Several years ago I found a copy of Mein Kampf in a second-hand bookstore in country Victoria. Better my bookshelf than a neo-Nazi’s, I figured, so I coughed up the $90 asking price. I confess I thought about burning it, but the irony of doing so would have simply been too much.
I didn’t think it was possible to like Hitler any less, but the preface in which he wrote “every great movement on earth owes its growth to great speakers and not to great writers” did the trick. His diatribe now sits alongside other reference texts filled with hateful nonsense that condone genocide, and which so happen to prove Hitler was wrong about the power of the written word to change the world — the so-called ‘holy books’.
It’s no coincidence that political and religious ideologues inevitably find themselves bedfellows. It’s also no surprise that neo-Nazis turned up in support of a hateful anti-trans rally held recently on the steps of Victorian Parliament.
In 1919, a gay Jewish doctor called Magnus Hirschfeld founded the world’s first gender clinic in Germany. The Institute of Sexual Research provided LGBTIQ+ people free counselling and healthcare until Nazis destroyed it in 1933 and burned all the books in the institute’s collection along with thousands of others. For someone who didn’t believe in the power of writing, Hitler sure seemed to fear it.
As this understanding of history makes clear, attempts by some in the media to suggest the neo-Nazis “gatecrashed a women’s rights rally” are complete and utter nonsense. It was an anti-trans rally with a neo-Nazi cheer squad, complete with a large banner saying ‘DESTROY PAEDO FREAKS’.
Almost as shameful as this behaviour is the fact our laws do nothing to deter it. Comparing trans people to paedophiles and calling for them to be destroyed is serious vilification and incitement to violence, but Victoria’s anti-vilification law doesn’t recognise it as such, because it only protects people based on race or religion. This needs to change.
With neo-Nazis openly calling for LGBTIQ+ people to be murdered on the steps of parliament, the case for including LGBTIQ+ status as a protected attribute under our anti-vilification laws couldn’t be stronger. And, make no mistake, anyone who doesn’t support protecting LGBTIQ+ people from such hateful conduct when a bill is brought before Victorian Parliament to do so has made it clear whose side they are on.
There will always be apologists for hateful nonsense, and like the people they defend they are without excuse. The Irish translator’s introduction of my copy of Mein Kampf goes to pains to explain that we must understand Hitler in the historical context with which he wrote and “the emotional stress under which Mein Kampf was written”. He also points out that Hitler repeatedly declared that “Germany has no territorial claims against France”. This edition was published in 1938. We all know what came next.
With zealots infiltrating our political institutions and neo-Nazis rallying at their doors, it is imperative for liberals to snap out of our complacency and improve our hold on power.
The Allies won the war, but the battle of ideas never ends. The Nazis lost power, but some continue to spread their hateful message. That neo-Nazis live among us is hardly surprising. There will always be zealots, uncompromising in the pursuit of their religious or political ideals, who seek to impose their will on others, the most fanatical of whom resort to violence to do so.
Zealots are, thankfully, the minority, but it is often forgotten that liberals, who adhere to a political philosophy that values freedom, human rights and tolerance, are a minority too.
Most people are simply too busy working, raising their families, and finding enough money to keep a roof over their heads and put food on the table. So while most people are civil, respect others, tolerate difference and are open to new ideas, upholding the political philosophy that underpins our democracy as liberals do, or agitating to impose their worldview on others as zealots do, is not something most people have time or energy for until issues have a more immediate impact on them.
We all have an innate need for order. Zealots seek order through imposed conformity, liberals through their peaceful and inclusive political philosophy, and everyone else by abdicating responsibility to the political class, which is invariably composed of a mix of liberals and zealots.
People lose power when they think they don’t have any. With zealots infiltrating our political institutions and neo-Nazis rallying at their doors, it is imperative for liberals to snap out of our complacency and improve our hold on power.
The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Many forget that Hitler did not rise to power on a wave of popular support, but rather through a backroom political deal.
Too many concessions have been made in the name of political expediency and at the expense of our liberal democratic system’s stability. It’s time for liberals to get more zealous in their defence of liberalism. Tolerance of intolerance is cowardice, and liberals must tolerate it no more.
This article was originally published here on the author’s blog.
Image by Adam Jones (Flickr CC)