In the light of the corona crisis and how so many states in the West have resorted to draconian lockdown measures which have meant crippling restrictions on personal freedoms, civil liberties, and basic human rights, we need to look to history – and look to it really carefully.
Here in Victoria, Australia where I happen to live, we have witnessed the most severe and longest-lasting lockdown measures of anywhere in the world. Various ‘Emergency Powers’ and the like have been run with, extended, or enacted, to give the government quite alarming powers over the lives of 6.5 million Victorians.
With the normal workings of Parliament effectively stymied, and dodgy deals done between the Labor government and a few Upper House “independents,” even more powers have been handed over to the state, including the ability to keep this ‘state of emergency’ going on and on with no clear end in sight.
And as any shrewd and power-hungry politician knows, part of the way you can gain ever greater power and control is to put forward various ambit claims. For example, Andrews had wanted a full 12-month extension of his emergency powers at first, but that was knocked back to 6 months.
And in his horrific Omnibus Bill, he wanted to give carefully selected citizens the right to effectively become paramilitary forces with the power to arrest folks simply suspected of one day possibly committing a crime! That too was knocked back but in both cases 98 per cent of what he wanted he has gotten. And of course, he can say this was all done legally and democratically.
Well, not quite. Inquiries into his dodgy dealings are still underway, and it looks like various laws may have been broken or pushed aside along the way. We may yet – hopefully – see the Premier losing his job, and more appropriately, thrown in jail for among other things, the death of over 800 Victorians and the destruction of its economy.
So time will tell just how all of his grabs for power will turn out. Will he keep getting away with it, and keep taking more control of things, while he continues to whittle away the rights and freedoms of ordinary Victorians? Or will his day of reckoning finally come? Time will tell. But this is exactly why we need to be up on our understanding of history.
So let us reconsider the nation of Germany during the last century. How did a civilised and democratic state turn into a cruel, murderous dictatorship? And what lessons, if any, can we learn from this today? While I and other critics of the Premier’s power grab are NOT saying we are in the same boat as Germany was in the early part of last century, it is not at all amiss to refresh our memories here.
Let me begin with a very brief timeline:
- Late 1918, early 1919 – Germany becomes a republic as Kaiser Wilhelm abdicates. The Weimar Republic lasts until 1933.
- 1919, September – German Workers’ Party (DAP) formed.
- 1920, February – DAP changes its name to National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDP – Nazis).
- 1921, July – Hitler becomes leader of the Nazis.
- 1923, November – Hitler leads a coup attempt. Jailed for a year.
- 1928 – His party gets 0.8 million votes in the elections.
- 1930, September – His party gets 6.4 million votes (18.3%) in the Reichstag (Parliament) elections, winning 107 seats.
- 1933, January 30 – Nazi seizure of power. Von Hindenburg capitulates and appoints Hitler chancellor.
- 1933, February 27 – The Reichstag fire, which Hitler blamed on the Communists.
- 1933, February 28 – The Reichstag Fire Decree.
- 1933, March 5 – Federal elections held in Germany. The Nazis get 43.9% of the votes.
- 1933, March 23 – The Reichstag meets and passes the ‘Enabling Act’.
- 1933, April 1 – Government takes first official actions against the Jews.
- 1933, May 2 – Trade Unions are banned.
- 1933, July 14 – All political parties except the Nazis are banned.
- 1934, August 2 – President Hindenburg dies. Hitler combines the post of President and Chancellor and calls himself Fuhrer.
- 1938, November 9-10 – Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass), in which Jews, synagogues, and Jewish shops are attacked.
- 1939, September 1 – Hitler invades Poland.
- 1939, September 2 – World War II starts.
- 1945, April 30 – Hitler commits suicide.
Let me speak briefly to several laws mentioned above that were passed early on in 1933 allowing the Nazis to take on far more power and control. In February 28, the Law for the Protection of the People (also known as the Reichstag Fire Decree), was signed. Talk about a euphemism. As Article 1 of this stated:
Sections 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124, and 153 of the Constitution of the German Reich are suspended until further notice. Therefore, restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press, on the right of assembly and the right of association, and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic, and telephonic communications, warrants for house searches, orders for confiscations, as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.
And consider the March 23, 1933 ‘Enabling Act’. This helped pave the way for the full Nazi dictatorship. The Holocaust Encyclopedia says this about it:
The Enabling Act allowed the Reich government to issue laws without the consent of Germany’s parliament, laying the foundation for the complete Nazification of German society. The law was passed on March 23, 1933, and published the following day. Its full name was the “Law to Remedy the Distress of the People and the Reich.”
The Law to Remedy the Distress of the People and the Reich is also known as the Enabling Act. Passed on March 23, 1933, and proclaimed the next day, it became the cornerstone of Adolf Hitler’s dictatorship. The act allowed him to enact laws, including ones that violated the Weimar Constitution, without approval of either parliament or Reich President von Hindenburg.
And a German government discussion of the Acts says this:
The adoption of the Act on 23 March 1933 enabled Adolf Hitler’s government to enact laws without the consent of the Reichstag, which continued to exist, or of the Reichsrat and without the countersignature of the President of the Reich. These extensive powers also applied, almost without restriction, to constitutional amendments and to treaties with other states. The Act thus marked the final eclipse of the democratic state based on the rule of law and the abolition of parliamentary democracy. All the legislation of the National Socialist state was based on the Enabling Act. It served to centralise the public administration, the judiciary, the security apparatus and the armed forces in accordance with the ‘Führer principle’, to standardise political life in accordance with National Socialist principles (Gleichschaltung) by banning political parties and mass organisations and to abolish freedom of the press. The concentration of power in the hands of the government, and hence in the person of Adolf Hitler, sealed the transition to dictatorship. The Enabling Act was initially adopted for a four-year period but was extended in 1937, 1939 and 1943. It remained the basis of all legislation throughout the Nazi dictatorship and was finally abolished after the capitulation by Law No 1 of the Allied Control Council on 20 September 1945.
Notice that these were pushed through under the pretext of protecting the people and nation, and of keeping them safe. Under the guise of helping the people what was really happening was the complete squashing of democratic rights and freedoms, and the establishment of a full-blown dictatorship under Hitler.
Early in 1933 Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, wrote this in his diary: “It is almost like a dream… a fairytale… The new [Third] Reich has been born. Fourteen years of work have been crowned with victory. The German revolution has begun!”
Let me appeal to one writer here. Erwin Lutzer offers us some important truths in his important 2010 book, When a Nation Forgets God: 7 Lessons We Must Learn from Nazi Germany (Moody):
Laws reflect a nation’s priorities, agenda, and values. In Nazi Germany, where religion was privatized and God was separated from government, not even natural law was recognized as having validity. When Hitler got the Reichstag to give him the power to make the laws, the laws he made were arbitrary, drafted to fulfill the goals of a totalitarian state. The Nazis proclaimed, “Hitler is the law!” As Goering put it, “The law and the will of the Fuehrer are one.” Right and wrong were determined by Hitler and his cronies.
The Nuremberg Laws of September 15, 1935 deprived the Jews of German citizenship, confining them to the status of “subjects”….
Then there were laws against treason. Treason was defined as anything that was contrary to the will and the purposes of the Reich. Criticism was treason; freedom of the press was treason; a failure to further the agenda of the Reich was treason. The Law of Moses was replaced by the law of a man – Hitler….
In 1934, the People’s Court was established to try acts of treason….
The experience of Nazi Germany reminds us that whoever controls a nation’s laws also controls a nation’s agenda and its values.
I must recommend another key work by Lutzer: Hitler’s Cross (Moody, 1995, 2012). These two books provide us with quite a bit of useful information about the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, as well as vitally imperative lessons we all need to learn today.
As I said, I am not saying that we are seeing exact parallels between what happened in Germany last century and what we see in far too many Western jurisdictions today because of government hysteria about, and overreaction to, COVID. But there are some ominous concerns here nonetheless.
Increasingly we see the rule of law and open and accountable government shrinking. In Victoria we have Andrews and his gang of eight running the entire show, ignoring the wise advice and counsel of countless experts. And they include all those who have warned us about how dangerous these interminable lockdowns are and how they are causing far more harm than good.
But power corrupts, and the more political control you get, the more you want. So power-hungry leaders will refuse to listen to others, and will simply believe in the righteousness of their own cause and their own ways. I see this happening in Victoria and elsewhere. And because I know a little bit about history, this frightens me to death, to be honest.