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Thread by @torstenkathke: "The problem with D'Souza is not just that he is bad at history. He is actively attacking the fundaments of what it means to research, interp […]"

, 28 tweets, 6 min read
The problem with D'Souza is not just that he is bad at history. He is actively attacking the fundaments of what it means to research, interpret, write, and understand history while laying claim to the term. His method would be sophistry, if it were in any way subtle. 1/28
This tweet is a great example: he makes the claim that the 25 points are similar to the modern Democratic platform. But he completely ignores the context, including that most points in that platform are highly specific. Clearly, some primary source analysis is in order. 2/28
@DavidAstinWalsh has already done a great job on this, but let me add my German perspective here, based on reading both the original German and the English translation (check out germanhistorydocs.ghi-dc.org for both). Let's break down the 25 points: 3/28
1–3 are related to the Versailles treaty and to German territorial claims. 4–9 are about who does and doesn't get to be a German citizen (Jews explicitly excluded) and what their rights and duties are supposed to be. 4/28
10 states that citizens have the right to work but this work should not negatively affect the community (of German citizens, as defined in 4–9). 11 wants to abolish income not based on work. 12 demands that private profit from war should be absorbed by the state. 5/28
13: all businesses that have been formed into trusts should be nationalized. 14 demands profit sharing in large industrial enterprises. 15 calls for old age insurance. 6/28
16 wants a "healthy middle class" which includes communalizing big department stores and renting them out to small traders. This is specifically anti-semitic: most large department stores were owned by Jews. 17 calls for land reform and the abolition of speculation on land. 7/28
18 demands ruthless prosecution of crimes against the "common interest." Again this posits a community of citizens which is quite narrowly defined as Germans "by blood" against whom these crimes are committed. 8/28
19 wants a German common law to replace the "materialistic" "Roman law." 20 calls for public education paid for by the state in the interest of the state (again, this is a state of racially defined Germans). 9/28
21 wants the state to "ensure that the nation's health standards are raised by protecting mothers and infants, by prohibiting child labor […]." 10/28
21 further demands that this happen "by promoting physical strength through legislation providing for compulsory gymnastics and sports, and by the extensive support of clubs engaged in the physical training of youth." 22 wants a "people's army," not a "mercenary army." 11/28
23 is long. It wants non-Germans out of the press and seeks to legally combat "deliberate political mendacity and its dissemination in the press." It wants prosecution of everything the Nazis deem "fake news" and therefore a repression of opinions. 12/28
24 calls for religious freedom, as long as it doesn't "threaten [the] existence" of the state or "offend[s] the moral feelings of the German race." Read: Nazis don't want to scare off Christian voters, but have a narrowly defined view of what "religious freedom" means. 13/28
25, finally, seeks to create a strong central power in the state. The specific context of the time and place is again essential here. They want to win power and don't want federalism to hold them up. They want to outmaneuver Social Democrats. 14/28
Looking at all of this, it becomes clear that this is a very specific document coming from a very specific moment in history. Most points address grievances a good number of Germans had against what they thought kept them poor: the Versailles Treaty, capitalists, etc. 15/28
It is highly anti-semitic, either explicitly (when Jews are mentioned), or implicitly (when they are implied to hold power or money they somehow don't deserve, as in the provisions concerning department stores). It posits there is a "community" of "natural" German people. 16/28
The Nazi program is a product of its time, and an instrument of the Nazi party. Much of it, especially the supposedly "socialist" aspects were quickly abandoned because they were nothing more than a ploy to win votes. 17/28
As the @HolocaustMuseum points out "The 25 points remained the party's official statement of goals, though in later years many points were ignored." The 25 points were meant to agitate and win votes. They had outlived their usefulness after the Nazis gained power. 18/28
All of the program explicitly wants to serve German "Volksgenossen" and exclude everyone else. It is not socialist (even under the most generous interpretation of the term): it doesn't seek to subsume all, or even most economic activity under the state. 19/28
@HolocaustMuseum: "Most prisoners in the early concentration camps were German Communists, Socialists, Social Democrats, Roma (Gypsies), Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, and persons accused of 'asocial' or socially deviant behavior." 20/28
Antihistorians like Jonah Goldberg ("Liberal Fascism") or D'Souza, in his "The Big Lie" have willfully misunderstood generations worth of scholarship on Nazism. Ideas have complicated histories. 21/28
Like any time period and place, 1920s Germany saw many ideas in the public discourse that found expression elsewhere later. They ebbed and flowed, they were picked up – in earnest, or, as in the Nazi case, mere rhetoric – in many other places. 22/28
How and why and to what effect is among what historians debate about. That is how history works. It is not part of the historical method to find some words and ideas you don't like, and to then look for ways to link them to the biggest crimes committed ever by humanity. 23/28
A historical assessment of anything tries to look at as many contributing strands as possible, then attempts to disentangle them. Most importantly, it *historicizes* them, that is, it looks at both changes and continuities over time. 24/28
That is what's truly at the heart of any history, the interplay of change and continuity. If you only ever find one (e.g. "all bad things are leftist"), you are either acting in bad faith or are not looking very closely. 25/28
D'Souza supplies the history version of creationism: he knows what he believes already, and then tries to make the evidence fit this beliefs. He can't be convinced with facts because the very method by which the facts are arrived at is spurious to him. 26/28
History is complex. It is never possible to directly equate anything with anything. Events, developments, ideas… they are connected, but history never repeats. History, for want of a better metaphor, is like jazz: variations on themes. 27/28
To understand the history of something, don't just read a book. Read all the books you can get. Professional historians on and off Twitter have written tons of thorough books. For starters, stuff by the likes of @KevinMKruse, @HC_Richardson, @Rauchway is great. 28/28
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