Titled "A Nervous Breakdown in the Body Politic," Williams' essay asks the question, "Are we too complacent in thinking that the toxic brew of paranoia and populism that brought Hitler to power will never be repeated?"
It is a question worth asking as shrewd pundit Conrad Black argues for "The Inevitable Mr Trump" while a former staff member Stephanie Ciegelski agrees with Black's recognition of the angry populism propelling Trump forward but bluntly says Trump is all ego in an open letter to his supporters.
Williams writes about "demonic otherness" and notes that Hitler's rise was possible not because he won a few votes and manipulated the minority power that gave him but because a partisan quasi civil war in Bavaria in the 1920s made a mockery of the monopoly of state power in post-WW1 Germany. Without that monopoly nations provide the opportunities for monstrous egomaniacs who know how to use violence strategically to gain power polite people naively presume is impossible.
So Williams, reviewing Hitler: a Biography – Volume I: Ascent by Volker Ullrich, published by Bodley Head, worries, rightly in these disturbing times of toxicity, partisanship and civil wars affecting the whole world, about a complacency today which could let another Hitler rise to demonic domination.
Naturally those worries gnaw away at the phenomenon of Trumpism, though perhaps he should also worry while focusing on Hitler, about another political cartoon-like character, Ken Livingstone.
Thus he writes,
"The extraordinary mixture of farce and menace in Donald Trump’s campaign is a potent distillation of all this: a political theatre, divorced from realism, patience and human solidarity, bringing to the surface the buried poisons of a whole system and threatening its entire viability and rationality. But it is an extreme version of the way in which modern technology-and-image-driven communication intensifies the risks that beset the ideals of legitimate democracy.
And – think of Trump once again – one of the most seductively available tricks of such a theatre is the rhetoric of what could be called triumphant victimhood: we are menaced by such and such a group (Jews, migrants, Muslims, Freemasons, international business, Zionism, Marxism . . .), which has exerted its vast but covert influence to destroy us; but our native strength has brought us through and, given clear leadership, will soon, once and for all, guarantee our safety from these nightmare aliens.
Granted that there is no shortage of other candidates for demonic otherness in Europe and the United States (witness Trump’s language about Muslims and Mexicans), the specific and abiding lesson of Nazi anti-Semitism is the twofold recognition of the ease with which actually disadvantaged communities can be cast in the role of all-powerful subverters, and the way in which the path to violent exclusion of one kind or another can be prepared by cultures of casual bigotry and collective anxiety or self-pity, dramatised by high-temperature styles of media communication."
Read it all. We live in worrying times.
POSTSCRIPT: Interesting essay from Andrew Sullivan here. Wasn't he one of the contributors to the zeal for equality in America recently? LATER: Rejoinder both affirming and critical from Ross Douthat here.