First They Came For …

… the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

So goes one version of “First they came …

the poetic form of a prose post- war confession first made in German in 1946 by the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984). It is about the cowardice of German intellectuals and certain clergy (including, by his own admission, Niemöller himself) following the Nazis’ rise to power and subsequent incremental purging of their chosen targets, group after group.

Niemöller’s message has been repeated time and again by observers of political developments in the U.S. Sometimes in defense of the communists being “persecuted” by Joe McCarthy, and sometimes by conservatives who are (rightly) fearful of the power of Big Tech.

But I find myself in disagreement with the message and its assumptions.

For one thing, it is right to go after some groups (e.g., Big Tech). The “marketplace of ideas” is a fatuous notion, and liberty cannot be sustained if its enemies are allowed free rein to convert the populace to anti-libertarian dogmas. The First Amendment was not meant to be a prescription for political suicide.

For another thing, it is ridiculous to think that intellectuals and clergymen could have prevented the rise of Nazism and its eventual (and largely successful) effort to eradicate the Jews of Germany and occupied territories. In fact, a goodly share of Germany’s intellectuals (and clergy and affluent professionals) gave aid and comfort to the Nazi regime.

The same is true, in large part, of American intellectuals, clergy, and affluent professionals. That they are dupes of the left’s coterie of would-be dictators doesn’t occur to them. But they are dupes, and with the left in the saddle and riding hard toward economic and social dictatorship, it will not matter whether any or most of them recant before dictatorship is upon us.

Some of the dupes, if they are suitably subservient, will become court favorites — until they say or do something that puts their allegiance in doubt, when they will be purged à la Stalin. Those who turned against the left during its rise to absolute power will be remembered and dealt with harshly in Orwellian fashion, as enemies of “equality”, “social justice”, “sexual liberation”, and other such perverted concepts. The silent majority will be left (mostly) alone, though only by dint of its continued silence in an economic and social wasteland.

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