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Any ethnicity

Martin Amis, abandonment of reason

Martin “I am a serious” Amis celebrates the sixth anniversary of 9/11 with a lengthy “analysis“, about which the following things might be said:

i — As richard pointed out with alacrity in comments here, Amis’s attempt at grand irony in claiming that the designation “9/11″ is fitting because “these numerals are, after all, Arabic” is somewhat undercut by the fact that these numerals are not, in fact, Arabic, but Indian in origin. They are called “Arabic” by convention only because they were popularised to Europeans by Arab mathematicians.1

ii — This part, I must say, really does read as though it was written by Craig Brown:

The solecism, that is to say, is not grammatical but moral-aesthetic – an offence against decorum; and decorum means “seemliness”, which comes from soemr, “fitting”, and soema, “to honour”.

Why did Amis not want to give the etymology of “decorum” directly before slyly translating it into “seemliness”? Because Latin decorus simply means “fit” or “proper”, with no necessary connotation of “honour”, and so cannot fit into Amis’s heroic-moral scheme of we noble rational westerners v the perfidious insane enemy.

iii — A propos of the perfidious insane enemy: Amis insists, rather boringly now to any aficionado of his previous fatwas on the matter, that Al Qaeda and their ilk are “mad” and “irrational” – indeed, not only are they mad and irrational, but everyone connected to the only possible historical analogies for their actions, viz., Bolshevism and Fascism, was also mad and irrational. They all partook in:

the rejection of reason – the rejection of the sequitur, of cause and effect, of two plus two.

Yes, even Hitler and Stalin. They did not believe in cause and effect, or in the fact that two plus two equals four.2 How Hitler gained power, or how Stalin micromanaged the military defeat of Hitler, all the while rejecting any belief in cause and effect, must remain a mystery to the devotee of Amisian historiography.

Not content, however, with such plain idiocy, Amis further hopes to approach or mime profundity by smashing words together so that distinctions of meaning are burned away:

Reason, moreover, is one of our synonyms for realism, and indeed for reality.

My initial response to which is: “No, it just isn’t, you whiffling sententious dolt”; but perhaps in comments a reader will be able to offer an example of a sentence in which “reason” really could function as a synonym of either “realism” or “reality”, if not both.

But anyway, the poverty and indeed moral as well as analytical cretinism of such claims about the enemy’s supposed madness and irrationality has already been argued here at unspeak.net in past posts such as Functioning insanity and Irrational movements, so it need not detain us again, unless you really want it to.

iv — Perhaps the most startling part of Amis’s screed is the passage in which he wearily laments the moral cowardice of the modern “liberal relativist”:

We are drowsily accustomed, by now, to the fetishisation of “balance”, the groundrule of “moral equivalence” in all conflicts between West and East, the 100-per-cent and 360-degree inability to pass judgment on any ethnicity other than our own (except in the case of Israel).

So in Amis’s view, we actually should be able to pass judgment on an “ethnicity”, tout court and qua “ethnicity”? Should we be allowed do this with regard to “any ethnicity” at all, or are we winkingly being invited to imagine a specific “ethnicity” that particularly invites our contempt? Which “ethnicity”, exactly, might Mr Amis be thinking of, or silently passing judgment on?

Well, so it goes: the contemporary pro-TWAT mind, in its macho abhorrence of “relativists” and its tumescent glee at the idea of a clash of civilisations, slips all too comfortably into implicit endorsements of racism. Happy 9/11, readers.

  1. The existence at all of Arab mathematicians at any point in history, let alone at a point when Europeans were doing little but grunt and fuck, is itself rather inconvenient to certain conceptions of Arabs as eternally backward and unscientific.
  2. As perhaps Amis meant to write, or might have written if he had thought about it, since “two plus two” is not in itself a proposition inviting acceptance or rejection.
53 comments
  1. 1  Christopher Tracy  September 12, 2007, 1:13 am 

    Shame on you, Steven, you flopcock, for butt-smirching our greatest living word-mangler.

  2. 2  Kevin  September 12, 2007, 1:46 am 

    I like the opening, where parenthetically, Amis makes an esoterism clear to his readers. “In my humble opinion”: what! anybody ever heard that expression before? Bloody Updike; he obfuscates everything!

    “In my humble”, as one of Updike’s Pennsylvanians likes to put it (sparing himself the chore of saying “opinion”), the name for what happened on September 11, 2001, is “September 11”.

  3. 3  richard  September 12, 2007, 1:58 pm 

    Which “ethnicity”, exactly, might Mr Amis be thinking of, or silently passing judgment on?
    …The existence at all of Arab mathematicians… is itself rather inconvenient to certain conceptions of Arabs as eternally backward and unscientific

    Steven, have you ever had a go at “ethnicity”? I’m not at all sure what it means – not quite race, nor tribe – except perhaps in the 19th century literary sense, when “tribe” could be used to describe dogs or blacks or hooligans interchangeably. It might be worth examining in more detail how non-white terrorists might form a novel ethnic group of themselves, which they join through their terrorism – likewise, are “Arab mathematicians,” from Iberia (ibn Rushd) to Central Asia (al Qaswini) an ethnicity?

  4. 4  Aenea  September 12, 2007, 2:10 pm 

    Richard, what’s wrong with saying ‘Arab mathematicians’? It’s akin to ‘European mathematicians’, isn’t it? Of course there would be smaller groups and factions and ethnic groups in there, but you can still refer to the whole.

  5. 5  Justin  September 12, 2007, 2:21 pm 

    I might be hopelessly behind the times but I’d like to see Amis et al try to square universal values (the reason we ‘want’ to ‘bring’ democracy to the Middle East, for example) with ‘moral equivalance’ (the dirty heresy that suggests we should all be judged equally by and for our actions).

    Any help as to where I’m going wrong?

  6. 6  Leinad  September 12, 2007, 2:33 pm 

    Well, Aenea, some of them are Persians.

  7. 7  Leinad  September 12, 2007, 2:43 pm 

    Moreover, you can lump Europeans and North Americans and Kiwis and Aussies together as ‘the West’ if you really want to, if only because the term’s vague enough to hold but ‘Arab’ isn’t shorthand for Persian, Berber, Kurd, Turk or Azeri. Arabic is a distinct ethnicity and language — Europe is a place. Aside from being inaccurate it’s ignorant and you’d be as bad as them calling every European a ‘firanji’ (Frank).

  8. 8  Steven  September 12, 2007, 3:03 pm 

    Leinad: you’re right, it’s more accurate to refer to the Arab and Persian mathematicians who popularised the numerals in Europe, as does the wikipedia entry I linked to. Of course there’s nothing wrong with saying “Arab mathematicians” to refer to mathematicians who were, er, Arabs.

    Richard: not since the section about “ethnic cleansing” in the book. I am still unsure whether the concept of “ethnicity” has any valid use.

    Justin: a very good question…

  9. 9  Donagh  September 12, 2007, 4:06 pm 

    While not a point about the ethnicity of mathematicians, it is worth remembering certain historical inaccuracies that Amis has managed to promulgate while previously yakating on about 9/11 and again its interesting that he’s fixating on numbers. In his review of Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower he says: “..it is the state of mind of the armed fabulist. The conspiracy detected here is the infidel campaign to obliterate the faith. It all began with the retreat of the Turkish armies from Vienna and the confirmation of Islamic decline: the year was 1683 and the day was September 11.”

    Except of course, the siege of Vienna occurred on September 12th, which is today.

    Happy 9/12 everyone.

  10. 10  Tawfiq Chahboune  September 12, 2007, 7:08 pm 

    Not only was the siege of Vienna on September 12, this date has no meaning in the Islamic lunar calendar. And anyway, even if the siege of Vienna was on September 11th, should Muslims infer anything from the numerous Crusader dates that coincide with current Western action in the Islamic world?

    More interesting is the fact that Amis is allowed to continue writing anything about the Islamic world, especially given how ignorant he is. He wrote in the Observer that we should all beware what happens to a country when militant Islamists get power. He pointed to Algeria as an example of a country that was taken over by “Islamo-fascists”, who then massacred tens of thousands of people! Except, as is known to everyone but Amis, it was the military that overthrew the elected FIS and masacred the tens of thousands of people Amis refers to.

    Given Amis’s complete ignorance and stupidity on these topics, it is truly remarkable that major newspapers allow this dimwit space. I get the impression that Amis does not even exist, and all that is left is the hilarious Craig Brown Martin “I am a serious” Amis, with his ruminations on “Comrade Horse Yoghurt” (aka Trotsky).

  11. 11  septicisle  September 12, 2007, 7:21 pm 

    It really was an execrable piece, badly written and confusing as all hell. At least his last attempt, the Age of Horrorism was an interesting read; here he failed completely on all counts.

  12. 12  Alex Higgins  September 12, 2007, 7:45 pm 

    The September-11th-as-anniversary-of-the-siege-of-Vienna claim was first made by Christopher Hitchens, and promptly retracted by him, back in 2001.

    I am surprised, and also not surprised, that Amis gave it another go.

    “How Hitler gained power, or how Stalin micromanaged the military defeat of Hitler, all the while rejecting any belief in cause and effect, must remain a mystery to the devotee of Amisian historiography.”

    This is so good that a mere ‘LOL’ would not do it justice, and indeed, would lack the moral-aesthetic element this post requires.

    I say it only to indicate that I did indeed, laugh out loud.

  13. 13  Steven  September 12, 2007, 8:31 pm 

    Alex, you are very kind. It occurs to me belatedly that one might further wonder why Atta and his gang bothered to fly planes into buildings if they didn’t believe in cause and effect — except that there is little point paying such garbage the tribute of any further rebuttal.

    Mind you, I was also reminded of that famous fascist Keats’s dictum about the great poet with “negative capability”: able to be in doubts and mysteries “without any irritable reaching after fact & reason”. What an insane totalitarian that guy was.

    The Siege of Vienna date thing is really quite resonant as an example of Amis’s own approach to fact and reason while engaged in his stentorian denunciations of the supposed irrationality of others.

  14. 14  Steven  September 12, 2007, 8:33 pm 

    PS to Christopher Tracy: Prince played “Sometimes It Snows In April” at the piano when I saw him on Sunday. Which was nice.

  15. 15  lamentreat  September 13, 2007, 9:56 am 

    …an example of a sentence in which “reason” really could function as a synonym of either “realism” or “reality”…

    There’s Hegel: “The rational is the real and the real the rational,” but I don’t think Hegel is quite what MA has in mind. Also not sure if making two things equivalent is the same as making them synonyms.

  16. 16  Steven  September 14, 2007, 12:12 am 

    That is a very classy attempt: you would win the prize had there been one on offer. (But still, as you say, the sentence’s not being merely an empty tautology depends on the terms’ not being synonyms, depends indeed on their being understood as not-synonyms.)

  17. 17  charlie  September 14, 2007, 11:35 am 

    Wrapping themselves around Vienna with the same malice the Green Belt might around London, there has been at least one happy consequence: my morning croissant.

  18. 18  Gus Abraham  September 14, 2007, 3:37 pm 

    Craig Brown?

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/m.....69241a.jpg

  19. 19  richard  September 14, 2007, 5:25 pm 

    The more I look at this essay, the more I think I’ve seen something like it before. The ludicrous generalisations, the crazy pedantry that turns out to be wrong – could it have been written by Sacha Baron Cohen?

    Is he also the genius behind ‘Melanie?’

  20. 20  Andrew  September 15, 2007, 7:27 pm 

    Though noone who genuinely bothers to become acquainted with the evidence for the various incidents of 911 can believe the official conspiracy theory that purports to explain the events that day.
    In the words of Paul Craig Roberts, the Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury under the Reagan administration & the mastermind behind the economic policy that became known as Reaganomics:
    “There is an inconsistency between the speed with which the WTC buildings collapsed and the “pancaking theory” used to explain the collapse. Another way of putting the problem is that there seems to be a massive energy deficit in the explanation that the buildings fell as a result of gravitational energy. There simply was not sufficient gravitational energy to produce the results.
    For reporting a scientific finding, I was called a “conspiracy theorist.” Only in America is scientific analysis seen as conspiracy theory and government lies as truth.
    …The combination of oddities within 911 become inexplicable, a statistical impossibility.
    Powerfully constructed buildings collapse when there is no source of the required energy to do the job. A large 757 hits the Pentagon but leaves a small hole, and there is no sign of wings, engines, tail or fuselage. Every air control and military procedure fails, and hijacked airliners are not intercepted by jet fighters. The alleged hijackers’ names apparently are not on the passenger lists, and some of the alleged hijackers have been found alive and well in Saudi Arabia.”

    Though, of course, most of us naively accept the rubbish fed to us by the propaganda machines of the day, & with self-satisfied complacency we dismiss as crazy anyone calling blatant false-flag operations as being exactly what they are, ie means towards ends. As Aldous Huxley wrote in Brave New World Revisited, “An intelectual is someone who looks for evidence & is appalled by logical inconsistencies.” Oh & David kelly committed suicide & the Birmingham 6 should still be behind bars.

  21. 21  Leinad  September 16, 2007, 8:00 am 

    9/11 Conspiracy Theories: The belief that whatever took down those towers it couldn’t have been those two passenger jets with near-full fuel tanks slamming in at 550+ kph…

  22. 22  georges  September 16, 2007, 4:36 pm 

    Re – 9/11 demolition theories:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/6987965.stm

  23. 23  Steven  September 17, 2007, 1:05 am 

    To be fair, any account of Atta et al plotting in secret to kill large numbers of people by flying planes into buildings is nothing if not a conspiracy theory.

    I am intrigued by the idea at #20 of a former US Asst Sec (Treasury) suddenly becoming expert on “gravitational energy” or the insufficiency thereof.

  24. 24  Leinad  September 17, 2007, 3:15 am 

    Steven: Not only that, but our ardent investigator here has compiled a vast stastical database of ‘oddities’ and with recourse to trend analysis and regression has been able to determine that the (wholly unprecedented, unique) events of the 1lth of September 2001 are too wacky to have happened.

    No, the obvious explanation is that the flew the planes into the towers, and then blew them up with a vast array of high-explosives — which would only take a couple of days to string up in secret, I’m sure — because as we all the NYC/US populace would shrug off a mere suicide attack on a prominent landmark using commerical jetliners.
    Therefore, it follows that the conspiracy’s masterminds would, in a feat of sublime inspiration, fire a missile at the Pentagon and then claim it was a plane (after sprinkling prefab charred-plane chunks all over the pentagon lawn), because … er…
    oh and they faked the moon landing, Titanic was an inside job (there’s no way ICE can cut SOLID STEEL! It’s a probablistic unpossibility!) Lord Luton was kidnapped by McGeorge Bundy and the CIA in tandom with ‘vanished’ Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt , who has taken on a new identity as Javier Solana…

  25. [...] Given that that passage could have been written by Nick Griffin, I’d say Amis isn’t shy of displaying some characteristically fruity “Morally-Absolutist” ideas which are wholly endorsed by his mate, Christopher Hitchens. (Here is Unspeak on Amis’ most recent bit of literary “Get out the Efniks”). This is Kesavan’s reaction to this execrable bravado: To an Indian, this isn’t language that even the Bharatiya Janata Party would use in public. It’s the rhetoric of explicitly fascist parties: the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Shiv Sena, the Bajrang Dal. This ideological convergence in the ideas of the muscular European liberal and the militant Hindu fascist isn’t an aberration. [...]

  26. 26  Alex Higgins  September 17, 2007, 12:47 pm 

    Actually the bit about the 9/11-was-an-inside-job-fantasy I always liked was the bit with the US ruling class salivating amongst themselves in ever-more-closely-harmonised unison, deciding that what they really wanted to do, above all else, was invade Afghanistan. That land of awesome natural resources and strategic value.

    Because, you know, maybe in 100 years it will be stable enough for Unocal to run a gas pipeline through.

    Anyway, Steven, what’s the policy here with regard to 9/11 Truthers (yes, unspeak I know)? Are commentators encouraged to scold them or does that merely invite extended trolling?

  27. 27  Alex Higgins  September 17, 2007, 12:52 pm 

    “There simply was not sufficient gravitational energy to produce the results.”

    I loved this!

    Why, even the goddam gravity doesn’t work in New York!

    They got bigger gravity in Texas.

  28. 28  abb1  September 17, 2007, 1:30 pm 

    Why, even the goddam gravity doesn’t work in New York!

    Someone should call the Ghostbusters.

  29. 29  Leinad  September 17, 2007, 2:23 pm 

    abb1: I wonder… Were high levels of ectoplasm recorded around the WTC in the weeks leading up to 9/11? We may never know, especially if the dastardly NWO elites have gotten to Dr. Venkmann and co…

  30. 30  Alex Higgins  September 17, 2007, 6:34 pm 

    “A large 757 hits the Pentagon but leaves a small hole, and there is no sign of wings, engines, tail or fuselage.”

    Because when aeroplanes crash into a densely-packed and heavily-fortified building, they should leave an outline of wings and a tail, much like when a cartoon character runs through a wall, we would see a clear impression of his arms, legs, ears and hair.

    Curious though that the Bush administration, after successfully executing 9/11 should so far have been unable to follow through on their plan to break up Social Security. What could be holding up these masterminds?

    Sorry, I’ll stop now.

    It’s just that… it’s… so… easy… and they’re so… annoying…

  31. 31  richard  September 17, 2007, 7:32 pm 

    I remember thinking how odd the photos from the Pentagon crash looked at the time, and how neatly the towers seemed to collapse (obviously, not so neatly in retrospect, and there’s no clear reason why such a structure should topple sideways).

    I’m not surprised both events have created conspiracy theories. In some sense it’s odd, though, that we all seem to have an image in our heads of what such an event should look like, so that we have the capacity to be surprised when it looks different.

  32. 32  Steven  September 17, 2007, 10:55 pm 

    Actually the bit about the 9/11-was-an-inside-job-fantasy I always liked was the bit with the US ruling class salivating amongst themselves in ever-more-closely-harmonised unison, deciding that what they really wanted to do, above all else, was invade Afghanistan.

    Well, there were reports (retrospectively) of US plans to attack Afghanistan prior to 9/11…

    Anyway, Steven, what’s the policy here with regard to 9/11 Truthers (yes, unspeak I know)? Are commentators encouraged to scold them or does that merely invite extended trolling?
    I am intensely relaxed about the prospect of a lengthy thread full of scolding and trolling.

  33. 33  Leinad  September 18, 2007, 8:19 am 

    Alex Higgins: you forgot the big painted sign saying “Yikes!” just before the plane makes impact.

    Wilie. E. Coyote has a lot to answer for…

  34. 34  Jeff Strabone  September 19, 2007, 7:30 am 

    I have no tolerance for ‘conspiracy theories’ about the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but I do concede one legitimate point to the crazies: Bush and Cheney exploited the occasion to justify their executive power grab. In this regard, the terrorist attacks were like the Reichstag fire, the difference being that Bush and Cheney did not set the fire; they only used it to further their Constitution-upsetting ends.

    One more thing. I have noticed over time that Nazi analogies sometimes produce shrieking objections, as if the thing analogized to the Nazis were being accused of genocide. I would remind people that Hitler and the Nazi party perpetrated at least two great evils. One was the extermination of Jews and other targetted groups. The other was the overthrow of parliamentary government. The magnitude of evil represented by Nazi genocide should not obscure the lessons of the Nazis’ rise to power.

  35. 35  Steven  September 19, 2007, 9:26 pm 

    Jeff, that is an important point. (One lost on eg Oliver Kamm: see here and then here and here etc.)

  36. 36  Alex Higgins  September 19, 2007, 11:11 pm 

    Actually the performance of the Bush administration, the FAA, CIA, FBI, NORAD etc. in the build-up to, and on, 9/11 was so dismal that it seems almost generous to suspect that they deliberately conspired to fail so utterly.

    And it is notable that everyone who disgraced themselves on the day, hijackers excluded, were greatly rewarded for it (with political power, public subsidies, Medals of Freedom and election victories), while those who showed genuine bravery and resourcefulness – like NY rescue workers – suffered for it and continue to do so.

    James Ridgeway’s book, ‘The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11′ (which is not a conspiracy speculator book) deals with this stuff very well and with the appopropriate level of bitterness.

    And the 9/11 Commission was pretty disgraceful – go and check the transcripts of testimony from Donald Rumsfeld and Condeleeza Rice and the remarkable sycophancy they were served up. Or the number of times a difficult line of questioning would be followed by Republican members of the commission gently rolling such softballs of the “Dr. Rice, do you take terrorism very, very, extremely seriously?” variety.

  37. 37  Alex Higgins  September 19, 2007, 11:22 pm 

    And Jeff is quite right about the Nazi analogy thing.

    Watching the mock outrage of people who will always refuse to consider serious issues as long as someone, somewhere in the world is comparing something to Hitler in a manner they claim offends them is frankly, very boring.

    Someone recently objected to me using a Nazi analogy to describe contemporary neo-Nazis.

    That one genuinely confused me.

    (Perhaps the response to such people should be to compare absolutely everything to the Nazis until the effort of objection becomes too much for them?)

    Like Jeff said, the rise of the Nazis has a lot of lessons that are important and applicable to quite a few situations. They make a reliable analogy precisely because they are regarded as a benchmark of evil.

    Fascism rightly discredited much of the European Right, and much right-wing thought in general in my view, and it is not surprising that so much emotional energy should be invested in discrediting the use of the analogy.

  38. 38  Steven  September 20, 2007, 1:41 am 

    Actually the performance of the Bush administration, the FAA, CIA, FBI, NORAD etc. in the build-up to, and on, 9/11 was so dismal that it seems almost generous to suspect that they deliberately conspired to fail so utterly.
    I haven’t read Ridgeway’s book, but it seems to me that the question of how eg NORAD did on 9/11 vis-à-vis what it was allegedly told or not told to do by self-appointed CiC Cheney is very murky (and, of course, the Report accepts the Cheney version, as it does with the intriguing yet baffling dispute between him and two other witnesses about when exactly he entered the bunker). The other agencies, despite many well-documented inefficiencies and mistakes, nonetheless conspired to put a blinking red light on Bush’s desk in summer 2001, etc. Blaming a perfect storm of interagency incompetence, which is after all the Administration’s version of events, reminds me a bit of blaming the Iraq war on an “intelligence failure”.

    Someone recently objected to me using a Nazi analogy to describe contemporary neo-Nazis.

    That’s excellent. Someone complained about my referring in Unspeak to the BNP as “neofascist”, which is hardly controversial except among members of the BNP who don’t want to admit it publicly.

  39. 39  Guano  September 20, 2007, 10:09 am 

    Jeff. Hitler and the Nazi Party perpetrated THREE great evils: Extermination of various targeted groups; abolition of parliamentary democracy; invading a number of other countries. It was for the last reason that the UK went to war with Nazi Germany, not the first two. Extermination didn’t really get going until after 1939, and the UK political elite was quite relaxed about the abolition of parliamentary democracy in Germany. It was when Germany started demonstrating its military capability in Spain and annexed Austria and Czechoslovakia that the UK political elite woke up and realised that its own interests were at risk. Panzer Divisions crossing the Polish border were a clear indication that the existing order was at risk.

    The risk of Nazi analogies (and Stalinist ones as well) is that they confuse the various types of evil that are associated with Hitler and Stalin. In 2002 in the UK we were subjected to a propaganda campaign in which newspaper articles used words like “appeasement” and “Munich” (accompanied by twin photos of Hitler and Saddam) to suggest that Saddam was a dictator with a moustache, so one day he might be a threat to stability in the Middle East so we should invade Iraq. A legitimate reason for going to war (imminence of an invasion) was conjured up through the use of the Nazi analogy from the fact that Saddam was a dictator and from his treatment of the Kurds 20 years ago.

    As a reaction against these slippery analogies there is therefore also a tendency to cry “foul” every time any kind of Nazi or Stalinist analogy is used. And then this becomes a feigned outrage that is used to avoid sensible discussions because someone has mentioned the Nazis.

    As I understand it, Chomsky is using an analogy with the attempted de-Nazification programmes in Germany post-1945. He is saying that the invitation to the public to pretend to shoot Vietnamese peasants indicates something in the US mindset that needs to be dealt with. He has a point: it does indicate a tendency to think in the USA that you can make yourself safe by shooting people who look different, and this part of the mindset is no longer appropriate. Unfortunately de-Nazification wasn’t such a great success (Germans looked at photos of concentration camps and went into denial). And fewer people understand what Chomsky means by de-Nazification today than they did in 1969.

  40. 40  richard  September 20, 2007, 12:42 pm 

    Panzer Divisions crossing the Polish border were a clear indication that the existing order was at risk.

    …and yet it took the invasion of France to make Britain actually mobilise troops. This illustrates that WW2 analogies are more generally cursed: there’s always an amateur WW2 head in the room who’s willing to take up any historical claim and beat it to death.

    I’m afraid Nazi analogies never do any good, and usually derail conversations to the point where they can no longer be carried on fruitfully. More generally, they seem to distract us from the very real, and pressing, concerns we have now, which speak loud and clear on their own, without requiring clarification through some process of mythohistorical comparison. What if we all just responded to any attempt to raise the Nazis with “please get back to the substantive point and stop distracting us”?

  41. 41  richard  September 20, 2007, 12:43 pm 

    …self-proclaimed neo-Nazis aside, of course.

  42. 42  Guano  September 20, 2007, 3:09 pm 

    “What if we all just responded to any attempt to raise the Nazis with “please get back to the substantive point and stop distracting us”?”

    Indeed.

  43. 43  Steven  September 20, 2007, 3:15 pm 

    Mmm, but arguably, if one were never allowed to make a Nazi analogy, that might make it easier for some new gang to pursue its neo-Nazi interests. (Although of course one wouldn’t be able to call them that.) Surely it is more reasonable to judge each Nazi analogy on its argumentative merits, in context? Thus, Amis’s analogy of Islamists who don’t believe in cause and effect with Hitler and Stalin is evident garbage on all counts, but other analogies might well be less specious.

  44. 44  Jeff Strabone  September 20, 2007, 5:25 pm 

    I can’t agree with Richard that we should entirely forego Nazi analogies. If some have abused a powerful and instructive analogy, clearer-headed people ought to reclaim it.

    Guano is correct that the Nazis invaded other countries, but this strikes me as not historically unusual. Systematic genocide remains, for the time being, historically rare, and the Nazis represent the superlative instance in both numbers and systematization. One could argue that opposition to parliamentary government is not rare, but here, too, the Nazis distinguished themselves by perfecting a particular set of techniques for achieving and maintaining power. Again, they represent the superlative instance of a fascist tyranny.

    One’s opinion of the aptness of Nazi analogies in this decade may depend on how similar one finds two instances of the exploitation of the burning of famous buildings in the interests of expanding executive power beyond the limits that a healthy parliamentary republic can tolerate. If one remarks that the fires at the Reichstag and at the World Trade Center were followed by legislation to expand executive power in what had been liberal Western democracies, then one may find the analogy apt. Some may find this comparison an instructive historical lesson to bear in mind the next time a famous building is attacked in a previously liberal Western democracy.

    With regard to Nazi evils, one often hears the admonition to Never forget. But we are forgetting the lessons of the Nazis’ fascist rise to power. These days it seems like the Nazis’ record of genocide is pushing their legacy of anti-parliamentarianism out of mind. When I was younger, the Nazis’ place in popular consciousness had more to do with the latter than the former, and that was a problem, too. One may recall Woody Allen’s joke in Annie Hall (1977):

    ‘Awards! They do nothing but give out awards! I can’t believe it. Greatest fascist dictator, Adolf Hitler.’

    Today, I don’t think people, especially young people, commonly think of Hitler as the ‘greatest fascist dictator’. They think of him only as ‘greatest génocidaire’ and by doing so they miss half the point.

    Please don’t misunderstand me: Nazi genocide is an unmitigated evil that should be commemorated and condemned whenever possible. But let us not lose sight of the relevance of the Nazi example of the fascist rise to power. There is still much to learn from it, particularly today, and that is why Nazi analogies are still apt. I’d close this with a reminder about what happens to those who forget the lessons of history, but that would be too obvious. Or would it?

  45. 45  Steven  September 20, 2007, 6:16 pm 

    Nothing is too obvious for unspeak.net!

    Well said.

  46. 46  richard  September 20, 2007, 6:41 pm 

    Fair comments: I just wouldn’t want to be the one trying to hold any current event up to the “as bad as Hitler” standard – which is what tends to happen whenever he’s invoked, and which is so detrimental to discussion. Please note, I’m not deploying it here: I find it a meretricious and irrelevant mode of argument.

  47. 47  Steven  September 20, 2007, 7:22 pm 

    Ah, but as bad as Hitler is a different claim entirely.

  48. 48  lamentreat  September 20, 2007, 7:38 pm 

    Today, I don’t think people, especially young people, commonly think of Hitler as the ‘greatest fascist dictator’. They think of him only as ‘greatest génocidaire’…

    I don’t know if they even think of him as that – more like “universal signifier of total but largely non-specific evil”. Actual knowledge of Germany and Europe 1933-45 seems to bear little or no relation to the willingness to make reference to Hitler, or the Nazis. Even the genocide, I suspect, is fairly little grasped in its detail – “Auschwitz” is a kind of generalized signifier, used by people who couldn’t tell you much about the place or what happened there in anything but the most general terms.

  49. 49  Steven  September 20, 2007, 8:10 pm 

    With regard to the question of alternative conspiracies, it’s tempting to take some kind of view like the following.

    Given that we know for sure that the Bush régime:

    a) fantasized about something like 9/11 for years;

    b) were repeatedly told that something like 9/11 was imminent during the summer of 2001; and

    c) eagerly exploited 9/11 to launch a couple of wars (at least one of which they had fantasized about for years) and arrogate to themselves power of torture, indefinite detention, surveillance etc etc;

    then expending energy on the question of whether they actually perpetrated 9/11 themselves, rather than agitating now to overturn their proven illegal acts, is actually harmful to the battered project of American democracy as it now limps, even if they really did it.

  50. 50  richard  September 20, 2007, 8:57 pm 

    I’d almost buy this, if it weren’t so comically easy to demonstrate that they’re guilty as sin and so practically impossible to get them to pay any kind of price for their illegal acts. Bush et al have been caught perjuring themselves and being otherwise both evil and incompetent so often that it’s no longer news… but who swings, and which of those illegal acts is in danger of being overturned?

  51. 51  Steven  September 21, 2007, 12:15 am 

    I suppose that is a question for the Democratic Party, among others.

  52. 52  Alex Higgins  September 21, 2007, 8:51 pm 

    “Someone complained about my referring in Unspeak to the BNP as “neofascist”, which is hardly controversial except among members of the BNP who don’t want to admit it publicly.”

    You’d be surprised at how many people stick up for the BNP by insisting that it isn’t a fascist party. I certainly was.

    “Blaming a perfect storm of interagency incompetence, which is after all the Administration’s version of events, reminds me a bit of blaming the Iraq war on an “intelligence failure”.”

    Nothing I say should be construed as a defence of the Bush administration!

  53. 53  Steven  September 21, 2007, 11:59 pm 

    I have often wished that one retained powers to police the construal of one’s words long after they are written, but alas, it is not so.



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