Friday, August 27, 2010

The Hitler Test

A nice lesson:

In previous years, and on the first day of class, I have given my new students a ballot, indicating that “it is time to elect the leader of a great nation,” and offering them two candidates, A and B.

Candidate A is identified as “a well-known critic of government, this man has been involved in tax protest movements, and has openly advocated secession, armed rebellion against the existing national government, and even the overthrow of that government. He is a known member of a militia group that was involved in a shoot-out with law enforcement authorities. He opposes gun control efforts of the present national government, as well as restrictions on open immigration into this country. He is a businessman who has earned his fortune from such businesses as alcohol, tobacco, retailing, and smuggling.”

Candidate B is described thusly: “A decorated army war veteran, this man is an avowed nonsmoker and dedicated public health advocate. His public health interests include the fostering of medical research and his dedication to eliminating cancer. He opposes the use of animals in conducting such research. He has supported restrictions on the use of asbestos, pesticides, and radiation, and favors government-determined occupational health and safety standards, as well as the promotion of such foods as whole-grain bread and soybeans. He is an advocate of government gun-control measures. An ardent opponent of tobacco, he has supported increased restrictions on both the use of and advertising for tobacco products. Such advertising restrictions include: [1] not allowing tobacco use to be portrayed as harmless or a sign of masculinity; [2] not allowing such advertising to be directed to women; [3] not drawing attention to the low nicotine content of tobacco products; and, [4] limitations as to where such advertisements may be made. This man is a champion of environmental and conservationist programs, and believes in the importance of sending troops into foreign countries in order to maintain order therein.”

The students are asked to vote, anonymously, for either of these two candidates. I employ this exercise only every other year, at most, so that students will not have been told to expect it. Over the years, the voting results have given candidate B about 75% of the vote, while candidate A gets the remaining 25%. After completing the exercise and tabulating the results, I inform the students that candidate A is a composite of the American “founding fathers” (e.g., Sam Adams, John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, etc.). Candidate B, on the other hand, is Adolf Hitler, whose advocacy for the programs named can be found in such works as Robert Proctor’s The Nazi War on Cancer.

In one of my classes a few years ago, we were discussing the Schechter case, in which the United States Supreme Court struck down the cornerstone legislation of the “New Deal,” the National Industrial Recovery Act. I was explaining to the students how this legislation had transformed American commerce and industry into a system of business created but government-enforced cartels. I also pointed out to them how popular fascist/socialist programs were throughout much of the world at that time. There was Stalin in the Soviet Union, Mussolini in Italy, Hitler in Germany, Franco in Spain, and Roosevelt in the United States.

I then informed my class how Winston Churchill had, in 1938, praised Hitler, as had such luminaries as Ghandi, Gertrude Stein (who nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize), and Henry Ford (who was pleased to work with the German leader). One of my students could take it no more. “How can you say that so many people could support such an evil man as Adolf Hitler?,” she pleaded. “You tell me,” I responded, “just two weeks ago 78% of you in this class voted for him!” Some twenty seconds of pure silence settled into the classroom before we moved on to the next case.

Butler Shaffer teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law.

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