This is an examination of the strange form of historical revision used by Dinesh D'Souza, in particular his invocation of the Holocaust supposedly to bludgeon the left, the way it is normally used by the left to bludgeon the right. First I look at how he arrived at this form of propaganda.
People from India do not necessarily share the Western assumption that Hitler and his government represent the purest evil that ever existed. Hitler was at war with the British, whose yoke at that time many Indians wished to cast off. The Azad Hind (Free India) movement under Subhas Chandra Bose was supported by the Axis. There is also an accusation (which may or may not be true) against Winston Churchill that he deliberately caused a devastating famine in India during the war by diverting food. Perhaps as a consequence of these wartime experiences, the demonization of Adolf Hitler does not seem ever to have taken root in India with the same force as in the United States. In fact Hitler has many admirers in India. It is not unprecedented for a public figure in India to say some kind words about Hitler. There is even an Indian melodrama called Hitler Didi, whose main character is a young woman with all the positive traits of Adolf Hitler. What I have heard from Indians -- and I have not taken a survey but I have listened to a few -- is that, while they may believe in the Holocaust, they regard it as a blemish on an otherwise admirable life. Most likely, then, Dinesh D'Souza did not regard Hitler as evil incarnate when he arrived in America.
There is also the Indian caste-system, a system of discrimination based on ancestry, which must deprive any accusation of “racism” of much of its force. During his time in South Africa Gandhi once expressed indignation, not at the treatment of Blacks per se but at the fact that he as an Indian was placed on the same level as African Blacks. Unequal treatment based on ancestry is traditional in Indian culture, and not a scandal.
D'Souza's first successful book was Illiberal Education: the Politics of Race and Sex on Campus from 1991. This book, although its theme was not new, won D'Souza a lot of praise and made him instantly famous.
Much of the appreciation for this book was due, I believe, to the fact that criticisms of non-White minorities seem validated when they come from somebody who is himself not White. D'Souza can also say things that many White people are afraid to say, without losing his career. It is not a coincidence that his greatest commercial success was a movie, Obama's America, that attacked the country's first Black president. D'Souza has profited greatly from being a non-White spokesman for White grievances.
In his first foray into some kind of historical revisionism, 1995's The End of Racism, D'Souza discusses racism and its role in causing the relatively unfortunate state of Black people in the United States. He concludes essentially that Black people's problems are their own fault. Two Black associates of the American Enterprise Institute where D'Souza was at that time employed, Glenn Loury and Robert Woodson, were so upset by this book that they denounced it and resigned. D'Souza had tried to cushion the anticipated angry reactions to this book by including condemnations of the racism of others – which Jared Taylor says were very dishonest. D'Souza's attack on columnist Samuel Francis caused him to be fired from the Washington Times. (See the November 1995 issue of American Renaissance, devoted to criticism of The End of Racism and its author.)
In America: Imagine the World Without Her (2014) D'Souza disputed a range of standard leftist accusations against White Americans, including the accusation of genociding the continent's aboriginal population:
"We know that, as a consequence of contact with Columbus and the Europeans who came after him, the native population in the Americas plummeted. By some estimates, more than 80 percent of the Indians perished. This is the basis for the charge of genocide. But there was no genocide. Millions of Indians died as a result of diseases they contracted from their exposure to the White man: smallpox, measles, cholera, and typhus." (Dinesh D'Souza, America: Imagine the World Without Her, p. 93)
Formerly D'Souza liked to challenge prevalent assumptions:
“I think my goal is to take many of the assumptions that are built into, sometimes American culture, sometimes into liberal politics, and turn those assumptions into questions. So, things that are taken for granted now become open to scrutiny.” (In Depth with Dinesh D'Souza, CSPAN, 4 February 2007, 0:26)
Now, however, D'Souza has in several ways reversed himself from his earlier work.
In his recent work, D'Souza has chosen, instead of questioning, to embrace the main premises of anti-White rhetoric and to try to work with them. Instead of trying to fend off the charge of being a racist or a nazi, to throw it back at the accusers. Democrats are the real racists. Democrats are the real nazis. As an Indian, Dinesh D'Souza probably does not really believe that being a racist or a “nazi” is really such a terrible thing, but he has noticed that there is a market for this form of propaganda. (In fact one of the callers to that CSPAN show in 2007 exemplified the line that D'Souza now follows.) In that vein D'Souza has so far produced three books, Hillary's America (2016), The Big Lie (2017), and Death of a Nation (2018), and two eponymous movies, named for the first and last of those books.
In Hillary's America D'Souza awkwardly abandons the position taken in 1995, that Blacks have themselves to blame for their own misfortunes, and instead finds a way to exploit the leftist premise that Blacks in the United States are helpless victims of racism. He argues (tenuously at best) that all of this racism emanates from the Democratic Party.
Also in Hillary's America, D'Souza accuses Andrew Jackson, the founder of the Democratic Party, of conducting a "genocide" against American Indians, which only two years earlier he had denied. He alleges Steve Inskeep's book Jacksonland as his source, but nowhere in that book does Inskeep even accuse Jackson of a massacre, much less a genocide. Inskeep mentions one massacre, at Hillabee, that was not Jackson's doing. The subsequent Battle of Horseshoe Bend D'Souza misrepresents as a massacre, when in fact it was a battle that Creek warriors chose to fight to the death, most likely because they expected a massacre such as had happened at Hillabee.
It would have been interesting if D'Souza had applied his insight, about how the effects of a disease-epidemic can be misrepresented as a genocide, to the supposed cinematic evidence for the Holocaust. Perhaps he understood that questioning the Holocaust would provoke a reaction against which his brown skin would not adequately protect him. But if he had publicly disputed the Holocaust, he would now be reversing himself on that too. He now embraces Holocaust propaganda in the same way that he has embraced the leftist narratives about genocide against the Indians, and persisting effects of slavery and discrimination on Blacks -- again, in order to put the blame on the Democrats.
One question that comes to mind is, does anybody really find this convincing? It is hard to believe that any educated person would find this rhetoric persuasive, but D'Souza's audience must find him at least halfway credible, at least to the degree that they do not suspect that they look foolish repeating what he says.
Although D'Souza attacked ideological narrow-mindedness in Illiberal Education, today he exploits the ideological narrow-mindedness of his own Republican audience. The difference is that instead of doing what leftists have sometimes done, pigeonholing a critic as a privileged White male whose view can therefore be dismissed, he pigeonholes the critic as a leftist or a Democrat -- whose view can therefore be dismissed. With his followers, such as they are, that often seems to work (even when the labeled person is not a leftist or a Democrat). The author of Illiberal Education may still occasionally complain about illiberality on the left, but he has found a use for mental rigidity on the right.
D'Souza's uncritical audience allows him to get away with a lot of bad arguments.
D'Souza surely understands that he is being deceptive. You can see it in his choices of verbiage, how he avoids mentioning certain things, like the fact that the “progressives” who advanced eugenic sterilization in the United States were mostly Republicans. He was criticized on Twitter (by me and a few others) for trying to hide the prominent Republican involvement in advocating eugenic sterilization after his book The Big Lie appeared in 2017. In his next book, Death of a Nation, he retreated a bit, conceding that prominent eugenics-advocates Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard were Republicans, but absurdly labeling them RINOS – Republicans In Name Only (Death of a Nation, p.144). (Even more bizarrely, D'Souza labels supporters of the Immigration Act of 1924 as RINOs, despite the fact that conservative Republicans down to Pat Buchanan, Rush Limbaugh, and Ann Coulter -- and certainly the majority of the Trump electorate -- have regarded demographic change as ominous and destructive. It implies that many of D'Souza's followers may not really have read his books.) Grant was a friend of Theodore Roosevelt's, and Republican president Warren G. Harding referred approvingly to Stoddard's work in the famous Birmingham speech of 26 October 1921. Grant and Stoddard were Republicans and in their heyday they were not on the fringe. In the Death of a Nation movie, however, D'Souza went back to omitting any mention of Republican support for eugenics.
You can see D'Souza's calculated deception also in his frequent deployment of the logical fallacy known as Ignoratio Elenchi. It means that he proves a point that is not really the point that he was supposed to prove, but rather one that can be mistaken for it. This fallacy D'Souza employs most conspicuously when he is challenged on his claim that there was no “big switch” in the orientations of the United States' two main political parties during the 20th century. For a specious disputation of this well known fact, D'Souza diverts the focus from the parties per se to the elected politicians of the two parties, and after noting that very few Democratic office-holders switched parties while in office (because they would have lost seniority) declares victory.
To support his contention that the Democrats are "the party of slavey," D'Souza introduces another fallacy, False Dilemma. First, without giving any indication that he has researched the matter, he asserts that no Republican owned slaves in 1860 (example: Blexit Dallas speech, 28 April 2019: 19:01). The proof of this proposition is supposed to consist in the failure of D'Souza's critics to adduce a counterexample (which of course is not really a proof). From the premise that no Republican owned slaves is supposed to follow the conclusion, that the Democrats were by default “the party of slavery” – because in D'Souza's simplistic historiography everybody is either a Democrat or a Republican. He ignores the fact that in 1860 many Southern slaveholders, including future Confederate Vice-President Alexander H. Stephens, were Whigs. Although the claim that no Republican owned slaves in 1860 is difficult to investigate, it is certain that a very famous slaveholder from Kentucky, Robert Jefferson Breckinridge, was temporary chairman of the Republican National Convention in 1864. D'Souza specified the year 1860 perhaps to exclude Breckinridge (who may have been still a Know Nothing and not yet a Republican in 1860) from the question.
These are typical examples of D'Souza's rhetoric. He seeks not really to win the argument, but to appear to win.
How D'Souza Invokes the Holocaust
D'Souza's narrative connecting the Holocaust to the Democratic Party is a variant of the old theory about how the Holocaust was the culmination of a sequence of measures, escalating from eugenic sterilization (the Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses of 14 July 1933), to the Nuremberg Laws disenfranchising Jews and barring their intermarriage with Germans (the Reichsbürgergesetz, or Reich Citizenship Law, and the Gesetz zum Schutze des deutschen Blutes und der deutschen Ehre, or Blood Law) to Hitler's euthanasia decree of 1939, and inexorably concludes with gassing Jews. The effect of this theory is to impute some of the stigma of gassing Jews to relatively benign measures, like restricting immigration. (See my essay, "This Strange Hesitation about Deporting Illegal Immigrants.")
Some writers have extended this slippery-slope theory backward, making American legislation about eugenics, race, and immigration into causes of the Holocaust. Jewish attorney Edwin Black is most noteworthy for arguing along these lines.
Dinesh D'Souza's bizarre innovation, as a Republican partisan propagandist, is to embrace this paranoid theory, and the backward extension of it into the United States, while shifting the blame from America in general, or White people, to the Democratic Party alone.
There are some obvious problems with this story about a sequence of increasingly barbaric decisions supposedly culminating the Holocaust. Those measures by Hitler's government, which are supposed to constitute a single trend, had varying purposes. Eugenic sterilization and the later euthanasia decree had nothing to do with each other, nor with Jewish policy.
Killing is not necessary for eugenics. In his ironically named book The Big Lie, Dinesh D'Souza falsely accuses American eugenicist Paul Popenoe of advocating “lethal chambers.” This is supposed to confirm the connection between American eugenics and the Holocaust, but it is a lie. Anyone who checks Popenoe's 1918 work Applied Eugenics will find that Popenoe wrote the opposite of what D'Souza alleges. Popenoe said that killing was unnecessary for eugenics, that vasectomy and salpingectomy – minor surgery – would suffice to prevent reproduction and thus accomplish the eugenic purpose. Even more inconvenient for D'Souza's argument is that Popenoe was for decades a registered Republican (Jeff Nichols, 3 March 2019).
Hitler's euthanasia decree, quietly issued to the medical profession at the start of the war in 1939, had nothing at all to do with eugenics, and certainly nothing to do with Jews. It was about freeing resources and personnel from caring for hopeless cases so that the resources and personnel would be available to treat war-wounded. This is not a trivial matter. BBC reported in 2016 that the cost to Britain's National Health Service of maintaining one person in a vegetative state exceeds £1 million per year.
The absurdity of regarding Hitler's euthanasia decree as a eugenic measure is evident in the fact that people who required constant medical care in order to live were almost certainly in no position to reproduce, nor were the chronic and incurably bedridden necessarily defective by birth. Wherever preventing reproduction was desirable, there were solutions much less drastic than death. Therefore, eugenics cannot have been a consideration in the euthanasia decree.
Thus, eugenic sterilization and the wartime euthanasia decree were, in their purposes, unrelated.
Now, it must be admitted that there is a progression from the Nuremberg Laws in 1935 to the Rublee Plan in 1939 to involuntary internment and deportation of Jews during the war, but this connection is destroyed if one asserts that what happened to Jews during the war was not internment and deportation but “the Holocaust” – an attempt to kill every Jew, either in Europe or, as is sometimes said, in the whole world -- because this contradicts the clear and acknowledged policy before the war of promoting Jewish emigration.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu made news at the 37th World Zionist Congress a few years ago by attributing that radical shift in policy to the influence of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammad Amin al-Husseini. It was not a very credible explanation, but if one assumes that Hitler's clear policy of encouraging Jewish emigration was suddenly replaced by a contradictory policy of trying to kill every Jew, the change has to be explained somehow.
Thus, even with the Holocaust as a given, there is no unified intent in those various policies from 1933 to 1942 that would justify construing them as an escalating sequence of measures leading to that event.
Dinesh D'Souza vs. James Q. Whitman on the Nuremberg Laws
Dinesh D'Souza pretends to rely heavily on Law-Professor James Q. Whitman's recent book, Hitler's American Model (Princeton U. Press, 2017). In Death of a Nation D'Souza claims:
“James Whitman shows in Hitler's American Model that the Nazis explicitly modeled their Nuremberg Laws – laws that segregated Jews into ghettos, prevented them from intermarrying with other Germans and excluded them from citizenship – on the Jim Crow laws of the Democratic South.” (D'Souza, Death of a Nation, p. 146)
D'Souza tells an even more remarkable story in his public appearances:
“Basically what they do is they take the Democratic laws, cross out the word Black, write in the word Jew, and that is what we know today as the Nuremberg Laws. In other words, the Nuremberg Laws weren't just parallel to the racist laws of the Democratic Party; they were actually lifted directly from those laws.” (Blexit Dallas speech, 28 April 2019: 6:07)
To say this, while pretending that it is information derived from James Q. Whitman, is audacious mendacity. Remember, there are mainstream scholars who assert that there was little or no American influence on the Nuremberg Laws. Thus the suggestion that they were merely cribbed from some unspecified American laws should be preposterous on its face.
Whitman does not even claim that the Nuremberg Laws were explicitly modeled on Jim Crow laws. Whitman argues for some American influence, not really from Southern segregation-laws but from other sources, and on that question he may represent the extreme position, because he was writing in opposition to other scholars who had opined that there was little or no American influence.
The assertion that the Nuremberg Laws segregated Jews into ghettos is an ancillary lie, to bolster the supposed connection to Jim Crow laws. Whitman directly contradicts D'Souza on that point:
“The Nuremberg Laws said nothing about segregation.” (J.Q. Whitman, Hitler's American Model, p.11)
D'Souza also says that the Nuremberg Laws were written to enable confiscation of the property of Jews. During the war Jewish property was confiscated, but there is no indication from Whitman that the peacetime Nuremberg Laws had any bearing on this.
The suggestion that ghettoization and internment of Jews on an emergency basis during the war, and even confiscation of property, were modeled on “segregation laws throughout the American south” is quite bizarre. It shows that to a great extent the real memory of how people lived in the American South just a few decades ago has been replaced with a propagandist's caricature.
In his eagerness to locate the inspiration for the Nuremberg Laws in the (formerly) Democratic South, D'Souza also somewhat misrepresents American anti-miscegenation laws. He says that “the Democrats” had passed anti-miscegenation laws “in nineteen states” by 1935. In fact, 30 out of 48 states at that time had anti-miscegenation laws (Whitman, p.12). Does D'Souza mean that only 19 of those 30 were enacted by Democratic governments? In the Death of a Nation book, D'Souza admits that some of those laws were enacted by Republicans.
There may be an inverse relationship between willingness to see American influence in the Nuremberg Laws, and determination to view those laws as part of an escalating sequence of measures leading to the Holocaust. Whitman quotes Marcus Hanke's opinion that the German laws of the early 1930s were “but one step on the stair to the gas chambers.” Hanke, however, (along with Richard Bernstein and Jens-Uwe Guettel, whom Whitman also mentions) see little American influence in those laws. Whitman takes the opposite position, seeing significant American influence on the Nuremberg Laws, but essentially dismissing the alleged connection to the Holocaust:
“It is simply not the case that the drafters of the Nuremberg laws were already aiming at the annihilation of the Jews in 1935. The concern of early Nazi policy was to drive the Jewish population into exile, or at the very least to marginalize it within the borders of the Reich....” (Whitman, Hitler's American Model, p.13)
“... it is essential to emphasize that extermination of the Jews was not the initial aim of the Nazis. In the early years of the Nazi regime 'deportation and annihilation' were as yet 'difficult to imagine'; the aim that always stood 'in the foreground' was to drive Jews to emigrate, whether through violence on the street * or through creation of legal disabilities.” (pp.48-49)
Whitman quotes National-Socialist legal commentator Wilhelm Stuckart (Kommentare zur nationalsozialistischen Rassengesetzgebung, 1936) to the effect that the purpose of the Nuremberg Laws was inconsistent with the Holocaust:
“... the goal of German Jewish policy is the emigration of the Jews out of Germany.” (p.49)
Whitman repudiates the supposed connection of the Nuremberg Laws to the Holocaust because he studied the relevant documents, but this disjunction also relieves him of having to explain why an event like the Holocaust did not also happen in the United States, as a sequel to ostensibly similar laws.
There were three Nuremberg Laws. The first established the Swastika Banner as the sole official banner of Germany. The second Nuremberg Law deprived Jews of citizenship. The third was the Blood Law – Gesetz zum Schutze des deutschen Blutes und der deutschen Ehre – an anti-miscegenation law.
Whitman and D'Souza both refer to the fact that the Blood Law did not incorporate the American one-drop rule. Whitman says that this standard was considered “too extreme” and “too harsh,” and he quotes a National-Socialist author's opinion that to classify a person with a miniscule amount of Black ancestry as Black showed “human hardness.” However, beginning in 1907 there had been a law in German Southwest Africa based precisely on a one-drop rule: any person with any Black ancestry was excluded from German citizenship (Ulrike Lindner, Journal of Namibian Studies, 6 (2009): 63-64). Whitman generates some amusement (e.g., in his interview with Sam Seder) with his finding that drafters of the Nuremberg Laws found the American laws too harsh, and D'Souza also likes to say that the “Democratic laws” were “too racist for the Nazis.” But in fact the one-drop rule had not been considered too extreme a few years earlier in the German colonies.
The Nuremberg Laws did not incorporate the one-drop rule for the obvious reason that mixing with Jews and mixing with Blacks were not regarded as equivalent. The different attitudes toward these different admixtures is evident in the fact that all the Rheinlandbastarde were sterilized (Robert Procter, Racial Hygiene, pp.112-114), whereas there was no similar effort to sterilize all half-Jews.
On the whole, the concerns to be addressed by the Nuremberg Laws were very different from the concerns addressed by American anti-miscegenation laws. That is why Whitman argues only for some influence.
What the 1935 Blood Law did derive from the United States was the precedent of having a criminal penalty for miscegenation (Whitman, p.12). That was a novelty in Germany.
Another important influence on the committee drafting these laws, says Whitman, was American “legal realism.” Legal realism embraces the role of judges in determining how to apply the law, not mechanically but with some flexibility, in pursuit of what is good for society.
It was about this “legal realism” – not about Jim Crow laws as D'Souza asserts – that Roland Freisler commented:
“This jurisprudence would suit us perfectly.” (D'Souza, Death of a Nation, p. 146)
The towering figure in American legal realism was Oliver Wendell Holmes, the American Supreme Court justice who famously declared in the case of Buck v. Bell (1927), about the constitutionality of forced sterilization laws:
“Three generations of imbeciles are enough!”
Unfortunately for D'Souza's argument, Holmes, and the eight out of nine justices on that court who ruled in 1927 that forced sterilization was Constitutional, were all Republicans.
The second of the Nuremberg Laws, the Citizenship Law, Whitman suggests, may have been influenced by the Insular Cases heard by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1901, at a time when two-thirds of the justices were Republicans. In those cases, the court created the category of “non-citizen nationals” for inhabitants of territories acquired in the Spanish-American War. Whitman says that this was the same status established for Jews under the Nuremberg Laws, and cannot prove, but suggests that the American example from the Insular Cases inspired it:
“America was pioneering a range of forms of race-based second-class citizenship.” (p.43)
An important difference between American and National-Socialist laws about this kind of matter is that the National-Socialist laws said directly what they meant, whereas the American laws that were supposed to accomplish similar purposes tended to be indirect, because of the need to navigate around the Fourteenth Amendment.
Title IX of the Treaty of Paris had said that the natives of former Spanish colonies could not become U.S. Citizens whereas persons born in Spain could. This was an indirect way of preventing large numbers of non-White or mixed-race persons from becoming U.S. citizens (although citizenship was statutorily extended to Puertoricans in 1917).
While American states with large Black populations used poll-taxes, literacy-tests, and other devices to discourage Blacks from voting, National-Socialist Germany candidly adopted a law stating that only an Aryan could be a citizen of the Reich. One big difference between National-Socialist legislators and the “American model” as Whitman calls it, is that the National-Socialists were more honest.
Close examination renders D'Souza's argument linking the Democratic Party to the Holocaust incoherent. Professor Whitman, who asserts a connection between American anti-miscegenation laws (some of which D'Souza admits, in his latest book, were enacted by Republicans) and the 1935 Blood Law also, by the same token, rejects the proposition that this Blood Law pointed toward the Holocaust; rather it pointed toward Jewish emigration from Germany. Southern segregation laws, it turns out, had no effect at all on the Nuremberg Laws. The various subterfuges used in Democratic Southern states to discourage Blacks from voting were completely unnecessary in Germany. Eugenic sterilization laws also have no relationship to the Holocaust. (Jared Taylor points out that Sweden performed, per capita, twice as many eugenic sterilizations as Germany, with no Holocaust resulting.)
But if eugenic sterilization did somehow lead to the Holocaust, it would reflect on Republicans much more than Democrats, since eugenic sterilization in the United States was mainly a Republican movement. It is a good thing for Republicans that Dinesh D'Souza's theory about the Holocaust's American inspiration is incoherent, because if it were coherent it would incriminate Republicans more than Democrats.
Nonetheless, D'Souza's rhetoric is damaging the Republican cause, not just by the obvious fact that he is making Republicans look foolish, but in another way that is more insidious.
Candidate Donald Trump was elected President of the United States promising to stop illegal immigration, and as a critic of unnecessary foreign wars like the one in Iraq (which Trump denounced in the South Carolina Republican debate). The Holocaust has been used to attack Trump's positions on those specific issues. The Hitler-comparisons began as a reaction to Trump's positions on immigration.
When Dinesh D'Souza argues that Trump cannot be like Hitler because National-Socialism is supposedly on the left, it does not in any way counter the specific ways that the Holocaust and Hitler-comparisons have been used against Donald Trump. It does not prevent foreign leaders from being targeted as “another Hitler” who “gassed his own people,” and it does not stop Holocaustian moralizing against attempts to control and limit immigration. “No human being is illegal!” declared the High Priest of the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel.
By persuading some of Trump's supporters to incorporate the Holocaust as a premise in rhetoric that ostensibly defends President Trump, D'Souza indirectly undermines two of the purposes for which Trump was elected, including what many regard as the most important purpose, the curbing of demographic change.
Meanwhile, of all this convoluted rhetoric, D'Souza himself probably believes almost none.
* Whitman conveys some valuable information in that book, but when he talks about aspects of National-Socialist Germany that he has not specifically researched, he falls into the ruts of old propaganda. He thinks that the German people were told that they were "the master-race," a term that the National-Socialists never used. He opines that the Night of the Long Knives in 1934 signaled the end for any possibility of moderation in National-Socialist Germany, when in fact it was mainly the radical faction of the NSDAP that was eliminated on that occasion. And in the passage asterisked above, he indicates that he thinks that there was street-violence against Jews regularly throughout Hitler's reign, when in fact such street-violence was ended by the Night of the Long Knives -- with a brief, unexpected resurgence at the time of Kristallnacht.
Additional information about this document
|Title:||Dinesh D'Souza's Approach to Holocaust Propaganda, Teaching people to lie when the truth would be better.|
|First posted on CODOH:||May 4, 2019, 1:16 p.m.|