Collective Guilt and the Third Reich

Someone recently sent me a short essay on the rise of the Third Reich, the History of World War II, and the Nazi mind-set that started it. Below I’ve excerpted from my rejection letter.

I’ll have to pass on this. It is one of the most written-about topics in the history of the Western World.

I don’t think we can reduce Shirer’s “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” or Hannah Arendt’s signature work “Totalitarianism” down to half a page.

The rise of Nazism was the result of several phenomena in deadly combination: group-think as you write, and also militarism, racial and ethnic hatred, a dysfunctional German economy thanks in no small part to the vengefully and poorly engineered Treaty of Versailles, the German turn to mysticism and determinism as the source of authority of the state, and a poisonous political apparatus gone viral … a certifiable national psychosis.

Any idea of a disease of shared history, a kind of collective racial guilt, will never fly at If there is any validity to some aspect of that notion at all, it is to be found in the trend to simplified effortless no-work answers, but the guilt of acceptance lies with individuals, not a race, nation or its leaders. Only individuals can empower tyrants and monsters. You and I are not responsible for Dachau, the Civil War, or Rick Santorum.

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