Nazi Thought Contagion

N Rose (
Tue, 07 Oct 1997 15:49:34 +0000

Message-Id: <>
Date: Tue, 07 Oct 1997 15:49:34 +0000
From: N Rose <>
Subject: Nazi Thought Contagion

Hi Aaron,

Some thoughts, comments and general devil's advocacy about your
piece on Nazism:

1) The adversative mode - an alternative hypothesis

It is certain that emotional involvement in an argument is a
powerful device, but for what purpose? This reminds me of
Ridley's 'Origins of Virtue' where in one section he talks about
the role of emotional display in terms of supporting tit-for-tat
kinds of altruism. Reciprocal altruism (from classical
sociobiology) requires some 'faith' on the part of the giver -
that the receiver will reciprocate. By expressing emotion (which
Ridley describes as increasing our investment in the deal) we can
demonstrate our readiness to reciprocate, or our outrage at being
cheated. If I steal money off you and you go beserk, I can see
by your investment of emotion that it may not be worth my while
keeping the money - and give it back. Is the Nazi's use of
emotion a device to support reciprocal altruism. Are people
(neutral to the argument) intimidated by the Nazi threats - or
convinced by the epic display of emotion that the Nazi is
justified when he complains of crimes committed against him and
his race.

Given that much German insecurity at the time was due to their
feeling that they had been hard done by at the WWI armistice -
losing much territory, extortionate reparations, etc. I think it
would be simplistic to suggest that people did not stand up
against Nazi memes simply because they were intimidated. I
certainly think that both the British and American governments
(and probably popular opinion) became convinced that perhaps the
German people had been hard done by. Which is why they did
nothing when Hitler marched back into the third Reich.

2) The origin of Nazi Anti-Semitism?

The Jewish consiracy, which many Nazi's blamed for coming out of
WWI so badly, was certainly used as justification for the
deportation, and eventually extermination of that people. But as
you point out anti-Semitism was hardly new. Examples off the top
of my head include the spanish inquisition, and the behaviour of
many of the armies travelling to the crusades (which took the
opportunity to harrass the Jews of the Rhine - certainly in the
1097(?) crusade). Medieval Christianity certainly contains many
examples of anti-Semitism - but the Nazi's hardly appeared to be
employing medieval christian doctrine. You say that
anti-Semitism has its origins in the memetic evolution of
Christianity - but there is (to my knowledge) no evidence of such
neotony occurring in 1930's Germany within Christian thinking.
Indeed much of Nazi racial thinking was based on a perversion of
Darwinism - which you entirely fail to mention!

3) What about Communism in 1930's Germany?

Many of the processes and points you make about the Nazi's could
also be held for the Communists at the time; they were not
opposed to using violence and being aggressive in debates, the
upper classes as part of a conspiracy to keep the worker poor,
the attraction of wealth confiscation (from the rich), etc.

Your model for the success of Nazism in 1930's Germany is
interesting - but why did it succeed over it's chief rival ...
Communism?? (which had been so successful in Russia). I mean
can it be described in terms of differential survival. It is one
thing to say that Nazism was a good replicator - but another to
say why Nazism was a better replicator than another ideology.
Without this the story is incomplete - IMO

I'll leave it there. Hope you find the comments interesting.

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