James Patterson’s “Woman of God”: Its Call to Reform the Catholic Church from Below

woman-of-god-image

James Patterson surprised me recently by publishing a book about the Catholic Church and faith. Usually, of course, Paterson deals with the world and adventures of ex-F.B.I. agent Alex Cross. There Patterson’s fiction revolves around spies, the C.I.A., terrorists, murder and general mayhem.

So I was intrigued when I came across Woman of God. I was even more surprised to find it addressing the problem of reform in the Catholic Church. In fact, the book might be seen as a parable – if we understand parable as a fictional story inviting its audience to conversion and action. The action in question is transformation of the Catholic Church independent of established church authority.

Woman of God traces the life of Brigid Fitzgerald, a not particularly religious physician, whose first assignment takes her to Africa’s Sudan. There horrendous experiences with grinding poverty, terrorist attacks, battlefield operations and dying children drive her to rediscover her long-abandoned faith.

The book is filled with prayers and mystical reflections about the unity of creation and of humankind. It also details Brigid’s series of romantic relationships and marriages that all end tragically. As a result, I sometimes thought I was reading one of those Christian romances where each and every plot turn is cloyingly related to God, faith and prayer.

But Patterson somehow pulls this one off.

With her faith deepening with every chapter, Brigid’s second marriage joins her with a progressive Catholic priest. Together they start the Jesus, Mary and Joseph (JMJ) Catholic Church. It offers an alternative to the local parish, but stubbornly continues to identify as Catholic, even over the objections and threats of the local bishop. Eventually, Brigid herself becomes a priest – ordained by a dissident prelate.

Gradually JMJ becomes a movement that spreads across the United States. So does Brigid’s fame as a married female cleric. Accordingly, she receives threats from conservative Catholics and accolades from almost everyone else. A final seal of approval comes from the pope himself, when Brigid (and her daughter) are summoned to Rome to meet the Holy Father. When he eventually dies, there is even speculation that Brigid herself might be chosen pope.

The connections between Woman of God and bottom-up reform of the Catholic Church are obvious – especially in the light of prospects that threaten the very continuity of human life on our planet. As parable, the book calls committed Catholics to actually do something by way of resistance that calls upon the Church’s long (a neglected) social justice tradition. it’s time, the story suggests, to start a JMJ church of our own.  Committed Catholics must become the change Pope Francis called for in his landmark Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel.

Chris Hedges’ recent article on the state of our country intimates something similar. We’re living in circumstances that parallel events in 1933 Germany, he says. As Hedges argues, all of our institutions – government, military, police, media outlets, schools and universities, churches and synagogues – have been too long silent. We’ve simply gone along with their own gradual corruption. When it’s all over, we’ll stand there scratching our heads and wondering how we could have let it all happen.

Regarding the role of churches, Hedges predicts we will ask:

“Where were the great moral and religious truth tellers? Why did they use the language of identity politics as a substitute for the language of social justice? Why did they refuse to condemn as heretics those on the Christian right, which fused the symbols of the state with those of the Christian religion? Why did they collaborate with the evil of corporate capitalism? Why did they retreat into churches and synagogues, establishing exclusive social clubs, rather than fight the injustice outside their doors? Why did they abandon the poor? Why did they replace prophetic demands for justice with cloying political correctness and personal piety?”

Chris Hedges suggests that only a deeply engaged spirituality focusing on social justice can save Catholics from repeating the “go-along-to-get-along” mistakes they committed under Nazism. We need the U.S. equivalent of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Confessing Church. We need a JMJ community that will make its business resistance of all forms of Trumpism in the name of Jesus’ God.

Recall what Bonhoeffer, Pastor Niemoller, Karl Barth and others did when Adolf Hitler came to power. They saw their churches silent at best, and at their worst actually cooperating with Hitler by giving him their blessings. So they started their “Confessing Church.” Originally the movement concentrated on ecclesiastical threats from Hitler. Later however those foci broadened to embrace persecuted Jews. In the face of concentration camp atrocities, its members ended up asking

“Why does the church do nothing? Why does it allow unspeakable injustice to occur? … What shall we one day answer to the question, where is thy brother Abel? The only answer that will be left to us, as well as to the Confessing Church, is the answer of Cain. (“Am I my brother’s keeper?” Genesis 4:9)

Catholics should make the Confessing Church’s question our own as Nazism has morphed into the contemporary Alt-right. In the face of its current unprecedented threat, corresponding action is required that works every day for the defeat of the neo-fascism Trumpism represents. And the Catholic Church with its unparalleled social teaching (recently expanded by Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’) offers us the guidance we need to shape the responses of a present-day Confessing Church.

Following the parabolic example of Brigid Fitzgerald and her JMJ Church, here’s what we might do:

  • Admit that in most cases, present forms of church are hopelessly disconnected from the unprecedented tragedy and threat represented by the accession to power of the Neo-Fascist Alt-Right.
  • Recognize the power of the Catholic tradition as expressed by Pope Francis as he addresses climate change, environmental destruction, income inequalities, racism, xenophobia, and interminable wars.
  • Publicly move out of our local church building.
  • Open store front JMJ Catholic churches with names such as “St. Francis’ Catholic Church of Resistance.”
  • Invite former Catholics, college students, and other disaffected church members to join.
  • Publish the invitation in local newspapers.
  • Meet in the store front for Eucharist each Sunday at the very times the local church celebrates Mass.
  • Empower faithful women in the JMJ community to preach and celebrate the Eucharist.
  • Gather in the storefront on Wednesday evenings to plan the week’s acts of resistance to Trumpism in all of its manifestations.

Certainly there will come objections from sincere Catholics. They will say:

  • We have no authority to do this.
  • It’s better to continue our reform efforts from within.
  • This will only cause division in our church.
  • The status quo really doesn’t bother me, because I use the quiet provided by Sunday Mass to facilitate my own prayer life.
  • (If, like me, you’re of a certain age) I’m too old for such radical disruption of my life.

To such objections Brigid Fitzgerald might reply:

  • As baptized Catholics, we have all the authority we need. Given the unprecedented threats we face, none of us can wait for top-down leadership to address them adequately. (This was the conclusion of the Confessing Church.)
  • Reform from within? Remember: some of us are operating in churches where announcements deemed “too political” are forbidden. Some parishes don’t even have Peace and Social Justice Committees.
  • Division in our churches? The divisions that already exists are precisely the problem. Papering over such fissures actually prevents even naming the problem of Trumpism.
  • Withdrawing into personal prayer? The times will not allow us the luxury of such pietism in the face of a threat that is truly planetary.
  • Too old? Christian faith will not allow us to identify with the physical as if we were primarily bodies with souls. Our spirits are ageless. The truth is that we are primarily ageless spirits who happen to inhabit temporary bodies. The imperative for action is no less incumbent on older people than on the young. Moreover, the JMJ movement promises to invite energetic college students (and others) to join us as leaders in our community.

This is not time for those with experience to step back and relax. Like Brigid Fitzgerald our experiences have caused us to mature. They have made us wise. That wisdom tells us that time is running out – for us personally, for our children and grandchildren, and for the planet itself. These unprecedented times call for radical response.

Thank you, James Patterson for your parable and its summons to Catholics. It remains for us to respond.

Charlie Hebdo: a Thought Experiment

 

 

Jews 1

If World War II Jews did in Berlin exactly what the Charlie Hebdo killers did in Paris, they would be considered heroes, not terrorists. That realization alone should help us re-vision what took place in Paris last week. It should make us more careful about using the term “terrorism” in the context of our country’s so-called “War on Terror.”

To get what I mean, perform the following thought experiment.

Imagine Germany in 1943. The country is at war with Russia, Great Britain, France, and the United States. The Jewish holocaust is in full operation. German newspapers and magazines are full of anti-Semitic propaganda including grotesque cartoons (like the one above) depicting Jews in general and their Jewish faith in particular. The ones attacking Judaism and Moses are especially offensive to devout Jews throughout the diaspora.

One dark morning in Berlin, two Jewish gunmen burst into the offices of Lustige Blatter , the German humor magazine which as part of Germany’s war effort specializes in the publication of anti-Semitic cartoons. The gunmen know the particular cartoonists they’re looking for. They’re delighted to find them protected by a couple of Ordnungspolizei.

The gunmen open fire.

With their bloody work finished, the killers leave twelve bodies of Lustige Blatter cartoonists, copy writers, and Orpo bodyguards dead on the office floor. The assassins flee the premises.

Later on, they’re cornered and killed in a fire fight with the Gestapo.

How would the world outside the Reich’s orbit react to that sequence of events?

  • Would it consider the Jewish perpetrators “terrorists”?
  • Would it sympathize with massive protests defending the press freedom of the Lustige Blatter cartoonists to make fun of Jews and their religion?
  • Would it admire those waving banners declaring “Ich bin Lustige Blatter” while demonstrating in Berlin’s central Paris Square on behalf of the right to insult Jews and their faith?
  • Would it expect their leaders to join Adolph Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Tojo at those demonstrations?

The answer to each of those questions is probably a resounding NO! Most likely, the only ones considering the shooting an act of terrorism would be supporters of the Third Reich.

If that’s true, the thought experiment puts into perspective the events of last week surrounding the horrific events in Paris connected with the Charlie Hebdo shootings. It enables us to see this latest event in the “war on terror” from the viewpoint of the other side.

It reminds us that.

  • The Charlie Hebdo killers are combatants in a war and have grievances as real as any that Jews had in 1943.
  • For example, over the last fourteen years, western governments have daily killed untold (literally) numbers of Muslim civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and elsewhere throughout the world.
  • More specifically, their recent attacks on Palestinians killed more than 2000 in Gaza (mostly civilians) including 500 children.
  • By some counts, more than one and a half million Muslims (mostly civilians) have been slaughtered in the allied invasion of Iraq since 2003.
  • In war, both sides kill one another; retaliations are routine and to be expected; they are part of war, not to be considered acts of terrorism.
  • In war (as the above thought experiment shows) most would consider propagandists and psy-ops agents as vital cogs in the combat machine, and hence legitimate targets.

And now a final thought. . . .

What if, during WWII, again during the holocaust, a group of 19 Jews from the Warsaw ghetto somehow hijacked three Lufthansa airliners? And suppose they flew two of them into Berlin’s tallest building housing the offices of companies like AIG Insurance, Bayer Pharmaceuticals, Krupp Aviation, and Volkswagen — all vital to the German war effort?

How would we remember those Jews? Would we consider them “terrorists” or heroes?

Hmm.

The bottom line is this: if western governments insist on fighting a “War on Terrorism,” they have to expect counter-attacks even on what the “enemy” considers war propagandists and psy-ops personnel.

Simply put, that’s war.

Twenty Lessons I learned from My 40 Years of Teaching Social Justice

mike teaching

During the fall semester of 2014, I taught a Religion course at Berea College called “Poverty and Social Justice.” The course was personally significant because it rounded off 40 years of teaching at Berea, where my first class convened in 1974 – exactly 40 years ago. I remember how I came to Berea, fresh from leaving the priesthood, on fire from Vatican II, sensing the increasing importance of liberation theology (see below) and (naively) ready to change the world.

In this 2014 semester, nineteen students (mostly juniors and seniors) participated in REL 126. The students were engaged, committed, funny, energetic and smart. They, along with our readings, films and required community activism, taught me a great deal.  And that, by the way, has been my consistent experience since 1974 – I’m the principal beneficiary of the courses I’ve taught. (I’m thankful every day for the path Life has so gently led me follow.)

In any case, I’d like to share twenty of my own specific learnings here. Of course, none of my students would be able to draw these conclusions. After all, they were exposed to the underlying historical events and to the resulting ideas for the first time during the course. However for me, as I’ve indicated, REL 126 represented a kind of capstone to forty years of teaching and nearly half a century of trying to understand the world from the viewpoint of its disenfranchised majority. Grasping that understanding, I’ve come to realize, is the only hope of salvation our world has.

But before sharing those conclusions, let me tell you a bit more about the course itself.  Like all of my courses over the years, its basic purpose was to stimulate critical thought about poverty, hunger and what the Christian tradition teaches about social justice. Our readings included Ron Sider’s Just Generosity, Cynthia Duncan’s Worlds Apart, and the Bread for the World 2014 Hunger Report. We also analyzed the (still relevant) 1973 Pastoral Letter by the U.S. Catholic bishops of Appalachia, “This Land Is Home to Me.”

In addition, all of us attended monthly meetings of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC) and volunteered for their “Get out the Vote” actions. A KFTC activist spent two of our class periods leading us in a game of “Survive or Thrive,” a wonderfully instructive game she had invented to replicate the problems of international “free trade” agreements. The activist wasn’t our only class guest.  A grass roots entrepreneur from a clothing factory in Nicaragua and a Glenmary priest-activist campaigning against Appalachian mountaintop removal also graced our classroom.

Inspired by Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, and taking Plato’s Allegory of the Cave as our guiding image, the course had us attempting to re-vision U.S. history from the viewpoint of the poor and disenfranchised rather than “the official story” of presidents, generals, the rich and the famous.

So we made sure that our current events source reflected those usually neglected viewpoints. To that end, students watched and reported regularly on “Democracy Now.” We even spent some class time watching and discussing a number of interviews with street-level newsmakers by the show’s anchor, Amy Goodman. Additionally class participants researched and reported on issues highlighted on the program including climate change, police militarization, prison privatization, the philosophy of Ayn Rand, reparations to descendants of African slaves, the campaign for a living wage, the rise of ISIS in the Middle East, and Israel’s bombing of Palestinians in Gaza.

In line with our commitment to understanding the experience of the actually poor and disenfranchised, our approach to the Christian tradition in this religion course was that of liberation theology – understood as “reflection on the following of Christ from the viewpoint of those working for the liberation of the poor and oppressed.” Our readings here were drawn from a series on the topic which I had authored and published on my blog site.

A screening of the film “Romero” along with some other shorter documentaries, put flesh on those intentionally brief to-the-point readings. The documentaries emphasized U.S. sponsorship of third world dictatorships under genocidal U.S. allies like Pinochet (Chile), Saddam Hussein (Iraq), the Duvaliers (Haiti) and Somozas (Nicaragua), Mobutu (Congo), and Diem (Vietnam).

Together our intentionally subversive approaches to history and faith were intended to expose students to the untold history of the United States, and to the untold story of Jesus of Nazareth.  From all of this, I drew the twenty conclusions I mentioned earlier. Remember, my students could never reach such conclusions. My hope is that someday (if they continue reading outside the dominant culture) they might:

  1. Historically speaking, the United States is the country Adolf Hitler and his backers imagined Germany would be had they triumphed in World War II – the absolute ruler of the capitalist world at the service of corporate interests. In short, the U.S. has become the fascist police state Adolf Hitler aspired to lead.
  2. As such the principal enemies of the United States are those Hitler imagined being the protégés of “Jewish Madness”—viz. the world’s poor and disenfranchised.
  3. These are (and have been since the end of World War II) the objects of what C.I.A. whistle-blower, John Stockwell, has termed the ”Third World War against the Poor” located throughout the developing world. It has claimed more than seven million victims.
  4. This war by the United States has made it the principal cause of the world’s problems in general and especially throughout the former colonial world, as well as in the Middle East, Ukraine, and in the revived threat of nuclear war, along with the disaster of climate change.
  5. Its war against the poor has made the United States a terrorist nation. Compared to its acts of state terrorism (embodied e.g. in its worldwide system of torture centers, it unprovoked war in Iraq, illegal drone executions, the unauthorized bombings in Syria, its preparations for nuclear war), the acts of ISIS and al-Qaeda are miniscule.
  6. Far from “the indispensable nation,” the United States is more aptly characterized (in the words of Martin Luther King) as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” Without the U.S., the world would be far less violent.
  7. At home, “our” country increasingly tracks the path blazed by Nazi Germany. It has become a state where corporate executives and their government servants are excused by one set of laws, whereas U.S. citizens are punished by another. Following this regime, law-breakers go unpunished; those who report them are prosecuted.
  8. This type of law is increasingly enforced by a militarized police state in which law enforcement officers represent an occupying force in communities where those they are theoretically committed to “protect and defend” are treated as enemies, especially in African-American and Latino communities.
  9. As a result, new wave of “lynchings” has swept the United States at the hands of “law enforcement” officers who execute young black men without fear of punishment even if their murders are recorded on video from beginning to end.
  10. In addition, disproportionate numbers of blacks and Latinos have been imprisoned in for-profit gulags that rival in their brutality Nazi concentration camps.
  11. The point of the militarized police state and prison culture is to instill fear in citizens – to discourage them from constitutionally sanctioned free speech, protest and rebellion.
  12. As in Nazi Germany, the dysfunctions of “America’s” police state (including poverty, sub-standard housing and schools, drug addiction, and broken families) are blamed on the usual suspects: the poor themselves, especially non-white minorities. They are faulted as undeserving welfare dependents and rip-off artists. Systemic causes of poverty are routinely ignored.
  13. In reality, welfare and other “government programs” represent hidden subsidies to corporate employers such as Wal-Mart and McDonalds. These latter pay non-living wages to their workers and expect taxpayers to make up the difference through the programs just mentioned.
  14. Government programs such as food stamps could be drastically shrunk and limited to the disabled, children, and the elderly, if all employers were compelled to pay their workers a living wage adjusted for inflation on an annual basis. Currently, that wage must be at least $15.00 an hour.
  15. Moreover, since education quality and achievement are the most reliable predictors of students’ future poverty levels, the U.S. education system should be nationalized, teachers’ salaries should be dramatically increased, and all facilities K through 12 regardless of location should enjoy highly similar quality.
  16. All of this should be financed by declaring an end to the so-called War on Terror, withdrawing from foreign conflicts and reducing by two-thirds the U.S. military budget.
  17. Instead, the current system of corporate domination, state terrorism, war against the world’s poor, and lynching of minority men is kept in place by rigging the nation’s electoral system in favor of right wing extremists. They control the system through practices such as unlimited purchase of government (the Citizens United decision), voter suppression tactics (e.g. voter I.D. laws), redistricting, and rigged voting machines. They do not want everyone to vote.
  18. U.S. citizens are kept unaware of all this by a mainstream media and (increasingly) by a privatized system of education owned and operated by their corporate controllers.
  19. As a result, revolution has been rendered inconceivable.
  20. The only hope and prayer is for a huge general economic crash that will awaken a slumbering people.

Why Did Capitalists Support Hitler?

hitler financed

[This is the fifth entry in a series on “How Hitler Saved Capitalism and Won the War.”(The previous mini-essays are found under the heading “Hitler and Christianity” just below the masthead of this blog site.) I’m running the series because the triumph of “Hitlerism without Hitler” led by the United States is becoming more evident by the day. (Citations here are from Jackson Spielvogel’s text, “Western Civilization,” a source commonly used in courses by the same name in colleges and universities. John K. Galbraith’s “The Age of Uncertainty” (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1977) and Hagen Schultze’s “Germany: A New History” (Trans. Deborah Lucas Schneider (Cambridge Harvard University Press, 1998) are also cited.]

Capitalists supported Hitler because he would not threaten the most important element of their system (private property), because he would keep their working class antagonists under control, and because his anti-Semitism promised to eliminate a major source of commitment to the victims of social Darwinism. Consider the first two points here. The reasons for Hitler’s anti-Semitism will be discussed later.

To begin with, the most important component of the capitalist system is private ownership of the means of production. To save that, capitalists during the 1930s generally agreed that it would be necessary to tinker with the system’s two other defining elements, viz. free and open markets, and unlimited earnings. That is, to save the system, the German government would have to intervene in markets and modestly limit and redistribute some income. Despite pressure from some in his party, Hitler assured his powerful backers that he would not generally nationalize German industry. Once again, Spielvogel makes this clear:

“In the economic sphere, Hitler and the Nazis also established control, but industry was not nationalized as the left wing of the Nazi Party wanted. Hitler felt that it was irrelevant who owned the means of production so long as the owners recognized their master. Although the regime pursued the use of public works projects and “pump-priming” grants to private construction firms to foster employment and end the depression, there is little doubt that rearmament was a far more important contributor to solving the unemployment problem” (799).

Again, as we shall see below, Hitler’s approach to Depression economics was not far removed from Franklin Roosevelt’s. Consciously or unconsciously, it was classic Keynesianism with its refusal to nationalize extensively, and with its public works and “pump-priming” grants aimed at ending widespread unemployment. John Kenneth Galbraith, Roosevelt’s chief economic advisor, makes this point.

“The Nazis were not given to books. Their reaction was to circumstance, and this served them better than the sound economists served Britain and the United States. From 1933, Hitler borrowed money and spent – and he did it liberally as Keynes would have advised. It seemed the obvious thing to do, given the unemployment. At first, the spending was mostly for civilian works – railroads, canals, public buildings, the Autobahnen. Exchange control then kept frightened Germans from sending their money abroad and those with rising incomes from spending too much of it on imports. The results were all a Keynesian could have wished. By late 1935, unemployment was at an end in Germany. By 1936, high income was pulling up prices or making it possible to raise them. Likewise wages were beginning to rise. So a ceiling was put over both prices and wages, and this too worked. Germany, by the late thirties, had full employment at stable prices. It was, in the industrial world, an absolutely unique achievement.” (Galbraith 213-14)

Galbraith’s words concretize the basic elements of John Maynard Keynes’ interventionist approach to economic reform, which Hitler unwittingly adopted. The key was borrowing and spending with abandon. Railroads, canals and superhighways renovated Germany’s economic infrastructure for capitalists, while putting the unemployed to work. Public buildings were given new faces when administration centers, court houses, libraries and post offices were renovated or rebuilt. Meanwhile, local industry was protected by way of exchange controls preventing the well-to-do from not “buying German.” And, as Galbraiath says, it all worked. Unemployment plummeted; wages, prices and profits rose. Hitler then applied wage and price controls, all with such great success that by 1935 Germany had already largely emerged from its depression. Capitalism had been saved. Socialists and communists had largely lost the grounds for their critique of the system.

Besides his reassuring approach to private ownership of the means of production, Hitler attracted capitalist support because of his labor policy. For one thing, he eliminated labor unions independent of the state. Thus employers were relieved of the threat of strikes and of the necessity of protracted collective bargaining sessions. For their part, workers were impressed by Hitler’s spectacular job-creation programs. They also saw their benefits packages improve, along with free time activities (Schulze 256). The key concept here was that of control. Secretary of Labor, Robert Ley, made sure mollified workers would not prove threatening to their employers.

“The German Labor Front under Robert Ley regulated the world of labor. The Labor Front was a single, state-controlled union. To control all laborers, it used the work-book. Every salaried worker had to have one in order to hold a job. Only by submitting to the policies of the Nazi controlled Labor Front could a worker obtain and retain a workbook. The Labor Front also sponsored activities to keep the workers happy” (Spielvogel 800).

Such pro-capitalist policy and the manipulation of the German labor movement led some on the left to see Hitler as a puppet of “monopoly capitalism.” For instance, a 1932 cover of AIZ Magazine portrayed the “real meaning of the Hitler salute.” It pictured der Fuhrer’s extended right hand raised, palm open, to receive money from a huge bourgeois figure standing directly behind (Schulze 239). The cover’s intention was to unveil the ultimate source of Hitler’s power.

Hitler capitalism

Hitler and Capitalism

John Ralston Saul

[This is the fourth entry in a series on “How Hitler Saved Capitalism and Won the War.”(The previous mini-essays are found under the heading “Hitler and Christianity” just below the masthead of this blog site.) The entry below follows a third installment which attempted to clear up some common misconceptions about fascism which many see as threatening to take over the U.S. today just as it did Germany in the early 1930s. Fascism, the last entry concluded, might best be defined as “capitalism in crisis.” The current installment looks more specifically at Hitler’s relationship to capitalism. (Unless otherwise indicated, all references are to Jackson Spielvogel’s text, “Western Civilization,” a source commonly used in courses by the same name in colleges and universities.)]

To understand Adolph Hitler’s connection to capitalism, it helps to distinguish common perceptions from what textbooks like Spielvogel actually say. Common perceptions are that the German economy was devastated following World War I. The impositions of the Treaty of Versailles are well-known. Images of Germans marshaling wheelbarrows full of deutsch marks to pay their grocery bills are fixed in everyone’s mind. After the Great War, inflation was rampant. In such context, Hitler’s rise to power is typically explained as the reaction of a humiliated German people to the Allies’ shortsighted demands for war reparations and border concessions inherent in their Treaty. Germans were so desperate, the story goes that they turned to a madman, Adolph Hitler, to restore their national pride.

Of course, there is truth to such understanding. Germany’s economy was in a shambles after World War I. Inflation had reached unprecedented levels. Ordinary Germans saw their earnings and pensions disappear. They were humiliated, desperate and in search of an alternative to the Weimar Republic which was under fire from factions on both the left and the right.

However, two key realities, relevant to the argument at hand, are often overlooked about Germany’s post-World War I situation. The first reality is that by the time Hitler emerged as a serious factor in the German political scene, the country’s economy had long since been intensively and triumphantly capitalist. Already by 1870, Germany had become Europe’s undisputed industrial leader, replacing Great Britain in that role (Spielvogel 682). By the 1920s, the country’s real reins of power were firmly in the hands of capitalist giants.

Germany’s most effective leadership came no longer from the aristocrats of William II’s Empire. Much less was it provided by Paul von Hindenburg, the backward-looking monarchist who succeeded Friedrich Ebert and Gustav Stresemann to head the country in the mid-twenties. Instead, leadership and power found location in the private enterprises today being sued for compensation by those they employed as slave labor during Hitler’s Reich. That leadership resided in banking industry giants such as Deutsche Bank and Dresdner Bank; in auto-makers, Volkswagen and BMW; in chemical and pharmaceutical companies Bayer, Hoechst, and BASF; in industrial firms Degussa-Huels, Friedrich Krupp and Siemens; and in the Allianz Insurance Company.

Secondly, Spielvogel makes it clear that Germany’s economy had largely rebounded from the devastation inflicted by the Treaty of Versailles. In fact, from 1924-1929, the country actually participated in “the Roaring Twenties.”

“The late 1920s were . . . years of relative prosperity for Germany, and, as Hitler perceived, they were not conducive to the growth of extremist parties. He declared, however, that the prosperity would not last and that his time would come” (796).

Hitler, of course, was correct that his party’s time had not yet come. During the ‘20s, Hitler’s Nazis remained a minor right-wing faction. For example, in the elections of 1928, the Nazis gained only 2.6 percent of the vote and only twelve seats in the German Parliament (796).

Hitler was also correct that his time would come. It arrived with the onset of the Great Depression (796). The collapse of market economies throughout the industrialized world had their leaders scrambling to save a system that seemed moribund. Socialists and communists were gleeful and ascendant. Indeed, in 1934, Josef Stalin convoked a “Congress of Victory,” to celebrate socialism’s apparent triumph over capitalism and what he called “the end of history.”

As Spielvogel reports, such threats from the left forced German capitalists to turn to Hitler as their Messiah. Industrialists and large landowners provided the firm base of support he needed. More specifically, the elite were fearful, because the Depression’s economic hard times had given heart (and popular appeal) to socialists and communists who in Russia had seized power in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Spielvogel writes:

“Increasingly, the right-wing elites of Germany, the industrial magnates, landed aristocrats, military establishment, and higher bureaucrats, came to see Hitler as the man who had the mass support to establish a right-wing, authoritarian regime that would save Germany and their privileged positions from a Communist takeover” (796).

The capitalist nature of Hitler’s system stands clear in this description – though it is fogged by circumlocutions. The attentive reader should note that, along with the military hierarchy and government administrators, the powers behind Hitler’s takeover of Europe’s leading capitalist nation are the captains of industry and large landowners.

Spielvogel’s avoidance of the term “capitalists” seems dictated by concerns about “political correctness” in a textbook intended for educational institutions whose mission is to inculturate rather than to raise consciousness. Once again, such avoidance contributes to general misconceptions about the nature of the Nazi regime.

(Next week: Capitalist Support for Hitler)

Fascism Is “Capitalism in Crisis”

Princess Bride

This is the third installment in a series on “How Hitler Saved Capitalism and Won the War.”

[Last Monday this series on the Second Coming of Adolf Hitler tried to connect Hitler and the response to the tragedies of September 11th, 2001. In the aftermath of those events, the U.S. Vice President’s wife, Lynne Cheney and her American Council of Trustees and Alumni identified university and college professors as “the weak link in the fight against terrorism.” They found it particularly offensive that some of the latter had identified the September 11th attacks as “blowback” for “American” Hitler-like policies in the Third World. Such response inspired me to do some research on the question paying particular attention to data found in a standard Western Traditions textbook used in many institutions of higher learning, Jackson Spielvogel’s “Western Civilization.” This third installment attempts to clear up some common misconceptions about fascism which many see as threatening to take over the U.S. today just as it did Germany in the early 1930s. (Unless otherwise indicated, all references are to Spielvogel’s text.)]

The thesis here is that privatized globalization is a continuation of Hitler’s system of fascism which is understood here as “capitalism in crisis.” To understand that position, it is first of all necessary to clear up prevailing confusions about fascism itself. Not surprisingly, misunderstandings abound concerning its nature. Most correctly identify fascism with a police state, with institutionalized racism, anti-Semitism, and totalitarianism (though they typically remain unclear about the term’s meaning). Most too are familiar with concentration camps, the Holocaust, and, of course, with Adolf Hitler. Some can even associate the Nazi form of fascism with homophobia and persecution of Gypsies. However, rarely, if ever will anyone connect fascism with capitalism. For instance, here is Jackson Spielvogel’s (Western Civilization) textbook description of Hitler’s thought:

“In Vienna, then, Hitler established the basic ideas of an ideology from which he never deviated for the rest of his life. At the core of Hitler’s ideas was racism, especially anti-Semitism. His hatred of the Jews lasted to the very end of his life. Hitler had also become an extreme German nationalist who had learned from the mass politics of Vienna how political parties could effectively use propaganda and terror. Finally, in his Viennese years, Hitler also came to a firm belief in the need for struggle, which he saw as the “granite foundation of the world.” Hitler emphasized a crude Social Darwinism; the world was a brutal place filled with constant struggle in which only the fit survived” (794).

Here it is interesting to note that racism, especially anti-Semitism, nationalism, propaganda, terror and Darwinian struggle are signaled as defining attributes of the Hitlerian system. Capitalism is not mentioned, though “struggle” is. Perhaps, had the term “competition” been used instead of “struggle,” the basically capitalist nature of “Social Darwinism,” and fascism might have been clearer.

Fascism and Communism

Textbooks typically add to the confusion by closely connecting fascist Nazism and Communism. For instance, Spielvogel’s Western Civilization deals with Hitler’s fascism and Josef Stalin’s socialism back-to-back, linking the two with the term “totalitarianism.” Spielvogel’s transition from one to the other illustrates how the merely mildly interested (i.e. most college students) might come away confused. He writes, “Yet another example of totalitarianism was to be found in Soviet Russia” (801). Spielvogel defines totalitarianism in the following terms:

“Totalitarianism is an abstract term, and no state followed all its theoretical implications. The fascist states – Italy and Nazi Germany – as well as Stalin’s Communist Russia have all been labeled totalitarian, although their regimes exhibited significant differences and met with varying degrees of success. Totalitarianism transcended traditional political labels. Fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany grew out of extreme rightist preoccupations with nationalism and, in the case of Germany, with racism. Communism in Soviet Russia emerged out of Marxian socialism, a radical leftist program. Thus, totalitarianism could and did exist in what were perceived as extreme right-wing and left-wing regimes. This fact helped bring about a new concept of the political spectrum in which the extremes were no longer seen as opposites on a linear scale, but came to be viewed as being similar to each other in at least some respects” (Spielvogel 789).

Here Spielvogel correctly points out “significant differences between fascism and communism. One is radically right, the other radically left. Nazism is identified with nationalism and racism (not, it should be noted, with capitalism). Communism is associated with Marxism and socialism. In the end, however, the two are viewed as “similar to each other in at least some respects.” Thus, clarity of distinction given with one hand seems to be erased with the other. Confusion is the typical result. Such fogginess might have been cleared had Spielvogel employed greater parallelism in his expression – i.e. had he identified Stalinist communism with police-state socialism and Hitler’s Nazism with police-state capitalism.

National Socialism

Nonetheless, history books and teachers are not solely at fault for student confusion. There are other understandable reasons for the distancing of fascism from capitalism. For one, Hitler’s Party called itself the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP). As a result, it is quite natural for students who reflect on the question at all, to conclude that Hitler and his party were “socialist,” or even “communist,” since the two terms are almost synonymous for most Americans. After all, well-indoctrinated students would be justified in reasoning that Hitler did such terrible things he must have been a communist.

Lost in such analysis is the historical realization that during the 1930s, all sorts of approaches to political-economy called themselves “socialist.” This is because they supported state intervention to save the market system that was in crisis during the Great Depression. Thus, there were socialisms of the left as found in Soviet Russia. But there were also socialisms of the right, such as Hitler’s in Germany, Mussolini’s in Italy, and Franco’s in Spain. In other words, interventionist economies easily adopted the “socialist” identification to distinguish themselves from laissez-faire capitalism, which in the aftermath of the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929, had been completely discredited. As we shall see below, in such context (were it politically possible) Franklin Roosevelt’s interventionist program to save capitalism could easily have been called National Socialism instead of the “New Deal.”

However, analysis of fascism’s approach to socialism must recognize the national character of the socialism advocated. [Yet even here, according to Spielvogel, Hitler’s program had a distinctly international dimension eerily evocative of promises associated with the current global economy. Spielvogel recalls, “After the German victories between 1939 and 1941, Nazi propagandists painted glowing images of a new European order based on “equal chances” for all nations and an integrated economic community.” (829)] The critical adjective (nationalist) was intended precisely to distinguish the right wing brand of socialism from its left wing international antagonist. In this connection Hagen Schulze writes in Germany: a New History (2001):

“The catch-phrase “national socialism” itself had been created before the First World War as a means to unite a variety of nationalistic organizations in the battle against “international socialism.” The term was designated to appeal to the working class, but it also proved attractive to young people from the middle and upper classes with romantic notions of Volksgemeinschaft, a “popular” or “national” community” (231)

The implication here is that right wing zealots “co-opted” a popular term to confuse the young – a strategy employed to this day with great success. Here as well one should note that “national socialism” is signaled as a direct opponent of “international socialism.”

Fascism as Mixed Economy

Yet another reason disjoining fascism from capitalism is that fascism was not capitalism pure and simple. (The same might be said of Roosevelt’s New Deal – and even today’s U.S. economy.) Both systems were “mixed economies.” That is, if capitalism’s essential components are private ownership of the means of production, free and open markets and unlimited earnings, socialism’s corresponding elements are public ownership of the means of production, controlled markets and restricted earnings. Both Roosevelt and Hitler combined the two approaches to economy.

Once again, in a period when free market capitalism had been widely discredited, both Hitler and Roosevelt performed a kind of “perestroika.” Soviet Premier, Mikhail Gorbachev would later use the term to refer to the restructuring of socialism, in order to save it by incorporating elements of capitalism. The suggestion here is that more than a half-century earlier, Roosevelt and Hitler had done the opposite; they had incorporated elements of socialism into the capitalist system in order to resurrect it. So, while the means of production most often remained in private hands, others (such as the railroads, the postal system, telephones and highways) were nationalized.

Similarly, while the free market was allowed to continue in many ways, its freedom was restricted by measures socialists had long advocated (e.g. rationing, legalized unions, social security, wage and price controls). Finally, high income taxes were used to restrict earnings and garner income for the state to finance its interventionist programs. [Few recall, for instance, that during the 1940s, U.S. federal income tax rates assessed incomes over $400,000 at a rate of 91% (See Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, 567-8). Government revenue collected in this way paid for populist programs that modestly redistributed income to the American working class and unemployed. Such redistribution found its way into workers’ pay envelopes, but also took the form of “social wage.”]

None of this is to say that Roosevelt’s and Hitler’s interventionist economies were the same. Mixed economies, after all, are not the identical. The key question for distinguishing between them is, “Mixed in favor of whom?” Some mixed economies are mixed in favor of the working class, others, in favor of their employers. As the product of a liberal capitalist, Roosevelt’s mixture successfully sold itself as the former. That is, while keeping most means of production securely in the hands of capitalists, Roosevelt gained the support of the working classes through his populist programs aimed at gingerly redistributing income downward towards those unable to fend for themselves. In other words, Roosevelt’s “mixed economy” was blended so as to facilitate its defense in populist terms – that is, as mixed in favor of the working class. And the defense achieved plausibility with the American people. Despite objections from more overtly pro-business Republicans, Roosevelt was elected four times in succession. His party remained in control of the U.S. Congress for nearly a half-century.

Hitler had another approach. Influenced by Herbert Spencer and (indirectly) by Friedrich Nietszche (see below), der Fuhrer was an extreme social Darwinist whose programs unabashedly favored elite Aryans and despised “the others,” particularly socialists, Jews, trade unionists, non-whites, Gypsies, homosexuals, the disabled and other “deviants.” On the other hand, Hitler despised “liberal” politicians like Roosevelt, with their programs of social welfare. On those grounds, he vilified the Weimar government which preceded his own. During the early years of the Great Depression, Weimar politicians had attempted to gain the favor of the working class, and to sidestep civil war by implementing wealth distribution programs (233). Funding the programs necessitated tax increases, unpopular with middle and upper classes. It meant strengthening unions along with socialists and communists.

The point here is that is it with good reason that few make the connection between fascism and capitalism. A student of Spielvogel, for instance, would have to be quasi-heroic to do so. After all, he or she would be not only resisting the confusion fostered by the text itself, but would also be swimming against the stream of American propaganda, which treats Hitler’s system as the product of an evil individual, and unconnected with any specific economic system (other than, mistakenly, socialism or communism).

Despite such ambiguity, next week’s blog entry will attempt to demonstrate more specifically that even a closer reading of a text like Spielvogel’s makes unmistakable the connection between fascism and capitalism.

The Western Powers Loved Adolf Hitler

Hitler Love

This is the second installment in a series on “How Hitler Saved Capitalism and Won the War.”

Last Monday this series on the Second Coming of Adolf Hitler began with a brief allusion to the special responsibility Christians have to resist Hitlerism without Hitler. That first entry recalled how Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Niemoller and others formed a Confessing Church to counter the surrender of Germany’s mainstream churches to Hitler’s nationalism. The example of the Confessing Church and the tenets of its Barmen Declaration should be kept in mind as this series progresses. An underlying thesis here is that given the similarities between Hitler’s Germany and the contemporary United States, would-be followers of Jesus should emulate the defiant example of the Barmen Declaration’s authors.

Today’s entry focuses on the relevance of Adolf Hitler to U.S. policy since 9/11/01:

In the aftermath of the tragic events of September 11th, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, co-founded by Mrs. Lynne Cheney, the wife of Dick Cheney, the former United States Vice President, accused dissident professors of being the “weak link in America’s response to the attack.” To support its accusation, the Council published a list of more than a hundred recorded statements by such professors characterizing them as “anti-American.” Statements ranged from “Any attack on the Pentagon’s got my vote” to “Ignorance breeds hate,” and America should “build bridges and relationships, not simply bombs and walls.”

Of course, any professorial references to “fascism” and “Nazism” connected with U.S. policy were anathema to Mrs. Cheney’s group. Such accusations, it was alleged, revealed an ignorance or suppression of real United States history. A more genuine narrative of the past showed America to be an unparalleled opponent of Nazism and an unrelenting advocate of freedom and democracy in the face of fascism. Schooling in truer, more patriotic history, Mrs. Cheney said, would make students valued assets in civilization’s war against terrorism.

As a teacher of history in a small liberal arts college in the American South, I found extremely welcome the new centralizing of history’s importance. I also welcomed it as an opportunity to explore a suspicion that had been with me for some time – precisely in connection with the categories of terrorism and anti-terrorism, but especially connected to fascism, Nazism and the study of history.

The suspicion came from reading closely and teaching the standard Western Civilization text many professors use at Berea College, where I teach. It is a book of which Mrs. Cheney might approve – Jackson Spielvogel’s Western Civilization. For a long time, I had been finding unmistakable clues there to support the thesis that far from being a beacon of freedom and democracy, the United States is actually the opposite. More specifically, in relation to most of the world, it has since the conclusion of the Second Inter-Capitalist War (aka World War II) embodied Hitlerism without Adolph Hitler.

Put more starkly, the clues in my students’ textbooks indicated that Hitler’s system actually triumphed in World War II. Moreover, his system was police state capitalism, and Hitler was capitalism’s savior. Even more importantly, police state capitalism continues today in the process of globalization and, most recently, in the U.S. “War on Terrorism.”

Such challenging assertions find additional support in conservative histories like Hagen Schultze’s Germany: A New History, and Paul Johnson’s History of Christianity. Support appears as well in statements by U.S. government officials, and in the daily newspaper.

All of these sources indicate that at the beginning Adolf Hitler enjoyed the support of western powers because of his stern opposition to socialism and communism. Hitler was the West’s champion against the Soviets and those who admired Soviet accomplishments. So after his coming to power in 1933, Hitler’s international sponsors quickly rescinded the harshly punitive clauses of the Treaty of Versailles. They forgave Germany’s debt. British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain hastened to align Great Britain with Hitler. Pius XII referred to der Fuhrer as “an indispensable bulwark against the Russians.” Henry Ford loved the man. The admiration was mutual; Ford accepted a medal of honor from Hitler’s hands, as did the founder of IBM. Trans-Atlantic aviator, Charles Lindbergh and movie actor Errol Flynn were prominent among Hitler’s champions.

With such backing, the Western Powers allowed Hitler’s Germany to rearm. But in the end, der Fuhrer lost the support of his capitalist backers, because he went too far. His crime, however, was not gassing Jews. The West proved remarkably compliant with that. Rather, Hitler’s crime was his attempt to establish control of the world economy – over such capitalist competitors as Great Britain, France, and the United States. He proposed a New World Order, which, he promised, would bring prosperity to all. Nonetheless, Hitler’s attempts to impose his order ultimately met with stiff resistance from his opponents’ Allied Forces. The Second Inter-Capitalist War followed.

Afterwards, the United States emerged relatively unscathed from the conflict, and proceeded to establish its own dominance of the world capitalist system, in ways not extremely different from those employed by Adolph Hitler. That dominance of the capitalist world turned to imperial global dominance following the disappearance of the Soviet Union as the lone super-power adversary of the U.S. at the beginning of the 1990s.

In other words, there is surprising continuity between Hitler’s New World Order and the New World Order embodied in the contemporary system of globalization. To understand this perhaps shocking claim, it is necessary to (1) clear up some common misconceptions about fascism, (2) describe the connections between Hitler and capitalism, (3) indicate how fascism triumphed in World War II and its aftermath, and (4) show how Hitler’s system is continued today in globalization and the War on Terrorism.

These points will be elaborated here (on Mondays) during the coming weeks.