It is an observation so universally acknowledged that it has its own name: Godwin’s Law.
It refers to the inevitability of Hitler being invoked in the course of any heated political discussion. The first disputant to resort to the ad Hitlerum argument loses.
So therefore, at the outset, let us make it clear that there is no Hitler lurking in our western democracies. However foul Trump, Johnson and Morrison may be by ordinary human standards, they are no Führers. An argument can be made for Hitler-like tendencies in the presidents of Brazil, Poland and the Philippines, but for now the anglophone countries at least are not run on National Socialist principles.
And yet we are uncomfortable. A self-congratulatory meme that spread among the nations victorious in the last world war was: ‘We would never allow what happened in Germany to happen in Australia [America, England, etc]. Unlike the compliant Germans, we Australians [Americans, Englishmen, etc] would resist the rise of Nazism’.
For almost twenty years the LNP in Australia, unopposed by Labor, has been introducing laws that restrict freedom under the guise of ‘national security’
For almost twenty years the LNP in Australia, unopposed by Labor, has been introducing laws that restrict freedom under the guise of ‘national security’.
At least half of our mainstream media has been willing to accept, and even encourage, these attacks on civil liberty. Twenty years is a long time for the frog to get used to the rising temperature of the water; the whole Fascist era in Europe lasted only twenty years.
So without political opposition and without effective media resistance (until very recently when repressive laws actually began to impinge on journalists), authoritarianism has begun to creep into our national life.
We are tending towards authoritarianism. We are not there yet. Peter Dutton is not a reincarnation of Heinrich Himmler, although he shares that creature’s naked thirst for power. The LNP as a whole has not completely surrendered to the philosophy of ‘might is right’, although most of its members behave as if that is what they believe.
Every erratic far-right thought balloon launched by Morrison and not immediately shot down moves our politics further away from democratic norms
But every erratic far-right thought balloon launched by Morrison and not immediately shot down moves our politics further away from democratic norms established over many years and into the cult of whim and personality – and ultimately, autocratic rule.
When those first discordant notes of authoritarian government are sounded, what percentage of the people need to recognise what is happening in order for it to count as resistance?
This is where the old comforting meme of ‘it couldn’t happen here’ needs re-examining. During Hitler’s reign (the Law strikes again!), between one and three million Germans, depending on which sources you consult, spent time in prisons or concentration camps on political grounds or for resisting the regime. The larger figure represents nearly five per cent of the population of the time.
Taking that larger estimate, over a period of just twelve years almost one in twenty Germans gave up their freedom, and in many cases their lives, to resist the tide of Fascism taking over their country.
But not only was one in twenty not enough to overcome Nazi rule, it was not even enough to overcome the false perception that the German people were all compliant with it.
Now in Australia we face laws that are designed to protect the government from scrutiny, to punish those who blow the whistle on official corruption, to prohibit protest and dissent, and to render even the reporting of such matters a criminal offence.
The police forces in Queensland, NSW and Victoria have been allowed, if not encouraged, to become brutal, racist and non-responsive to civil checks
Meanwhile the police forces in Queensland, NSW and Victoria have been allowed, if not encouraged, to become brutal, racist and non-responsive to civil checks. Decent members of the police are not yet in a minority, hopefully, but they appear to be powerless to affect the dominant culture.
Putting together repressive laws and an out of control police force is a recipe for civic disaster. Bad laws have to be resisted, but vicious policing ensures that non-violent protest is virtually impossible. Assuming that there is a rationale behind this wilful attack on civil society, and it is not just to foster the tabloid optics of demonising any opposition to government, we can discern the outline of what an authoritarian regime intends to deploy to keep public order, once the effects of climate change – drought, fire, food and water shortages, etc – become even more serious. These are rehearsals for Armageddon.
Morrison and his ilk are not Hitler, and never intended to be like Hitler.
However, convergent evolution sometimes creates similar organisms by very different routes.
Clinging to the economic status quo, which brings the current government and its cronies great political and financial rewards at the expense of almost everyone else, also entails the denial of climate-change, the rejection of science and the refusal to allow an orderly transition to a carbon-free economy.
With no plan but holding on to power for its own sake and by whatever means, it is not surprising that the LNP has begun to resemble the monsters from our past
With no plan but holding on to power for its own sake and by whatever means, it is not surprising that the LNP has begun to resemble the monsters from our past.
The important question is what proportion of the population needs to conscientiously resist in order to avoid history repeating itself. In this sense the activities of striking schoolchildren and Extinction Rebellion are valuable beyond compare.
Such groups, like the brave five per cent of Germans, have made their choice, and we need many more people to emulate them.