Friday, 2 September 2016

Law, Chaos And Nazis

Poul Anderson, Three Hearts And Three Lions (London, 1977), Chapter Eleven.

Holger reflects on:

"This business of Chaos versus Law..." (p. 66)

In the Carolingian universe, the Chaos-Law conflict is:

more than religious dogma;
a practical fact of existence;
perhaps a more animistic expression of entropy -

- or are the Nazis in our universe another animistic expression?

"What had he been fighting when he fought the Nazis but a resurgence of archaic horrors that civilized men had once believed were safely dead?" (ibid.)

I believe that the Nazis were partly "...a resurgence of archaic horrors..." but primarily an expression of conflicts inherent in modern civilization. A television discussion of this issue presupposed an irreconcilable antithesis between peaceful civilization and violent humanity, forgetting that it was the humanity that built the civilization and the civilization that generates violence. How could civilization have started if humanity were inherently violent?

Nazi-type regimes are what some wielders of power resort to during profound socioeconomic crises when it has become difficult to maintain order and to continue ruling in the old way. There are three options:

watch society disintegrate;
maintain order at any cost;
maybe reorganize society on a different basis.

The Nazi option is to maintain order - not Chaos or entropy! - by:

scapegoating minorities;
banning all opposition parties;
suspending democracy;
smashing all independent working class organization;
incorporating tame(d) trade unions with compulsory membership and no right to strike into the state apparatus.

Thus, I think that Nazism is an (unfortunate) potential option within advanced societies, not a resurgence of horrors from an archaic past. Of course, such a regime requires organized violence in addition to that of the police and the armed forces. Archaic horrors are cynically revived. However, storm troopers are unleashed on the victims and opponents of the regime, not on society as a whole. Chaos is controlled and channeled in the service of order. It is not allowed to destroy "law and order." The Nazis were not agents of Chaos or entropy but imposed their kind of Law, like SM Stirling's Draka.

If and when we build an inherently peaceful civilization, then it will be impossible for archaic horrors to return - just as, most of the time, ordinary human beings have no inclination to attack each other in the street.


  1. Kaor, Paul!

    I have to disagree with this comment of yours: "...forgetting that it was the humanity which built the civilization and the civilization that generates violence." This comes close to attributing Personality and volition to a civilization, as tho it was a single, separate being. No, HUMAN BEINGS are both violent or prone to violence and capable of building civilizations. In fact, I would argue that cultures and civilizations arose at least partly to be a check on mankind's innate propensity to violence.

    And I think the National Socialists both praised and practiced archaic horrors and imposed their own grisly form of order on Germany and as much of Europe as they could. In fact, I saw mention in one of the Draka books that Nazis were cheap, cut rate imitations of the Draka.

    I also disagree with you hoping for an inherently peaceful civilization to arise among us. Again, because of that eternal, immortal tendency, inclination, or temptation to violence all mankind has.


    1. Sean,
      It is always people, not abstractions, that are violent. However, the kind of society makes a difference. A warrior culture encourages violence whereas a pacifist culture discourages it. Our kind of economy is prone to crises which can lead to unrest and to violent political solutions.

    2. Kaor, Paul!

      I agree, in part. A warrior society at least admires some forms of violence. But even Scandinavian "Eddaic" imposed COSTS on persons who indulged too much in casual, random violence. Such persons could alienate too many of his neighbors and be formally outlawed.

      And I don't think we will ever have a truly PACIFIST society, a society punishing ambition and assertiveness (because I think that is what would happen). Such a society would hardly seem either worth living in or defending, IMO. Rather, a reasonably satisfactory society will have ample, legitimate outlets for restless, ambitious people.

      Everything, bad or good, we see in human cultures and civilizations comes from PEOPLE, as you yourself have conceded. Not abstractions such as a "Society."