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January 23, 2022 Reading Time: 7 minutes

We are told that comparing current Covid policies concerning the unvaccinated to Nazi-era policies is outrageous. We are told we are dishonoring the memory of the dead. 

No one should apologize for comparing Nazi policies with stigmatization of the unvaccinated today. Comparisons reveal mindsets. If an alcoholic, Peter, said he has nothing to learn from Tom’s experience, since Tom drinks a quart of vodka a day and Peter drinks a pint, we would disagree. Peter may well learn from Tom even if the degree of Tom’s alcoholism is different. If Tom overcame his alcoholism, Tom might have a universal lesson to teach Peter.

When we learn from a cautionary tale, it’s not because there are exact parallels. We learn because we can conceptualize the principles the tale teaches.

In the history of humanity, when there are parallels in the present to past terrible times, we honor the memory of those who suffered horrifically by learning what brought forth their suffering. When we say “Never again” those words have meaning, not when we mindlessly call people Nazis or communists, but when we understand what generated the suffering of millions. 

In 2020, Auschwitz survivor Marian Turski reminded his audience that the death camps were a culmination of a process that began with propaganda: 

But be careful, be careful, we are already beginning to become accustomed to thinking, that you can exclude someone, stigmatize someone, alienate someone. And slowly, step by step, day by day, that’s how people gradually become familiar with these things. Both the victims and the perpetrators and the witnesses, those we call bystanders, begin to become accustomed to the thoughts and ideas, that this minority that produced Einstein, Nelly Sachs, Heinrich Heine and the Mendelssohns is different, that they can be expelled from society, that they are foreign people, that they are people who spread germs, diseases and epidemics. That is terrible, and dangerous. That is the beginning of what can rapidly develop.

For his part, Turski promotes an 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not be indifferent.” Today, we have the power to oppose; tomorrow we may not. 

There are universal lessons to learn from relying on the right people to lead society; individuals are fallible and strict limits on power are always needed.

There are universal lessons when bureaucrats exercise power backed by the coercive force of government: They may be unprepared, unresponsive, or incompetent at best and immoral and evil at worst.

Politicians and bureaucrats are especially dangerous when they believe they are anointed to coerce others. Followers who have not yet learned that power is dangerous may be surprised by the actions leaders take; next time they believe they will find better people to champion. Their next anointed champion is likely to fall short; the anointed are not incentivized to respect the autonomy of ordinary people. 

In his book The Vision of the Anointed, Thomas Sowell warns, “What is seldom part of the vision of the anointed is a concept of ordinary people as autonomous decision makers free to reject any vision and to seek their own well-being through whatever social processes they choose.”

The anointed want unbridled power; they are certain they have the knowledge they need. Sowell explains, “The hallmark of the vision of the anointed is that what the anointed consider lacking for the kind of social progress they envision is will and power, not knowledge.” Sowell adds, 

The real comparison, however, is not between the knowledge possessed by the average member of the educated elite versus the average member of the general public, but rather the total direct knowledge brought to bear through social processes (the competition of the marketplace, social sorting, etc.), involving millions of people, versus the secondhand knowledge of generalities possessed by a smaller elite group.

The anointed are sure that if problems remain, it is only because others obstruct them. Sowell explores the mindset of the anointed:

The refrain of the anointed is we already know the answers, there’s no need for more studies, and the kinds of questions raised by those with other views are just stalling and obstructing progress. “Solutions” are out there waiting to be found, like eggs at an Easter egg hunt. Intractable problems with painful trade-offs are simply not part of the vision of the anointed. Problems exist only because other people are not as wise or as caring, or not as imaginative and bold, as the anointed.

Those who exercise power over us want to keep us in the dark, not learning history’s lessons. During Covid, Big Tech has ramped up censorship to levels that we would expect to see in totalitarian societies. Lessons from history, consideration of alternative paradigms, and the works of great champions of liberty such as Sowell, Hayek, and Mises provide proverbial light. 

Closed, the blackout cellular blinds in my bedroom screen out the light; opened, the light shines away the darkness. Remove any barrier keeping us in mental darkness and light will shine to take us in the right direction. 

Learning from the Passenger

Urlrich Alexander Boschwitz, born in Germany to a Jewish father and Protestant mother, escaped to Sweden in 1935. When he moved to England, Boschwitz was classified as an “enemy alien” and interned in Australia. In 1942, Boschwitz, was allowed to return to England but died at sea after a torpedo attack by a German submarine. Recently rediscovered is Boschwitz’s 1938 literary masterpiece, The Passenger

Boschwitz tells the story of Otto Silbermann, set in 1938 in Germany, just after Kristallnacht. Silbermann, a fictitious Jewish business owner, is on the run from Nazi roundups. To elude capture, he takes a continuous series of train rides, from German city to city. One mistake, and he is doomed; yet Boschwitz’s protagonist can’t quite believe what has happened: “Who could have imagined anything like it? In the middle of Europe, in the twentieth century!” “People don’t just go hauling off respectable citizens from their homes! They can’t do that!”

The mindset Boschwitz reveals is instructive. If the hunted could not quite believe what was happening, we can understand why ordinary Germans saw nothing to be concerned about. Today, fully vaccinated Americans may not be concerned about upheaval in the daily lives of the unvaccinated.

German propaganda turned reality on its head. A newspaper headline at a train station screamed at Silbermann, “Jews declare war on the German People.” Did ordinary Germans question such unbelievable news? Probably not. Today, do the vaccinated question the propaganda that the unvaccinated are killing the vaccinated? 

Silbermann tries to escape to Belgium and is quickly caught and sent back. He tries to rally himself by thinking “Maybe things aren’t so bad.” His naïve faith in government is revealed when he reasons, “Even if [the Nazi government] is full of anti-Semites, it’s still the government, and this [the beatings and roundups of Jews] is something they simply can’t allow.” He hopes, “Tomorrow the government might well declare it happened without their knowledge.”

More naivety is revealed. Sneaking back to his apartment to find his Aryan wife, Silbermann finds everything smashed. He picks up “sufficient evidence” of the deeds of the Nazi thugs, imagining he will get justice.

He meets former business partners who are incapable of empathy and only want to take advantage of him.

Reality sinks in as Silbermann realizes, ‘’I should finally acknowledge the reality of the situation: things are going to get worse—much, much worse!”

Poignantly Silbermann asks himself if his “optimism was nothing but cowardice.”

From his time on the front lines of World War I, Silbermann has fond memories. Things were unpleasant, “but we were soldiers. Soldiers among soldiers. And now we are filthy Jews and the others are Aryans!” 

Today, professionals fired over their personal medical decisions would echo Silbermann’s plaintiff cry: “My character and my qualities are entirely unimportant. The headline [that I am Jewish/ that I am not vaccinated] decides. The content doesn’t matter.”

In our optimism we believe that somehow things will get magically better. Is our optimism a cover for cowardice? 

There was little Silbermann could have done to escape his fate. Our job in opposing tyranny is exponentially easier, as Charles Eisenstein points out:

Those pushing a techno-medical-totalitarian program are nowhere near to consolidating power to the extent of the Soviet Communists, the slave-owning class, the Nazi Party, or the medieval Catholic Church. Similar forces are at work—dehumanization, scapegoating, ideologies of control—but there is still time to turn the tide. Vocal dissent does not mean certain death.

Today, vocal dissent doesn’t mean death, but many people self-censor as if it does. Eisenstein writes

Another thing I’ve been hearing a lot of recently is that “Covid tyranny is bound to end soon, because people just aren’t going to stand for it much longer.” It would be more accurate to say, “Covid tyranny will continue until people no longer stand for it.” That brings up the question, “Am I standing for it?” Or am I waiting for other people to end it for me, so that I don’t have to? In other words, am I waiting for the rescuer, so that I needn’t take the risk of standing up to the bully?

Holocaust survivor Vera Sharav warns against blindly supporting the war on Covid: “Part of what’s wrong is the idea of just following authority without considering, what if they’re wrong? What if it’s not in my best interest? Why?” She adds, “It’s a very, very dangerous thing to do to follow. That’s what happened in Germany essentially. All Germans were not evil, but most of them, the vast majority, simply went along.”

What Silbermann Learned

Silbermann’s features are not stereotypical, making it easier for him to blend in while traveling. He encounters other Jews while riding the trains. One, with a more stereotypical Jewish appearance, wants to join forces with Silbermann but he is reluctant. Silbermann reasons, perhaps even correctly, that his risk of being caught will go up. 

As Silbermann encounters other Jews, he begins to notice his own us vs. them thoughts: “I’m no different than anyone else, but maybe you truly are different and I don’t belong in your group. I’m not one of you. Indeed, if it weren’t for you, they wouldn’t be persecuting me.” 

By his willingness to see his own ugly thoughts, Silbermann offers us an important lesson. As he becomes aware of and does not justify his thoughts, he sheds light on his thinking and dispels his darkness. He thinks of his Aryan brother-in-law, his business partners, and others who either refuse to help or seek to take advantage of his plight. And then remembering his own unwillingness to help others, Silbermann thinks, “What actually separates me from you [those who won’t help]… We’re so alike it’s downright frightening.” 

Silbermann’s realization “We’re so alike” is hopeful. The darkness I see in you is also in me, but so is the capacity to be courageous and compassionate. In his book Out of Darkness into the Light, the late psychiatrist Gerald Jampolsky wrote, “It takes work to remember that we have choices.” Today, so many furiously proclaim they have no choice but to follow the anointed. 

For many decades, in California, Jampolsky ran the Center for Attitudinal Healing. Actor Robert Young, famous for playing the dad in the iconic television series Father Knows Best, was a supporter of Jampolsky’s Center.

Jampolsky relates the story of Young’s teenage daughter asking, “Dad, how come each week on television you solve the most difficult family problems imaginable, and yet at home you seem so stupid?” Young laughed and replied, “Well, honey at the studio I just have a good screenwriter.”

As long as people believe the current anointed, such as Dr. Fauci, are trusted societal screenwriters the lessons of history, economics and the laws of power will not be learned. We will continue to deny our responsibility to oppose anyone claiming to be anointed. Jampolsky writes, “Everything in life depends on the thoughts we choose to hold in our minds and on our willingness to change our belief systems.” We alone retain the power to let in the light.

Barry Brownstein

Barry Brownstein

Barry Brownstein is professor emeritus of economics and leadership at the University of Baltimore.

He is the author of The Inner-Work of Leadership, and his essays have appeared in publications such as the Foundation for Economic Education and Intellectual Takeout.

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