Springtime for Hitler and Germany. Deutschland is happy and gay. We’re marching to a faster pace, look out, here comes the master race. Springtime for Hitler and Germany. Winter for Poland and France. Springtime for Hitler and Germany, come on, Germans, go into your dance. It takes a heck of a good comedy writer to make Nazis funny, and Mel Brooks is surely one of them. In the 1968 film, The Producers, Brooks creates a farcical production Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden, a whimsical and tasteless musical play purporting to be about the happy home life of the dictator.
As a student of economics and of economic history I often wonder just how a country – and in the case of mid 20th Century Europe, a lot of countries – can fall under the sway of Fascism. A recent column by economist Walter Williams (A Superior Vision: http://townhall.com/columnists/walterewilliams/2016/04/27/a-superior-vision-n2153268) helps me understand and truly fear the kind of thinking that can lead to the kind of brutal regime that Hitler led.
Williams discusses the key elements of his value structure. He states that he bases his thoughts on the idea that when looking at all human issues, each of us owns himself. While most American’s might think that this statement is self-evident, it has rarely been the case. For most of human history, even extending to today, large parts of the population were considered to be property. The entire economy of the Roman Empire was built on slavery. Medieval Europe, Imperial China, and the settled parts of Africa were all feudal systems, where individuals were tied personally to kings and lords. Fascism was simply a modern, mechanized vision of state ownership of the individual.
When the state – either through a king, a Senate or an Emperor – owns the population then it can do what it wishes with individuals. This justifies Droit du seigneur, which was the legal right in medieval Europe, and elsewhere, allowing feudal lords to have sexual relations with subordinate women on their wedding night. It justifies slavery. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Dred Scott v. Sandford that the rights of slaveowners were constitutionally protected by the Fifth Amendment because slaves were categorized as property. It justifies the creation of concentration camps. The Euthanasia program was Nazi Germany’s first program of mass murder. It endeavored to eliminate what eugenicists and their supporters considered “life unworthy of life”: those individuals who—they believed—because of severe psychiatric, neurological, or physical disabilities represented both a genetic and a financial burden on German society and the state.
What this shows is that when a person is not considered to be his own property, then actions that may generally be considered to be criminal or immoral suddenly become justified. What is wrong with beating a slave if it is no different than a kettle or a shoe? Why spend the state’s resources feeding someone if they cannot produce tax revenues. Most Americans will agree that murder and rape are immoral, but (as was reported recently) the state in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, maintains a cadre of young women to service military and party brass. When you are the property of the State then the state can do what it wants with you.
This is what scares me when people argue that the government should tax smokers or force people to eat kale. These people argue that if you get diabetes or lung cancer than society is burdened with taking care of you. While this may be true, it was not the smoker or the donut eater that decided that society should take care of them, it was society. When the government decided that it wanted to control the health care system it voluntarily assumed that responsibility independent of how people behaved.
If government assumes the job of taking care of us, that does not give the government ownership of our person. Making this leap is dangerous, and no matter how well intentioned the health police may be, in reality they differ little from the doctors who diligently scanned every woman in Germany for breast cancer, and then sent those who showed lumps straight to Dachau.
Springtime for Hitler might have been a spoof. But history is awash in Hitlers and Kim Jung Uns and there is no guarantee that America will not fall sway to the same sort of barbarism.