THE LOGIC OF EVIL

THE SOCIAL ORIGINS OF THE NAZI PARTY, 1925-1933

A study of the rise of the Nazi Party that is sure to stir controversy. Traditional interpretations of National Socialism have stressed its irrational character: its mythial evocation of the Teutonic past; its pseudo-science of race and eugenics; and above all, its murderous anti-Semitism. Brustein (Sociology/Univ. of Minnesota) challenges us to reconsider who joined the Nazi Party before 1933 and why. Based on an examination of millions of documents and membership files from the Berlin Document Center, Brustein and his associates have compiled profiles of the millions of Germans who supported Hitler's rise to power. The theoretical framework for the study is the ``rational-choice'' model of social scientists: the idea that individuals and groups will act in accordance with their economic self-interest. As he states early and often: Before 1933, when the Germans still had free choice, millions supported the National Socialist party on the basis of rational factors rather than Hitler's charisma or the irrationalism of Nazi ideology. But the author makes a fundamental confusion between acting rationally and acting in one's best interest. Millions of Germans may have very calmly concluded that the irrational Nazi program was in their best interest, having been told for decades, if not centuries, that the Jew was the bane of their existence. Equally contentious is Brustein's assertion, as stated in the title, that evil can have logical or rational roots. Further, he argues that the Germans could not foresee the horrors of the war and the Holocaust between 1925 and 1933; yet anyone who has read Hitler's speeches or Mein Kampf cannot avoid the conclusion that the Germans knew exactly what the logical outcome of a Nazi society would be. Since anti-Semitism was deeply rooted in Germany, Brustein's contention that ``Hitler was astute enough as a politician to realize that his rabid anti-Semitism lacked the drawing power among the German masses'' seems bizarre. A fundamentally flawed work, yet one that demands consideration and response.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-300-06533-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1996

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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