Was Hitler a Leftie?

That's certainly not the impression you get when you read Mein Kampf, but you could be forgiven for thinking so when reading some of the libertarian prose I have come across in the last few months. David Henderson, for example, approvingly quotes an article by Llewellyn Rockwell which points out similarities between Nazi economic policy and Keynesianism (both were interventionist). Henderson does not forget to add that Hitler's economics and his murderous policies can be separated only in theory (using an argument which is too ridiculous for me to comment on). The bottom line is that Hitler was part of the left. A smear job, basically.

Now Troy Camplin gives us this:
Naturally, the Left in this country is blaming conservatives for the attack this week on the Holocaust Museum. But there is a problem with this. The man who did it is a racist and, more, a Nazi. Now, racism is a kind of collectivism. And Nazis are National Socialists, and socialism is also a form of collectivism. The distinguishing feature of the Left is their collectivism -- in particular, they are socialists. So really, we should be blaming the far Left for the attack on the Holocaust Museum, as fascism is the natural result of socialism, and racism is a form of collectivism. The Right? Well, American conservatives really aren't on the Right. At least, not fully so. Economically, at least, many are classical liberals (too many are Keynesians, which pushes them toward the "center"). The Right were histprically [sic] royalists, and there aren't many of them in the U.S. Except on the Left, that is. So let us be honest and truthful about this incident: it was an attack perpetuated by someone on the racist far Left. That IS the definition of a Nazi, after all.
There are royalists on the left in the U.S.? That's new to me, but that's not my point.

My point is: This is ridiculous given that the Nazis are the very definition of the extreme right. If I may quote myself commenting elsewhere: "Anyone arguing that fascism isn't 'really' on the right hand side of the political spectrum might as well argue that girls are actually male." On the other hand, it doesn't seem quite as ridiculous when you think about it: Hitler's economic policies were interventionist, his party was called Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei ("National Socialist German Workers Party").

A graph from Wikipedia comes in handy to clear up the confusion. Naturally, it simplifies messy real-world politics, but not as much as the two-dimensional alternative.* It should look familiar to libertarians as it is ascribed to David Nolan, co-founder of the USA's Libertarian Party:

The argument I described above is that because Hitler's policies were low on the economic freedom dimension, he be considered part of the left. But that's not in line with the logic of the Nolan chart. I guess we can all agree that putting people into concentration camps for being homosexuals (to name only one example) gives you low points on the personal freedom scale, so he belongs into the "(Totalitarian) Populist" corner, which sounds about right correct to me.

Does that mean that it's equally incorrect to see Hitler as a right-winger? Well, all of this is ultimately a question of definitions, which can't be right or wrong, but here's what occured to me when thinking about the post quoted above: When nonlibertarian noneconomists talk, they almost always place people or parties on the left-right spectrum according to where those people or parties fall on the personal freedom dimension. That's not better or worse than using the economic freedom dimension, but that's the common usage.** Everybody is fully allowed to depart from it, but then you might as well call girls male.***

And that's why it makes sense to see both conservatives and Nazis as right-of-centre (or at least right-of-the-left): Conservatives want homosexuality or at least gay marriage to be illegal, Nazis went further and put them into concentration camps. Royalism, I think has nothing to do with it.

There are a lot of good arguments against restrictions of economic freedom. Mentioning Hitler isn't one of them.

P.S.: I didn't go into the "kinds of collectivism" part of the quoted argument. Applying that kind of logic, it would be easy to show that Chelsea F.C. are actually a baseball club.

*As a sidenote, the graph nicely illustrates why any anarchist doctrine other than anarcho-capitalism is incoherent.

**You might want to argue that economic freedom is just another kind of personal freedom, but that's just not how the word is used.

***I don't usually lecture native speakers on the common usage of English terms, but given that since I've become an internet user I have been more exposed to English-language than German language media, I am saying this with some confidence.


pj said...

Caution - the following contains gross generalisations.

It is my general experience that these sort of definitional issues receive a lot of prominence in US debates - and I think the reason is that American culture contains a number of taboo labels which can be used to shut down debate without any rational justification.

Most of these labels are to do with the left ('socialist', 'communist', 'welfare', etc) but 'fascist' and 'nazi' are also included.

Therefore it is very important to control what is included in these terms in order to control the debate. Which is why the right, primarily the moronic right epitomised by Bill O'Reilly, gets so het up about the Nazis being 'left wing'.

For those of a more contemplative disposition it is already known that the left-right spectrum fails to capture the complexities of politics - but terms like 'far left' and 'far right' have accepted conventional usage such that 'far left' usually means revolutionary socialists and 'far right' means neo-fascist and other extreme nationalist and associated racial supremacist groups. Note that 'far left' and 'far right' are not really opposite ends of a single spectrum, with the former primarily extreme on the economic spectrum and the latter primarily extreme on the social spectrum.

Now, while accepting that Stalin was 'far left' I have a lot of time for non-authoritarian far left politics, and, at the same time, I am well aware that the evils of Nazism do not discredit right wing arguments for economic liberalism.

Acilius said...

To understand what people like Henderson and Rockwell are thinking when they classify Naziism and fascism as left-wing movements, you have to take a look at the writings of Ayn Rand. Her opposition between "individualism" and "collectivism," and her use of the latter term as a synonym for "evil," has had tremendous influence on the libertarian Right in the USA.