The Devil You Know

In September 2015 I commented on the increasing political polarization of Europe, and the extent to which any middle ground was increasingly excluded. A longish auto-quote:

… [T]he entire continuum of political opinion on the question of immigration and and of the ethnic and religious composition of European nations has now been reduced, editorially, to a binary, Manichaean choice: either you signal, proudly and loudly, that you believe these questions should be of no importance to any right-thinking person, or you are, not to put too fine a point on it, a Nazi.

It needn’t have come to this. Had Europe followed a less aggressively xenophilic and oikophobic immigration policy over the past several decades — even along the same lines, but tempered by sensible and cautious moderation — moral virtue might still have been signaled at acceptable levels by the ethnomasochistic and culturally self-abnegating Left, while reactionary elements would have had nothing much to feed on. But the accelerating displacement of European ethnies by Muslim migrants had already got to the point where even ordinary people had started to have misgivings, and nativism had already begun to exert a gathering political influence throughout the Continent — and so this latest wave of “refugees” falls upon a European polity already awakened to its existential peril, and concerned enough to react.

The Cathedral, correctly sensing the threat to its hegemony, responded in precisely the way we should expect a secularized Protestant cryptotheocracy to behave:

Naturally, this reaction now provokes a counter-reaction by those in charge, using what has been their weapon of choice since the dawn of the Puritan era: public shaming (supported, in modern Europe, by whatever thoughtcrime and “hate-speech” statutes they can bring to bear). But shaming is only effective when the offender feels himself to be one against many; it is most effective of all when the would-be heretic has so internalized the social Panopticon that his heresy is snuffed out before it even rises to the level of speech. All it takes for the system to collapse, though, is for enough people to say what multitudes of others are thinking (and, in many cases, have been thinking for years), and that is exactly what is happening now in Europe.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and so we see what would, in earlier times, have been an appeal to God. The impulse to invoke the transcendent remains intact, however, and so the clerisy reaches for the through-the-looking-glass version of supernatural Good that serves the purpose nowadays: worldly but equally infinite Evil.

As this tension reaches a crisis, we should naturally expect the shaming-weapon, in desperation, to be switched from “Stun” to “Kill” — and so dissent is now made equal to Nazism, or infinite evil. (Hitler occupies an interesting position in the West’s modern, secular religion: there is no longer any God or Christ to represent infinite Good, but in a roundabout, apophatic way we can still have our sense of the transcendent by using the infinitely evil Hitler as something resembling Christ’s antiparticle.)

Heresy is still heresy, same as it ever was. All that has changed is that before religion went undercover, the heretic was accused of rejecting God — while now, with God out of the picture, the heretic’s crime is now orientation toward the opposite pole: the tangible and worldly Hitler, a Satan for our times.

Adolf Hitler did very bad things, on the grandest possible scale. (The Nazis wiped out, for example, most of my mother-in-law’s family.) He clearly deserves prominent inclusion in any anti-pantheon (“pandemonium”?). But history is chockablock with extremely bad actors — a couple of whom were even Hitler’s contemporaries, and killed, just as mercilessly, even more millions of people. So why was it, then, when the puff of white smoke appeared in the Cathedral’s chimney, was it Hitler, and not, say, Stalin (who was by any measure every bit as malignant and murderous as Hitler) who emerged as the new antipontiff?

It’s a fair question, I think, and an interesting one, and I believe I could go a long way toward answering it (though I won’t do so here). Just to cross one thing off the list, though: to say that Hitler’s crimes were the worst of all because they were racist puts the cart before the horse: the elevation of European identitarianism to the direst of available sins is a postwar reaction to Hitler’s crimes. Hitler isn’t the postwar era’s secular Antichrist because he was racist. Racism, rather, is now the darkest of possible sins because it’s what Hitler did.

(If you think I’m wrong about this, go and read some mainstream prewar Progressive literature. You might start with Lothrop Stoddard’s The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Under Man. Or you might try this one: The Rising Tide of Color Against White-World Supremacy.

If you’ve never heard of these books, and you’re a relatively normal, well-educated Westerner of the 21st century, you probably can’t even read these titles without a shudder of aversion — and yet Lothrop Stoddard was no extremist: he was a highly regarded public intellectual of his day, a respected, forward-thinking Progressive. His books were popular and highly influential. If NPR had been around in the 1920’s, he’d have been a regular. As far as the evolution of mainstream opinion is concerned, to get from that era of Progressivism to what it is today is a change on a par with the Cretaceous extinction — and yet it’s within living memory.)

So: as very, very bad as he surely was, the question remains: exactly how, given the tremendously stiff competition, did Hitler edge out all the others, and become the one and only Anti-God, the apex of transcendent evil? If you were born after World War Two, you probably haven’t asked yourself this question. No need — it’s something you just know. More than that, it’s a question you aren’t supposed to ask. (If you think I’m wrong about that, well, next time you’re at a party, try asking it. Or ask yourself this, readers: don’t you already feel that I’m getting a little “outside the pale” myself, right now? I’m feeling it too, enough to want to make clear that I’m not — hey, seriously! — a Nazi. That’s how potent, how fraught with religiosity, this is. In the old days, when they they encountered heresy, people worried about the fate of their immortal souls. Are you worried now, just a bit, about my soul?)

Well, asking this question is exactly what Mencius Moldbug did, in Part 1 of his essay An open letter to open-minded progressives. He understood that asking the question would bring out implicit assumptions, and internal inconsistencies, that might help us to understand the operating-system the Western world runs on nowadays. So he asked it: “What’s so bad about the Nazis?”

The framing is provocatively blunt. But if you read on, the question is a serious one: what was it about the Nazis that makes us see them as uniquely evil, given that others, such as Stalin, were arguably even more monstrous?

But to read on, after an opener like that, would be to flirt with the darkest of heresies. A quarantine is needed. And so we have, for example, this article in MacLean’s, entitled Steve Bannon’s Dangerous Reading List. We read:

Those who have tried to draw a line from Bannon to Curtis Yarvin, the computer programmer who blogs under the name Mencius Moldbug (Yarvin denies any links), have focused on a 2008 post in which the self-described neo-reactionary asks “What’s so bad about the Nazis?” aside, that is, from that Holocaust thing.

Bannon’s critics are attempting, of course, to firmly situate him on the wrong side of a very bright red line, with Moldbug’s comment itself dismissed as an instance of a favourite alt-right tactic—uttering provocations simply so the speaker can be amused by the outraged reactions.

But there is an actual link in thought, if not in person, here between Bannon’s interest in traditional and authoritarian ethno-nationalism and the alt-right’s admiring reappraisal of pre-genocide Nazis.

In other words: Get thee behind me, Satan! The analysis really goes no deeper than that, I’m afraid. Regarding the MacLean’s article itself, a little meta-analysis is possible, though:

Progressives are fond of quoting Martin Luther King’s remark about the “moral arc of the Universe”. If the moral universe really is the sort of reference-framework that admits of curvature, then Nazism, in postwar moral astrophysics, is a place where it bends itself right out of existence: a singularity. If Dr. King was a shining star in this moral firmament, then Adolf Hitler is Cygnus X-1. A merciful Nature, itself abhorring such a negative moral infinity, modestly shrouds it with an “event horizon” (at a distance with a fittingly German name: the Schwarzschild radius). For the protection of your soul, you can’t even look at the singularity itself: anything that gets too close is swallowed up by mere proximity to such evil, and vanishes forever.

And so: what to do about that Steve Bannon? Properly understood, the article says this:

“He is obviously already within the gravity well of the Hitlerian Singularity, and getting tantalizingly close to the event horizon.

All it should take is a little push…”

A perfect plan! — until you remember that business about parallel universes.

Related content from Sphere


  1. Many people, it seems, enjoy the experience of ranking and debating so-called GOAT (greatest of all time) issues. The most recent of such issues, of course, is “quarterbacks”. Most such debates almost never reach a consensus because there never seems to be a definitive measure of “greatness” for a specific category of GOAT. The only exception I can think of is “basketball player” (need you ask?).

    In the GOAT for “evildoers”, I suspect that Hitler, Stalin, and Mao (not necessarily in that order) could be the top three contenders, based simply on responsibility for numbers of people murdered. But is the number murdered the only pertinent or even the most egregious criterion for “evildoing”? There are probably no consensus answers for those questions either.

    I can think of a possible reason why Hitler is usually chosen over the likes of Stalin and Mao. Hitler’s victims were people who were targeted by him because of their ethnicity, religion or race, and strictly due to his Nazi hatred of these groups. Stalin was an equal opportunity killer whose principal purpose was to instill nationwide terror to protect his own absolute power. I am not sure what motivated Mao’s killings, but he could have been following Stalin’s methodology for staying in power.

    Evildoing based strictly on bigoted hatred just seems like the purest form of evildoing.

    Posted February 10, 2017 at 10:44 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Evildoing based strictly on bigoted hatred just seems like the purest form of evildoing.

    It’s that “just seeming” that’s the question here. (Note also the bit above about the cart and the horse.)

    Is it really better, somehow, to be killed en masse by a mere tyrant than by a bigot? Is such killing any less evil? Are you any less dead? Stalin quite intentionally wiped out (“liquidated”) entire classes of people, and starved an entire nation to death. He tortured and massacred his own people for thirty years. Not evil enough to make the cut?

    Also, despite the fact that Stalin killed a lot more people, the contest isn’t even close. You’d expect, at least, that for every thousand invocations of Hitler as the avatar of evil, you’d get a Stalin or two. But no. It’s just Hitler, Hitler, Hitler. Hitler Hitler Hitler. Even the soup guy had to be a Nazi.

    No, there’s much more to the answer than this. For now, at least, I leave it as an exercise for the reader.

    Posted February 10, 2017 at 11:18 pm | Permalink
  3. So are you saying that murder that is basically gratuitous is not an intensified form of evil? Moreover, are you suggesting that the number of murderous killings is the only metric for evildoing?

    Also, why do you feel this is an important issue to analyze?

    Posted February 11, 2017 at 1:07 am | Permalink
  4. One obvious reason for Hitler being the GOAT evildoer in the Anglosphere is that he was our enemy while Stalin was our ally.

    Posted February 11, 2017 at 1:50 am | Permalink
  5. Nazism is seen as a perversion of Western Civilization (like a cancer or somatic mutation that fails to control its growth) and hits closer to home and is perceived as being more probable, whereas Maoism and Stalinism are more distant both literally, as well culturally and ideologically.

    Posted February 11, 2017 at 4:29 am | Permalink
  6. My wife pointed me to the following video, which may be of interest in this discussion.

    Jordan Peterson: Tragedy vs Evil

    Posted February 11, 2017 at 4:38 am | Permalink
  7. AM says

    For me, the answer seems plain. Hitler, like Trump, was not part of the plan for globalism. He was an anomaly that rose in explicit defense of his own (unacceptably gentile) folk, against the internationalist agenda of the (((globalist cabal))). WWII was a Leftist war between National and International Socialism; the Anglo world wasn’t fully hip to this jive, but it was increasingly subject to Jewish influence, which obviously backed the whole, decadent milieu, but worked especially hard to see the International variety win. The cheekiness, the unmitigated gall, of naming the enemy plainly and embracing the most natural form of identity, rather than going along with the deracinated, $$$-obsessed, global view of the deconstructed man, was unforgivable affrontery. Hitler was bad, not as a mass-murderer (who cares? Aren’t all Leftist heroes?), but rather, as an heretic against the Internationalist, globalist, anti-identitarian form of The One, True Progressivism, which became obligatory for all Progressives thereafter.

    I’ll also bow to the moral expectation, and say I’m no NAZI; I’m an (actual, i.e., in the Traditional sense) Catholic, so both National and International Socialism are condemned propositions. Still, I don’t believe the “Holocaust” went anything like they say, and my main criticism of Hitler is that he unjustly aggressed against nations of Christendom and therefore precipitated its final collapse, in his contempt for the Faith, rather than saving the European stock from the forces he (correctly) perceived to be fighting against it.

    Posted February 11, 2017 at 10:22 am | Permalink
  8. whitewall says

    AM…you “don’t believe the Holocaust went anything like they say”? Pray how do you think it went otherwise?

    Posted February 11, 2017 at 10:39 am | Permalink
  9. whitewall says

    Jacksonian America has intruded on the Cathedral.

    Posted February 11, 2017 at 10:45 am | Permalink
  10. whitewall says

    It is interesting to see how the Left has used Political Correctness-PC to shape what can be spoken or written or even thought on certain subjects. PC comes from CP-Communist Party as a means of conformity. Communist methods by actual fascists to combat conservatism which is called by the mislabel “fascism”.

    Posted February 11, 2017 at 11:32 am | Permalink
  11. Malcolm says


    It isn’t as if there’s a binary choice of motives here: ethnic hatred vs. consolidation of power. Throughout history the way dictators have wielded and solidified their power has been to focus their people’s emotions upon a common enemy, external or internal. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book, and as we can see all around us it is still popular today.

    Posted February 11, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Permalink
  12. Malcolm says


    You make some very good points — but you undermine yourself, in the mind of almost any reader, by bringing in Holocaust revisionism. Once you do that in any discussion of these topics, it’s all that anyone is going to focus on. (Note, for example, that it was all that Whitewall focused on.) Any other points you make will immediately be forgotten or discounted.

    Posted February 11, 2017 at 3:11 pm | Permalink
  13. “It isn’t as if there’s a binary choice of motives here: ethnic hatred vs. consolidation of power.”

    How about enemy vs. ally? Is that not a binary choice? It may have been Churchill who remarked about Stalin, “Yes, he’s a monster; but he’s our monster.”

    Posted February 11, 2017 at 5:03 pm | Permalink
  14. Malcolm says


    How about enemy vs. ally? Is that not a binary choice?

    Sure — but Stalin was Hitler’s ally, too. Also, it didn’t take long, after the war, for the Soviets to become our darkest foe.

    Posted February 11, 2017 at 5:38 pm | Permalink
  15. Wait a minute. Our ally in the greatest shooting war ever fought (and against Hitler) is not the same as a temporary ally of Hitler before the United States was involved in the war. Nor is it comparable to our adversary in a cold war.

    Are you looking for a possible reason why Hitler is the go-to guy for GOAT of evildoers (rather than Stalin) in the United States? Or are you merely advocating in favor of Stalin as the GOAT?

    I am trying to explain to you why, in the United States at least, it’s Hitler that is the overwhelming choice for GOAT. If you are simply advocating for Stalin as the rightful GOAT, that is not the sort of debate I am interested in joining.

    Posted February 11, 2017 at 7:45 pm | Permalink
  16. Malcolm says


    I am trying to explain to you why, in the United States at least, it’s Hitler that is the overwhelming choice for GOAT.

    That’s fine, and you may be right that our brief allegiance of convenience with the monstrous Stalin, prior to his drawing the Iron Curtain across half of Europe and the Soviet Union becoming our existential enemy, fills in some part of the picture.

    Posted February 11, 2017 at 9:11 pm | Permalink
  17. “Brief”? It’s a relative term, but it connotes diminishment of their 4 years of existential war with Hitler’s Nazi Germany.

    “Allegiance of convenience”? A commitment of what amounted to more than 11,000,000 Russian soldiers killed in their country’s existential war against Nazi Germany is not something I would describe as an “allegiance of convenience”.

    “Monstrous Stalin”? No doubt about that.

    “Iron Curtain …”? No argument there.

    “That’s fine, and you may be right …”? A rather tepid and disingenuous bone toss, albeit very much appreciated.

    Posted February 11, 2017 at 10:12 pm | Permalink
  18. Malcolm says


    After Barbarossa, the Soviets certainly had an existential war on their hands with Germany, but they didn’t go to war with Germany for our sake. Moreover, the British and the U.S. were very happy to let the Russians bleed out on the Eastern front for years before lifting a finger in Europe, and Stalin never forgot it. He had his troops rape their way to Berlin, and just as soon as the hostilities ended the Cold War began, which — as you are old enough to remember — very nearly became, on more than one occasion, a nuclear apocalypse that would have made World War II look like a pillowfight. I remember, as a boy, doing atomic-bomb drills in school because our erstwhile brothers-in-arms the Russians were trying, every day, to annihilate us. Meanwhile, the Germans, including special chums like Werner von Braun, were now our pals! — and all was forgiven.

    So yes, when I reflect on the interesting fact that Hitler now seems to occupy the position — with polarity reversed — that a recently retired God Almighty once occupied in Western discourse, I do think there is, perhaps, something more to the story than the plain fact of the Russians having also been at war with Germany can explain. (Sometimes, I think, it’s hard to see the woods for the trees.)

    But you are, as I acknowledged, quite right that Russia was our ally for several years in a dreadful war. I’m sorry if my acknowledgement of that seemed tepid and disingenuous.

    Posted February 11, 2017 at 10:48 pm | Permalink
  19. Malcolm,

    You are very good at word-sparring, and I have no problem conceding your superiority in that regard, though I hasten to add that I am not particularly interested in winning such arguments. What I do object to is being willfully misunderstood.

    I have already stated, with complete honesty, that I am not interested in debating who is “rightfully” considered to be the greatest villain of all time. I have my own opinion about that, but I do not give a damn whether or not other people’s opinion is different from mine. To each his own opinion.

    My use of the word “disingenuous” has nothing to do with whatever facts you wish to quote, which, by the way, I am not inclined to dispute. What I am referring to is your not stating for the record here what it is that you are trying to convey in your post and in your comments.

    Are you trying to engage in a GOAT debate between Hitler and Stalin, or are you trying to understand why people choose one or the other? If the latter, I have already exhausted whatever opinions I have about that; and if you think my suggestions are not satisfactory for your purposes, that’s OK with me (but do notice that you altered “you may be right” to “you are, as I acknowledged, quite right”). If it’s the former, however, I have already stated that I am not interested is such discussions.

    Posted February 11, 2017 at 11:34 pm | Permalink
  20. Malcolm says


    I hope I haven’t misunderstood you. If I have, it certainly wasn’t willful.

    As for what I was trying to convey in my post and my comments, I’ll be glad to clear that up.

    Mainly, my purpose was to call attention to the religiosity with which the image of Hitler, and his hellish host the Nazis, are invoked nowadays. The symmetries between the manifestations of reverence once given God and the anti-reverence now given this Anti-God are too close not to be evidence of a fully operational cryptoreligion, and I think that needs to be more widely recognized and understood.

    Second (and a distant second it was, for the purposes of this post): given that the religious impulse needs to settle on some unique object of attention, and given also that the supernatural realm is ruled out of bounds, the object would necessarily be some worldly figure. It turns out to have been Hitler. “Why Hitler?”, then, is also an interesting question, about which I have some opinions, and which I may take up in some future post (or perhaps even a book, as I think the rabbit-hole there is deeper than it seems to most people). I did not, however, intend the focus of this post, or this thread, to be the “GOAT” contest it turned into.

    So it’s all really quite simple, and I’m sorry that we were drawn into a more contentious discussion than was really necessary. I apologize for failing to have made all of this sufficiently clear. (Some posts turn out better than others.)

    Posted February 12, 2017 at 12:49 am | Permalink
  21. Well, Malcolm, thank you very much for that clarification. I am very glad we have cleared this up.

    I look forward to reading your future thoughts on this topic, as well as the book you may eventually write.

    Posted February 12, 2017 at 1:17 am | Permalink
  22. colinhutton says

    Nice post, thanks Malcolm. Your point about, absent god, the quasi religious apophatic (I had to look that up!) nature of resorting to the identification of an absolute evil rings true. It plays nicely into Becker’s ‘The Denial of Death’; which I have finally got around to reading recently. (I found it quite revelatory).

    I think your further point, “Hitler isn’t the postwar era’s secular Antichrist because he was racist. Racism, rather, is now the darkest of possible sins because it’s what Hitler did”, is exactly right, but was missed by some of the earlier commenters.

    But the question of ‘why Hitler’ rather than, say, Stalin or Mao, remains. It seems to me likely there were sufficient numbers of influential Marxist/socialists in Europe (and here in Aus.) for some years after 1945 who were prepared to overlook communist brutalities which were, after all, committed ‘in pursuit of good cause’. Furthermore, the iron curtain was pretty efficient at stopping the free flow of information as well as of people. After all,even today, there are those who aver that Castro had his good points and achieved some good things in Cuba! (I have never worked why Obama went to that concentration camp to meet Castro. What possessed him?).

    Posted February 13, 2017 at 8:32 am | Permalink
  23. Malcolm says

    Thanks, colin. I think I’ll embolden that passage.

    Posted February 13, 2017 at 11:49 am | Permalink
  24. Whitewall says

    What possessed him? Obama is sympathetic, maybe envious?

    Posted February 13, 2017 at 1:15 pm | Permalink
  25. colinhutton says

    “Sympathetic / Envious?” – I hadn’t thought of those. Could be!

    Posted February 14, 2017 at 4:45 am | Permalink
  26. colinhutton says

    I am no historian; but a couple of after-thoughts.

    Given that life for the average punter was pretty unpleasant under the dictatorial tsars/ Romanovs, inevitable change was necessarily revolutionary. Following that beginning, on a sympathetic reading, maintaining a sense of proportion, and bearing in mind the extent of Russian losses during WW2, I have always felt that Stalin’s dictum along the lines of ‘a single death is a tragedy, a million a statistic’ was a significant insight – both by him and into him. Similar considerations apply to Mao.

    While times during the Weimar republic were tough, it was, after all, a democracy and bringing about change did not demand murderous rampages of conquest across Europe.

    In short, at any rate between those three contemporaries, Hitler is surely the clear winner of the “GOAT” award.

    Your original post in 2015 was certainly prescient, Malcolm, given subsequent Brexit (and perhaps to a degree even Trump?). And it seems there is a reasonable chance that it could be prescient in particular of Wilders next month.

    Posted February 14, 2017 at 5:24 am | Permalink
  27. Whitewall says

    They might be aiming for Bannon in the long run, but got Flynn in the process via a self inflicted wound. The Trump Team needs to tighten up soon. Making America great again requires making America AMERICA again. The Left and the Deep State can’t tolerate that.

    Posted February 14, 2017 at 7:42 am | Permalink
  28. Malcolm says

    Here’s one attempt at a comparison, by the historian Timothy Snyder.

    I think further clarification is needed here: clearly, both Hitler and Stalin were monsters, at the far end of the range of human malevolence (which is saying a lot).

    What is is of diagnostic interest to the observer of postwar modernity, however, is the enormous disparity between the place Hitler occupies in contemporary Western culture — as a continually invoked incarnation of absolute Evil, and the closest thing we have, in the dominant liberal cryptoreligion, to a transcendent entity — and that given to Stalin, whose name, by comparison, rarely comes up. Hitler, in our culture, has a distinctive whiff of the supernatural about him, while Stalin is generally looked upon as just a common-or-garden malignant despot, albeit a world-class one. (We can see some of this in the comments above.)

    An important passage in the linked article is this (my emphasis):

    In the second half of the twentieth century, Americans were taught to see both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union as the greatest of evils. Hitler was worse, because his regime propagated the unprecedented horror of the Holocaust, the attempt to eradicate an entire people on racial grounds. Yet Stalin was also worse, because his regime killed far, far more people—tens of millions, it was often claimed—in the endless wastes of the Gulag. For decades, and even today, this confidence about the difference between the two regimes—quality versus quantity—has set the ground rules for the politics of memory. Even historians of the Holocaust generally take for granted that Stalin killed more people than Hitler, thus placing themselves under greater pressure to stress the special character of the Holocaust, since this is what made the Nazi regime worse than the Stalinist one.

    This applies to Europeans as well. But, to paraphrase another Bolshevik: ‘Who’ taught what to ‘whom’? The re-education of a shattered and prostrate Europe was overseen by a small nucleus of displaced German intellectuals, predominantly Marxists, who also had an outsized influence on the ideological climate of of the postwar American academy. (It would be disingenuous of me not to note as well that all of the most influential members of this group were also Jewish.) The development of Western culture in the latter half of the 20th century cannot properly be understood without examining this ideological evolution.

    Posted February 14, 2017 at 10:18 am | Permalink
  29. Samuel Skinner says

    “Given that life for the average punter was pretty unpleasant under the dictatorial tsars/ Romanovs, inevitable change was necessarily revolutionary.”

    I’m not sure how you can say that for either Stalin or Mao. We ironically do have a good measure of comparison between Stalin and the czars- famine.

    In 1891/2 the Russian Empire had a famine killed approximately .5 million people.

    In 1932/3 the Soviet Union had a famine killing up to 7 million people.

    It is also questionable revolutionary change was needed for development. Eastern Europe managed to start industrializing fine under dictatorships and monarchies. The fatal error of the czars was that they were weak, not that they were horrible- Nicholas atrocities (pogroms, repression) amount to 10,000s killed maximum after all.

    “I think further clarification is needed here: clearly, both Hitler and Stalin were monsters, at the far end of the range of human malevolence (which is saying a lot). ”

    I’d object to that. What Hitler and Stalin did was evil, but both of them believed their actions were moral. It isn’t even clear how they are at the far end of human malevolence- Hitler’s plan (liquidate the elite and rule over the peasants) is almost exactly the same as ‘level the cities and rule over peasants’ which is rather common.

    Posted February 16, 2017 at 4:29 am | Permalink
  30. colinhutton says

    Thanks for the link Malcolm. I read the article. Frankly, I think the weight given to numbers, by both it and you, greatly over-emphasizes their actual relevance, given the full range of issues which I believe are really in play – in addition to those we mentioned above. Insofar as moral considerations may be relevant in weighing the issue, I think my suggestion, that the overarching goal is relevant, is far more important than yours regarding education. We probably disagree on this – which is not an issue of course. However, developing this line of thought further would be stepping into a quicksand of complexity and significantly reliant on history. On that, I lean to the view, at the risk of sounding PoMo, that “history is a set of lies agreed upon” (Attrib. Napoleon).
    I have occasionally wondered when it was in recent times that ‘racism’ became a sin. So, the stand-out point (for me) in your OP was your suggestion (now bolded) that the generally accepted cause/effect be reversed. This wasn’t developed in your post or comment stream and I presume you were not implying that it was the only, or perhaps even principal, factor. In which case I would probably beg to differ. However, that is whole different theme – although one that seems to me would be more amenable to some sort of resolution than the ‘GOAT’ issue.

    Posted February 16, 2017 at 8:43 am | Permalink
  31. colinhutton says

    Thanks for your points, which I have taken on-board. Interesting, notwithstanding the somewhat jaundiced view I take on the significance of numbers and history; which I have expressed in my above comment to Malcolm.

    Posted February 16, 2017 at 8:57 am | Permalink
  32. Malcolm says


    Thanks for dropping by; you made some good points in that Aaronson thread.

    What Hitler and Stalin did was evil, but both of them believed their actions were moral.

    I think Socrates beat you to the punch on this one. It’s hard to see how this lets them off the hook, though.

    It isn’t even clear how they are at the far end of human malevolence…

    Well. I’m nearly 61 years old, and by now I’ve met a lot of people. Some of them have been real jerks. So far, though, I can’t recall a single one of them murdering tens of millions of civilians, invading neighboring nations under a false flag, establishing totalitarian dictatorships, sustaining themselves in power through terror, torture, and assassination, rampaging through whole continents, embarking on campaigns to enslave and exterminate entire races of their own most productive citizens, intentionally starving entire nations to death, or even liquidating any kulaks.

    (Small N, admittedly.)

    Posted February 16, 2017 at 12:43 pm | Permalink
  33. Malcolm says


    So, the stand-out point (for me) in your OP was your suggestion (now bolded) that the generally accepted cause/effect be reversed. This wasn’t developed in your post or comment stream and I presume you were not implying that it was the only, or perhaps even principal, factor.

    It’s a very important factor. It goes a long way toward explaining the world we live in now. I just thought it was beyond the scope of this post to develop it further.

    Posted February 16, 2017 at 12:47 pm | Permalink
  34. Robert says

    Forget the issue of numbers – no one argues that Hitler is the biggest killer of the 3.

    The reason Communist extermination, as appalling as it is, is viscerally less appalling than Nazi extermination is that the Communist reasoning for extermination — that “class” is a social injustice, therefore it must be liquidated — is something most moral people can, if not sympathize with, then at least incorporate into a certain moral framework.

    The Nazi reasoning for extermination — that certain races are inimical to us, therefore we must exterminate them — doesn’t even register as a moral argument: it instantly strikes one as motivated entirely by arbitrary will, that is, self-interest.

    Moreover, the Nazi reasoning is that individuals or groups ought to be exterminated based on an aspect of their inherent nature — racial affiliation — while the Communist reasoning calls for an abolition of something that can be identified as a “social construct” (class).

    Because social constructs are liable to social change, unlike inherent natures, one can, as I said, incorporate class-liquidation, which is indeed a type of “social change”, into a certain vision of social justice or “social fairness”; while in contrast, it’s not at all understandable how race-liquidation can be regarded as “social fairness”: since race isn’t a social construct at all, but rather it is an aspect of one’s inherent nature, it follows that race-extermination can’t be justified as “social progress”, only as self-interested warfare by one group (superior as it is) against another group (inferior as it is), which is altogether besides considerations of morality and immorality.

    (Thus, it’s ironic, or perhaps ominous, that Leftists nowadays insist vehemently that “race is a social construct”, because if that’s the case, then perhaps race-extermination can be morally justified after all!)

    It’s similar to killing all short or fat people. Can you find justifications for killing all short or fat people? Yes – but these aren’t, I assume, justifications that relate to social justice, or to social fairness. Hygiene and aesthetics, perhaps, could justify such an extermination, but that isn’t social fairness in the sense of correcting a social injustice, is it?

    “We must kill the shorties and the fatties because it would make society healthier and more beautiful” doesn’t register as a moral argument against social injustice, because morality isn’t involved whatsoever in such an argument; if anything, it strikes one as an immoral (or amoral) argument that itself constitutes an affront to social justice, in similar vein to arguments for race-extermination.

    While both Nazis and Commies call their adversaries “oppressors”, it’s easier to identify one’s oppressors as a class than as a race, because, if you argue that the Jew, by his very existence, oppresses the Aryan, then you could just as well argue that the Aryan, by his very existence, oppresses the Jew – meaning, such an argument, when applied to race, doesn’t go anywhere.

    In contrast, one can argue that the bourgeoisie, by its very existence, oppresses the proletariat; while an argument in the other direction is plainly preposterous, like arguing that the host oppresses the parasite.

    Indeed, the Nazis had to portray Jews as a parasitic entity leeching upon its Aryan host, thus make an argument of the “social fairness” variety, to incite anti-Semitism among moral, humanistic Germans. Meanwhile, “we, race X, should kill them, race Y, because different races are necessarily enemies” isn’t a social justice argument, so doesn’t make for convincing propaganda for moral, humanistic Germans.

    Nor does such an argument follow immediately from logic; one has to take into consideration the limitation of space, and consider it a necessity to expand territorially, as indeed the Nazis had done, to explain why far-away Jews/Slavs must die as well as Jews/Slavs near at hand, or why expulsion is not an adequate solution.

    (the Nazis would rather exterminate the Slavs than expel them to the East, because they wanted to conquer the East for settlement by Aryans; which means that extermination would be necessary eventually either way, and could only be delayed until the East is fully conquered; but why allow the Slavs to form a concentrated force in the East when they can be exterminated here and now, while they are disunited and scattered all-over?)

    Whereas “class X always and everywhere oppresses class Y” need not be supplanted by any additional premises regarding territory; unless you imagine one country populated exclusively by proletarians and another populated exclusively by bourgeois, which, unlike in the case of races, is indeed fantastical.

    Thus, it follows that a class, unlike a race, can be regarded as oppressive “by definition”.

    Posted February 20, 2017 at 9:47 am | Permalink
  35. Malcolm says


    What you have described here is the Marxist narrative that was at the center of the re-education of the West by the Frankfurt school after the war.

    (Thus, it’s ironic, or perhaps ominous, that Leftists nowadays insist vehemently that “race is a social construct”, because if that’s the case, then perhaps race-extermination can be morally justified after all!)

    This is an example of why I have for years described the radical skepsis of the post-Enlightenment Left, which dissolves all natural categories, as a “universal acid” that no container can hold.

    Thus, it follows that a class, unlike a race, can be regarded as oppressive “by definition”.

    Are you sure about that? It seems to me that this is precisely what we see in the media and the academy now as regards “whiteness”: that white people are inherently, and incurably, oppressive.

    Posted February 20, 2017 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

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