The straight dope on the Nazis: were they left or right/liberal or conservative?

Left wingers/liberals are constantly being compared to Nazis. Glenn Beck incorporates Third Reich footage on his show in discussing the Obama “regime”, the corporate bailout = socialism and socialism = National Socialism = Nazis. I’m sure everybody’s seen those “Raise your right hand if you believe in gun control” bumper stickers with Hitler giving the Nazi salute because Nazis of course banned most private handgun ownership (after legally stockpiling assault rifles for their private militia before coming to power, which is odd because private militias are to be preserved at all costs).

Sometimes it gets really loopy and tangential: Obama is charismatic and a good public speaker… LIKE HITLER!!!

The Nazis were socialists, in name and in practice, and while it can be argued that socialism in 1930s Germany was extremely different from socialism as applied to some businesses and aspects of government in modern western Europe and Canada is different, nevertheless it is true that socialism is left wing.

In popular parlance
Socialism = Left Wing = Liberal

Hitler was a Socialist, therefore Hitler was a Liberal it seems. At least to many ultraconservative commentators.

Which is odd because Nazi social policies could hardly have been less liberal. It is absolutely impossible to separate the hate speech from Nazi teachings and philosophy and rhetoric, it was there from the movement’s conception. Hitler hated Jews above all but also Catholics, gays, feminists, and… uh… liberals.

And while I’m not calling Rush Limbaugh a neo-Nazi (though I’m sure he could fit into one of Göring’s old uniforms if he had to), if you were to listen to a Limbaugh speech and then to an Obama speech, both randomly selected and not tailored, you would probably find worlds more similarities twixt Rush/Beck/Hannity/Dobbs/etc. and Hitler than twixt Obama and Hitler. I’m not the only person who notices this: several self described neo-Nazis and Aryans who have gotten into trouble with the law have books by these pundits all over their homes (the cop murderer in Pittsburgh recently, the Aryan in Tennessee, Lou Dobbs was voted awards by an Aryan Nations web site, etc.).

Now, while the historical truth is as ever more complicated than its twitterization it’s also extremely ironic to me that one thing most people “know” about Hitler is that he took an economy that was absolutely smashed flat and worthless due to World War I (the war itself and the indemnity) and the worldwide Depression and restored it to a great powerhouse, as great or greater than it had ever been on the world stage. It bears repeating: in most people’s concept of history, including those of the right, Hitler fixed the German economy.

Through socialism.

Which is what makes him a liberal.

OTOH his conservative views against Jews and all others who weren’t Aryans are what made him the greatest supervillain of all time.

Anyway, I apologize for the rambling- this began as a rant over another “liberals = leftists = Nazis” comment but I decided it would be more interesting as a debate, and there’s some jetlag from the flying to a different forum. So the question is:
Would Hitler/The Nazi State be better categorized as liberal or conservative, or as left wing or right wing, or would you rule them incomparable to our concepts of these terms.

What, with so much argument on this score among academics you think we can solve it here?

Nazism and other Fascist movements borrowed a lot from the Left - they were mass movements, undeniably socialist, most adopted social Darwinism to varying degrees when this was still seen as a progressive view. They had little use for moderating conservative elements in society like the Church, independent guilds, the nobility or a professional military - desiring always to coopt these institutions or bypass them with ones loyal to the Movement. All in all they were radical movements that were in no way conservative - and certainly not liberal either, at least not in a classical sense.

To the degree that they can be seen as right wing, personally I think that is limited to the fact that Fascism and Nazism were anti-Communist and nationalist. The last part is the connection between modern American conservatives and the wackjob neos - conservatives still have a nationalist streak. If someone carries this aspect of the philosophy to an extreme, he’ll be past Limbaugh and Beck and into troubling territory indeed. That’s not necessarily an indictment of nationalism, but of extremism. The fact that modern liberals aren’t nationalist to this degree does not mean they aren’t susceptible to similar things - it is just that extremism in their causes will lead them to other things besides the Poplawski mess.

Separate out 2 spectra: one for social policy, one for economic policy

On one end of the economic policy spectra, you have controlled production, the other, you have pure laissez-faire

Both communist and fascist economic thoughts focused on controlled means of production (though for differing social reasons), so they are both pretty far away from pure laissez-faire
On one end of the social policy spectra, you have live-and-let-live, do what you want, government has no say on this, on the other you have xenophobia, ethnic nationalism, state control of thought and society, etc.

Fascists were clearly on the “ethnic nationalism” side of this scale. I don’t think it’d be totally unfair to suggest that communist ideology does not require (and probably does not endorse) policies as severe as fascism. Indeed, Marxism was largely economics-only. So, communists were probably socially a little more moderate
So, what does that leave you? You can equate socialists to fascists in terms of economic control, but it’s disingenuous to do so. Why? because whenever you talk about nazis/fascists in common parlance, you’re not talking about the economic spectrum; you’re talking about the ethnic clensing and other ethno-national programs that defined nazi social policy.

Authoritarianism isn’t right or left wing, and I don’t think it’s accurate to call the Nazis conservative or liberal as a whole.

While this is true, I would quibble with your term there - Hitler wasn’t an authoritarian, he was a totalitarian. He sought to control every aspect of the state and society.

There were fascist authoritarians - Franco is probably the best example of this, particularly in his later years. Authoritarians seek control of the state and typically most of the media but leave much of daily life alone for most people.

Nazism isn’t really “Right” or “Left” within the spectrum of modern Western politics. Lots of people have tried to force-fit Nazis into the politics of whomever they’re opposed to, but unless who you’re opposed to is in fact a Nazi or close to it, they’re usually dishonest or really missing the point.

It is notable that the OP assumed “left wing” and “liberal” are the same when they certainly are not, and assumes “right wing” and “conservative” are also the same when they are not. The OP speaks of “conservative views against Jews,” which doesn’t even make any sense, and asserts that his “socialist” policies were liberal, though in fact they generally weren’t. Not trying to shoot you down here Sampiro, but the answer to your question is that to some extent you’re asking the wrong question.

I’ll propose something that will sound a bit strange: In 1936, Adolf Hitler was the least liberal AND the least conservative leader of any nation-state on the planet. Hitler was extreme in his radicalness, not the slightest bit conservative. He wanted to change and modernize Germany in vast, dramatic ways, which is precisely not conservative. He was also the least liberal guy around - there is certainly no definition of “liberal” that could reasonably be applied to Nazism.

The Nazis were National Socialists. They were Nazis - a branch of extreme fascism completely divorced from Western civilization’s conception of an objective right and wrong. Their political position was not on the current American one-dimensional tug of war between Democrat and Republican; it was in a completely different dimension altogether.

Of course many who post here are already familiar with The Political Compass and the idea that Left/Right has little to do with Authoritarian/Libertarian dimensionality.

For kicks I just took the Political Compass Test trying the best I could to answer as I thought a Nazi would. The results placed my answers of course highly authoritarian and just slightly to the Left, while they put Hitler as highly authoritarian and just slightly to the Right.

From what I know of Nazism, it was totally extreme conservative. To the extent that there were liberal elements (socialism?) they were not what made Nazis bad. Everything evil about the Nazis was conservative.

As **Mr. Moto **points out they were nationalistic. Patriotism was extreme. Flags were everywhere. Everything was on behalf of the Fatherland. This is, of course a totally conservative trait.

Civil liberties? People hate the liberal ACLU because they’re always worried about the rights of the oppressed. Hitler killed the oppressed. As I understand it, he killed not only Jews, but Communists, blacks, disabled, gays and gypsies. The hallmark of liberals is their bleeding heart concern for minorities and underdogs. Hitler murdered underdogs. Nobody ever accused Hitler of being a bleeding heart. Racists have traditionally been conservative.

Conservatives love the military. They always whine about how liberals are soft on defense. Was Hitler soft on defense? Hardly. He built up a huge military machine that should have delighted conservatives.

A common liberal bumper sticker is “question authority”. Conservatives insist we “respect authority”. The Nazis were all about authority. I don’t think the Gestapo liked to be questioned.

I don’t know whether the Nazis’ brand of “socialism” involved much taking from the rich and giving to the poor, but if it did, that’s certainly not what made them evil.

RickJay points out that Hitler made big changes, which is not conservative. Perhaps that’s true, but it seems to me he made the sort of changes conservatives liked. Was there much opposition to Hitler that could be called conservative?

The fact that right wing commentators try to paint liberals as similar to Nazis shows both their addiction to name-calling smears and their utter disregard for reality.

I’ll just offer a pointless anecdote from this part of the globe (Scandinavia). I remember being taught in school and from my lifetime of news exposure, that Nazism is on the extreme right of the political spectrum, with communism/socialism occupying the opposite side. I haven’t made any thorough political analysis, but by reading this thread I am very surprised to hear people associating the Nazis with the left, if only because throughout my whole life I have seen them associated with extreme right-wing groups. I do understand the futility of reducing a party to a point on a one dimensional line though.

On which grounds are they likened with socialism? From my admittedly limited knowledge of national socialist politics I don’t see how they are compatible.

I think according to one analysis, Fascists are “extreme centrists” on the capitalist-communist gamut.

Nazis started out as socialist-nationalists, but Hitler was an expansionist racialist & drove the party in that direction (by assassination of his rivals in the party). Hitler’s party was generally considered Fascist, but was primarily concerned with a nationalist & racialist paradigm centered on subjugation of neighboring peoples.

So, no, not really right or left as Americans understand the term. There are righties with fascist tendencies as well as lefties with fascist tendencies. Hitler was an expansionist with fascist tendencies.

That said, due to the fact that the Nazis developed in a world concerned, even obsessed, with the left-right paradigm as defined by Lenin, Hitler made a point of defining himself as the champion of a sort of progressivism of the Right. He was a radical & reformer, not a conservative strictly speaking. But his rhetoric, his pose, as it were, being defined in opposition to Lenin, was implied to be a sort of Strong Right Wing harking back, perhaps, to some atavistic order or to something in the intrinsic [del]human[/del] “Aryan” character.

This helped him gain support from wealthy industrialists whom a Lenin or Robespierre would have liked to pauper &/or slaughter. Hitler’s regime was always a bit internally weak in an absolute sense, because he ruled by the assent of a wealthy class.

In that sense, he was Rightist of a kind. He certainly claimed to be.

There is a sort of common note with the sort of “movement conservative” who claims that “all the new ideas of the last thirty years were on the right,” thus putting the lie to any claim of literal conservatism as Burke might know it. Conservatism is leery of change & traditionalist. Rightism is whatever the right side of the aisle are distinctively about.

So yes, Right Wing, as once in power, Hitler defined the wings. Not, however, conservative.

Was there much opposition to Hitler internally? This was a totalitarian regime with secret police, neighbors encouraged to rat you out, your kids organized into a party cadre and all opposition parties, right left and center, banned.

Konrad Adenauer, a rising Center Party politician, refused to shake hands with a local Nazi leader in 1933, right after the takeover. He spent the next twelve years in hiding or in prison and his house was confiscated. This happened to other politicians of other parties - some suffered far worse.

Adenauer, of course, was the first postwar chancellor.

I will say, too, that we did have at one time a presidential administration that displayed many of the classic hallmarks of fascism - I’d call it a soft fascism. These included syndicalist or corporatist actions in the economy, aggressive government propaganda, racist and segregationist actions by the federal government, raids on government opponents, imprisoning dissidents, and even the use of a cadre strikingly similar to the brownshirts.

Was this a conservative administration? Hardly. It was the progressive Wilson administration.

Is a cow more like a cat than like a dog?

The collectivization of agricultural production is a major component of communism as traditionally understood, and its implementation has historically entailed the deaths of tens of millions in East Asia and the former Soviet Union. By comparison, 20 years of Fascist rule in Italy did not lead to such brutal societal upheaval.

I think the fine folks who first popularized the tricolore might take exception to that comment.

I kind of like this description. I’m currently reading Niall Ferguson’s War of the World, and one of the more interesting passages so far is when he examines the particulars of the inauguration speech in early '33 of that charismatic demagogue who denounced those elements of society responsible for the current economic crisis and fervently called upon the citizenry to embrace his radical policies as a means for national renewal. You know, this guy. By comparison, Hitler’s speech of a few weeks earlier was strikingly similar in many respects, though of course differing in its emphasis on eradicating the evils of Marxism and harkening back to a mythical shared culture through the millennia.

One of the major political strengths the Nazi party had in their appeals to the electorate was that they could, and would, tailor their message to the particular audience at that day’s rally. Machinists in Hannover? “We will control retail prices and provide full employment.” Industrialists in Essen? “We will control wages and break the power of the trade unions.” Farmers in Bavaria? “Those who work the land are the soul of the Fatherland and its hope for rejuvenation.” And on and on. They could promise everything to everybody, with some degree of credibility, precisely because they were, paradoxically, both liberal and conservative.

There was (ineffective) opposition from the aristocratic class, including the Valkyrie plot.

Why can’t people just accept that left/right liberal/conservative are not adequate to describe the sum total of the political experience?


So mass movements are now exclusively leftist? Democracy, hating taxes and congress, and liking puppies are verboten in conservatism?

I’ll deny it. Fascist governments were totalitarian, and maintained the right to control corporations to glorify the state, but you could just as easily declare the U.S. a socialist state for the total control of the military-industrial complex, a significant portion of health care, and a large chunk of agriculture. True laissez-faire capitalism is a fantasy unless we’re talking about Somalia. Besides, every fascist economy was so tainted by the authoritarian police state that it’s difficult to pick out a coherent economic policy.

Bullshit. They were selectively interpreting scientific speculation, what you call progressivism, to justify their racist and nationalist viewpoints. Modern conservatives gladly quote the Bell Curve and social Darwinism when attacking affirmative action and progressive taxation while discrediting actual darwinism and psychology in general.

Simply suppressing sources of authority aside from the state. Has little to do with political philosophy.

They were plenty conservative, and fairly liberal by modern american standards. I’ll simply say that promising a third economic path between laissez-faire and outright communism wasn’t what motivated the masses. It was blaming ethnic minorities for problems, a promise of military glory, and cherishing traditional nationalism that were the bread and butter of fascism.

In the 1920’s and 1930’s, fascism was seen as a progressive movement by liberals in the United States. In fact, the Nazi party started out as the German Worker’s Party, and always had a strong ‘progressive’ aspect to it. Nazis opposed ‘international socialism’, but it was the ‘international’ part they had problems with, not the socialism. You could say that the Nazi party was about socialism for members of the correct race, paid for on the backs of everyone else.

Nonetheless, these are some of the things the Nazis stood for:

  • Government provided full employment
  • universal education including fully subsidized secondary education.
  • universal health care
  • the abolition of ‘unearned’ income, and the breaking of ‘rent-slavery’
  • nationalization of trusts
  • old age pensions for all (“All” meaning ‘real’ Germans, and not the ‘mongrel’ races)
  • a division of profits between industry and workers
  • protection of the middle class from the ‘rich’
  • unlimited state control over private enterprise

Mixed in with these principles were a bunch of hideous racist and nationalist policies which don’t really have an analogue in any political party today.

I think the best description of Nazism was 'liberalism combined with xenophobic racism and violent suppression of dissent, coupled with an expansionist military philosophy."

I don’t find anything remotely resembling modern conservatism or capitalism. In fact, Nazis were explicitly anti-capitalist.

Other fascist regimes did not share the racism of the Nazis. Mussolini’s plan was to restructure the business world into cooperative organizations owned equally by capitalists and trade unions. You know, like Obama’s plan for Chrysler.