I just came across this quote over at Cynthia Nielsen’s blog Per Caritatem; it represents a great caution for any nation state, and I can see its critique of Nazism as applicable to many other nationalist movements that occur within states and countries in the world (including the United States). The quote comes from Aimé Césaire (1913–2008), a black socio-critic who used and surpassed Marxist theory to provide the critique of Nazism that I found in the footnote from Nielsen’s article from which I take the following quote:
“First we must study how colonization works to decivilize the colonizer, to brutalize him in the true sense of the word, […] a gangrene sets in, a center of infection begins to spread; and that at the end of all these treaties that have been violated, all these lies that have been propagated, all these punitive expeditions that have been tolerated, all these prisoners who have been tied up and ‘interrogated,’ all these patriots that have been tortured, at the end of all the racial pride that has been encouraged, all the boastfulness that has been displayed, a poison has been distilled into the veins of Europe and, slowly but surely, the continent proceeds toward savagery. And then one fine day the bourgeoisie is awakened by a terrific boomerang effect: the gestapos are busy, the prisons fill up, the torturers standing around the racks invent, refine, discuss. People are surprised, […] they wait, and they hope; and they hide the truth from themselves, that it is barbarism, […] the crowning barbarism that sums up all the daily barbarisms; that it is Nazism, yes, but that before they were its victims, they were its accomplices; that they tolerated that Nazism before it was inflicted on them, that they absolved it, shut their eyes to it, legitimated it, because until then, it had been applied only to non-European peoples; […] they have cultivated Nazism, […] they are responsible for it” (Discourse on Colonialism, 35–6).
Nielsen develops the boomerang effect throughout her short article, you should read it in full! What this reminds me of is the proverbial frog-in-the-kettle syndrome; that is, we become so comfortable with the status quo, that we loose the ability to be able to discern the impact that our own nationalist interests are having upon us (e.g. American exceptionalism) ; maybe, and probably usually in the name of patriotism. This “effect” helps to explain how it is that something as horrific (finally) as Nazism could have, and did happen. What this should do, for us, is caution us about thinking that we are immune or above the Germans who eventually became Nazis. Do you think it is possible to be complicit, by silence, in enabling the same kind of atrocities that happened in the back yards of the World War II Germans? Let me be more explicit by way of application—this is something I have really been contemplating lately—do you think that, as Americans, it is possible that our back yards are China, Africa and various other repressive and oppressive regimes wherein the exploitation and brutalization of whole people groups and nations is taking place; while we sit comfortably by, continuing to consume [and thus enabling and endorsing] (off of the backs of these people in the world ‘out there’) from the produce of these “Nations” (in our back yards)?
I think Aimé Césaire’s critique is highly applicable today.