David Barton and Jon Stewart: Mainstreaming the American Dolchsto▀legende
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri May 06, 2011 at 08:19:59 AM EST
The rise of Hitler and the Nazis paralleled the rise of a popular conspiratorial, accusatory German cultural narrative which claimed the nation was in decline and moral free-fall. The narrative blamed secularism and alleged subversive elements in society, notably Jews. In 2006, at a prominent academic conference, leading evangelical scholar David P. Gushee warned that narratives of cultural complaint and despair to be found currently on the American right share much in common with similar narratives that flourished in pre-fascist and pre-World War Two Germany.

 On Wednesday, May 4, 2011 David Barton appeared on the Jon Stewart Show. Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee has stated (taken by some as a joke) that all Americans should be forced to listen to David Barton's teachings, at gunpoint if necessary. Barton has made a career promoting American history lies but also an entire narrative of "cultural despair", blaming an alleged American national decline on creeping secularism.

 As a New York Times story on Barton explained,

"Mr. Barton burst onto the conservative scene in 1988, when he published a study that blamed a decline in SAT scores and other social ills, like violent crime and unwed births, on the Supreme Court decisions in 1962 and 1963 that banned prayer in public schools."

The worrisome upward trends Barton noticed were real, but most--violent crime and murder, unwed births, and divorce--have since reversed. Divorce peaked in the late 1980's while murder and violent crime, and unwed births, peaked around the early 1990's, but Barton continued to promote his portrait of rising crime and social deterioration for over a decade past that point. One of the more promising lines of research purporting to explain these trends suggests that the culprit was environmental Lead, from leaded gasoline.

At the September 2006 conference Dietrich Bonhoeffer for Our Times: Jewish and Christian Perspectives, cosponsored by the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Hebrew College, and Andover-Newton Theological School, David P. Gushee told his audience,

"Like all Germans, and many all around the world, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was deeply troubled by World War I and the cultural and political crisis that afflicted his nation after the war. And yet he never demonstrated any susceptibility to what Fritz Stern called "the politics of cultural despair." I think it was because he believed in the interpretation of history offered by biblical revelation, which though realistic about human nature and history is never a counsel of despair.

It was this cultural despair--a toxic brew of reaction against secularism, anger related to the loss of World War I, distress over cultural disorientation and confusion, fears about the future of Germany, hatred of the victorious powers and of those who supposedly stabbed Germany in the back, and of course the search for scapegoats (mainly the Jews)--that motivated many Germans to adopt a reactionary, authoritarian, and nationalistic ethic that fueled their support for Hitler's rise to power. A broadly appealing narrative of national decline (or conspiratorial betrayal) was met by Hitler's narrative of national revenge leading to utopian unity in the Fuhrer-State.

Conservative American evangelicals in recent decades have been deeply attracted to a parallel narrative of cultural despair. Normally the story begins with the rise of secularism in the 1960s, the abandonment of prayer in schools, and the Roe decision, all leading to an apocalyptic decline of American culture that must be arrested soon, before it is too late and "God withdraws his blessing" from America. While very few conservative evangelicals come into the vicinity of Hitler in hatefulness, elements similar to that kind of conservative-reactionary-nationalist narrative can be found in some Christian right-rhetoric: anger at those who are causing American moral decline, fear about the future, hatred of the "secularists" now preeminent in American life, and the search for scapegoats. The solution on offer--a return to a strong Christian America through determined political action--also has its parallels with the era under consideration.

It is in part my own loyalty to Bonhoeffer's example that has led me to a rejection of the toxic politics of cultural despair and commitment to a hopeful vision of Christian cultural engagement in light of the sure advance of God's kingdom."

The "Dolchstoßlegende," the "stab in the back" myth, blamed the German loss in World War One on a Jewish conspiracy and related narratives blamed Jews as well for crime, economic hardship and alleged immorality. In October 2010 David Barton spoke at the San Antonio, Texas megachurch of pastor John Hagee, who has claimed that Jewish bankers control the U.S. economy and are scheming to bankrupt the American people.

David Barton's falsified version American history, exposed in the now-free book Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate Version of American History, is not the only form of history revisionism to be found on the evangelical right; The Pink Swastika, by Scott Lively and Kevin Abrams, purports to show that Hitler and key Nazi leaders were gay, and that Nazism can be understood as a homosexual phenomenon. The book is debunked in this series by conservative evangelical scholar Warren Throckmorton

We hear it spouted by the likes of Lively and Barton, and we've heard it invoked in secular contexts to blame Carter for the fall of the Shah, or to blame opponents of the war for the Vietnam debacle.

by khughes1963 on Fri May 06, 2011 at 11:18:43 AM EST
There are religious variants, secular variants....

by Bruce Wilson on Fri May 06, 2011 at 11:23:34 AM EST

First, hi Bruce. Thanks for coming on the show. I've got better access to the internet so you'll see more from me. Are we as journalists spending too much time on the messengers, and not the message itself? People like Barton wwouldn't have an audience if the notion of millenialism weren't such a big influence in American politics. I mean, the Catholic church banished it around the turn of the1st century because of its destructive nature (not to mention the ridicule it brought them). Yet, millenialist ideology has lived on throughout time. I feel it's what motivate everyday people to consider these liars arguments, for god might smite them. That's usually how it works. In the end, these movements end with disaster. Like in Germany (yes, the Nazis used the imagery), in China, and the list goes on and on. Don't get me wrong; you know I feel your site's reporting on the individual players is invaluable. I'm just thinking of the bigger picture and how we can report on that, and how we can change peoples' minds before they make the Mayan prophesy (among others) a self-fulfilling one.

by Da Rat Bastid on Sun May 08, 2011 at 02:35:32 PM EST

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