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Nazi Germany = McCarthy Era = America Today?

At the end of a long post on whether President Bush can be impeached (in which he labels UNC Prof. Michael Gerhardt a "shill" for the Bush Administration for his contribution to this Salon symposium) Brain Leiter offers this "somewhat tangential comment":

in every society of which I'm aware the vast majority of the preeminent academic figures were, in general, cowards when it came to their own regimes, and apologists for what later generations would see clearly as inhumanity and illegality. This was clear in Germany in the 1930s, as it was in America in the 1950s. There is no reason to think the United States today is any different. (Emphases in original).

While this statement might not equate Nazi Germany with the current regime, it certainly suggests an equivalence between those who failed to oppose Nazism, those who failed to oppose McCarthyism, and those who do not oppose the Bush Administration. Haven't we had enough of these sorts of comparisons?

UPDATE: In an update, Leiter links to an earlier post cataloging alleged similarities and differences between 1930s Germany and America today. Leiter comments:

There is nothing unreasonable, plainly, in worrying that the Bush Administration and its policies represent the coming of fascism in the above sense to the American landscape (mainstream economists, like Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong, have documented the merger of state and corporate power during the Bush years at length)--but it is perhaps more fascism of the Italian, not Nazi, variety, since it has no racial component.

Coming from a somewhat different ideological vantage point, Clayton Cramer e-mails:

It is certainly true that academics overwhelmingly defended the Nazi ideology, in some cases, producing what later came to be embarrassing nonsense about "racial science" and "Jewish physics." Shirer's _Rise and Fall of the Third Reich_ examines this, and points out that even before the Nazis came to power, teachers and professors were largely in sympathy with the Nazis' goals, even if they found their style offensive. It is no surprise that teachers and college students (taking advantage of the newly lowered voting age of 18) voted heavily for the Nazis.

I would agree that nothing has really changed; academics are overwhelmingly on the side of totalitarian thugs throughout the world--but NOT on the side of George Bush (emphasis his).

Maybe things are different at the University of Texas (though I doubt it), but I find the idea that American academics at large are too afraid to criticize the Bush Administration to be quite laughable.

Leiter's claim that academics "are often cowards when it comes to their own regimes" may well apply to us untenured types, however. Academics without tenure rarely criticize their tenured colleagues -- at least not with the harsh language commonly found in Leiter's own posts about those with who he disagrees. If that is cowardice in Leiter's book, so be it. I've accepted such charges before.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Who Are the Fascists?
  2. Nazi Germany = McCarthy Era = America Today?