Sunday, December 14, 2008
HUMANITY: A MORAL HISTORY OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY by Jonathan Glover
In this fine, terrible, chilling book, Glover points out an important and compelling distinction between Nazism and the other major totalitarian ideology of the 20th century, Stalinism. The communist genocides (Stalinist and Maoist terrors and famines, the Gulag, the Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot's 'Year Zero') can be tenuously traced to Enlightenment utopianism, albeit in nationalistically twisted forms. Part of their horror lies in the fact that these governments created hells in the name of building paradises. The Nazi terror was of a different philosophical order. It was a pre-Enlightenment movement fueled by a vision of ultimate German dominance, the 'thousand-year reich.' For the Nazis, the creation of hell on Earth was the end, not the means. Obviously this is a quibble from the point of view of the millions of victims of these regimes, but I think it does suggest a reason for the special horror the Nazi atrocities evoke in us. The Nazis, in the middle of modern Europe in the middle of the Modernist century, prided themselves on their anti-Utopianism. To adapt Martin Amis, they built an autobahn to the animal brain, and millions of people eagerly speeded to the end of that road.