People who argue against reducio ad Hitlerum, the tendency to reduce every political argument to a Hitler comparison, usually have a good point. Welfare reform was not the Third Reich. Neither is environmentalism.
Yet in rejecting Hitler argument, people have forgotten an important aspect of totalitarianism: its pettiness, and how that pettiness can morph into greater forms of repression.
Many totalitarian states don't start by shoving people into death camps. Most begin by micromanaging everyday life. This is why I fear liberalism so much.
For the past several decades the left hasn't resembled Stalin liquidating millions -- although pro-life people could make that case -- but rather the nitpicking, control-freak oppression of a low-level bureaucrat in a new totalitarian regime.
Speech codes. News organizations blackballing those with different opinions. Casual misogyny and ridicule of traditional morality.
But with the new forced-contraception Health and Human Services mandate, liberalism has crossed that small but vital line between normal lefty pettiness and a threat to freedom that truly does reflect National Socialism.
Currently some of the best commentary on the battle against the White House push to force all sentient beings to pay for contraception is coming from George Weigel. Weigel is a Catholic scholar and a writer of the first rank, and his most recent book, The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II -- the Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy, is particularly insightful into the pettiness of totalitarianism.
Yes, there are horror stories of wars and mass Stalinist liquidations. But I was also struck by what Weigel calls the "quotidian offenses" -- those little everyday BS maneuvers that tyrants use to slowly erode the will of free people and inject the state more and more into the zone of privacy.
In Poland after World War II, a man who saw this firsthand, aside from John Paul II, was Bishop Stepfan Wyszynski. Wyszynski had dealt with the Gestapo during World War II, and that prepared him for the communist who invaded Poland after World War II. In 1948 Pope Pius appointed Fr. Wyszynski, who was forty-seven at the time, as the archbishop of Gniezno and Warsaw and Primate of Poland. Weigel notes that the communist regime in Poland did the following:
Threatened parents with loss of employment if they didn't send their kids to communist schools and youth groups
Harassed Catholic publications with "paper shortages"
Secret police reports separated Catholic priests into three groups: enemies, neutrals, and "positives."
Arrested priests and bishops then staged phony "trials."
Weigel sums up the overall atmosphere: "Permissive abortion laws, communist youth camps that encouraged sexual experimentation, work schedules that separated husbands and wives, parents and children -- all these were tools in the communist campaigns against traditional Polish culture and against the Church and its moral teaching."
Sound familiar? Currently, the Obama administration is in the midst of trying to destroy the Catholic Church by forcing it into a schism. Thus it uses Kathleen Sebelius and Sandra Fluke, good liberal Catholics, or "positives" in the language of the communists, to attack the Church itself.
This is the moment when petty, quotidian liberal tyrannies morph into totalitarianism.
In 2011 a documentary called A Film Unfinished was released. It documented the making of a Nazi propaganda film, Ghetto, in 1942. At first there was some concern that A Film Unfinished would soften the anguish of Holocaust victims and affect the historical memory of the event because it showed Jews in Germany going through everyday routines -- shopping, eating, going to temple. But people soon realized that the evidence in the film actually made the Nazi crimes seem worse. One could fully witness the ridiculous pettiness of Nazi intrusions into everyday life -- pettiness that permitted much greater crimes.
One of the most disturbing scenes in A Film Unfinished is a simple depiction of Jewish women bathing naked together. There is nothing violent in the scene, but it is chilling in it casual cruelty and violation of a private space. It is the state saying: we control what you eat, where you go, what you read -- and watch you when you bathe. It's for the good of the state.
In communist Poland after World War II, Bishop Wyszynski finally had enough of totalitarian pettiness when it began pushing into the sacred realm. In what became a famous sermon he offered the following: "We teach that it is proper to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God that which is God's. But when Caesar sits himself on the altar, we respond curtly: he may not."
The Polish bishops followed this with a declaration that peace depended on "the government's forsaking its radical, destructive hatred towards Catholicism, and abandon its aim of subjugating the Church and turning it into an instrument of the State...We are not allowed to place the things of God on the altar of Caesar. No possumusw [We cannot!]"
The fake Polish government charged the cardinal with, yes, "violating the constitution." Wyszynski was arrested and served a three-year internment. We can only hope that Catholic leaders who refuse to obey Obama's mandates don't suffer the same fate.