Friday, July 28, 2017

Thinking More About Susannah Heschels Lecture And The Lessons It Teachers For Defeating Trumpian Fascism

If you haven't listened to the lecture I posted by Susannah Heschel, one of current best scholars on the relationship of the Christian Churches and Nazism, both the shameful and the admirable, I'd encourage you to do so.   Certainly as a granddaughter and niece of victims of the Holocaust, as the daughter of Abraham Joshua Heschel and as a very accomplished scholar in her own right, her insights into that issue are some of the most informed you are likely to hear.    I think that, despite what a lot of people might believe, the current scholarship into that period is far more fully informed than that of past decades.  As Susannah Heschel points out, she has found things in libraries and archives and as a result of her own scholarship, which have either not been published or which have been covered up.  Her account of how she had to overcome resistance to her looking into some areas in order to make those discoveries is important to keep in mind.  That's the way with history, the secondary, scholarly view of the past becomes more accurate and reliable as more of the primary material that that has to be based in, becomes known and published, as things kept hidden or forgotten are revealed to people who never knew it.  In a way it's like a well conducted court case in which the more information that is put into evidence, the more informed your conclusions about it will be.

The lecture, as others Susannah Heschel has given, are a mix of revealing some of the hardest and most unpleasant of facts, a nuanced view of human fallibility and weakness and heroic courage, a fully developed instead of a narrowly reductionist viewpoint of a very complex period in history.  Above all, there is the knowledge that the moral aspects and purposes of her work are what make it important, what we can learn from it about how to conduct our lives and govern our societies.  It is what should be expected from a scholar of the Hebrew scriptures and the importance of those in the world, before and today.   Her depth of scholarship is unusually impressive but more so her focus on what is really important about it.

At about 20:35 on the video, talking about the quite repellant German Theologian, Walter Grundmann, putting him into the context of his academic heritage from his teacher and his post-war biography, she said something that I think is important for us in our contemporary politics:

He joined the Nazi party in, 1930.  That, by the way, was his big mistake because it meant that after the war Grundman lost his professorship. Which, by the way, was foolish on the part of the Allies.  You know, 1930, one didn't know what Hitler was going to do. Those who joined in 1937, for example, they really knew. And that strikes me as worse.

It is just stunning that Susannah Heschel, the daughter of a man whose mother and sisters were murdered by the Nazis, whose family lost many members in the death industry of the Nazis could take that view of a Nazi such as Grundmann, pointing out something that, from our perspective, so many decades after the rise of the Nazis gets blended into a general blur of categorization, acknowledging a fact that doesn't occur to us.  In the beginning of their rise to power, the Nazis didn't let people in on their plans in all of their depravity.  They hoodwinked a lot of people into supporting them and even into joining them who, if they knew what they were going to do, would never have voted for them.  Certainly if they could have seen the outcome of the war that Hitler would bring, he'd never have been elected, if they knew he was going to commit mass murder, he probably would never have come to power.  There is all the difference in the world between being conned by a con job into supporting someone before they worked their scheme and being conned later because you approve of what they're doing.

Her further description of Grundmann and her analysis of his personality, a mixture of self-aggrandizement and abjection, his feeling of being marginalized and prevented from achieving his abilities and the role it played in his sleazier professional and political activities is something that is very important to understand about some, maybe most of the people who might be drawn into do things that are bad.  Her understanding of the psychological vulnerability of academics is summed up in her account of what Grundmann's file as a decades long Stasi spy for the GDR said, that he was a   “typical academic: desperate for admiration and with an inclination to intrigue.”


If we are going to defeat Trumpian fascism we're going to have to work with even people who might have voted for Trump but who didn't imagine he would immediately be as depraved as he is.  He didn't tell them that he was going to put into government the scum that rose to the top of Goldman Sachs into a position where they could loot the country, he told them he was going to "clean up the swamp".  It has certainly come as a surprise to a lot of his supporters that one of the things he was going to do was take away their health insurance, that of their children - why they didn't understand that was going to be a consequence isn't something I can fathom but my being able to understand that isn't what's important now.   I think there is a huge difference between someone who got duped into supporting Trump in 2016 - before his reign of criminal depravity started and someone who still does support him and those who jumped on board when the electoral college system stole the election for him.

Reading that description of the 1964 Republican Convention linked to here yesterday, from Jackie Robinson WHO WAS A REPUBLICAN DELEGATE TO THE CONVENTION should be an eye opener.  When I read it, it belied all of the shock and surprise at the Trumpian tactics of fifty-two years later, given that view of the racists who now control the Republican Party, their grandparents generation of Goldwater supporters.

I think that there are Republicans, even a few in the Congress who would not be anywhere near as bad if they weren't scared for their job by the now permanent presence of the actual, large, fascist cohort of that party.  For the rest of my life and certainly for most of yours, anywhere from 25 to 40% of the Republican vote is comprised of actual, racist, bigoted, fascists.  Many of them distorting Christianity in ways not much different from those discussed by Susannah Heschel.

You might not like it but some way has to be found to defeat the influence of the permanent fascist presence in the United States.  That is going to depend on strategies other than asserting that they have cooties and are stupid, etc.  That has been done since the 1960s and earlier and it has been a total failure.  I don't know what will work, but I know what hasn't and has made things steadily worse.


  1. "In the beginning of their rise to power, the Nazis didn't let people in on their plans in all of their depravity. They hoodwinked a lot of people into supporting them "


    1. Gee, Simps, you mean all those scholars who said that the ruinous reparations demanded by England and France in the Versaille Treaty, the horrific inflations, the huge and progressive rise of the unemployment rate caused by the effects of the Great Depression in the United States - which forced a demand for repayment of loans, etc... you mean that apart from every other election in every other country the economic conditions of the German people had no effect in the election that brought Hitler to power (with a small minority of the vote). All of them got it wrong all these years?

      You really should write it up and submit your scholarship concerning the reasons that the Nazis came to power to the graduate school of some university, I'm sure they're going to find what you have to say on the subject just fascinating. Though you'll have to wait till Trump restarts his university before anyone would accept it.

      You think you know more about this than Susannah Heschel WHO I QUOTED AS SAYING EXACTLY THAT. You aren't only a total asshat fool, you're the hole in the asshat, too. Let me know the next time a major university or scholarly association asks you to address it.

    2. Um. why don't you run your theory that economic anxiety had nothing to do with the rise of the Nazis past Duncan. I mean, he probably won't answer it, too much like work, but I'd love to see the response. If they knew who S. Heschel is I might want you to assert you know more about this than she does. But you'd only know how asinine that is if you know who she is, and the Eschatots almost certainly don't. I'll bet your average theologian would probably at least recognize her name, her work is probably mostly read by theologians and historians.