The Ominous Parallels--The End of Freedom in America. Leonard Peikoff. New York: NAL Penguin, Inc., 1982. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 83-60247. ix + 316 pages plus references and index.. Soft cover $10.00.
Reviewed by Red Barchetta
This book asks: "What caused Nazi Germany?" Unlike lesser attempts to explain that blood bath, The Ominous Parallels answers: "The same philosophies that are prevalent in the United States of America." Dr. Peikoff argues convincingly that in both countries the intellectual, educational and political leadership share, explicitly or implicitly, the same core ideologies. These ideologies submit that reality is subjective--a malleable illusion; emotions are the proper guide to human action--especially the emotions of race and the tribe, which cannot be understood by outsiders; self-sacrifice for the sake of others should usurp a man's own desires--and the state must take any necessary action to ensure that sacrifice. These ideologies demand that "individual selfishness" does not obstruct the path of "the public interest."
From Part One, Chapter One: " 'To be a socialist,' says Goebbels, 'is to submit the I to the thou; socialism is sacrificing the individual to the whole.' By this definition, the Nazis practiced what they preached. They practiced it at home and then abroad. No one can claim that they did not sacrifice enough individuals."
The underlying theme in The Ominous Parallels is how philosophy shapes cultures, and reading this book, it is difficult to escape a feeling of hopeless dread; of being caught in racing floodwaters and swept madly toward a destruction you are helpless to prevent. Given the theme of this nation's descent into fascism, and Dr. Peikoff's uncompromising method of proving it, that is the proper effect.
The conclusion of The Ominous Parallels is not that we are helplessly destined to go to the same lengths down the same road as Germany. The conclusion is that it is time for us to choose whether or not we will; that if we fail to consciously decide, the decision will be made for us. Contrary to the bleating of irrationalists then or now, it is only a coherent philosophy of reason and individual rights which will give us the means to choose not to become our own slaughterhouse.
Dr. Peikoff shows that such a philosophy is not prevalent in the United States because, although this nation was unique in being founded on philosophic ideals (rather than arbitrary land-grabs and tribal warfare), it was ultimately lacking a coherent detailed formulation of those ideals, as well as the Aristotelian philosophers to create one. Independence from Europe was only won physically--not ideologically. "The land of poets and philosophers was brought down by its poets and philosophers," says Peikoff. The resulting bowel movement of docile Nazi sheep who obeyed their Fuhrer because they obeyed their philosophers could indeed be us, for their philosophers--their pragmatists and Kants, their Hegels and Marxes--are ours
We do have one trump card, "...the philosophical breach between the American people and the intellectuals." In Germany, the intellectuals and the people were united in ideology, feeling at home in their country and with each other. This, says Peikoff, is not yet the case in America. Peikoff's book will help to keep it that way.
A shorter version of the book, titled The Cause Of Hitler;s Germany is now in print,