Scroll To Top

U.S., U.K. Need History Lesson on Fascism

U.S., U.K. Need History Lesson on Fascism

U.S., U.K. Need History Lesson on Fascism

There are too many parallels to ignore between the Germany of the 1920s and many Western nations of today, writes Jack Flanagan.

It just so happened I was researching an article about the rise of the Nazis when the Brexit result was announced.

Once the initial shock wore away -- not aided by the shameless sensationalism of the Remain side (speaking as a Remain voter) -- the similarities between the voices calling for Brexit and the books in front of me became more vivid.

What I'd been learning was that the run-up to Nazi Germany was an almost two-decade-long process - rather than a quick coup. The Nazi propagandists relied on rhetoric to whip up bellicose support. Their message was "Make Germany great again."

The Germany the Nazis created in the popular imagination was almost Wagnerian. Handsome, warlike men, like Vikings, and brassy, robust German women working to create a pre-Weimar Germany.

The wrongness of this is striking. "Germany" as a nation was less than 100 years old in the 1920s, and for over 1,000 years had been a collective of city-states and religious centers, the Holy Roman Empire, which included the Netherlands, parts of France, and northern Italy.

It struck me, as it's struck others, this is the exact rhetoric and abuse of fear used by right-wing nationalists today. Like Germans of the 1920s and '30s, a great swath of Americans and Europeans long for a time of "greatness," and follow -- with sometimes violent faith -- any politician who believes they can promise it to them. This poses a danger to LGBT people.

It can become tiresome to compare Trump to Hitler. It is, however, true, insofar as any politician with charisma develops a popular following as did Hitler. He was a brilliant propagandist. In Vienna he was an artist. He knew his audience; he knew what people liked, which is not dignity or conservatism -- but brassiness, loudness, and righteousness.

Hitler developed his views on what a "healthy" German should be during his time as leader; it was driven by a need to centralize the masterless thugs who had paved his way to power. He also crafted the idea of an antithesis, the "unhealthy" Germans -- the Jews, gypsies, and LGBT people (transgender people were also murdered by the Nazis) -- despite having lived with Jews in his native Austria. This was not all. The captain of the SA paramilitary, Ernst Rohm, a man all of Germany knew was gay, was a close personal friend, even though the friendship led to questions about Hitler's own sexuality.

Hitler was a bigot because it suited him. The ideas he had crafted were bogeymen: job-stealing, backstabbing, ethnically inferior Jews. This is the exact same tactic used by Trump: blaming ethnic Mexicans and Muslims (famously, although not only them) for an imagined illness afflicting the American people. Someone might argue that 1920s Germany and modern America are too different to allow comparison. I disagree. It's a leader's job to lead their people, not to pick and choose the ones they like best and banish the rest. It's a weakness of democracy that it inevitably leads to divided countries, and the widely accepted idea that whoever leads the country will be loved by barely a majority, and loathed by the rest.

When Rohm's political views started to diverge from Hitler's, it meant Hitler needed to destroy him, which he did in a brutal purge in June 1934 of SA leadership. He said he wanted to end the sudden spread of "debauchery" in the National Socialists, a code word for homosexuality.

When the Nazis came to power, it was the beginning of the end for many social liberties, and the sudden rise of much social injustice. It severed the bud of a nascent gay rights movement. The previous few decades had seen an unprecedented rise in the acceptance of homosexuality, especially in Berlin, of all places. There were 30 gay magazines published in that city alone. More quickly than it took to build, it was torn apart: Gay people became not merely persona non grata but had to be eradicated. Even a burgeoning, pro-LGBT "sex science" was swept away. Neither great debates nor martyrs were needed to turn Berlin's hedonists into vermin.

People are fickle. They go in the direction dictated by the tide. Currently, much of the public is following the celebrities and politicians who have made it popular to be pro-LGBT and antihomophobia. It's a mob mentality, which happens to be currently working in our favor. But these people would quickly about-face if what was popular or acceptable changed.

A charismatic leader who makes wild promises has the power to change that tide.

There are a lot of far-right parties in the West today. In the U.K., the Independence Party; in France, National Front; in Italy, the Five Stars Movement; in Hungary, Jobbik; Austria, Freedom Party; Sweden, Sweden Democrats. Nationalist parties with populist campaigns rule over Denmark and Poland. Putin robbed moderate Russian parties of support by making gays the enemies; there is no mystery to it, it is prudent politicking. If it suits any of these other parties, they will be immoral, and without taking a breath to consider the possible innocence of the people they are condemning.

After World War II we said "never again." This was never feasible. Humans are belligerent; there is not a truce countries have made with one another that wasn't broken. The rise of populism puts minorities in danger. LGBTs have to remain aware of shifting political winds, never to lose the foothold we've gained, because we are still at the periphery of society, and not truly within it.

Jack FlanaganJACK FLANAGAN is a writer based in London. Follow him on Twitter @jjjflanagan.
Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Jack Flanagan