Monday, March 24, 2008

Kate's Konfusion

I'm going to be the spoiler here. My fellow bloggers, let's not go too far, calling Kate McMillan a Holocaust-denier and such. She's nothing of the kind.

Her post yesterday has already attracted so much contumely that the latter might well serve as an object lesson to her--she's over-fond of calling people anti-Semites, is our Kate, and the biter is now well and truly bit.

But Kate is no Holocaust-denier. She merely published a stunning example of political illiteracy.
The post is actually about her arch-enemy Warren Kinsella, written in her usual offhand manner. Kinsella had ventured the opinion that people went to war in 1939 to fight Nazism, and we should perhaps remember that, rather than putting up with young neo-Nazi thugs in Calgary and sucking up to the Right's current victime du jour, Marc Lemire. Something along those lines. So Kate responds by alleging that Kinsella is in bed with Hezbollah. And she quotes someone even more boneheaded (go chase up the link for yourselves) who says, referring to Kinsella, "You're just as elitist, just as tyrannical, and just as much a dictator as those you profess to despise." Calling Mike Godwin...

But this tiresome hyperbole ("Heil Kinsella" doesn't have the same, er, ring to it, but maybe that's just me) isn't what's interesting about the post. It's the first part that has everyone talking, and rightly so. Here it is:

The Nazis Didn't Carry Out The Holocaust. The German state did that. National Socialism just gave the machinery of state censorship and oppression a new brand name and game plan.

The link here is to Mike Brock, who says,

Nazis used secret courts, secret judges and secret evidence to dish out the terror they did on the Jewish people of Western Europe. Certainly, Human Rights Commissions in Canada have not committed the same atrocities that were committed in the Nazi courts. But I suppose my point is—as is the point of many free speech advocates and libertarians—is that it's only a matter of degree.

Good grief. "A matter of degree." And the man's serious. This, brothers and sisters, is conservatism on acid. And he's obviously been passing the purple mikes around with a generous hand.

has dropped a tab or two, it seems. Needless to say, she's cheered on mindlessly by her ditto-heads, but Mark Collins (of Daimnation and The Torch) knows enough history to put up a dignified opposition, and he has sufficient conservative street cred to avoid the usual trashing that dissenters routinely get over there. He notes, quite rightly, that a lot of the killing of Jews was done by Nazi Party members operating outside the state.* A further commenter decries her post as "ahistorical," and takes what we might call the commonsense view: states don't kill people; people kill people. The nub of Kate's argument, on the other hand, is the very reverse: Nazis didn't kill people--the German state killed people.

I don't agree with either position.

Let's start with "the state." A state is not a thing. Rather, it is an ever-changing set of relationships between people and institutions. States don't think; they don't feel; they don't kill. Where a state is run by a latter-day sovereign like Adolf Hitler, if I might use Giorgio Agamben's terminology, the machinery of the state is in his hands, and in those of other people permitted to wield power in his name. He's not so much above the law as he is the giver of the law. And his state institutions will, if he so decides, enable people to murder. In that sense they are themselves weapons.

But that is really as far as one can stretch things. In any case, the Third Reich wasn't some generic "state" that fell into the wrong hands. It was a Nazi state, run by and for Nazis, its institutions shaped by Nazi ideology. Canada isn't the Third Reich, our Human Rights Commissions (which oversee a process that mediates complaints between citizens) are not Nazi constructs, and Kinsella is not Hitler. I'm amazed I should have to make these points, but I guess I shouldn't be.

Nazis killed people, and the state gave a lot of them the authority to act. We, on the other hand, have separation of powers, responsible government (I refer to the governance structure, not to the Harper regime), elections, a
Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and--thank goodness--Human Rights Commissions. Nazis don't like Human Rights Commissions. Oh, I know, a lot of other folks have taken a dislike to them, too. And I wouldn't say they're all Nazis, of course not. But could it be, at least in some cases, that--it's only a matter of degree?

Collins stands corrected, I believe, by another commenter, who points out that a number of people other than Jews--Roma, gays, Poles, political dissenters--perished in the Holocaust as well. Indeed, the Holocaust consumed twelve million people, of whom six million were not Jewish.

1 comment:

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