There Were “Nazis” Before the Nazis and They Were American.

While we’re on the topic of the alt-right: I’ve been fairly critical of calls to simply call them Nazis or neo-Nazis. As writers in the anti-fascist movement and I have argued, the fact that most of them don’t actually espouse Nazi ideology should be of relevance to our efforts to understand and put out accurate information about the movement for a number of reasons. One underacknowleged reason is that the kneejerk “Nazi” charge blinds us to the ways in which the ideas animating the alt-right are firmly rooted in American history. Virulent racism and eugenics, as should be painfully, stupidly obvious to us, are not foreign imports from Nazi Germany. In fact, Adolf Hitler is known to have been influenced by American eugenicists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including Madison Grant, author of an incredibly influential work of scientific racism called The Passing of the Great Race. “Hitler quoted liberally from Grant in his speeches,” the Times‘ Timothy Ryback wrote in 2011, “and is said to have sent him a letter describing The Passing of the Great Race as “my bible.”

Last week at Marginal Revolution,  Alex Tabarrok shed light on another important American eugenicist—Richard T. Ely, co-founder of the American Economic Association

Ely … wanted more government ownership of the commanding heights, more regulation of economic life and more militarism and service to the state. Ely didn’t just reject laissez-faire in economics he rejected laissez-faire in all areas of social life.

For example, after explaining why the benevolence of modern society might lead to a decline in the fitness of the race, he argued, don’t worry, we have a solution:

“….the regulation of marriage, which is proposed, and which is being pushed forward by physicians and thoughtful people, — by people who are the farthest removed from any possible designation as cranks, — looks beyond the prevention of the marriage of paupers and feeble-minded.”

“[T]here are classes in every modern community composed of those who are virtually children,” Ely wrote in 1898, “and who require paternal and fostering care, the aim of which should be the highest development of which they are capable. We may instance the negroes, who are for the most part grownup children, and should be treated as such.” Tabarrok goes on to point out that this racism was central to the AEA’s early work:

One early and influential publication of the AEA, for example, was Frederick Hoffman’s Race Traits of the American Negro which after presenting reams of statistics (Hoffman was later a president of the American Statistical Society) concluded with these recommendations:

“…Intercourse with the white race must absolutely cease and race purity must be insisted upon in marriage as well as outside of it. Together with a higher morality will come a greater degree of economic efficiency, and the predominating trait of the white race, the virtue of thrift, will follow as a natural consequence of the mastery by the colored race of its own conditions of life…

“…All the facts prove that education, philanthropy and religion have failed to develop a higher appreciation of the stern and uncompromising virtues of the Aryan race. The conclusion is warranted that it is merely a question of time when the actual downward course, that is, a decrease in the population, will take place. In the meantime, however, the presence of the colored population is a serious hindrance to the economic progress of the white race.”

The whole post is worth a read. As too few are aware, the country wasn’t merely drunk on eugenicist thought at the time. Sterilization was enthusiastically supported public policy across most of the country through WWII. The alt-right isn’t some kind of dark, new Nazi revolution. It’s an all-American revival.

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