There are two types of words whose meaning is unclear: words no one ever uses, and words that everyone uses way too much. Anyone who doubts this need look no farther than the word “Nazi”–possibly the most popular term on the Internet. We have grammar Nazis, soup Nazis, and if you’ve ever gotten into an Internet argument, you’ve probably been called a Nazi too.
Long ago, in the primordial past of ninety-eight years ago, no one knew what a Nazi was except for about 20 far-right beer-drinkers in Germany. In the years that followed, National Socialism became better-known: one of many small parties in Germany competing for power with the communists, socialists, capitalists, Christians, etc. Eventually, they rose out of the swirl of parties to become a major party, win democratic victories, start the “thousand-year” Third Reich, and go to war against most of the world.
Those Nazis were real and dangerous, and everyone knew it. Millions died at their hands.
Today, to most people, Nazis feel neither real nor dangerous, even as they march through our streets. Not since 1933 has defining “Nazi” been such a crucial task, and yet the term has lost nearly all meaning.
Das Übervillain: the Hollywood Trope
The Nazis had batshit crazy ideas and excellent fashion sense. These two things make for great Hollywood villains, and for decades after WWII, movies have used Nazis as convenient shorthand for “evil”. Onscreen, Nazis have cloned Hitler, pursued ancient relics, attempted to summon demons, and stood as foils for countless comic book superheroes. After seventy years of this trope of film and fiction, the pop culture idea of Nazi is cartoonish and absurd: cackling evil.
Outside of irritating history nerds, this hasn’t been a big practical problem until recently. National Socialists have always lurked at the fringes of Western societies, but they’ve been a vanishing minority and a joke for decades. Lately, however, fascism appears to be on the rise. We now see people actively displaying Nazi paraphernalia, in public, in larger numbers than most of us would prefer.
This fucking champion (/s) is pretty easy to diagnose. However, not all Nazis carry swastika flags in broad daylight. Some Nazis actively deny being Nazis. Thanks to Hollywood and ignorance, it’s really easy to laugh off accusations of Nazism without obvious visual, cartoonish proof.*
What does the most overused term on the Internet actually mean? It isn’t a flag, or a symbol, or a Hugo-Boss-inspired uniform. It’s not a cartoon super-villain and it’s not a catch-all term for any bad idea anyone has ever had.
When I call someone a Nazi, a lot of people think I’m calling them this:
When I’m often calling them something closer to this:
There are important differences between someone who believes in totalitarian ideology and someone who doesn’t, but those differences don’t manifest themselves in cartoon super-villainy. Nazis are human people. Their ideas are beyond dangerous, which is why it feels so dangerous to draw attention to the humanity, the banality, of Nazis. I’d argue it’s more dangerous to pretend that they aren’t human. If you ignore this important fact, the Nazi who goes to football games and loves his kids and makes macaroni and cheese will always fool you.
“Nazi” is not an insult, like “dickhead.” It’s a description of an ideology most sane humans find abhorrent, like “Stalinist.”
What is a Nazi?
Based on my understanding of history and for the purposes of this blog, a Nazi is someone who believes the following:
1. Nazis believe in genetically distinct races with different natural aptitudes, temperaments, and beliefs.
Obviously, there’s a genetic difference between people of different skin colors: they have different genes for skin color. A Nazi believes that skin color is a symptom of much deeper and more important differences that have nothing to do with culture, family upbringing, adopted belief systems, etc.** Race determines intelligence, attitude, morals, etc. According to this belief, a white child raised in a black family, black neighborhood, black nation, would be naturally, fundamentally, and significantly different from the black people who raised them.
For Nazis, genetics are the entire story.
2. Nazis believe that some races are naturally superior to others.
No “separate but equal” here. Nazis believe in racial hierarchy. Usually, a Nazi believes their own race is naturally superior, but this isn’t an absolute requirement. For this reason, Nazis oppose miscegenation–marriage between people of different races–and mixed babies. If one race is superior, intermarriage inevitably involves genetic degradation of one sort or another.
3. Nazis believe that race conflict is inevitable
The Nazi viewpoint is one of scarcity. Whether the scarce resource is land, jobs, or some other resource, the Nazi believes there aren’t enough ____ to go around for all races. Eventually, one race will outbreed the other race and take all the available ____.
Because of this:
4. Nazis believe that different races cannot live in the same place.
The proposed solution to this problem–expulsion? extermination?–is irrelevant for diagnostic purposes. Nazis believe in physical separation between races to protect their own racial future.
5. Nazis believe that women should be stay-at-home mothers to as many children as possible.
Since Nazis worry about being “outbred” by “inferior” races, they tend to like babies. Lots and lots of racially pure babies, raised by dedicated mothers to be strong race warriors. This means marriage and as much pregnancy as possible.
Another reason to keep women barefoot and pregnant stems from the Nazi belief in deep genetic differences. Nazis believe in two sexes that are fundamentally and significantly different in ways that go well beyond genitalia. So do a lot of non-Nazis, unfortunately. Not everyone who wants women in the kitchen is a Nazi, but Nazis do want women in the kitchen.
What does it mean?
Someone who sincerely believes that, say, white people can’t dance or that black people can’t swim, is wrong. But they’re not necessarily a Nazi.
Someone who believes that women are worse than math at men is wrong, but they’re not necessarily Nazis either.
Someone who believes a cluster of the above precepts–3 or more–is a Nazi. I think history backs me up on this. Either way, that’s the way I’m using Nazi in this blog. Deal with it.
Whether Nazis exist exclusively on the right, or whether Nazis also lurk within the left, I leave as an exercise for the reader.
Read More: Where do Nazis Come From?
*It’s also easy to fall into the alternate trap and call anyone you disagree with a Nazi. Words have meanings. Just because Nazism is very bad doesn’t mean everything bad is Nazism. Back to article
**“Culture” is a common dog whistle for “race” these days, which complicates things. Someone who treats cultural differences as fundamentally connected to race implicitly believes in racial determinism. Back to article