How are the woke like Nazis?
I realise that, in virtue of my title, I have confirmed Godwin’s Law and thereby lost the argument. But I’m going to proceed anyway. How are the woke like Nazis? Before answering this question, I need to explain how they’re not like Nazis. Although this should be fairly obvious, I want to head-off the charge that I’m engaging in deranged fear-mongering, or casually smearing people like some kind of right-wing social justice warrior.
The Nazis were a far-right German political party who started World War II and murdered millions of people in concentration camps. The woke, by contrast, are a collection of mostly Western left-wing political activists, who go around getting people fired from their jobs, promoting asinine slogans like “defund the police”, and claiming the word ‘woman’ is too complex to define. Hence the Nazis and the woke are very different beasts. It scarcely needs to be said that genocide is far worse than what the woke are doing.
Some right-wing activists claim the woke do want to engage in genocide – against either whites or the unwoke. What they usually mean by this is that the woke want to destroy traditional Western culture, or increase immigration to the point where white people are the minority in Western countries. In other words, they’re usually talking about a long-term “cultural genocide”. And while this may be an accurate characterisation of some woke activists’ end-goals, I don’t believe the term “genocide” is appropriate.
It’s an example of hyperbole whose rhetorical force comes from the association of “genocide” with mass murder, which in this case doesn’t apply. You can fervently oppose attempts to destroy traditional Western culture without claiming this is tantamount to “genocide” (even if that term can refer to political repression in the absence of killing). Accusing the woke of pursuing “genocide” would then be an example of the motte-and-bailey fallacy. What’s more, throwing the term “genocide” around in the absence of mass murder, or at least extreme repression, makes you sound paranoid and unhinged.
In any case, my purpose in comparing the woke to Nazis is not to suggest that whites or the unwoke are about to be lined up and marched into concentration camps by blue-haired storm troopers. Nor is it to suggest that we should start using “Nazi” as an epithet for the woke. (That term should be reserved for people who actually subscribe to Nazism, wear jackboots, have Swastika tattoos etc.) My purpose is simply to outline some important parallels between woke ideology on the one hand and Nazism on the other.
One of the most salient features of Nazi ideology is, of course, vociferous anti-Semitism. Jews were considered subhuman, being portrayed as rats and snakes in Nazi propaganda. At the same time, however, they were held to have vastly too much influence over German society. Hitler entertained various anti-Jewish conspiracy theories, such as that they were bent on world domination, and accused them of spreading both capitalism and communism. As they gained power, the Nazis sought to expunge “Jewish influence” from German society, a project that tragically culminated in the holocaust.
But before they began rounding up Jews and sending them to concentration camps, the Nazis sought to expunge “Jewish influence” in less bloodthirsty ways. They boycotted and then later seized Jewish businesses, and expelled Jews from high-status professions like law, medicine and academia. Although such actions were in keeping with the ultimate goal of Jewish extirpation, it’s noteworthy that their initial demand was Jews not be represented out of proportion with their share of the population. Of course, the fact that Jews were overrepresented was taken as evidence of their malign traits and desire to dominate Germans.
The researcher Steven Farron has looked in detail at “pro-Aryan affirmative action policies” in a paper for the Journal of Libertarian Studies. What’s striking is how similar the language used is to that of woke activists today. Farron quotes Hitler as saying in 1935, “The Jews, who formed less than one percent of the population, tried to monopolize the cultural leadership of the people and flooded the intellectual professions, such as law and medicine”. Implicit in this statement is the belief that it is illegitimate, or at least highly suspect, for a group to be represented out of proportion with its share of the population.
More interestingly, Farron quotes Albert Speer, who wrote in his memoirs that he could not have known how anti-Semitic the Nazis were because at the time he joined, the party confined itself to “denouncing what it called the excessive influence of the Jews upon various spheres of cultural and economic life”, and “demanding that their participation in these various areas be reduced to a level consonant with their percentage of the population.” As Farron notes, “it never occurred to him that there was anything wrong, unreasonable, immoral, or even anti-Semitic about reducing the proportion of Jews in German economic and cultural life”.
What do we see today? Woke activists constantly complaining that whites (or sometimes Asians) are overrepresented in certain domains, and insisting that such overrepresentation constitutes “oppression” or “marginalisation” of other groups. One hardly needs to cite examples, but here are some articles I found claiming that such-and-such a domain “has a whiteness problem” (by which it’s meant that there are too many white people, or that whites have too much influence).
And here are some articles I found asserting the “unbearable whiteness” of such-and-such a domain. (Of course, any article asserting the “unbearable Jewishness” of some domain would be instantly flagged as anti-Semitic.)
During their persecution of the Jews, Nazis not only denounced the Jews as a people but also railed against the “Jewification” of various institutions. For example, in 1928 Hitler said, “We see that in Germany Jewification progresses in literature, the theater, music and film; that our medical world is Jewified, and the world of our lawyers too; that in our universities ever more Jews come to the fore.” They also dismissed whole spheres of inquiry, notably theoretical physics, as “Jewish science” – owing to the disproportionate contributions of Jews. In the 1930s, the Nazi physicist Philipp Lenard coined the term “Aryan Physics”, and penned a four volume textbook expounding its tenets.
This use of language – in which the aggregate behaviour of individuals is construed as an abstract process, or particular scientific theories are assigned an ethnic label in virtue of their originators – bears substantial similarity to that of contemporary woke scholars. For example, there’s a whole field termed “whiteness studies”. This is nothing like the equivalent of ethnic studies for white people. (Rather, it just blames everything on whites.) In one particularly colourful contribution, the academic Donald Moss describes “whiteness” as a “malignant, parasitic-like condition to which “white” people have a particular susceptibility”.
Woke scholars have even characterised whole disciplines in ethnic terms. According to Rochelle Gutierrez, “curricula emphasizing terms like Pythagorean theorem and pi perpetuate a perception that mathematics was largely developed by Greeks and other Europeans”. And in fact this is one level on which “mathematics itself operates as Whiteness”. What’s more, Dan Battey and Luis Leyva have outlined a comprehensive framework for “understanding whiteness in mathematics education”, which they claim will make visible “the ways in which whiteness impacts White students to reproduce racial privilege”.
In their attempt to portray the Jews as subhuman, the Nazis faced the obvious problem that Jews had made exceptional contributions to science, business and the wider culture – most likely because of their high average intelligence. And in fact, contrary to popular belief, the Nazis opposed traditional IQ testing. Influential Nazi psychologist Erich Jaensch claimed that IQ tests would be an instrument “of Jewry” to “fortify its hegemony”, describing selection in schools according to intelligence as a “system of examination of Jewish origin”. His student Friedrich Becker called instead for “intelligence measurement according to a national and typological point of view”.
In much the same way, woke activists now reject the concept of merit as something quantifiable, deeming it “racist”. Here, former San Francisco Education Commissioner Alison Collins explains that “meritocracy and especially meritocracy based on standardised testing – I’m just going to say it, in this day and age we cannot mince words – those are racist systems”. She goes on to describe “merit” as the “antithesis of fair and the antithesis of just”, noting that “we can’t talk about social justice and then say that we want to have a selective school that keeps certain kids out”. (Fortunately for the people of San Francisco, Collins was ousted in February of this year by an overwhelming vote.)
I’ve discussed three ways in which woke ideology resembles Nazism: the belief that it’s illegitimate or highly suspect for a certain ethnic group to be represented out of proportion with its share of the population; assigning ethnic labels to unobservable forces or processes, as well as specific scholarly disciplines; and rejecting quantifiable measures of merit on the grounds that they advance the interests of some groups at the expense of others. (To repeat: I’m not saying the woke are “Nazis”, or that there’s a “genocide” against their opponents.) The existence of similarities between woke ideology and Nazism is deeply ironic, given the predilection of woke activists to paint others as National Socialists.
Image: David Shankbone, Yad Vashem Books burned by Nazis, 2007
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