Nazi Germany: Where Liberals and Racists Were Morally Equivalent

Nazis and Communists are so intertwined in the public imagination that vital differences between them get lost. One significant difference is how political opponents were dealt with. Communists in the USSR scythed down the opposition. This was in keeping with the transformative revolution. Nazis, on the other hand, dealt with opponents in a more nuanced way. True, they imprisoned and killed a not inconsiderable sum of enemies. But, in keeping with their more conservative revolution, Nazis used instruments of the previous liberal regime and kept many of the old guard around. In other words, Nazis allowed liberals to operate publicly and they followed the liberal Weimar constitution. Until the end of the war, Hitler went cap in hand to the Reichstag parliament asking for support, most notably for new Enabling Acts so he could govern under a state of emergency. All the while, there was vocal and organized opposition from liberals and increasingly disillusioned conservatives, the latter having supported Hitler initially.

Nazi Germany is a famous example of a country where liberals, and indeed moderates, were afforded moral equivalence with fanatical racists, nativist zealots, and militaristic thugs. The Nazis always claimed to be good democrats, merely using their legal and political rights to contribute to public discourse. After they seized power, they did not wipe out opponents as the Bolsheviks had done but engaged with them. Surely no major nation in the world in 2017 would repeat the mistakes of Nazi Germany and give liberals and racists the same public space?

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