Learning the Wrong Lesson from Weimar

President Paul von Hindenburg and Chancellor Adolf Hitler of Germany en route to a May Day celebration in Berlin, May 1, 1933
President Paul von Hindenburg and Chancellor Adolf Hitler of Germany en route to a May Day celebration in Berlin, May 1, 1933 (Bundesarchiv)

Tyler Cowen argues in Politico that fascism cannot happen in America because its government is too large and too complex:

No matter who is elected, the fascists cannot control the bureaucracy, they cannot control all the branches of American government, they cannot control the judiciary, they cannot control semi-independent institutions such as the Federal Reserve and they cannot control what is sometimes called “the deep state.”

Cowen then bases his argument on the size of government relative to the economy, citing estimates that Weimar Germany taxed and spent about a third of GDP.

I think this is misguided. Read more

The Octopus in Political Cartoons

Octopuses are a popular trope in political art. They came in vogue in the 1870s, when Frederick W. Rose depicted Russia as a giant octopus lording over Eastern Europe. The sea monster was quickly given to Germany when it posed a bigger threat to peace in Europe. During the early Cold War, it was Russia’s turn again. The octopus was the perfect metaphor for spreading communism.

Here is a selection of the best and worst tentacled sea creatures. Read more

Niemals Oder-Neisse: The Border Germany Refused to Accept for 45 Years

1980 Christian Democratic Union poster about "the open German question"
1980 Christian Democratic Union poster about “the open German question” (ACDP)

After World War II, the Allied powers ceded the German lands east of the Order and Lusatian Neisse rivers to Poland — creating a border dispute that would last all through the Cold War. Read more

How the Dutch Would Flood Their Country to Stop Invaders

Dutch soldiers conduct maneuvers on the Water Line
Dutch soldiers conduct maneuvers on the Water Line (De Spaarnestad/Wiel van der Randen)

Situated on the confluence of the Meuse, Rhine and Scheldt Rivers, there is little but water that separates the Netherlands from its more powerful neighbors.

One way the country managed to safeguard its early independence was through clever diplomacy. The Dutch allied with the English against the Spanish, with the Danes and the French against the English and with virtually all of Western Europe against the French.

When this failed, their only recourse was to retreat north of the rivers and flood the low country southeast of Amsterdam in order to protect Holland’s commercial capital from invasion.

This stopped the French in the Disaster Year of 1672, when the Dutch Republic was nearly overwhelmed by the combined forces of England, France and two German electors.

But the system failed when the French invaded again in the winter of 1794-95 and the “Water Line” had frozen. Read more

Lines on a Map: Five Examples Worse Than Sykes-Picot

The centennial of the Sykes-Picot Agreement has flooded the better-informed parts of the Internet with everything from the depressingly familiar (blaming the treaty for all the Middle East’s problems) to the refreshingly critical. There seems to be more and more of the latter, which is heartening.

Sykes-Picot was after all not the only plan to partition the Ottoman Empire after World War I, as Middle East expert Adam Garfinkle writes in The American Interest. And blaming it, or any Western design, for imposing “artificial borders” on the region is a dangerous proposition, as the Atlantic Sentinel has argued. Taken to its logical conclusion, the idea that only borders that perfectly encompass certain ethnic groups are legitimate invites more conflict, not less.

The Middle East is not the only part of the world that can attest to that. Here are five examples where drawing lines on the map caused even bigger problems. Read more

Why the Middle East Never Went Secular

Presidents Houari Boumedienne of Algeria and Anwar Sadat of Egypt meet with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya for a conference, May 8, 1972
Presidents Houari Boumedienne of Algeria and Anwar Sadat of Egypt meet with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya for a conference, May 8, 1972 (Keystone/Getty Images)

The great struggles in the Middle East are tinged with religion: Sunni supremacists in the Islamic State, Shia supremacists in Tehran, Arabs and Jews waging war on one another over the old mandate of Palestine, to name just a few.

And yet, not so long ago, many Middle Eastern states were using the language of socialism, nationalism and even communism — “isms” that brook little competition from religion. Inconsistent, yes, but also truth of a wider trend: Once upon a time, many Arab states were actively switching their social glue from Islam to modern ideologies.

Consider the national anthem of the United Arab Emirates, whose notes were penned in 1971 and whose lyrics were written in 1996. Full of socialist and nationalist language, the anthem extols work, Arabism and the Emirati homeland. The Egyptian of 1971 cried out for Arab unity while Gaddafi’s Green Book was an odd hodgepodge of nationalism and socialism. The Palestinian Liberation Organization’s founding charter of 1964 doesn’t even mention Islam.

Algeria practiced Algerian socialism until the 1990s; the largest party today in Tunisia, Nidaa Tounes, draws heavily from secularism and socialism. Officially Arab socialist states included Mubarak’s Egypt, Saddam’s Iraq and Assad’s Syria. Even after a communist coup in 1971, Sudan continued to pursue socialism.

Once the United States fretted it was losing the Arab world to communism; now, hardly anyone even mutters the world “socialism.” The Middle East has taken a trajectory that seemed to aim for ideological parity with Europe to one that has gone almost entirely the opposite. Read more

Territorial Changes Shaped Polish Society

1945 map of a potential post-World War II partition of Poland
1945 map of a potential post-World War II partition of Poland (Time/Robert M. Chapin Jr.)

Poland’s historical changeability on the map of Europe has had a profound impact on its political and social composition. A century after it regained its independence, differences still exists between those parts of Poland that were annexed by Germans and those that were once part of Austria and Russia.

In the last few parliamentary and presidential elections, the political map of Poland could be drawn almost perfectly along the former borders of its occupiers. The liberal Civic Platform party won pluralities in almost all counties that were part of the German Empire until 1914. The conservative Law and Justice, by contrast, won most counties in the east. Read more