The Source of Candace Owens’ Ahistorical Claims about Hitler and German Nationalism

I will say one thing about Candace Owens: She can stir up attention. On the day she testified before a Congressional panel on white nationalism, she trended on Twitter nearly all day. Much of this attention came via Congressman Ted Lieu’s act of playing a video of Owens opining that Hitler

…was a National Socialist, but if Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, okay fine.

Lieu then accused Owens of “legitimizing Hitler” when he directed a question about Owens remarks to Eileen Hershenov, a representative of the Anti-Defamation League who also offered testimony to the panel.  While I don’t think Owens “legitimized Hitler” in all Hitler did, I do think she erred in her contention that Hitler wasn’t a nationalist and that he would have been “fine” if he had kept his policies and ambitions within Germany’s borders.

As Kevin Kruse and Matthew Boedy have convincingly demonstrated, Owens specifically and Turning Point USA generally are not accurate in their depictions of history. With influences including Dinesh D’Souza and David Barton, this is to be expected. However, there is another influence who should be called out.

Enter Yoram Hazony

Let me be clear that I don’t believe Candace Owens defended Hitler’s atrocities or legitimized the Holocaust. She specifically rejected that idea later on and it isn’t consistent with anything else she has said on the subject. At issue is her effort to suggest that a nationalist can’t have aspirations beyond national borders and that Hitler was not a nationalist. A ridiculous and dangerous extension of that claim is that Hitler’s policies and actions would have been fine if he kept them to Germany. I don’t want to see a Trump version of Hitler Youth, do you?

Cato Institute senior policy analyst Alex Nowrasteh helpfully points us to Owens’ intellectual influence — Yoram Hazony. It turns out that Owens doesn’t get Hazony right on every point. According to Nowrasteh, Hazony outlines a defense of nationalism which defines nationalism in such a way that Hitler was never a nationalist. Here is the heart of the argument:

According to Hazony, a nation is combination of “a number of tribes with a common language or religion, and a past history of acting as a body for the common defense and other large-scale enterprises” (18) and that “the world is governed best when nations are able to chart their own independent course, cultivating their own traditions and pursuing their own interests without interference” (3).

Hazony contrasts nation states with imperialist states that have universal ideals that he claims leads to conquest.  Thus, nation-states cannot seek to conquer other nation-states as that would make them imperialist states because they do not respect the independent course of other nations.  According to Hazony, a state cannot be a nation-state and imperialist (dominating or seeking to dominate other nations) at the same time due to his unique definition that conveniently excludes the “bad” nation-states.  In my reading of the literature on nationalism, historian Douglas Porch was more likely correct when he wrote: “Colonialism was not, as Lenin claimed, ‘the highest stage of capitalism.’ Rather it was the highest stage of nationalism.”

2. Hitler and the Nazis were not nationalists.

Following his definition of nationalism, Hazony repeatedly claims that the Nazis were not really nationalists.  I know of no other serious historian of the Third Reich or other thinkers on nationalism who would go so far as to say that Hitler or the core ideology of the National Socialist German Workers Party weren’t nationalists.  They were, of course, nationalists.  The first point of their political platform was: “We demand the unification of all Germans in the Greater Germany on the basis of the people’s right to self-determination.”  The evidence that the Nazis considered themselves nationalists, that others considered them nationalists, and that they fit into the scheme of nationalism is so massive that it would be silly to run through it all.

A problem for current nationalists is that Hitler was in fact a nationalist. That is why they have to engage in such ahistorical reasoning to turn him and the Nazis into something else.

Even with the historical revising, I don’t think it helps to use Hitler as a hypothetical since he actually existed and has a historical record. “If Hitler” doesn’t work because Hitler really did things in Germany. He said things nationalists say and did things that nationalists do. You might as well say, if Hitler wasn’t Hitler, then he might have been okay. That isn’t what she said and that counterfactual argument isn’t much help as a support for any position.

As it is, Owens’ own words have her arguing that Hitler was actually okay when he stayed in Germany. However, this is lunacy. A review of Nazi party activities in Germany to make Germany great quickly put the lie to that idea.

To any Turning Point USA students reading this. Please do not become what you critique. Many of you blast moderate and liberal academics. You think academics are strident and closed to conservative ideas. You think academics close off debate and silence conservatives. Thus far, this conservative professor has found Turning Point USA leaders to be unwilling to self-correct, closed to the facts, and stridently partisan on issues which are matters of fact and verification.