‘Who Goes Nazi?’ — Dorothy Thompson (1941)
Recently I was tipped to an excellent essay from a 1941 issue of Harper’s Magazine: ‘Who Goes Nazi?’ by Dorothy Thompson. By way of imagining a series of guests at a dinner, Thompson interrogates the traits that incline someone towards fascism.
His code is not his own; it is that of his class—no worse, no better, He fits easily into whatever pattern is successful. That is his sole measure of value—success. Nazism as a minority movement would not attract him. As a movement likely to attain power, it would.
The cumulative effect of the essay’s construction is impressive; it’s a brilliant piece of social anthropology, and perhaps even more so considering when it was written and published.
Kind, good, happy, gentlemanly, secure people never go Nazi. They may be the gentle philosopher whose name is in the Blue Book, or Bill from City College to whom democracy gave a chance to design airplanes—you’ll never make Nazis out of them. But the frustrated and humiliated intellectual, the rich and scared speculator, the spoiled son, the labor tyrant, the fellow who has achieved success by smelling out the wind of success—they would all go Nazi in a crisis.
In the modern political climate of emboldened, far-right / alt-right nationalism it’s impossible to read the piece and not mentally extrapolate Thompson’s exercise into our current circumstance.