The Nazis Were Not Left-Wing
I like Dinesh D’Souza. I respect him. He is a man with a lot of unusual, interesting, and thought-provoking ideas. Nevertheless, his position that the Nazis were left-wing is simply a bridge too far. On the Nolan Chart, the Nazis are generally classed as center-right or right-leaning statists, and for good reason. Whatever criteria D’Souza is using to make this determination, it goes without saying that those criteria are not widely accepted. Moreover, it is not just the left that rejects his criteria and methodology, it is also most of the right.
D’Souza claims that the Nazis were leftists, because look at their name (National Socialist German Workers’ Party)! Seems obvious enough, but is it? Well, firstly, “National” modifies “Socialism” in the term “National Socialism”. National Socialists are no more socialists than a pig latin speaker is a latin scholar, or a butt pirate is an actual pirate. Secondly, the principal goal of socialism is to give workers ownership over the means of production, yet Hitler didn’t believe in that at all. In fact, upon assuming power, the Nazis abolished trade unions and the right to strike (sound like leftism to you?). In other words, he disempowered workers and made private industry even more hierarchical. If Hitler was a “socialist”, he was the shittiest socialist ever.
So, what did Hitler mean by this term exactly? While it should be noted that adding the term “socialism” to the party name was controversial early on, and indeed was not included in the original party name (Nazi Party was founded as the “German Workers Party” and made no mention of nationalism or socialism), it is still striking and peculiar that he would use this term. However, upon careful analysis, my conclusion is that what Hitler meant by the term was closer to what has sometimes been dubbed “paternalistic conservatism”. Basically, Hitler felt that all Germans had deep obligations to fellow Germans, in particular that the rich and the powerful had a moral obligation to advance the interests of their own people, via notions of organic society and principles underlying the social contract. Hitler also felt that although private property rights were important, they were not paramount. He felt that some property should be publicly/socially owned (not all property, as actual socialists believe), and that capitalism had to be subordinated to the interests of the collective in some instances. I suspect he and Teddy Roosevelt would have gotten on quite well.
Anyway, that was the extent of Hitler’s commitment to “socialism”. Hitler’s use and understanding of the concept was really no more socialism, in the technical sense, than noblesse oblige is “socialism”. Hitler, in truth, was a fanatical, raving anti-communist, on par with Joseph McCarthy. There was really nothing he loathed more than communism, and his many stirring speeches make this abundantly clear. What’s more, the political left, all over the globe, felt the same antipathy towards the Nazis as the Nazis felt for the left.
Mind you, there is no universally accepted definition of “right” or “left”. What constitutes rightism and leftism varies by nation and circumstance. However, there are some cornerstone ideals that punctuate leftism. Perhaps foremost is the left’s [unholy] obsession with equality. Some political theorists consider this the defining distinction between right and left, namely whether an ideology deems equality to be a desirable societal goal. Needless to say, the Nazis, unlike the Bolsheviks and Reds elsewhere, did not seek absolute equality. They were not hard economic egalitarians, or race egalitarians, or moral egalitarians (relativists). They did not pursue a raceless, classless, or moneyless society. Hitler consistently accommodated capitalism and was quite fond of hierarchy generally. Thus, there is really nothing about Nazism that shouts leftism.
Sure, Hitler held some moderate, liberal, or even leftist views on certain subjects, like animal welfare for example (the same goes for many conservatives by the way, given that very few people are ideologically pure). However, it should be noted that many far-right people take a pretty hard line on animal welfare too. Ultimately, Nazi ideology was complicated, convoluted, syncretistic. The Nazi worldview is not easily defined or categorized. However, calling Nazis left-wing is simply not a claim with any substantial basis in the evidence. Some Nazi ideas or policies could be described as more leftist than rightist, but in the aggregate, the claim is simply nonsense. The Nazis were creatures of the right. Even if you place them closer to the center, they are still far from the left-wing.
Others who claim Nazis are leftists invoke the concept of collectivism. They claim Nazis were “collectivists”, automatically rendering them lefties rather than righties. Now, this is a particularly hard claim to refute, in part because the term “collectivism” is not all that well defined. Nevertheless, nationalism, organized religion, and democracy (to name a few) are all widely understood to be forms of collectivism. Needless to say, American conservatives are very selective about the kinds of “collectivism” they oppose. In other words, they aren’t against collectivism per se, they seem to only be against certain types of it (like racism, although they weren’t always against that, and aren’t against that in most parts of the world). Hardly a persuasive argument as to why Nazism is left-wing.
Furthermore, if we examine conservatism elsewhere, like on the European continent for example, there is a strong emphasis on community, on national traditions, on group interests, and on collective continuity with the past, and a far weaker emphasis on individualism, individual rights, and individual liberties. On the old continent, these latter values (individualistic ones) are generally associated not so much with conservatism and tradition, but with liberalism and modernity. Anyhow, the notion that thinkers on the right reject “collectivism” wholesale, is not supported by any available evidence. Righties, even here in America, readily adopt collectivistic attitudes on many subjects when so inclined (abortion being another).
D’Souza also claims that Nazis are left-wing because they are statists (they support “big government”, whatever that means). However, even on the most casual analysis, this claim crumbles spectacularly. In the first place, it is not the willingness of a movement or idea-system to wield state power, but rather the goals pursued in wielding that state power, which separates the right from the left. Nothing about the Nazis’ goals can rightly be understood as left-wing. Acquiring resources via conquest, the wholesale eradication of competing tribes, national and ethnic rebirth, a return to deep [Germanic] roots and traditions, etc. are not left-wing ideals or goals. The Nazis believed in duty and sacrifice for the collective. They did not believe in hedonism, moral relativism, absolute social leveling, or twelve year old drag-queens. Where exactly is the leftism then in Nazism?
In the second place, American “conservatives” don’t oppose big government. Not really anyway. The tax rates in Nazi Germany were much lower than tax rates in contemporary America. The US Government also has far more resources and relative power/control than did the Nazi Government. I mean, we have cops on every corner in most major cities, and a surveillance state the Nazis would blush at. So, if “big government” is the key factor which makes a nation or an ideology left-wing, America is pretty hard-left and certainly far to the left of Nazi Germany. The only area the Nazi regime can really compete with the American government as far as big government is concerned, is on militarism and military spending. However, military spending is often rightly associated with right-wing politics here in America. In other words, if anything, this commonality doesn’t separate Nazi Germany from the political right, it links it to the American right!
Many of the remaining claims underlying the absurd view that the Nazis were left-wing are simply bald-faced lies, like, for example, that Hitler was an ardent gun-control proponent. In fact, Hitler only restricted gun rights for Jews and citizens of occupied countries, both because he was a maniacal anti-semite, and also because he understandably did not want uprisings in the East. Conservatives are right to argue that governments will often disarm their own people to suppress or disable resistance to their totalitarian agenda, but Hitler’s gun control policies were very limited/targeted. Hitler actually loosened up the fairly strict gun control policies which had been put into place during the time of the Weimar Government, a government dominated by leftists. He expanded gun rights for ninety-eight percent of the population. He didn’t disarm his own people (Germans), to achieve a non-violent utopia or an easily controlled and repressed citizenry, he only disarmed other people (non-Germans). That is a critical distinction, and it distinguishes Nazi policy from communist policy and leftist policies more broadly. Hitler was a decorated war veteran. He was no David Hogg or anti-gun zealot. He was not squeamish about firearms or violence.
Ultimately, there is plenty of space on the right for factions that disagree vehemently. There is space for republicans and monarchists, for Nazis and paleolibertarians, for Alt-Righters and normiecons, for neocons and paleocons. It seems to me this inane claim about the Nazis being left-wing is driven by a basal, albeit childish desire on the part of righties to distance themselves from all things Nazi-related. The problem is, this is both silly and unnecessary. You can share a side of the political spectrum with Nazis and yet detest and reject Nazism, just as true liberals can detest and reject traditional Marxism (or Cultural Marxism for that matter). Men like D’Souza doth protest a bit too much methinks. The right side of the political spectrum is spacious and ideologically diverse. It is not comprised of people who agree on everything, it never will be, and it never should be.
-Amalric de Droevig