Sunday, July 16, 2006

The American dolchstosslegende

Last month's edition of Harper's had an interesting piece on the history of the "stab in the back" myth in America:

Every state must have its enemies. Great powers must have especially monstrous foes. Above all, these foes must arise from within, for national pride does not admit that a great nation can be defeated by any outside force. That is why, though its origins are elsewhere, the stab in the back has become the sustaining myth of modern American nationalism. Since the end of World War II it has been the device by which the American right wing has both revitalized itself and repeatedly avoided responsibility for its own worst blunders. Indeed, the right has distilled its tale of betrayal into a formula: Advocate some momentarily popular but reckless policy. Deny culpability when that policy is exposed as disastrous. Blame the disaster on internal enemies who hate America. Repeat, always making sure to increase the number of internal enemies.

Read the whole thing - and then read the wikipedia article on the parallel phenomena in Weimer Germany (the original dolchstosslegende). There, the myth of the "stab in the back" was a significant propaganda tool in the rise of the Nazis and the demonisation of socialists, liberals, and Jews. Then look back at the US and the way right-wing voices there are openly preaching the elimination of liberals, while voices critical of the Bush administration find themselves receiving white powder in the mail. It's a worrying trend, and they haven't even officially lost the war yet.


I read the post from Orcinus and really I can think of liberal Americans who are just as nasty. And as for publishing names and addresses of individuals (which btw I don't agree with) go and have a look at

The right and left wing of American thought can be both as equally offensive.

And whilst it would be tempting to list some of the examples, it would just create a strawman while we argued over whether or not it was "as bad" as right wing nastiness. But note, the left has it's own versions of their internal enemies.

Posted by Muerk : 7/16/2006 05:23:00 PM

you might find a book called "confronting the nation" interesting. george mosse talks about the connection between jews and liberalism in the weimar republic.

being a liberal was supposed to help supercede the ethnic differences, but was subsumed by the fascists.

it's a good insight into the corruption of an ideology by totalitarians.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/16/2006 09:12:00 PM

NZ National and ACT know all about this - they demonise all things Maori and raise red herrings like disenfranchising those in Maori electorates - because they, should they ever form a government committed to cutting services, selling assets etc. would need a "big diversion" and their hope is that Pakeha would rally around the cause in a side-show conflict over Maori seats etc.

That is why the Maori Party won't ever actually form a deal with National - National needs to demonise Maori for the strategy to work.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/16/2006 09:34:00 PM