The Stahlhelm Under the Stairs
I did not watch last night’s debate. I could not bear the stress (my country has come apart). I sought refuge in the political calm of the post-revolutionary world, also known as Starship Troopers — with satiric voiceover by Rifftrax! Yet my attempt at escape was foiled. How do I know my country has come apart? The immortal Crow, it seems, has gone Woke — lamentatio! — and is no longer funny.
Top three for the People’s Choice in Civil War — along with Bolshevik Russia and Robespierre — is Weimar America: With 13 million Google hits (and only 3.47 mil for Bing?), in the shiver of historical frisson, Puttin’ on the Ritz. The Proud Boys “slip” on Tuesday simply served up the Weimar cornucopia in digestible trope-form: Hinting of Sturmabteilung straining at the leashes.
In actual reality, we have literally millions of video clips of a spring and summer of endemic American rioting. Even the heaviest sifting refuses to sustain the Alt Right = NSDAP trope. In fact, the opposite: There is something of a role reversal here, at least in terms of force and numbers.
[Much data here, though as always, politically leveraged]
Antifa/BLM is overwhelmingly responsible for the urban violence. This is nothing like the later street brawls of Weimar. For example, in 1932, over 9000 SA were severely injured! Antifa in fact, was originally Antifaschistische Aktion, and yet the most powerful Commie brawlers in Berlin was Roter Frontkämpferbund (Alliance of Red Front-Fighters). As a rightwing brawling group, Proud Boys — on the comparative strength of their movement only, that is! — are more usefully to be compared to the fledgling SA of 1929, which at that time was nothing as influential, say, as the Stahlhelm.
[Der Spiegel’s worthy commentary is here — and Der Spiegel is the inveterate opposite of Right]
Generally, too, the actual level of violence in the US has been nothing like that in early 1930s Germany — yet. It must be underscored, however, that the material destruction is less important than its emotional apprehension by a mass audience. Thus, in the US today every single act of mayhem and assault — and violent threat — can be apprehended as though the viewer was actually there, thanks to social media. Hence the anger and rancor in the country — and the stress it puts on the nation as a whole — is arguably at late-Weimar levels, or pre-Mexican Revolution, or pre-Guerra Civil, or pre-La Violencia, or pre-Secession levels.
We are very close — 33 days — from coming (perhaps) full circle from civilization to terror. It is worth keeping in mind that the explosion of civil violence (insurgency, revolution, and war) in those notable bloodlettings named above — Germany, Mexico, Spain, Colombia, and the United States — were preceded by traumatic national experiences that were collective, excruciating, and protracted. In other words, we (as a nation under stress) work ourselves up to the bloodshed watershed. In Germany, it was the Allies forcing their unforgiving will on a resistant nation; in Mexico, it was the black execution of Francisco Madero; in Spain, it was the razor-thin win of the Popular Front in 1936, an election many historians agree was rigged; in Colombia, it was the naked assassination of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán; in the United States, it was, emotionally and transfiguratively, the savage caning of Senator Sumner.
Simply, what happened in each of these national tragedies was that groups dedicated to destroying the constitutional system, in effect, achieved their goal — not reflecting, or truthfully, not caring, that their immaculate drive would tear their nation apart. In each case, that was their goal — and in each case, triumphant in tragedy, they succeeded.
Let me be absolutely clear here, from the vantage of history. Overthrowing a world is a terrible enterprise, from the standpoint of the millions that must inevitably suffer, even die. So any group that explicitly seeks such a goal embraces in brotherhood those sister movements that dragged Germany, Mexico, Spain, Colombia, and the United States into valleys of death.
Moreover, these groups' boastful initiation of violence is deliberate and planned — and designed to fuel and stoke collective chaos and anger. Their very directedness is the hallmark imprimatur of Antifa and BLM. They are in the booming business of overthrow, and they are absolutely serious about it. In comparison, right wing groups are like dude-reflexive and ad hoc, waiting for the moment when they are called (in their Xbox imaginations, that is).
Both sides are fervent, and willing — given universally attested and existential provocation — to kill the evil other. That may in fact happen after the election. Fervency is one thing, but to pass through to the watershed of bloodshed, there must be an anointed dispensation. Historically, this has taken the dark form of a no going back event: the transgression that must be answered!
This is, in practice, how compressed fervency finally erupts into that thing most necessary to civil war: Collective commitment to irredeemable action: "Something Must Be Done!" —"Their Leader, that evil man, must go!" — "We cannot survive ’Them’ being in power!"
This, perhaps, is the only usable ticket to historical metaphor. America is surely not Weimar. Yet our country shares with long ago Germany one commonality: One frightening, tragic cast of mind. We no longer, together, believe in the legitimacy of our constitutional system.