safetyism and activism to provide a sense of community.

    What we have today on campus is the next iteration of that rootlessness with multiple cohorts of students who are alienated from their culture by post-modernism believing that the society that has nurtured them is oppressive and illegitimate. People psychologically cast adrift, especially with the arrogance of youth, were fertile territory for revolutionary pseudo-philosophies such as Marxism 100+ years ago and the post-modernism of today. In a sense the antisemites on campus have been preparing their whole lives for this moment.

    The other part of this is the governance of the schools. The day of heroic university leadership in the form of a John Silber is gone and most university administrators see their job not as pursuing any sort of particular mission so much as to keep the ship of educational state afloat by balancing various internal and external constituencies. This makes them vulnerable to strong, radical forces which can blackmail week-kneed administrators into acceding to their demands.

    You saw this phenomena in this week’s Congressional testimony by the Presidents of Harvard, Penn, and MIT who were compromised not only by trying to manage that balance on their campuses, but by the personal weakness inherent in their character which led to their hiring in the first place. Compromise has its time and place even if it is just saying “nice doggie” until you find a big rock, but not when faced with a moral evil.

    While those 3 Presidents are in hot water with their donor bases, we should be clear that the issue is not whether antisemitic comments are constitutionally protected speech. That’s the political equivalent of yelling “squirrel” to divert us from the real issue which is that higher ed bans speech all the time based on the prevailing political winds on campus. What somebody on the Right needs to do is to take these Presidents at their word regarding debate and free speech and ask why students would be disciplined for saying there are only two genders, but be protected if they promote antisemitism.

    It’s good to see the pushback against this evil, but keep in mind if the Left was presented with an opportunity of this magnitude they would push it even further. This is the “defund the police” moment for the Right in regard to taking higher education back. To paraphrase Patton, they stuck their heads in the meat grinder now it’s time to turn the crank

  2. Yes, except the radicals of today are not the sulking children of a crisis that ended, desperate to recreate those times.

    They grew up in an atmosphere of nothing that could remotely be called crisis, and deemed it was crisis anyway and sought to create the appropriate atmosphere.

    Spoiled brats of generations of bourgeois comfort, not spiritually shattered veterans of the most horrible of wars, nor tormented survivors of economic upheaval.

    Nor, for that matter, living in a defeated nation carrying all the blame for what everyone had done by turns and which had been long as normal as breathing, to wit, wage aggressive war for national gain.

    None of these people have the level of excuse the Germans had.

    Also, Weimar Germany had multiple sides, at least two opposed camps tending toward building a single-party secret police tyranny with utopian aims, and using street politics and armed militias to do it- Nazis and Communists both. Modern America doesn’t have two sides, yet. The communists are the only side.

  3. This is the “defund the police” moment for the Right in regard to taking higher education back.

    Perhaps, but the party of why nothing can be done will do…nothing. They’ve already held hearings, which is all they ever do. Revisit this topic once you read a detailed GOP plan to force colleges to do away with the armies of leftist agitators they employ as “administrators,” end the endless DEI programs and requirements, and stop issuing loans for the myriad degree programs with “studies” in the title. I won’t be holding my breath and I suggest you don’t either.

    Modern America doesn’t have two sides, yet.

    I’m reminded of a comment left at Larry Correia’s site a while back. The commenter noted that for the left, violence is a rheostat to be turned up or down as needed. For the right, it’s an on/off switch. I’ve made a bunch of comments lamenting the worthlessness of the Geee Oh Peeee which would quite reasonably lead people to believe I think we’re doomed. We aren’t but the GOP certainly is, and I’d argue that the entire regime is collapsing, including its pet monstrosity known as “higher education.” It’s telling that while the GOP retains its typical worthlessness the in-your-face antisemitism exhibited by these folks has generated much more than the usual response- including from the guy who has demanded that UPenn fire its president or he’ll pull a $100 million donation. So I’d say the key word is “yet.”

    Anyway, it’s also notable how often I’ve seen spurious claims of antisemitism used to attempt to deplatform people on the right- e. g. Glenn Beck years ago, Elon Musk lately- while active loud and proud calls for the destruction of Israel are just accepted as normal and unobjectionable by these same leftists.

    If nothing else, that should be a tell for American Jews that their real friends aren’t on the left and they shouldn’t be giving leftists money. But I won’t be holding my breath here either.

  4. WRT entitlement: It’s probably been 35 years since I was horrified to see this bumper sticker in one of the western Chicago suburbs: “Prosperity is my birthright”

    Who will she blame when she learns the world doesn’t agree?
    And in the meantime, gratitude is key to a lot of happiness, and she’ll miss out.

  5. I tried to do a little quick research on historical antisemitism in the U.S. and found all the search results originated from the last few weeks. I did find this and am a little leery of it but it does align with my recollection:

    It lists 40 incidents going back to the mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018. The next previous incident is 2014 with 11 in all going back to Grant’s expulsion of Jews from his command area in 1862. A mistake he acknowledged and regretted publicly for the rest of his life.

    I’m sure there are some incidents from before 2018 missing, but I believe the trend is valid. I simply haven’t read about anything on the scale of what we’ve seen in the last few weeks and apparently the last five years before WWII. I’m not saying that antisemitic attitudes and bigotry wasn’t common, but it didn’t manifest as violence or even mass demonstrations. Even the KKK seemed more concerned with Catholics. I had a High School history teacher that had a cross burned in his yard in the ’20’s because his construction contractor father hired Catholics.

    Compare the genteel antisemitism of Harvard in the ’20’s that consisted of limiting the number of Jews admitted and excluding them from various clubs with the ravening mobs of today. What motivates a mob at an inner city “High School”, where, I’ll wager not one in a hundred could find Israel on a map, to form a lynch mob howling for the blood of a teacher? I’m starting to give credit to the Tik-Tok subversion theory. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t something the “students” at Hillcrest read because only a few can read. I’m at a loss to understand how the Ivy League came to aspire to a level of bigotry, previously attributed to illiterate red necks.

  6. what shaped weimar as much as the economic circumstances, that maynard keynes might have over indulged on, was it was the subject of Direct Action by Stalin I think it was the Second International, that led to the branding of the Social Democrats as Social Fascists,
    the former came in the form of street battles that communist dock workers like Albert Krug, nee Jan Valtin, recorded in the Night left behind, so when the Catholic Center collapsed under Bruning, the Social Democrats were kneecapped by Stalin in favor of his candidate Thalmann, who chose poorly in challenging the Nazis and ended up in a concentration camp

    Certainly since 2001, when fmr May 19th (a splinter of the Weatherunderground) was sprung by Bill Clinton, the path of Direct Action was in full force, the first signs were the Occupy Demonstrations around 2001,

  7. One difference between now and Weimar s that the Nazis and Communists maintained tight, murderously tight, control over party ideology and doctrine. The Democrats seem poised to break along a dozen fault lines. The latest palestinian / Jewish divide is just that, the latest. Previously, there was the Muslim/LGBTQ… divide, etc. Republicans, foregoing any vestige of principals, doctrine or even coherence have no such problem. The difference between anything goes and nothing matters.

    Neither party’s “leadership” has been capable of fielding a remotely plausible candidate through party processes. So we are left with the choice between a senile old crook and Trump, who is many things but not a stalwart Republican. The comparison between Biden and Hindenburg is unavoidable, leaving aside Hindenburg’s record of genuine accomplishment. That those accomplishments prolonged WWI, likely insuring the deaths of millions, especially Germans, doesn’t seem to have tarnished his reputation. Regardless of the media’s allusions, implications and now outright assertions, Trump, his ideology and actions have nothing whatsoever to do with Hitler.

    We’ll know more in a year.

  8. @MCS

    “One difference between now and Weimar s that the Nazis and Communists maintained tight, murderously tight, control over party ideology and doctrine.”

    Agreed. The Nazis had an army of disciplined storm troopers, a large plurality of voters casting ballots specifically for them, and a shadow government in place ready to take over quickly once they got their foot in the door. Add to that the fact that the allies had virtually guaranteed the radicalization of a humiliated and defeated Germany at Versailles and the similarities with Weimar are not that compelling. I’m hardly suggesting that our situation isn’t bad and getting worse. However, while we can certainly learn much from history, I don’t think the attempt to establish direct parallels between us and a different country in a very different time is particularly useful.

  9. Helian…certainly, there are important differences: for instance, even though the Afghanistan debacle was a US national humiliation, it didn’t affect nearly as many people *directly* as the German defeat in WWI. And the US has a much longer history of republican/democratic institutions than did Weimar.

    However, the common thread of rising political violence is important. There was a lot of Left as well as Right political violence in Germany prior to the power shifting to the Nazis. There is also a lot of cultural behavior that can be well-categorized as depravity.

    One thing that I don’t think is well understood is the degree to which Naziism was a *youth movement*. ‘Tomorrow belongs to me’ was a made-up song for a musical; ‘The Rotten Bones are Shaking’ was genuine.

  10. Perhaps the common thread between our time and Weimar is more philosophical than political with the proper word being “nihilism” The collapse of traditional German, even European civilization as a whole, was well underway before World War I as documented by Nietzsche and others; however, the rot was hidden, much like a termite-infested wall, until the swift kick of the war caused it to give way

    The political aspect also has another dimension. Political movements, whether philosophies or actions in of themselves, have a certain physics about them; structure, forces, momentum/inertia. While Marx and the Hegelians look to historical forces and the dialectics that give shape to those forces, Lenin understood that it took actual people to take advantage of opportune situations in order to apply force at the appropriate time to create the proper reaction. That is the job description of a political organizer or agitator; nothing wothwhile just happens, somebody makes it happen Any time a specific action happens, even if it is a flash mob looting of a CVS, it’s worthwhile to ask why there and why now; usually you’ll find a person(s) who came up with the bright idea.

    A few years ago, there was a student walk-out across several northern Virginia high schools to protest Youngkin’s policies regarding parental notification and sexual content in the curriculum. As an action it was a big success, an estimated 5000 students. It got some local and national coverage and a few outlets even bothered to ask who was behind it seeing it as a spontaneous outburst. One outlet actually report a group behind it called the “Pride Liberation Project” which the media described as a purely student-run group; it was a great story, students coming together to help students. After all all those students didn’t walk out on their own, somebody got the ball rolling. Of course my guess is that most of the students who walked out could have cared less about why they were doing it, they just wanted to skip school and meet girls, but that’s the genius of a smart organizer.

    If you dig a deeper into PLP you find it’s not quite purely student-run, there was a university student acting as a form of an advisor. However the dead give away was another project of the PLP, the creation of an “underground railroad” which would spirit transgender teens who wanted to runaway from their non-affirming families. There were articles of students bragging how they lined up financing, safe houses, and all the accouterments; that tells me that PLP was a front organization being stood up by a larger organization that answered the question of why there and why now.

    So to MCS’ point regarding the TikTok subversion and general student ignorance of the issues involved, I’m with that… let’s face it the idea of running the halls and terrorizing teachers has occurred to most students int heir darker moments. However somebody in that student body decided to start that riot for that particular reason at that particular time. They were almost certainly in communication with outside agitators and knew if they could start the event moving that it would gather momentum and pick up fellow-travelers and those who just wanted to have fun

    The problem with the aftermath is two-fold. The first is that the story went national and no doubt will inspire copy-cats; the NYC school administration has proven to be feckless in being public about punishment which will lead others to think they can also riot with little fear of consequences. The second problem is an intelligence matter (and perhaps the police is doing this) as there has been no public attempt to roll-up the local groups involved; leaders should be identified and arrested with those 18 years old facing trial as an adult so that the entire influence operation can be unraveled because make no mistake, this is the model for how things will go down next year when the weather warms up

    Btw… a theory of Physics and Political Action can explain a lot of what people dismiss as conspiracy theories regarding Jan. 6. Remember in retrospect that all the media, Jan. 6 Committee, and the rest needed to make their claims regarding “insurrection” was to get video of MAGA protesters in the Capitol on the day they were dealing with the Electoral College. Seeding what’s an already enthusiastic crowd with agent provocateurs bent on re-directing that enthusiasm into a thinly-defended building completes the job and provides the pre-text for the massive crackdown the Jan. 6 committee coverup. All in all a very professional (and evil) job

  11. Liberals are always warning of a dark night of political violence coming from the right while the actual violence nearly always comes from their friends.

    Tom Wolfe’s admonition has lots of corollaries.

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