In the essay it pays to not only find with relief the person most like oneself who Dorothy Thompson thinks is not vulnerable, but to identify one who is as well. I would hope to be something along the lines of Mr. A, with a dash of Mr. H. I fear that I would be Mr. G – indeed, am quite worried that I would have been in another set of circumstances. Eugene Ionesco, in “Rhinoceros,” seems entirely puzzled by who goes Nazi. His characters inhabit mere madness in society, where anyone and everyone becomes inhuman for no reason at all. Thompson believes she has a dividing line “Those who haven’t anything in them to tell them what they like and what they don’t - whether it is breeding, or happiness, or wisdom, or a code, however old-fashioned or however modern, go Nazi.” We would call this a moral compass today. I draw a somewhat different line. Thompson is certainly drawing her composites from people she has actually met and observed, but also gives them a neatness that authors use to make a point. I defer to her observations, but am comfortable adding to her interpretation.
In my comments over at ChicagoBoyz, I got sidetracked into the specifically German and specifically Nazi aspects of the parlor game. That is a good grounding for discussing the modern question, perhaps, but not so useful in itself. For we are not in danger of actual nazis coming to power, but of a half-dozen variants of tyranny whose future is obscured. There are the great national and international movements, of course, which is where our minds run first. But the more important personal questions occur on a smaller scale. All of the characters who Thompson identifies as being likely resisters of nazism have resisted milder versions of groupthink and lust for power before. As CS Lewis notes in Screwtape, having something that one likes for its own sake, caring nothing for the status or advantage in it, is a powerful defense against attacks via vanity. “…defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions."
Mr. A might have made something of his family connections and education to move into positions of greater prestige, but has chosen not to. The reasons are not clear, but seem to be related to some idea of who one is, of finding a place where one fits rather than making oneself over to fit. Or worse, making the places over so that one’s self can have its way. We see the same in Mrs. F’s and Mr. H’s abandoning career for romantic love, and Mr. K’s leaving off business and profit to do what he likes. The young German, most of all, has given nearly everything to avoid being a Nazi. James and Bill, the servants, do not fit my theory of nazi-avoidance in any obvious way.
The flip side of my theory fits also. The labor leader and the spoiled son have certainly gotten along by making others give things up, remaking their environments to fit them. Mrs. E has given up her very self, but there is a twist to it: she wants others to be made to give up their very selves as well. Something of the same might be said of Mr. C. He has sacrificed to get where he is, but the prize has eluded him. He also wants a “fairer” society which would reward him for his true worth – and punish those who did not acknowledge it before. Mr. J has divorced himself from his Jewish heritage and history and is entirely a man of the present. He approves of this new and powerful method of organising of society, believing that because he is post-Jewish, the new elite will reasonably exempt him. They worship power, so does he. He expects to get along fine. He does not yet see that they worship power not in the individual, but in the collective – and he is forever outside.
Mr. B, the wealthy sportsman, and Mr. G, the brilliant rationalizer, present a different case. Both automatically trim their sails to the prevailing winds, while retaining an alertness for their own main chance. Neither has much of an actual self to give up or impose on others, though both are content to go along for the ride of imposing.
Thompson is describing individuals from the upper reaches of society – they were all invited to this party with servants in attendance after all. I think that is the proper focus to take. Most shopkeepers and wage employees don’t have much say in the tyrannies of government. They can attempt to rise in the world by signing on to a rising tide and becoming a big wheel, or they can draw attention to themselves by visibly opposing it, but the little people can affect the world only with considerable effort.