Last week, I swung by the Bill Bennett show to chew over the news of the hour. A few minutes before my grand entrance, one of Bill's listeners had taken issue with the idea that these Supreme Court decisions weren't the end and, if you just got on with your life and tended to your garden, things wouldn't be so bad:
Claudine came on and said that's what Germans reckoned in the 1930s: just keep your head down and the storm will pass. How'd that work out?
David Kelsey writes from the University of South Carolina to scoff at that:
In one corner, we have government recognition of marriage contracts between gays. In the other corner, we have Jews, Catholics, gays, their sympathizes [sic] and other undesirables being put in Nazi concentration camps.
One of these things is nothing like the other, unless you're a lunatic. Maybe the reason conservatives keep "losing everything that matters" is because they really can't tell the difference. Which causes increasing numbers of people to recognize them as lunatics.
Since you call me and Claudine "lunatics", allow me to return the compliment and call you an historical illiterate. If "one of these things is nothing like the other", it's because that's never the choice: It's never a question of being Sweden, say, vs being the Islamic State (although, if you're a Jew in Malmö, they're looking a lot less obviously dissimilar than you might think).
All societies exist on a continuum. Neither Claudine nor I said a word about "concentration camps". But you give the strong impression that that's the only fact you know about Nazi Germany: Nazis = concentration camps, right? No wonder you think everything divides neatly into opposing "corners". In the world as lived, there are no neatly defined corners. Things start off in the corners and work their way toward the center of the room.
Claudine and I were talking about Germany in the Thirties - before the concentration camps and the Final Solution, before millions of dead bodies piled up in the gas chambers. So you need to have an imaginative capacity. It's not clear from your email that you do, but give it a go: Imagine being a middle-class German in 1933. No one's talking about exterminating millions of people - I mean, that would be just "lunatic" stuff, wouldn't it? And you belong to a people that regards itself as the most civilized on the planet - with unsurpassed achievements in literature and music and science. You might, if you were so minded, call it Teutonic Exceptionalism. And you're "progressive", too: you pioneered the welfare state under Bismarck, and prototype hate-speech laws under the Weimar republic. And yes, some of the beer-hall crowd are a bit rough, but German Jews are the most assimilated on the planet. The idea that such a society would commit genocide is not just "lunatic", it's literally unimaginable.
So don't even bother trying to imagine that. Instead try to imagine it's early 1933. The National Socialist German Workers Party is the largest party in parliament and thus President von Hindenburg has appointed its leader, Herr Hitler, as Chancellor - not der Führer, just Chancellor, the same position Frau Merkel holds today. And the National Socialist German Workers Party starts enacting its legislative programme, and so a few weeks later the Civil Service Restoration Law is introduced. Under this law, Jews would no longer be allowed to serve as civil servants, teachers or lawyers, the last two being professions in which Jews are very well represented.
But that wily old fox Hindenburg knows a thing or two. So as president he refuses to sign the bill into law unless certain exemptions are made - for those who've been in the civil service since August 1st 1914 (ie, the start of the Great War), and for those who served during the Great War, or had a father or son who died in action. And the practical effect of these amendments is that hardly any Jew in the public service has to lose his job.
And so in April 1933 it would be easy to say, if you were a middle-class German seeking nothing other than a quiet life, that, yes, these National Socialist chappies are a bit uncouth, but the checks and balances are still just about working. What's the worst they can do?
Paul von Hindenburg died the following year, and his amendments were scrapped.
That's Germany's civil service in 1933. What of America's civil service in 2015?
Right now across the land town and county clerks are resigning because they cannot in conscience issue same-sex marriage licenses. In one Tennessee county, the entire clerk's office has resigned. They are observant Christians - which is to say they hold the same view of marriage that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton claimed to until the day before yesterday. But an observant Christian can no longer work in the American civil service, or at least in those branches of it responsible for issuing marriage licenses:
County Clerk Katie Lang cited religious beliefs as her reason for refusing to file the marriage application for Dr. Jim Cato and his partner Joe Stapleton. She did, however, promise that someone in her office would accommodate the couple.
Not good enough. Dr Cato and Mr Stapleton are suing Ms Lang. What else you got?
A Kentucky clerk of court wants the state to issue marriage licenses online so he doesn't have to...
Monday, Davis tried to meet with Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear to ask him to call for a special session of the state legislature so it can pass a law allowing people to purchase marriage licenses online, similar to the process of purchasing a hunting or fishing license.
That's not good enough, either. Who the hell are you to compare a lesbian wedding to a fishing license?
So observant Christians will no longer be able to serve as town or county clerk. Are comparisons really so "lunatic"? The logic of the 1933 Civil Service Restoration Act is that the German public service will be judenrein. The logic of the 2015 Supreme Court decision is that much of the American public service will be christenrein - at least for those who take their Scripture seriously. That doesn't strike me as a small thing - even if one thought it were likely to stop there.
But don't worry, Supreme Arbiter Anthony Kennedy, like President von Hindenburg, has struck a balance:
Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.
That's a very constrained definition of religious liberty. He's not saying you'll be able to live your faith, but he's willing to permit you to "advocate" for it.
And that's mighty big of him considering that there's not a lot of Churchillian magnanimity-in-victory to be found elsewhere. Big Gay's supporters are already arguing that churches should lose their tax-exempt status, so if you want to "advocate" your hate you can pay full freight to the US Treasury. And a Pennsylvania newspaper announced it would not permit advocates of non-"equal marriage" to do any advocating in its op-ed or letters pages. So you haters can advocate to each other all you want for an hour on Sunday morning, but when you come to work or you pick up a newspaper you better have left that so-called religion of yours in the back seat of your car. The intention is that Christianity is something that gets banished to the fringes - to the corner, as Mr Kelsey would say - but is incompatible with government, media or a successful and rewarding career.
What else were Germans doing in 1933? Well, on April 8th - one day after the passage of the Civil Service Restoration Act - the German Student Union announced the Säuberung - the cleansing, the purification - of German culture. That's book-burning to you and me. The Germans were a far more literate people than we are, so book-burning wouldn't get you very far today, although the cleansers and purifiers of our own time have gone quite a long way on that - to the point where a Los Angeles school teacher is in the fifth month of his suspension for reading his class a passage from Huckleberry Finn. But, as I said, we're not as literate as the Germans and we disseminate thought-crimes by other methods, like telly and movies and stand-up comedy.
So, for example, an ancient TV show called "The Dukes of Hazzard" has vanished from the rerun channels because the principal characters in the course of their adventures occasionally travel by motor vehicle and on the roof of said motor vehicle can be glimpsed a verboten emblem. They haven't yet burned all existing prints of the show, although I wouldn't entirely rule it out: the owner of the actual car is already painting the roof.
Meanwhile, apparently non-"lunatic" persons are discussing across the cable networks whether the motion picture Gone With The Wind should be banned from cinema and television screenings. Oh, don't worry, they won't burn all the prints. If you're a credentialed researcher researching a thesis on racism in 20th century racistly American racist culture, you'll be permitted to go to some vault in Sub-Basement Level 12 of the Smithsonian Museum of the Forbidden and arrange a screening.
Incidentally, you know who else banned Gone With The Wind? The Germans - notwithstanding that Margaret Mitchell's book was a personal favorite of Eva Braun's. Alas, in occupied France Miss Mitchell's French readers identified with the Confederates and cast the Germans as the Yankees. Nevertheless, enlightened American "liberals" are now proposing to ban the same subversive stories the Nazis banned.
What else can we ban? The Washington Post - the establishment newspaper of the capital city of the global superpower - had an op ed yesterday by two professors - one who teaches something called "American Encounters 1492-1865" and another who heads up a "department of gender and race studies". It takes not one but two leading intellectuals to explain to Washington Post readers why it's not just "Dukes of Hazzard" and Gone With The Wind: the young comedienne Amy Schumer is also responsible for those Charleston church burnings. Miss Schumer apparently tells edgy jokes:
I used to date Hispanic guys, but now I prefer consensual.*
I agree that's not as hilarious a joke as a pasty-faced metrosexual eunuch being Chair of the Department of Gender and Race Studies and persuading liberal whites to take out six-figure loans for the privilege of mastering such grueling scholarly disciplines as "post-Katrina hip-hop". But Stacey Patton and David J Leonard go further and argue that Miss Schumer's joke is somehow connected to the fact that "80 percent of Central American girls and women crossing Mexico en route to the United States are raped". So these Hispanic guys, if I follow Prof Patton's and Prof Leonard's logic, are being driven to rape by Amy Schumer's rape jokes. As David Kelsey likes to say, "one of these things is nothing like the other, unless you're a lunatic": The Nazis thought Jewish bankers were responsible for the Great War - that's lunatic. American liberal intellectuals think Amy Schumer is responsible for 80 per cent of Latinas being raped by human traffickers - that's entirely rational.
There is a virus in the American bloodstream right now, frothing away at Miss Schumer, "Dukes of Hazzard", and a million other things none of which is particularly consequential in itself. But the trick of civilizational self-preservation is to spot this stuff when it's just small things and stop it at the itsy-bitsy stage. It's never one thing that is unlike the other, two opposing corners of civilization and barbarism, an express train rocketing from one to the other. It's always a continuum. The gleefulness of the culture warriors - the abandonment of even any pretense to the tolerance of differing views - does not speak well for where we're headed. The left takes the view that, in Kathy Shaidle's words, it's different when we do it. So banning Gone With The Wind is bad when Nazis do it but good when progressive liberals do it.
For some of us, that won't do: what matters is the abandonment of first principles - on free speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion and much else - and when that happens you stand against it, because it won't stop there. It never does.