This book's central premise is that Nazism is misunderstood. Hitler's antisemitism was not of a more intense degree than that of Imperial Russia; rathThis book's central premise is that Nazism is misunderstood. Hitler's antisemitism was not of a more intense degree than that of Imperial Russia; rather, it was of an entirely different kind. Snyder argues that Hitler believed that the mere existence of the Jew damaged the earth because the Jew created artifices that prevented the natural "Darwinian" struggle between races, which thereby caused humans to be weaker than nature intended. Capitalism and Bolshevism were both Jewish artifices designed to this end, as, indeed, was the state itself.
Snyder then argues that Hitler's program was to annihilate the state itself, not just make it totalitarian. Because he could not do this in Germany, the Holocaust did not begin in Germany. Rather it began in Eastern Europe, where the existing states--themselves young and rootless replacements for the decayed Russian Empire--were utterly destroyed by both Soviet and Nazi occupation.
I'm not done yet, but I'm not sure I understand why, under this logic, killing Jewish peasants would be more effective than killing powerful gentile exponents of "Jewish ideas."
This book arrives in the same year as Francis Fukuyama's Political Order and Political Decay which strikes some of the same basic themes as this book. Together, I would call these books "Neo Hobbesian." While we have ample evidence that prior to civilization humans didn't exist in anything like Hobbes's "state of nature," it appears that when states decay they in fact do. We can't see Hobbes in paleolithic societies, but we can see him in Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, and Afghanistan today and in Eastern Europe of the late 1930s and early 1940s.
If Hobbes's central thesis is that any state is better than no state (and a genocidal "state" is no state at all if you follow Snyder) then both Fukuyama and Hobbes concur with this argument on more modern grounds. For Fukuyama, it is only in the presence of a strong state that political freedoms can later evolve effectively; for Snyder, it is only in the absence of a state that genocide occurs. Following Fukuyama, it is absurd to carve out lines on a map and say "here is the Republic of X" if the government there cannot (even with corruption) pick up the garbage, defend the frontiers, and provide basic health, education, and welfare services. For Snyder, when a state loses its monopoly on violence to the will of a racial or ethnic group, it ceases to function even if does all the rest. These two concepts bookend this Neo-Hobbesian political theory.
This can be difficult for an American to except, reared as we are on the notion that revolution is justified when certain rights are not provided by the state. But here we must be careful. The American revolution, at least, did not destroy the state as such, it merely replaced the government.
One can prefer a western liberal democracy and still acknowledge that sometimes the alternative to even a bad government if chaos. Again, look to Syria or Iraq or Afghanistan or Somalia or Libya.
In the 90s, there was much talk of the threat and problem of "failed states." With millions of Syrians flooding the world, it must become clear that failed states are indeed a threat to stability and that illusory notions of pluralistic democratic societies can only come after a long evolution and not at the snap of a finger of western powers. This isn't the "soft bigotry of low expectations," it's the concern for our fellow human that we must have before destroying even an evil state for fear of the obvious consequences. I think of North Korea, a regime that, when it collapses, will probably not do so peacefully.
Finally, Snyder warns that failure to understand that it was the absence of a state instead of an overly powerful one that led to the Holocaust has condemned ideologues on both sides of the political spectrum towards an overly anti-statist view, one which will only lead to further calamity.
I found these arguments persuasive with respect to the narrative of the Holocaust, the understanding of Nazism, and to the future....more
There are a noticeable amount of typos in this book, very few of which render the sentence unintelligible, though some do. This is a great book that iThere are a noticeable amount of typos in this book, very few of which render the sentence unintelligible, though some do. This is a great book that is made even more poignant for me because I began reading it just a week or two after returning from Jerusalem.
I tried to contact Mr. Montefiore on Facebook regarding his claim (or repetition of the claim) that the rounded menorah was a Roman invention (or the sense of the text implying that on his footnote on p. 132) and his response didn't make any sense to me. Recent archaeological evidence pretty much puts this issue to bed, but he claims it's still a "controversy." Well, between archaeology and the faith of the Lubavitchers, yes, but not in a scholarly book like this.
Especially in the latter part of the book, we veer off course a little and get caught up in geopolitics, which seems to be a bit of a departure from a biography of a city. Obviously, a certain amount of background must be given, but I felt like the background became the foreground towards the end of the book. ...more
Some very interesting tidbits here. I would have liked a more thorough discussion of the impact of the Balfour declaration—it's just sort of taken forSome very interesting tidbits here. I would have liked a more thorough discussion of the impact of the Balfour declaration—it's just sort of taken for granted as this momentous thing. I get that. But if we're going to wade into such minutia as this book gets into, it wold be good and fitting, I think to give a congruent amount of detail as to how the Balfour declaration shaped future diplomacy....more
I understand why this is a controversial book, but I think to a person who doesn't understand these things well, they would think that this is a bookI understand why this is a controversial book, but I think to a person who doesn't understand these things well, they would think that this is a book written with glowing admiration of Schneerson. For those that demand nothing less than a total hagiography, it falls short, of course.
I know Elliot Wolfson thinks this book is incomplete because it does not analyze the relevant Chabad texts. On the contrary, I agree with the authors of this book in almost entirely omitting that aspect. Indeed, Wolfson's book is so overly thick with those textual references as to be almost unreadable. It is so overwrought. This book leaves the reader with a better understanding of the important facts of Chabad's messianic flirtations based on human concerns....more