I cannot let a nightmarish seeming coincidence pass without noting it….. (….sounding the alarm?). Dangerous reality is moving at a troubling, troubling speed. Just yesterday, in writing a quick post on Facebook. I softened a reference to “torchlight processions”, seeing the reference as absurdly alarmist for the present moment — and less than 36 hours later, white supremacist Richard Spencer is reported as leading a torchlight procession in Charlottesville, Virginia.
My hesitation came while I was writing a FB post linking to a Washington Post article by Alexandra Petri. Here is how my FB post opened: ‘Humor? Surrealism? Reality? A great piece by Alexandra Petri (Germany’s industrialists were confident, too…..) “When the president seized me, stunned me with his venom and covered me with digestive fluid, I was initially taken aback, but I reassured myself with this thought: President Nixon never did that…..The end of the world would be brought about by the other side. The sky would turn red. It would not occur on a Tuesday when I had made other plans.”‘
I was struck by the parallel between Petri’s tone and Sebastian Haffner’s extraordinary depiction of German complacency in 1933 in his brilliant book, Defying Hitler. Here is a quote from Haffner: “The general opinion was that it was not the Nazis who had won, but the bourgeois parties of the right who had captured the Nazis and held all the key… positions in the government….. Outwardly also, the day had no revolutionary aspects, unless one considers a torchlight procession or a minor gunfight in the suburbs that night as signs of a revolution…..” p. 105,
I hesitated in quoting Haffner, partly because I know it is supposed to be counterproductive to refer to Hitler or Nazis — and partly because the quote includes reference to a torchlight procession. (This struck me as almost absurdly alarmist for the current moment.) And, then, less than 36 hours later, I see the story linked above about torch-bearing protesters in Charlottesville. Theater, perhaps — but Haffner reminds us that this is exactly what enabled many (most?) Germans to be dismissive of the Nazis, until it was too late…..
[ps: this post’s title is a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson]