Hitler’s English Inspirers, by Manuel Sarkisyanz, Ph.D.
Reviewed by Gwydion M. Williams
British and US politics developed out of law. To be more exact, English law was a development out of the pagan-Saxon system, in which bringing two rivals before a court was an alternative to them settling it with swords and axes. You can find details of a similar set-up described in the Icelandic Sagas, with Njal’s Saga a good place to start. Historically, the pagan-Saxon system was somewhat amended by the Normans, who extended agricultural slavery (‘serfdom’) to most of the conquered population. Monarchs tried to reform it further, mainly to give themselves more power. Britain’s gentry after 1688 found it convenient to leave the system as a mix of different things, with numerous ‘work-rounds’ when the ruling class wanted to ignore the normal rules. They were also cleverer than their continental equivalents, who gave themselves formal legal privileges that led to massive resentment and eventually the French Revolution. In Britain they made it a system theoretical legal equality, but with a tremendous bias depending on how much you could spend on lawyers.
One important feature of law is that lawyers can take two totally different views of ‘inherent justice’, depending on the best interests of their client. This would normally be called ‘trickery’, but the entire legal profession are insistent that it is something quite different when they do it.
Exactly the same trickery is applied in politics. When judging German attitudes to Hitler, an idealistic ultra-democratic standard is used. When judging British attitudes to Hitler, a much more pragmatic attitude is taken. Germans who disliked Hitler but worked with him when he was benefiting their nation are treated as unforgivably tainted. A totally different view is taken of the pro-Hitler views of Britain’s Daily Mail and the positive support from Tories for Hitler and for Fascism generally.
Do you view history pragmatically or idealistically? Either way might be valid. But if you assess your own society pragmatically and rival societies idealistically, then you are promoting untruths. And it’s what’s done by virtually all British and American historians of the Nazi period do. David Irving ran into trouble by venturing to apply pragmatic standards to Germans (though he also brought about his own ruin by trying to use the Law of Libel to silence a not-much-read historian who had made criticisms of Irving that were entirely normal in historic debate).
Manuel Sarkisyanz does the exact opposite of Irving. He tries judging the English by the same standard that have been applied to the Germans, with remarkable results. Some of it will be known already to readers of this magazine. A lot more will be new, including the discovery that the National Socialist scheme for education was modelled on the English Public School system.
Sarkisyanz is Armenian-Russian who had spent time in Iran, Germany and South America. He knew Alexander Kerensky and blames Britain for having plotted to restore Tsarism instead of supporting the Moderate Socialists whom Lenin overthrew. He also spent time in republican Spain and was well aware that the British government was supporting Franco and Spanish Fascism under a pretence of neutrality.
Sarkisyanz details the growth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries of racist and militaristic forces in England, colonial attitudes coming home. It’s the sort of stuff that gets called ‘proto-Fascist’ when it’s not English, but of course it’s all much of a muchness. In England it favoured ‘Anglo-Saxon’ values, ignoring the huge contribution of Ireland and of Britain’s Celtic Fringes. Also in England it wasn’t anti-Jewish for the most part, and Benjamin Disraeli was a major contributor, as Sarkisyanz details. The normal English attitude was to view Jews as another nation within the wider British identity—they were never called English Jews even though that’s where most of them lived. But so long as they were upholding ‘Anglo-Saxon’ values, this was acceptable.
Sarkisyanz also has a lot about Thomas Carlyle. Unlike Disraeli or Edmund Burke, Carlyle has totally dropped from favour since 1945, in part because his similarity to Fascism was too obvious to be hushed up. Probably now you have a generation or two who have no idea who Carlyle was or how influential in English politics he used to be—somewhat more than Disraeli or Burke and considerably more than Nietzsche, who was taken up in Britain and America quite independently of his status in Germany.
Mainstream British historians since 1945 have been busy rewriting history, covering up mainstream British sympathy for Nazism and widespread inspiration. And modern-day actions such as the invasion of Iraq are justified in terms of this sanitised history instead of what actually happened. This book is a valuable part of the necessary process of correction.