Category Archives: Philosophy

Gun Problems

We have gun problems in the U.S. We’re not alone– many nations have gun problems. Ours are interesting in part because of our profoundly exuberant and resilient ‘gun culture’, as well as our constitutional protection of gun rights.

The right to bear arms has been argued to be both a private, individual protection of individuals against crime, of individuals and citizens against big government, and of course there’s the argument that it’s not about individuals so much as it’s a protection of the citizenry in general’s ability to form militias.

I don’t know which of these were meant to be protected by the U.S. constitution. Perhaps all of them are. I do believe that which of them is most valuable should also be weighed against the cost of fundamentally altering the original document by new amendments, or by radical reinterpretation (especially narrow interpretation) of the meaning of the 2nd amendment. Whatever the exact meaning of the 2nd amendment, it is embedded deeply in American culture, for good or for ill. Which means that discussions of gun safety, gun rights, and gun control are especially heated.

I have few ideas about ways in which discussion of guns in the U.S. can change for the better. There are 2 ways I know of to attempt to reconcile positions that are enormously different. The first is compromise. The second is innovation. They are not mutually exclusive. Gun rights advocates and gun control advocates need to stop ‘talking past each other.’

A stereotypical conversation about gun rights and problems might go like this:

Liberal: “We should really do something about these crazy shooters! Wouldn’t less guns and more difficult access to guns make it harder for them to be as violent?”
Conservative: “The 2nd amendment guarantees my rights to bear arms and defend myself from these shooters.”

These two haven’t really talked about the same thing– not yet. And usually the argument doesn’t get past this problem, although the particulars will vary and it may go on a long time. Liberals object to all the solutions conservatives propose, and vice versa. Part of this stems from the fact that gun violence is hard to study, and to some degree has been made more difficult by the attempts of the NRA to make gun studies harder to do, or to prevent funding for such studies. On the other hand, liberals are just as guilty as conservatives; they are notorious for ignoring or dodging the argument that says that CCWs, armed guards, and better police presence can reduce violence by making criminals think twice about what might happen if they attempt a crime. Conservatives and liberals both appeal to studies and statistics from various places in the world, but usually neither group accounts very well for the cultural differences or the contexts for many of these things. Conservatives will cite Switzerland as an example of a highly armed society where crime is minimal– but ignore the fact that the requirement for military service in Switzerland is very different than our military structure in the U.S., or they make the argument broader by claiming that Switzerland’s model of required military service would be beneficial. But that’s a different kind of claim. Simple small changes are easier to talk about than enormous shifts in military requirements, and the cultural differences between Switzerland’s historically (fairly) homogeneous people and the diversity of groups in the U.S. (and the ensuing cross-cultural internal struggles or lack thereof) are difficult to incorporate into a solid pro-gun argument.

Liberals on the other hand will cite countries in which firearms are effectively banned, like Japan or Britain. There are problems with these categorizations, too, the most obvious of which is Britain’s high violent crime rate– there is more to these pictures than liberals usually choose to portray. In addition, these arguments are not likely to even appeal to an audience that regards firearms as something fundamentally different from what liberals categorize them as.

Liberals see guns as a tool with a single function– and little nuance to that function. According to them, the gun is a device to kill with, and a handgun in particular is designed for killing people, not animals. And of course there are also liberal groups that don’t even recognize hunting as a valuable or legitimate activity, but that’s another argument entirely. But this is exactly where I think the divide becomes important– how we regard a tool, and the level of nuance which we give it.

Conservatives too, are guilty of ignoring nuance, as they portray firearms as simply protective devices for law-abiding citizens, and ignore virtually the entirety of the community and individual instances of the abuse of firearms in the name of justice, so-called ‘Manifest Destiny’, or again, ‘protection,’ that dominate the historical U.S. landscape, especially the mid-west, the west, and the south of the U.S. Here I refer to the attitudes that generate police militarization, a problematic development that in recent years has both libertarians and liberals outraged quite often. Some will want to dismiss this as unrelated to the issue of individual firearm ownership, but there is likely a deep connection between the issues, when one focuses on the psychology of guns.

Both conservatives and liberals ought to be more willing to attempt to grasp the values the other group has before they even begin to engage in an argument. Essentially, both groups approach the gun issue with a typically closed mindset about what they will or will not agree to as solutions for the problems we face.

Guns are a tool. Understanding what kind of tool they are, and the psychological implications they have for differing groups– these matter to the discussion, but they are seldom discussed (in my experience).

Previously I mentioned compromise and innovation as solutions to our bi-cultural impasse. Compromise is valuable, and I think with a better understanding of what each group values, all of us will be better able to come to compromises that we can settle for. But the superior component in this is innovation. Innovation tends to ask if there is another way entirely– some way that would allow both groups to have their way, or would redefine circumstances such that the problem disappears, or says both sides are wrong or insufficient– and sends them back to the drawing board. Innovation will help us. We must be imaginative if we want to come up with ways in which gun-rights and gun-control can be adequately addressed. I have ideas of my own, but I’d like to let them cook before I bring them to the table. In time, I’ll make a post on my own suggestions.



Filed under Law, Philosophy, Politics

A Treatise on Freedom

In the course of any philosophical discussion the inevitable issue of freedom comes up. This discussion is comprised of a number of elements, including liberty, freedom, and free will. I reject Determinism in any form. Determinism says that we are a product of our environment or our genetics, and that therefore our choices are predetermined. If one wishes to make a difference in the world, one must assume that there are various possible futures, and therefore must reject this philosophy. It is of course undeniable that our environment and our genetics certainly have impacts on our decisions. Ultimately, our choices are not crafted entirely by our own actions, because all choices are shaped and constructed by our environment itself, which of course includes the decisions of others, as well as the historical trends and forces that have shaped the current environment.

Assuming that we are free entities despite these influences on our decisions, there are, as previously established, two elements to freedom. First is liberty. Liberty is the possibility of a decision in an abstract sense. For example, I am at liberty to construct a sandwich. However, if I have not the bread, or jam, or other various condiments that could be placed in a sandwich, then I have not the power to construct said sandwich. It remains beyond my reach. Freedom is a combination then, of possibility, or liberty, and available means, or power. Freedom is dearly prized, but often misunderstood. The famous and the unknown alike have attempted to explain it, as well as methods to achieve it, presumably for as long as man has pondered anything at all. Yet, for so many, it is elusive. From all gamuts of political thought, including Marxism, we find seekers of freedom. With these constructions of liberty, power, and freedom, and observing the nature of man’s decisions as primarily motivated by emotion rather than some abstract sense of rationality, one must conclude that a Marxist state’s centralization of authority will lead to the demise of liberty within said state, and hence, freedom.

Marxist thought has been oft analyzed and subjected to a great deal of scrutiny. Marx’s constructions seem concerned with the nature of man, and his freedom. But in what sense? It often seems unclear. Freedom from oppression is perhaps first and foremost. Marx can easily be said to be seeking an escape for the proletariat from economic oppression– from a system of labor and production by which he is alienated from his work, and hence, from his very self. Thus, Marxism seeks freedom as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. Marx could more accurately be said to be seeking power, to attain freedom.

For it seems that it is in creation, in work itself, that man defines himself, and creates his or her very identity. Most artists will affirm that it is their work in which they define themselves. A mother with children to take care of is defined, and finds a large portion of her identity in the work she does for them and with them. A father could be the same, although we might often say that he should be, rather than is such. A career is often quite the defining aspect in one’s life. One might say, I am a reporter, a teacher, an entrepreneur. Yet, the choice to become any of these things is, generally speaking, dependent upon society’s constructions of methods to attain these identities, not to mention the definitions of the identities themselves. Marxist humanism then, is centered around the thought that it is through man’s work that man’s identity is found. Indeed, man’s work is inextricably intertwined with his very being. Marx’s concern for man’s opportunity, or rather, his freedom to be what he wishes to be, is a valid one.

Noting that Marxism seeks freedom as a means to an end, towards the reduction of the alienation of self, rather than freedom as an end in itself, one finds hints at the reason for the rise of the Totalitarian state. This is precisely the reason for which a centralized and socialized State will inevitably relinquish its hope of freedom as a means to the end of alienation, instead resorting to manipulation, control of information and resources, and ultimately, violence, to maintain control of the State. The legitimacy of claims of freedom then become increasingly untenable, as power is centralized and consolidated.

Marx’s approach was to advocate the establishment of a governing force— to throw off the shackles of economic oppression by seizing the means of production— by seizing power. Concentrate economic power in the hands of the State, and in controlling the State, you will control economic conditions and alleviate the oppressive circumstances. While the concentration of power in the hands of the proletariat could certainly alleviate the economic oppression the working class have endured, there are concerns as to how to accomplish this. In response to this apparent vacuum in Marx’s writings, Lenin proposed a process by which the natural leaders of the proletariat form what he called a ‘Vanguard Party’ to safeguard and promote the cause of the proletariat, who is often not trained or capable in the fields of political construction or governmental management.

This is inherently problematic, in that this Vanguard becomes a fairly exclusive club, who in most historical cases, seem to have been more interested with the maintenance of their own power than the very lack of freedom which concerned Marx. The foundational positions of Marxism cannot be propagated and freedom will not continue unless free market forces are suppressed or controlled. However, the establishment of a one-party Socialist state is then prone to the very destruction of the freedoms it seeks to create, through the intentional or unintentional abuse of the centralized power and control of the State. The intentional abuse of power is a familiar and frustrating problem, but there are other conditions under which concentrated power is problematic.

There are reasons, found within human nature and social behaviors, that those in power will attempt to remain in power. Motivations in and of themselves, can be fairly benign, or in the case of more ambitious men, rather malign. Contributing factors to the continued control of societal structures and powers are at their core, elements of human nature. The influence of individuals upon others is ultimately a matter over which institutions and societal structures can have little control.

The influential are not by nature influential only because they have position and wealth. It is because they wield with great grace and force the tools of demagoguery, persuasion, leadership, charisma, and determination. The ambition of the individual, and the liberty of the group to look to them as problem-solvers, leaders, and finally rulers, is an inevitable occurence resulting from the all too common exercise of choice without rationale and without care. Human beings are not rational— at their core, their very motivations to do any and all things are generated by emotions— such are not restrained, nor ruled, by intellect. Intellect is no superior control to emotional states— no, in it’s best form it is a pruner, a shaper. Without acknowledgement of this truth, Marx of necessity, defeats itself— for old class distinctions, once based on political power, and economic power, are now no longer ever opposed to each other. And by the very philosophical position on governmental power which Marx takes, the preservation of individual liberties takes a back seat to communal power.

Therefore, the class of political elites, of elite thinkers, organizers, problem-solvers and leaders, degenerates into a ruling, upper class once again. For these leaders can not be expected to understand and mete and measure the accountability necessary for them to maintain good leadership. Such is beyond the bounds of reasonable human expectation: we cannot expect that one man should know always and consistently what is best for another by reasoning and feelings alone, and leadership’s elevated status makes it ever more difficult for one to perceive the possible wrongs and problems that his decisions create. Leaders are distanced from the consequences of their decisions by the nature of their image in the eyes of their followers, and, through reinforcement of ideals, his image in his own eyes. In addition, the distance from the community that comes with a centralized power structure, and the nature of power over others itself, contributes to the difficulty of governance of any kind.

The nature of the Marxist conception of power and leadership by its very nature assumes a kind of leadership ultimately devoid of adequate respect for liberty, and therefore, for freedom.


Filed under Capitalism, Communism, Corporatism, History, Leadership, Philosophy, Politics, Socialism

Hitler’s Power: Iconic Authority Part III

Hitler’s confidence, and his absolutism were part of his appeal to the masses.1 He was famous for his uncompromising statements, and Haffner remarks upon Hitler’s appeal, explaining that it was his complete polarization as an individual that incited such vigorous excitement in the German people. Of his confidence in leading Germany wherever he wished, one can note a brief exchange between Hitler and a British reporter by the name of Mosley.

… Hitler … demanded that I come forward and be introduced. He was in a good mood; he made a couple of jokes about the English Press when he knew who I was, and then banteringly asked why British journalists in Germany wrote so much about the threat of war. “There will be no war,” he said. “Don’t you agree?”

This, mark you, was the summer of 1939.

I said there would be no war if the rights of Poland and the Free City of Danzig were not infringed.

Hitler slapped his thigh, and laughed. “Even if there are, there will be no war,” he said. “There was no war over Sudetenland, nor over Czechoslovakia. There will be no war over Danzig.” When I demurred he repeated: “There was no war over Sudetenland! There will be none over Poland! The conditions are exactly the same and your actions will be the same.”2

Hitler’s position as head of party was something he was equally confident about. Of the party, Hitler once said, “The party is the Führer and the Führer is the party.”3 However, for all of Hitler’s allegations of unity, along the Nazi rise to power, he in fact stood apart, and above the party, to some degree or another. Sophie Scholl asked of her father, “But does the Führer have any idea of the concentration camps?” Her father responds, “How could he not know, since they’ve existed for years and were set up by his closest friends? And why didn’t he use his power to do away with them at once? And why are those released from them forbidden on pain of death to tell anything about what they went through?”4

For the masses, Hitler was not synonymous with the party—he was no simple mouthpiece, indistinct from the Nazi party itself. The exchange above instead suggests a belief in Hitler as a leader of the people, and confusion as to the disconnect with what Hitler had seemed to be, and what he now seemed to be condoning. This separation of the leader of all Germany and the political party in power can be explained in part by this “cheap mass intoxication” that Haffner writes about. To further exploit this yearning in the masses, Goebbels implemented a propaganda campaign of historic proportions.

In the early 1930s, as Hitler gained popularity, and just before he was appointed Chancellor by Hindenburg, propaganda posters showed Hitler and Hindenburg together. In one poster, Nationalist colors of red, white and black are used in one, with the caption, “The Reich will never be destroyed if you are united and loyal.”5 In another, Hitler and Hindenburg are shown standing. It reads, “In the deepest need Hindenburg chose Adolf Hitler for Reich Chancellor. You too should vote for List 1.”6 This is of course is disingenuous, Hindenburg needed Hitler like a fish needs a bicycle, but he dared not let the rabble rouser out of his sight, or he risked the continued stability of Germany.

Early on, the campaign sought to make an image for Hitler in keeping with his rhetoric. He sought a united Germany, at all costs, and Hindenburg was already accepted by the mainstream of German society as a great leader. Hitler in his bid for the chancellorship could effectively borrow this image, and move decidedly into mainstream politics.7

Later on, after Hitler had become Chancellor, and then dictator, further propaganda kept the people united. In another poster, a German worker is shown, lifting a stone into place on the wall. The background is sparse, and the worker appears Aryan, being blond and tall. The caption reads, “Hitler is building. Help him. Buy German goods.”8 This simple rhetoric was common to propaganda posters, if the archives at Calvin College are any indication.

The emphasis in these posters was not deep visual symbolism—this wouldn’t have been often picked up on by the masses. Instead, the posters contained short, pithy sayings, or oratorical prose.  Goebbels and Hitler both claimed that propaganda was a great art, and to communicate effectively a united message to the masses was the goal. No deep thinking or heavy symbology would be as effective. Hitler wanted an unthinking mass of Germans, united in attitude, to avoid dissent and confusion. As he said in Mein Kampf, “All propaganda must be popular and its intellectual level has to be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to.”9
While symbology wasn’t heavily relied upon, there were instances of it in the propaganda, probably due to Goebbels’s promotion of ‘Führer Worship’. One comparison, very Christian in its symbolism, was found in a poster featuring a dove, descending from above Hitler, with the sun blazing brightly behind him, as he holds the Nazi flag in his right hand. The text, again, is potent rhetoric, “Long live Germany!”10 In another instance, one of the well known paintings of the Nazi regime was entitled Der Bannerträger, or “The Standard-Bearer,” painted in the mid-1930s, probably 1935. Hitler stands looking to the left, in a suit of shining armor, holding the Nazi flag. The symbolism is medieval, and harkens to the Crusades, pointing to German militarism. Claims have been made that Hitler handpicked this from a number of other depictions, in which he was apparently disappointed.11

Goebbels did a great many things to craft Hitler’s image, and these are but a few examples. Propaganda was found in many forms in the Third Reich, but Hitler’s visage and the swastika were definitely the most recognizable symbols for the German populace.12

Toward the end of the war, Hitler struggled with waning enthusiasm for the war, the party, and a lack of unity in miltary leadership. These combined forces did not topple his government, or remove him from power. Protests were few in number, and were quickly silenced. In addition, Hitler’s domination over his generals in war strategy was actually complete enough to lead to his own demise, as the the overextended eastern front of the Wehrmacht was overrun by Soviet forces.

Hitler’s generals were a disparate group, loosely united by dedication to Germany, and the force of Hitler’s personality, as well as Hitler’s deliberate positioning of them such that they would quarrel with each other rather than challenge him. One of Hitler’s top generals, Franz Halder, took extensive notes during the war. His notes indicate no moral reservations about the attack on Poland. This indicates not a mindset of anti-Semitism, but of warmongering. Megargee, author or War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front, 1941, quotes a record indicating the peace between Germany and Poland was fairly disingenuous.13 However, Halder does not seem particularly invested in racial ideologies, in fact, he makes a note that the military should be particularly cautious in avoiding getting embroiled in politics. Such a position does not point to a particular devotion to Hitler’s ideas—rather it suggests that Hitler’s position as leader or his force of personality were the cementing forces for Halder himself. Halder’s notes further indicate a brusque, business-like attitude toward both Hitler and the war.

Other military leaders were of various dispositions. Göring, for example, was as devoted to Hitler as he was to the war—anything Hitler asked for, he would promise, including air support at Stalingrad, which was logistically impossible to deliver.14 Some military leaders in Germany eventually turned on Hitler, but would not challenge him openly, and lacked the courage to shoot him despite many opportunities. The failed July 20th bomb plot, pushed chiefly by Stauffenberg, was the most extensive of the military’s resistance to Hitler, but he was hardly wounded.15 Despite the attempts on his life, he maintained control of the military without obvious challenges.

The relationship of leadership within the military is far more nuanced than the memoirs of Hitler’s generals would make it seem, Megargee asserts. Hitler’s generals were not simply following their duty to their leader, although such motivations were a component in their behavior. Halder’s War Diary records of Hitler, “…the commander must give orders that express the common feelings of his men.”16 This does not mean that Hitler’s generals were anti-Semitic, as Megargee suggests, but rather that the military was ready and willing to fight a war for Germany’s greatness, against whatever perceived enemy, real or not, that their leaders could point to with any convincing oration.

Hitler’s military leadership and the average citizen were less interested in the Nazi party than they were in a singularly effective leader. Megargee explains that it was belief in the individual, Hitler, that led to belief in the party, and that the oath that so many took, was almost superfluous.17 Haffner’s account suggests that his some of his own generation, and some of the former Freikorps, were perhaps the most common adherents to Hitler’s actual philosophy.18

Hitler’s appeal to the masses was not without resistance; there were incidents of resistance to both Hitler himself and the Nazi party. Gertrude Sombart said in an interview, “…most people of course, were for Hitler.” She relates further, that after the an assassination attempt, she remarked to her husband that it was bad luck that Hitler had survived. Her husband told her to hush, as there was an SS officer nearby, but from a woman who was with them came similarly derogatory comments about Germany’s leader.19

What We Knew, a collection of interviews from both Jewish and non-Jewish Germans who lived through WWII, makes it clear that it was a common sentiment to dislike the Nazi party—especially through the war itself. Inge Scholl relates an account of her siblings and their protests against the regime in a memoir. Sophie Scholl, with several of her fellow college students, and their professor, protested the Nazi regime, distributing anonymous leaflets promoting resistance to the government. “Do not forget that every people deserves the government it is willing to endure!” the leaflets said.20 This formal resistance arrived toward the the middle of the war, much after the Nazis had already suspended civil liberties and tightened their grip on Germany. The six originators of the group, called die Weisse Rose, were executed by the Nazis in 1943.21 There were others, including Helmuth Hübener, who wrote his own leaflets on a typewriter while listening to British radio. Hübener and two of his friends and supporters were arrested. Only one of the three friends survived to relate the tale, Karl-Heinz Schnibbe.22 Whatever resistance there was, these groups’ outspoken, dissenting voices against the Nazi government were in the minority, despite general public frustration with the Nazis.

While there were groups that protested the regime, it seems that the clarity and extent of information about the ‘Final Solution’ itself was varied among the public. The German populace was fearful of saying a word against the regime—few were willing to risk what liberty they had. The Nazi party forbad those few that left concentration camps to ever speak about it, on pain of death.23 In fact, various sources suggest that the actual mass-murder of the Jews, fulfilling Hitler’s desires for a ‘Final Solution’, was the best kept secret of the Third Reich.

The lack of written communications between Hitler and Himmler about the concentration camps and the ‘Final Solution’ is conspicuous. There are several contributing factors, the first being that Hitler preferred spoken to written communication. The second follows on that premise, being that Hitler generally spoke to Himmler on the phone at least once a day.24 However, the Nazi Regime was a modern one—there were notes and records on many things, and it has been regarded as perhaps the mostly highly documented regime of the 20th century. So this lack of recorded directives for Himmler remains conspicuous. Notes of Himmler’s were recorded after telephone sessions with Hitler, and after 1938, Hitler began publicly threatening the Jews with extermination if they did not leave Europe. However, within the eye of the public, there is a distinction between rhetoric, speeches, or painting a group as pariahs, and actively exterminating a group openly. While the average German citizen may have been aware of some of what was going on in the death camps, it seems clear that Hitler knew that open discussion would be detrimental to his cause. A memo banning discussion of the ‘Final Solution’ in public was sent out in July of 1943.25

Hitler’s deliberate avoidance of written orders in general, as well as his particular avoidance to records of the “Final Solution” seem then attributable to a fundamental preoccupation with the public eye. Hitler’s vanity—his fixation on how he appeared and what he communicated, particularly in his speech-making, is well documented.26 Without any written records from Hitler himself on the ‘Final Solution’, one can conclude that Hitler was covering his bases, so to speak. The public was vaguely aware of the concentration camps, and he was preparing for the day that the mass-murders and the death camps became entirely public. The reaction of the public wasn’t as united as he wished,27 and this would certainly have made such a media conscious leader pause, no matter how bold.

Anti-Semitism could not have been the primary driving force for most Germans—they simply weren’t completely engrossed enough in Hitler’s haphazard ideology. Hitler’s control of Germany then seems most easily attributable to German perceptions and expectations about authority, and the force of Hitler’s oratory. Propaganda, filled with rhetoric, played its part as well, but above all else, the people were expecting a leader, a savior, a redeemer of Germany. Such needs were common sentiment, and would not be surprising in a monarchy, but the return of a dictatorship in the modern era promised a different kind of regime than had hitherto been seen in Europe.

1Stern, 18.

2Leonard O. Mosley, Report from Germany (London: Victor Gollancz LTD, 1945) 8-9.

3Kershaw, 83.

4Inge Scholl, The White Rose, trans. Arthur R. Schultz (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1983), 11.

5Poster from the March 1933 Reichstag election, digital image, “Nazi Posters: 1933-1945,” German Propaganda Archive (accessed 13 Dec 2010). Original poster in possession of Dr. Robert D. Brooks.

6Poster from the March 1933 Reichstag election, digital image, “Nazi Posters: 1933-1945,” German Propaganda Archive (accessed 13 Dec 2010). Original poster in possession of Dr. Robert D. Brooks.

7Kershaw, 46.

8Poster from Nazi Germany, mid-1930s, digital image, “Nazi Posters: 1933-1945,” German Propaganda Archive (accessed 13 Dec 2010). Original poster in possession of Dr. Robert D. Brooks.

9Hitler, 180.

10Poster from Nazi Germany, mid-1930s, Christological depiction of Hitler, digital image, “Nazi Posters: 1933-1945,” German Propaganda Archive (accessed 13 Dec 2010). Original poster in possession of Dr. Robert D. Brooks.

11 “Der Bannerträger,” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Website (accessed December 4, 2010)

12 Steven Heller, Iron Fists: Branding the 20th Century Totalitarian State (New York, NY: Phaidon Press, Inc., 2008), 19-20, 24-25.

13Geoffrey P. Megargee, War of Annihilation:Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front, 1941. (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2006), 8-9.

14Joel S. A. Hayward, Stopped at Stalingrad (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1998), 233-4.

15Percy Knauth, “The Hitler Bomb Plot,” Life Magazine (May 28, 1945), 17-18, 20, 23. (accessed December 12, 2010)

16Franz Halder, The Halder War Diary ed. Charles Burdick and Hans-Adolf Jacobsen (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1988), 346.

17Megargee, 8-9.

18Haffner, 10-15, 20-21, 27-28

19Johnson and Reuband, 160.

20Scholl, 31-2.

21Ibid., 155-6.

22Rick McFarland, Truth and Conviction: The Helmuth Hübener Story (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2002). DVD. See also: Karl-Heinz Schnibbe, The Price: The True Story of a Mormon Who Defied Hitler (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1984).

23 Johnson and Reuband, 147-150, 179, 222, 242-244.

24Sarah Ann Gordon, Hitler, Germans, and the “Jewish question.” (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), 136-140.

25Arad, Gutman, and Margaliot, 160.

26Kelly Davis, Nazi Germany (Mankato, MN: Smart Apple Media, 2005), 7.

27Gay, 63-66; Johnson and Reuband, 164-165 ,175-176, 231-233.

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Filed under History, Leadership, Nazism, Philosophy, Politics, Sociology, WWII

Hitler’s Power: Iconic Authority Part II

Hitler’s rise to power and the mass movement behind the Nazi party were counter-revolutionary in nature, springing from frustration with the ineffective and splintered Wiemar government in the 1920s. Ian Kershaw has shown from research in German newspaper records of the time, that right wing groups’ desires for a common leader were not always shared by the leftists or the mainstream.1 However, for many Germans, the desire for an authoritative system and single, clear leader became heightened during the chaos of the Weimar Republic.

In Sebastian Haffner’s memoir of the Weimar Republic, he notes that the building blocks of the Nazis power were already in place. He talks of the Freikorps, noting that they were the military power while the Social Democrats ruled. They could have easily pulled off a coup détat, but lacked a central leader to follow. He asks the question of why they never attempted an overthrow of the government, and further explains that such a notion was not an acceptable line of thought for the majority of German soldiers, paraphrasing a famous remark by Bismarck:

…moral courage is, in any case, a rare virtue in Germany, but it deserts a German completely the moment he puts on a uniform. As soldier and officer, he is indisputably and outstandingly courageous on the field of battle. He is usually even prepared to open fire on his own compatriots if ordered to do so. Yet he is as timid as a lamb at the thought of opposing authority. The suggestion of such a confrontation always conjures up the nightmare of a firing squad and he is immediately paralyzed. It is not death he fears, but this particular death, which scares him out of his wits. That makes any idea impossible for the German military—whoever happens to be in power.2

This need for authoritarian rule is further corroborated by David Bankier’s analysis in Germans and the Final solution: Public Opinion Under Nazism. He notes that the German population of 1935, was frustrated with an unclear expectation of how they were to behave toward the Jews. The Nazi government had made it clear that the Jews were supposed enemies of Germany, but the population were not expressing anti-Semitism unhesitatingly. Instead, they sought direction from their leaders. While there was an obvious social disconnect from the Jewish population, the tendency shown here is one of comparitively blind obedience. These people were asking what they should do—and they were not asking their own consciences; they were seeking an external authoritative answer. At this point, if anti-Semitism was the banner behind which the populace had rallied to Hitler, then it should have been an equal or superior force to German authoritarian tendencies, but truly it paled in comparison.3

The Hitler Youth were yet another building block of the Nazi regime, and while such did not exist in 1919, there were indirect precursors that did.4 Haffner, mentioned above, was one of the members of a youth group in 1919, called the Rennbund Altpreussen (Old Prussia Athletics Club). He calls the group’s activities ‘beneficent’, and ‘patriotic’. Their motto was “Anti-Spartacus, for Sport and Politics”—but as he says, their ‘politics’ consisted of occasionally beating up other boys their age who supported the Social Democrats and the revolution that had established the Weimar Republic. The various groups like his, he notes, were anti-revolutionary, but not yet anti-Semitic in any sense—he notes their best runner was Jewish.5

Intermingled with these authoritarian dependencies was not only a right-wing, but eventually a strong mainstream longing for an iconic leader. The Weimar Constitution itself is evidence of monarchical leanings. In sections 41 through 59 of the document, extensive powers are granted to the President. Of particular note are two articles:

Article 47.
The President of the Reich shall have supreme command over the entire military forces of the Reich.
Article 48.

If a state fails to carry out the duties imposed upon it by the national constitution or national laws, the President of the Reich may compel performance with the aid of armed force.

If public safety and order be seriously disturbed or threatened within the German Reich, the President of the Reich may take the necessary measures to restore public safety and order; if necessary, with the aid of armed force. For this purpose he may temporarily suspend in whole or in part the fundamental rights enumerated in Articles 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124 and 153.6

These indicate the clear dictatorial powers that the President had, and a distinctly militaristic Germany. The articles mentioned in article 48 are largely similar to the U.S. Bill of Rights, being individual liberties. To note that these can be suspended by simple edict of the president is a foreshadowing of the disappearance of civil liberties in the mid 1930s. Indeed, Germany did not have a deeply ingrained tradition of democratic government, as Germany had only been united for roughly 50 years, and had remained a monarchy through to end of WWI.7 In comparison with the US democratic government, or even Britain’s, they had had little time in comparison to adjust to the idea.

Further illustrating these authoritarian leanings, the New York Times ran an article in 1927 with the headline: “Deferred Monarchist Hopes.” The article mentioned the patchwork alliance of the German Nationalists (monarchists) and the centrist party then in power under Hindenburg and Stresseman. “The Nationalists insist that the marriage is one of convenience and temporary in nature.”8They were determined to seek strong leadership and bring about a grand German monarchy once again.

Hitler himself discusses the need for leadership in Mein Kampf. “As worthless as an army in all its organisational forms is without officers, equally worthless is a political organization without the suitable leader,” he writes. There is no mention of true democratic process in the surrounding material, and his choice of language suggests the belief in the singular nature of central leadership.9 At this point in his book, he does not seem to indicate a belief in himself as said singular leader, although his trial after the Beer Hall Putsch had made it unequivocally clear that he saw no reason why he could not be the one to lead Germany to greatness.10 Ian Kershaw notes that this change came slowly, as members of his party became increasingly supportive of him, and as the press mentioned him more and more frequently.11

Movement from the ignored radical fringes into the spotlight for both the party and Hitler himself was dependent on two things. The first is the radicalization of the average German. The second is the opposite approach. Further acceptance of him as a leader by the political center and the apolitical German would require changing his image to a less radical one. Both Hitler and later his right hand man Goebbels sought this creation of an image for the Führer. He needed to become not only popular, but seen as a veritable avatar of the German spirit. The political base of the Nazi party was scattered, and its ideology a hodgepodge ofideas. These could not account for its continued success, although they certainly contributed to its popularity. The party needed a focus, otherwise it would continue to flounder at the edges of the political scene. Hitler was the answer.

In the 1920s Hitler gained the support of the Stahlhelm, Germany’s then largest veterans’ organization. The group denounced parliamentiarism as a ‘plague’ and promoted a dictatorship.12 Hitler’s support within the Nazi Party solidified, the Party itself became the largest collection of right-wing politicals in the nation.13 During this time, Goebbels became a devoted follower of Hitler. Goebbels himself was quite the spokesman, and eventually the two were twins of oratory might. Hitler acquired other supporters in the early 1920s, including Rudolph Hess and Hermann Göring.14

After the crash of the runaway inflation of 1923, were 6 years of relative peace during which the masses began their shift in thinking. Haffner writes, “A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to the entire content of their lives delivered gratis … by the public sphere … all their sensations and thrills—accompanied though they might be by poverty, hunger, death, chaos, and peril … they regarded the end of the political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation.”15 This generation’s decided emotional dependence on the war is markedly evident throughout Haffner’s account—it was the central focus of their lives. The first world war had cut them adrift from their social institutions and traditions by destroying the normality of life—Haffner’s account cannot easily be summed up. This generation sought salvation through many things, but Haffner says, the most important was a “vast, overpowering, cheap mass intoxication.”16 The masses sought salvation in a leader, and Hitler was beginning to take advantage of this.

While Hitler had been markedly successful in the early 1920s, up until the Beer Hall Putsch, party growth slowed after his imprisonment, and remained steady until a low point, politically, from about 1928-1930.17 Hitler became the uncontested leader of the party during the late 20s, pulling supporters from within the party that had hitherto been unconvinced, or had had conflicting aspirations themselves. Gregor Strasser was head of the party in 1927. He had been unconvinced despite Hitler’s popularity, but that year he remarked, “Friends, raise your right arm and cry out with me proudly, eager for the struggle, and loyal unto death, ‘Heil Hitler!’”18

Hitler’s speeches held listeners enthralled. A schoolteacher remarks on one of Hitler’s presentations in 1932, as quoted in Kershaw’s work:

There stood Hitler in a simple black coat and looked over the crowd, waiting—a forest of swastika pennants swished up, the jubilation of this moment was given vent in a roaring salute. Main theme: out of parties shall grow a nation, a German nation. … His voice was hoarse after all his speaking during the previous days. When the speech was over, there was roaring enthusiasm and applause. … Hitler was helped into his coat. Then he went. How many look up to him as their helper, their saviour, their deliverer from unbearable distress—to him who rescues the Prussian prince, the scholar, the clergyman, the farmer, the worker, the unemployed who rescues them from the parties back into the nation.19

Oratory was Hitler’s greatest gift, and it served him well. Many accounts of party members and others express similar feelings of adulation.20 Hitler words were often uncompromising, and Nazi party members articulated this absolutism as necessary.21

1Ian Kershaw, The ‘Hitler Myth’: Image and Reality in the Third Reich (New York, NY: The Oxford University Press, Inc., 2001), 18-21.

2Sebastian Haffner, Defying Hitler: A Memoir. Trans. Oliver Pretzel (New York, NY: Picador, 2000), 39-40.

3Bankier, 39.

4Kershaw, 16; Haffner, 35-38.


6Wikisource. Weimar constitution. (accessed December 1, 2010)

7Shirer, 94.

8Andreas Dorpalen, Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1964), 124-126; “Deferred Monarchist Hopes,” New York Times, Feb 6, 1927.

9Hitler’s construction of central leadership claims to be non-monarchical, but is still highly authoritarian. Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampftrans. Ralph Manheim (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1999), 345-353.

10Samuel W. Mitcham Jr.,Why Hitler: The Genesis of the Nazi Reich (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996), 107-109.

11Kershaw, 31-38.

12Mitcham, 133; Kershaw, 20-21.

13Kershaw, 22-25.

14Mitcham, 83, 87.

15Haffner, 68-69.

16Ibid., 10-15, 20-21, 27-28, 68-70.

17Kershaw, 28, 31.

18J. Noakes and G. Pridham (eds.), Documents on Nazism, (London, 1974), 84-85, quoted in Kershaw, 26-27.

19J. Noakes and G. Pridham (eds.), Documents on Nazism, (London, 1974), 104, quoted in Kershaw, 42.

20Kershaw, 30, 39-40; Johnson and Reuband, 149.

21Kershaw, 27.

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Hitler’s Power: Iconic Authority – Part I

The origins of the personality cult that gave rise to Hitler’s power in Nazi Germany are still debated. The underlying reasons for Hitler’s success as a leader and his unquestioned authority can be difficult to ascertain and certainly may never be settled. Nevertheless, a close look at the mentalities of the politics of both the conservatives and the leftists in the 1920s and 30s in Germany reveals a desire on both sides for an iconic and savior-like leader. In the discussion of how Hitler perpetrated the Holocaust and what led to his dictatorship, some allege that Germans in general were extremely anti-Semitic. While this may have been true by 1940s, it was not clearly so previously. Levels and kinds of anti-Semitism present in pre-Nazi Germany are insufficient to account for Hitler’s popularity or continued control of the nation. Hitler’s force of personality was a notable contributor to his success, as was the public’s desire for a great leader. Despite a fractured military leadership at the end of his reign and pockets of social resistance to the Nazi Party, Hitler maintained supreme leadership of Germany and was able to commit atrocities—not because the entire German population was rabidly anti-Semitic, but because of an inherent and heightened German cultural need for a central iconic leader exploited by effective propaganda portrayals of Hitler as the solution to said need.

Claims that anti-Semitism was an integral component in Hitler’s power abound. The banner of anti-Semitism was certainly highly promoted and relatively unquestioned within the Third Reich. However, for this to have been the foundational reason for Hitler’s rise to power and his later supreme control of Germany to have validity, the population must have been unequivocally anti-Semitic before the Nazi government solidified its power and curtailed individual rights. Real frustrations with the Jews, and not a vague undercurrent of irritation at them, is what is necessary to explain Hitler’s popular appeal. A definition of anti-Semitism clear enough to replace other reasons for Hitler’s popularity is then useful to examine his rise to power. When constructed and examined, such clear definitions of anti-Semitism are insufficient to explain Hitler’s popularity.

To further elaborate on the nature of anti-Semitism in Hitler’s regime, there are three possible real bases for German frustration with the Jews. The first that may leap to mind is a frustration of a religious nature—that Germans in general were anti-Semitic because of a difference in religious beliefs; however, this does not appear likely. This notion suggests that the prevailing religious groups and mentality would be in direct conflict with the Jews, and that then Hitler must have utilized such in his campaigning. Goebbels actually notes Hitler’s hatred of Christianity in his diary. Hitler’s approach appears more anti-religious. In fact, SA officers paraded through towns singing anti-Jewish and anti-Catholic songs.1 A positively Nietszchian morality seems to be what Hitler advocated, so religious frustrations of the people would not coincide with Hitler’s own, nor his government’s practices.2 In addition, this notion of religious strife disregards the large numbers of rather irreligious Jews, as well as irreligious non-Jews, whose views would not have been driven to any great degree by religious bigotry.3

The second possibility is that Jews refused to integrate into the culture of Germany, but economically, Jews were found in the areas they had historically been allowed to work, largely being doctors, lawyers, journalists and shop owners. While the majority of Jews in the Wiemar Republic were middle class as mentioned above, but there were a few groups of refugees from elsewhere in Poland that were less well off.4 The Jews were contributors to German heritage and the arts in Germany, as is evidenced by the Nazi party’s banning of many pieces of art and music that had been labeled Jewish or otherwise detrimental to German society.5 Furthermore, Jews were not refusing to frequent German businesses, or refusing them service. Instead, they were actually prohibited from intermingling with other Germans by the Nazi regime. There may have been some sort of cultural divide, as would be common to Europe in general, but this was insufficient to explain the Holocaust itself.6 Hitler deliberately, slowly, and carefully crafted legislation and public opinion to allow him to separate the Jews out from the rest of the public.7

Thirdly, Jews might have been separated by distinct looks, but this racial distinction was also deliberately created. Hitler himself, as well as Goebbels, and Göring, were not models of his so-called Aryan race.8 Hitler’s own niece was complimented on her good looks by his associates, and she was not blond, blue-eyed, or tall—all common descriptors of Hitler’s ideal Aryan.9Hitler’s own associates weren’t convinced of his racist ideology, or so their actions indicate.

While Hitler himself seems convinced that the Jews really were a drain on society, it was his conflation of these three possibilities with Communism and Bolshevism that was truly effective in uniting the people against this supposed common enemy (Hitler coined the phrase Judeo-Bolshevism). None of this would have been as effective as it was, but for Hitler’s popular appeal—outside of his anti-Semitic views.

1 David Bankier, The Germans and the Final Solution: Public Opinion Under Nazism (Cambridge, MA, 1996), 39.

2Joseph Goebbels, The Goebbels Diaries, 1939-1941 (New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s and Sons, 1983), 304-305; J.P. Stern, Hitler: The Führer and the People (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1975), 43-48.

3Eric A. Johnsonand Karl Heinz Reuband, eds., What We Knew: Terror, Mass Murder, and Everyday Life in Nazy Germany: An Oral History (Cambridge, MA: Basic Books, 2005), 164; Peter Gay, My German Question: Growing up in Nazi Berlin (Harrisonburg, VA: Yale University Press, 1998), 48-51.

4“Jewish Communities of Prewar Germany,” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Website, (accessed Oct 20, 2010)

5Ibid; William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany (Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 1990), 242-243.

6It can be noted, that while German Jews weren’t particularly culturally distinct from Germans, the same was not true in Poland. Polish Jews actually spoke a different dialect of Polish, with an obvious accent.

7Yitzhak Arad, Israel Gutman, and Abraham Margaliot, eds. Documents on the Holocaust (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1999), 65-66, 72-73, 78-79, 91, 99-101, 115-121; Bankier, 121.

8Gay, 94-95.

9Anna Maria Sigmund, Women of the Third Reich, (Richmond Hill, ON: NDE Publishing, 2000), 133.

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The Sociology of the Climatology Debate?

I’ve been thinking about Global Warming, or Climate Change– call it what you want.

I’m not so interested in debating the science– I would worry that it would become a flame war.  If this post prompts considerate discussion with no sarcasm and ridiculous levels of politeness then I think we’ll be good. If it turns ugly, you should know that all comments are moderated by me before posted and I will take the post down. I hope to have an interesting discussion.

I’ve not read anything particularly scholarly as to why this debate seems to lopsided. Everyone has jumped on the Liberal wagon, and few of us Moderates or Conservatives have viewpoints that seem well-represented.1

Let me reiterate that the science is a separate issue; I’m talking about the debate. There are several elements that seem present in the discussion.

    1. Does the Earth’s temperature fluctuate?

Most of us agree—of course it does.

    2. How does human activity contribute to that fluctuation—or what things contribute to possible anthropogenic shifting of the climate?

Most scientists and educated laymen seem to agree that methane, carbon dioxide, and urban heat islands have effects on weather patterns and climate. Not all of them seem to agree on how, but that is not exactly pertinent to what I’m interested in.

    3. Will human activity trigger a catastrophic change in Earth’s climate?

This is where the real divergence in opinions begins, and where the useful discussion may begin. There are some staunch Liberals who indicate things such as sea levels rising and storms becoming more severe. Again, I am not interested in this particular debate here—I have my views and will seek out information on my own time.

    4. What policies should we make to reduce possible effects of human activity on climate whether or not a catastrophic change is possible or likely?

This is the hot spot right now, because it involves politics and economics. Poor decisions either way could contribute to real problems down the road. This is true on both sides. Poor economic decisions now may have real impact on future generations. Poor environmental planning in general is, well… I guess the answer there is obvious—it’s bad.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for clean air and I think energy solutions are awesome, but I think tying such ideas to the ‘Climate Change’ has done the environmentalist movement more harm than good. Time may prove me wrong, and I may change my stance, but that is not what this blog post is about.

Instead, I want to know what possible sociological or cultural reasons are there for the lack of Conservatives with well-reasoned viewpoints that are well-published and well-known. Some reasons for this that occur are me: 1) People say they’re wrong– they are not part of the consensus because they’ve gone out on a scientific limb. 2) Media makes more money by publishing alarming things than they do by publishing well reasoned arguments and scientific data– so they’re out there, but we can’t hear them, because money-making magazines are shouting too loudly for us to hear them. 3) Politicians want to inflame the issue to keep themselves in office and grant themselves power. 4) Actual Climate scientists may have significant investments in AGW and don’t want to consider the alternative because they have too much to lose: economically, in status and influence, and in ego.

Altogether, these are not completely satisfying to me. While the political and media influence accounts for a lot, I think there may be another factor.

Enter: My Hypothesis- Conservatives tend toward a fundamentally different view of education (or maybe it’s evidence they view differently?) than Liberals do, seeking practical and short-term, immediate connectivity with their daily lives. In contrast, Liberals love learning, and view it as an end in itself, rather than a means to an end. Because of this disinterestedness in the abstract, Conservatives seek higher education in different fields and less frequently than Liberals do. This effect is compounded by the tendency of higher education to have liberal biases inherent in the curriculum and course structuring.2 This may not be true, but it’s food for thought, right? Anyway, on we go…

This leads then to a larger percentage of scientists and climatologists that are Liberal in persuasion, and thus more likely to be in favor of government intervention for the protection of the environment as well as a possible tendency to favor hypotheses and results that tend toward support for the current Liberal political platform. The very questions they ask and the ways in which they interpret their data might be skewed. This tendency would be mild, and hopefully unconscious of course, but the Climate change as a political issue and a study at the forefront of the scientific community has been around long enough for such influence to creep in.

In addition to this seeming dominance of Liberal Climatologists, the media coverage is ubiquitous and deliberately contrived to emphasize the controversy. This does not mean that these scientists are wrong. What it does mean is that it becomes ever more difficult for a layman whose hobbies do not equip them to study actual data and scholarly reports to interpret the scientific community’s stance and make an educated and objective decision. In short, we can’t hear the actual scientists (no matter which side they’re on) often enough, because the media is shouting so loudly and incoherently.

Among any one person’s sources for understanding this conflict we can include many resources, but usually having someone interpret the data for us is very helpful. Since the media in general is an untrustworthy source in general, this leaves us with two options that I can see. First, go to the scientists themselves. We’ve already explained that this is difficult. The second option is to go to weather experts we know—students, professors, people who otherwise spend their time educating themselves on the subject of Climatology—these are people we believe we can trust to decipher data for us that we aren’t equipped to decipher for ourselves.

This leads me to my second point. These educated laymen, or Meteorology hobbyists, or whatever elsethey are, are collectively balanced in about the same percentages as the scientists themselves. This is because as I indicated earlier, Conservatives tend not to see studying such things as being useful—they have no immediate repercussions: they are not time spent in pragmatic pursuits. This dearth of Conservative ‘armchair’ Climatologists is disheartening for Conservatives who would generally prefer to be well informed, and who would prefer that their chosen political candidates be well informed, not to mention the general public.

On to the point, I suppose. This does not mean that the Conservatives are right, and that no catastrophe is looming in our Meteorological future. What it does mean is that policy crafted by a balanced argument is difficult to obtain, because of the inherent systemic patterns of bias of which my hypothesis is only one of many, several of which I did not even mention because they aren’t as pertinent to the general sociology of the general debate.3

1I do not claim to be an expert on Climatology, Meteorology, or Sociology– while this may feel like it’s well put together, or a bunch of hooey, it’s just an idea.

2This is perhaps partially because of the common conception in academic circle of Faith and Reason as being diametrically opposed, but this is a false binary. I will blog on false binaries some other time.

3I cannot of course, easily if ever prove this hypothesis about Conservatives and Liberals, their views on education, and therefore their representation within the Anthropogenic Global Warming debate—but I know that. I present it here simply as an idea—which you may politely critique if you so desire. I know of no studies about this subject, but if you are aware of surveys, polls, longitudinal studies, etc, in this direction, or that may enlighten me, please send them my way.

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About Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was both man and symbol. His leadership and struggles put him into positions of power throughout his life, even during his 27 years as a political prisoner of Nationalist South Africa. He can be compared to many world leaders, including Ghandi, George Washington, perhaps even Lenin. One interesting parallel can be easily drawn to Martin Luther King, Jr., leader of the American Civil rights movement, advocate for desegregation, Baptist preacher, and a concurrent with Mandela until King was assassinated. Their most defining differences lay in their religious or secular preferences, and in connection, the scope and depth of their embrace of non-violent means to their respective ends.

Both were advocates of democracy; they wanted equal civil rights for their citizens, particularly voting rights. Mandela fought a system that had removed government recognition of African citizenship. Complete disenfranchisement of the natives prevailed for the duration of his prison stay. His was a goal of universal adult franchise. Eventually, in his construction of the new South Africa, those he worked with settled upon a parliamentary government. With proportional representation in parliament, this wasn’t an inordinate change from the structure of the former government, but with a major caveat—now African citizens (as well as all other races) were given the right to vote or run for parliament.

While Mandela fought established national laws discriminating against the majority, King’s position was different, because it he sought enforcement of national, constitutional rights that were being violated. Mandela’s fight was to change not only local statutes, but rather an extensive system of national laws enacted over decades. King had the United States constitution on his side, and he advocated that local and regional systems of segregation be struck down as unconstitutional. He also preached that these segregationist practices were incompatible with Christianity. King appealed effectively to the Christian sensibilities of the nation; he knew that whatever religion individuals might claim, culturally, the United States was largely a Christian nation as the general sense of morality that abounded in the U.S. lay largely in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

An analysis of their origins and families reveals more. Martin Luther King Jr. was born Michael King Jr. His father changed both his own and his son’s names when they were thirty-four and five, respectively. King Sr. had grown up in a poor household, and his father had been a drunk. He had worked hard and married Alberta Williams. Her father, A.D. Williams, was a preacher, who offered King Sr. the chance to become assistant preacher at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. 1 King Jr. was taught by his father and often involved at the same church, of which his father had become Head Pastor. He went to public school, skipping 9 th and 12 th grade, and entered Morehouse College at 15 years of age. 2

He was very attached to his family, particularly his grandmother, upon whose death King flung himself out of his upstairs window. Miraculously, he wasn’t seriously hurt, but his grandmother’s death challenged his faith. 3 He grew skeptical in his teen years and throughout college of the existence or importance of a personal God, as well as an afterlife, although he didn’t deny such outright. Despite this, he sought how religion could be useful for the protection of the oppressed and the poor for the improvement of their social and economic state. In his search, some of his ideas have been suspect of being stolen. This has some degree of truth, but he had an oratorical skill and a national opportunity for bringing these ideas to life that surpassed by far the originators’. 4

He went on to Boston University, receiving a doctorate in philosophy, and shortly thereafter King received an offer for a job preaching at Dexter Baptist church. This was in the summer of 1954. In the fall he accepted the position, and moved to Montgomery, Alabama. Here he led the Montgomery Improvement Association in the famous bus boycott that was originally planned as a single day event. But when found so effective, it stretched into over a year—381 days. 5

During the boycott, he was inundated with verbal assaults—sometimes it was more than he could take. Once, during a sermon, he was overcome emotion. Two other preachers led him to his seat, and the sermon was cut short. 6 His home was bombed, and he received numerous threats of violence. His anxieties skyrocketed. Eventually, King had a powerful prayerful experience which reaffirmed his faith in a personal God. Even so, his sermons remained focused on the Social Gospel for which he became famous. 7 He became content in the knowledge that he would likely be killed, but faced such with a resolute calm because he felt morally supported by his people, and more importantly, by his God.

During the Civil Rights struggle, King became preoccupied with thoughts of his own death. He expressed such in his public speaking. He foresaw his martyrdom and predicted it publicly, and in a brilliant stroke he began incorporating automortology into his oratory. This practically guaranteed his martyrdom, not by causing his death, but by making sure that the public reaction to his death would be dramatic, because he had ‘prophesied’ it.> 8 Despite his certainty of his own demise, King continued to promote his message of racial equality and non-violence. Ironically—when he died, there were riots all over the United States. His death vaulted him into status as a national hero.

Where King had spiritual heritage in his father and maternal grandfather as Baptist preachers, Mandela had a royal heritage. He was a lesser son of the Xhosa Chief, one of many South African tribes. When Mandela was young, His father, the former chief, died a poor man living in a shack, having had almost everything taken from him by the Apartheid regime. 9 Mandela was born to the Ixhiba house, which traditionally had the responsibility of resolving political or royal disputes, a fitting heritage for a man destined to peacefully transform his country into a democracy. 10 And this despite some two centuries of the oppression of the native people by the Afrikaners and the English.

He was born Rolihlahla Mandela; he received the name ‘Nelson’ from a mission school teacher when he was young. As a boy he was quiet and reserved; he was expected to learn from observation and the examples and stories of his elders. As he got older he enjoyed sports and the occasional practical joke. He wasn’t noted as a particularly serious student by his teachers. He attended a boarding school and was instructed in a strict British curriculum, which he said later did not portray his culture or ancestors very accurately. But this education and his early tribal experiences instilled in him a respect for institution and authority that remained with him throughout his life. 11

Mandela eventually obtained a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Africa, and began working in the legal profession. 12 He broke new ground in establishing the first black legal firm in Johannesburg. 13 In the 1950’s Mandela was accused of treason and communist conspiracy, along with over 150 others. They were mostly trumped up charges. Interestingly enough, Mandela had been initially opposed to communism, quite strongly. 14 The resulting trial was long and arduous, and it backfired in the sense that it became a sort of convention for freedom fighters fighting the Apartheid regime; while each of these men were on trial, they had a chance to collaborate with each other.

During this time, two sides to Mandela were revealed quite clearly. On the one hand, he had enormous respect for institution, especially the legal system. The lawyer in him was polite, affable, and confident in the courtroom. Yet he was truly a radical, a revolutionary. He was head of the Umkhonto we Sizwe or the MK. This translates to “Spear of the Nation” was a paramilitary organization. In addition, his rhetoric outside the courtroom was often inflammatory and dramatic. 15 The African National Congress became banned after the aforementioned treason trial and Mandela went underground. In 1962, he was caught and arrested upon returning from Europe; he had been seeking support both politically and militarily.

At the subsequent Rivonia Trial Mandela was charged with leaving the country illegally, as well as inciting a 3 day stay-at-home strike. Mandela defended himself in court, and stated that he would call as many witnesses to the stand as did the State. But when the time came, he did a turnabout, and said that he would call no witnesses. He knew that the charges were true, and he was not about to make a mockery of the court by trying to fight them. The magistrate replies in Mandela’s autobiography,

“Have you anything more to say?”

Mandela replied, “Your Worship, I submit that I am guilty of no crime.”

“Is that all you have to say?”

“Your Worship, with respect, if I had something more to say I would have said it.” 16

His prison stay thereafter did not stop him from fighting the Apartheid regime, but the experience was difficult and demoralizing. In his autobiography, he states, “Nothing is more dehumanizing than the absence of human companionship.” He retained much influence despite being in prison, and completed another bachelor’s degree in Law through correspondence courses with Oxford University. 17

While in prison, Mandela’s standing as a prisoner fluctuated in response to both his own attempts to organize with other prisoners and obtain information from the outside world. He also affected a change in the Warden, known asa commissioner. Some of these commisioners, like Badenhorst, were bent on demoralizing the prisoners. Others, like Badenhorst’s replacement Willemse were more reasonable. 18 Mandela believed that ‘the moral high ground’ throughout his imprisonment would enable him to befriend his captors, and he did so with many of the warders and officers at the prison. 19

Mandela’s prison stay made him a potent example, and he became a sort of living martyr. The Apartheid regime did all they could to suppress any information about him—including laws against displaying photographs of prisoners. Despite these tactics, and indeed perhaps because of them, Mandela became a symbol of freedom to the people. The Nationalist government were worried that if he were killed, they might regret it later—this they were convinced of to some degree because of British and U.S. influence.

While their backgrounds were similar in some ways, from a national political perspective, the populations they represented were different. King was representing less than twenty percent of the population (perhaps as high as 35 or 40 throughout the southern states), and sought aid from the national government in struggles with local leaders and entrenched repressive conditions and traditions. Mandela and the ANC went head to head with a single unified government using both civil disobedience and threats of violence, and eventually represented roughly seventy percent of the population. This was key to Mandela’s influence being so powerful.

Physically, they were different. Mandela was tall—six foot two! King was short, if they had met, Mandela would have towered a full 7 inches over King. In their speaking they had different styles. King’s sermons were powerful spiritual oratory, filled with the fiery impassioned speech common to the preachers of the ‘Bible Belt’. The energy with which King spoke abandoned him at times, leaving him overwhelmed on more than one occasion. Mandela was more down-to-earth, and mild-mannered; his was a voice that instilled peace and calm, yet his words and prose remained secular. But the Mandela whose voice was so clearly calm was one that had been tempered, and cooled by his long prison stay. His earlier speeches had been more intense and provocative. Mandela’s struggles were different, he had many long years in prison to cope with. It seems that he never really feared for his life the way King did.

For both men, the means by which they got to their goal was critical. Both considered and rejected violence as a means to their ends. 20 Mandela’s unflinching actions and prose were rendered from experiences in his youth that taught him that even in victory, one can be gracious to those who have lost. He was remarkably good at this, and very consistent. Despite his good track record, his treatment of Nationalist President and uneasy ally F.W. de Klerk was not as exemplary (de Klerk probably didn’t merit any better treatment than he got, but that is exactly the point). 21 King’s message to his followers was not one of ‘black power’, unlike his rival, Malcolm X. 22 Instead, King preached Christian love for the white man, and exuded a polite expectation of respect. Mandela has been portrayed as a bit of a young hothead, being rash and demanding, and he was the head of the ANC’s paramilitary wing, the Youth League, from early on as well as the MK later. 23 From this point of view, the fact that ultimately he succeeded in achieving a peaceful revolution is a bit ironic. Although calling it that might be inaccurate—while Apartheid crumbled, law enforcement became scarce, and crime rates, including the murder rate, shot sky high.

Returning to King’s beliefs about religion and democracy, it may even be that King truly believed that a Christian foundation was and is necessary for a democracy to thrive. Mandela never was so obviously religious, and his and King’s schooling even reflected this difference. Again, King had degrees in sociology, divinity, and philosophy and had studied Christianity in depth, where Mandela’s degrees were in legal areas. Mandela advocated a sort of secular religion of human rights, whereas King’s social gospel was distinctly Christian.

King tied his philosophy of non-violence to his faith, and it showed true under various circumstances. In one instance, at a Southern Christian Leadership Conference meeting a “two-hundred-pound young white man…rushed the stage” and assaulted King. King spoke calmly to the young man even as he was pummeled. When others intervened, King asked them not to harm the young man. 24 In a bit of contrast, Mandela maintained boxing as a hobby well into middle age. 25

As each of them advocated non-violence they drew on Gandhi’s work and ideals. But King was more consistently true to this. Although his policies and advocacy for non-violence were only cemented during the Montgomery bus boycott, this was at the very beginning of his career as an activist . 26 He maintained this position as the only one that could affect the true change that was needed. Mandela finally asked for a suspension of the armed struggle in South Africa after he had been freed from prison, nearly at the end of his career.

Both men were born into relatively wealthy families, and both men were natural leaders. However, King was vaulted into prominent leadership when he was young—only 26, and suddenly at the forefront of a movement that had been on the rise for quite some time. Almost overnight, he became leader of roughly 40,000 citizens in the Montgomery bus boycott (Some accounts claim more, possibly 50,000). 27 Mandela, on the other hand was with his movement from almost it’s infancy—he became leader of the Congress Youth League just out of college, when the ANC numbered only a few thousand. Both employed civil disobedience as an economic weapon—quite effective when employed across large populations. But the influence Mandela wielded grew stronger than King’s in the long run. It would need to be, in order to dismantle and rebuild an entire nation. Indeed, Mandela can be seen as having held the ANC as a very large club. Never did he swing it with full force, but it was always an intimidating weapon. “Make South Africa Ungovernable”, was the mission of the ANC. 28 This phrase has been often credited to Thabo Mbeki, a colleague and political ally of Mandela.

Both men won the Nobel Peace prize. King in 1964, just before the passage of the Civil Rights act. 29 Mandela shared the prize with F. W. de Klerk in 1992, both a potent symbol of the change that had been affected and the a reminder of the uncomfortable alliance into which they were locked. Mandela died in 2013, and his renown will likely not change dramatically. F.W. De Klerk remains a virtual unknown in comparison with Mandela, yet it was he who agreed to Mandela’s freedom. Mandela’s legacy became a global one, in part because he was viewed as carrying on in the tradition of King and Malcolm X.

King became known outside the United States as well, but never achieved similar global influence in his lifetime. As King was assassinated over 40 years ago, we have a chance to see the legacy he left behind after the Civil Rights Act was passed. As Mandela’s work was only recently ‘completed’ his post-political legacy has yet to be seen. His long imprisonment effected his standing similarly to the elevation effect of King that his assassination had. But Mandela’s legacy has yet to be observed in a comparable way. There have been only two presidents of South Africa after him, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, and only Mbeki has a history that is comparable enough to Mandela’s success so as to consider him any sort of successor. King on the other hand has children that continue to promote civil rights, including Martin Luther King III, Dexter King, and more notably Bernice King, who is the current President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which King established after the bus boycott. 30 Of Mandela’s children, his daughter Zindzi and his 2nd wife Winnie both supported his cause while in he was in prison, but have later been less publicly or directly involved in any continuing support of the ANC or even Mandela himself.

It seems that King was willing and had the opportunity to embrace both hope and non-violence in part because of the relative safety of the people he led, if not his own. Mandela on the other hand, was perhaps not afforded that same safety for his people, although ironically, his own personal safety was guaranteed to some degree by his captors. For this reason, it is then unquestionably true that Mandela’s commitment to non-violence extended only so far as it was considered effective, instead of King’s more universal approach. In all fairness, Mandela never claimed non-violence was the only way to freedom.

1 Stephen B. Oates, Let the Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King Jr, (New York: Harper & Row, 1982), 4-7.

2 Jacqueline Ching. The Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, (New York: Rosen Publishing Group, 2002) 18.

3 Michael Eric Dyson, April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Death and How it Changed America, (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2008), 5; Oates,13.

4 Michael Eric Dyson, Debating Race with Michael Eric Dyson , (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2007), 27-29.

5 Troy Jackson, Becoming King: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Making of a National Leader, (Lexington, CT: University Press of Kentucky, 2008), xiii-xiv, 53, 55, 57.

6 Dyson, April 4, 1968 , 11.

7 Jackson, 111, 115.

8Dyson, April 4, 1968, 25-29.

9 Robin Benger, Madiba: The Life and Times of Nelson Mandela , DVD, Directed by Robin Benger. Toronto, ON, CBC Documentary Unit, 2004.

10 Nelson Mandela, The Long Walk to Freedom , (New York: Little, Brown & Company, 1994), 4.

11 Ibid., 4; Tom Lodge, Mandela: A Critical Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 3-5.

12 Lodge, 17, 20.

13 Nelson Mandela Foundation, “Nelson Mandela: Biography”, , (Accessed April 19, 2010).

14 Tom Lodge, 44; Robin Benger, Madiba: The Life and Times of Nelson Mandela , 2004.

15 Tom Lodge, 64-65, 71, 90.

16 Mandela, 326-328.

17 Mandela, 334-336.

18 Lodge, 125-128.

19 Ibid., 122-123.

20 Tom Lodge, ix; A Celebration of Black History: The Rise of Martin Luther King, Jr. (accessed April 18, 2010).

21 Tom Lodge, 205; Mandela, 596-597.

22 Oates,253, 423-424.

23Robin Benger, Madiba: The Life and Times of Nelson Mandela, 2004.

24 Michael Eric Dyson, April 4, 1968, 8-9.

25 Tom Lodge, 29.

26 Jackson, 119.

27 Ibid., 11; William H. Chafe, The Unfinished Journey: America Since World War II (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 163.

28Tom Lodge, Politics in South Africa: From Mandela to Mbeki, (Kenilworth, Cape Town: New Africa Books, 2002), 242-243.

29 Jackson, xix.

30 Ibid., 149.


Filed under Activism, History, Leadership, Philosophy, Politics