Monday, June 18, 2018

Hjalmar Schacht and Mitch McConnell

Mark Graber

Eugene Davidson’s, The Trial of the Germans was one of the most memorable books I read as a teenager.  I was particularly troubled by the chapter on Hjalmar Schacht.  Schacht played a vital role helping the Nazi party revive the German economy during the 1930s. Although not a member of the Nazi Party, he served as Hitler’s Minister of Economics and main economic advisor during the years before World War II.  His behavior was typical of many German industrialists, who saw the Nazi Party as a vehicle for their desired economic policies that they could control before the worst of Nazi rhetoric was realized.  Schacht was acquitted at Nuremburg because he played no official role in the German government after 1939 and wound up in a concentration camp during the last year of the war.

Schacht came to mind during Aziz Huq’s terrific presentation at the annual meeting of the Law and Society Association.  Huq’s focus, which is in part the focus of his important new book with Tom Ginsburg, How to Save a Constitutional Democracy, was on constitutional near misses.  His argument is that at crucial points the conservative and center-right politicians who initially allied with a political leader who exhibits limited respect for the constitutional rules of the game realize that they cannot control that leader.  They then seek an alliance with the center and center-left in order to preserve the constitutional order.  When major industrialists and their political supporters realize relatively early that they cannot control the demagogue and compromise with their political rivals, the slide towards authoritarian reverses.  When they follow Hjalmar Schacht's example because they and their donors are profiting from some of the demagogue's policies, constitutional democracies collapse.

The contemporary American analogues to Hjalmar Schacht are, of course, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, their political allies and donors.  McConnell and Ryan are no more Nazis or fascists than Schacht.  Like Schacht, they are willing to empower an authoritarian figure because they believe they will get desired economic policies (and pro-life judges) in the short run and be able to control the demagogue in the long run.  As was the case long before Schacht fell from power, the evidence is now clear that McConnell is failing in his attempt to be the real power behind the throne.  Every month brings more evidence that Republicans when faced with the choice will side with the authoritarian demagogue whose bigotry is increasingly unrestrained than with the conservative businessman who needs a tax cut because annual incomes in the millions of dollars are insufficient.   The question is whether the United States is in 1934, when conservatives jumping ship might have prevented untold human misery (at the costs of some profits) or 1939, when Schacht could be pushed out of the Nazi regime without any political consequences.

Older Posts
Newer Posts