Austrian Joerg Haider and his Freedom Party are causing waves of anxiety throughout the European Union as well as the U.S. State Department. Government officials on both sides of the Atlantic are expressing dismay at Haider’s political and economic views. The controversy provides valuable lessons for the American people.
Officials are upset over Haider’s position on immigration. Haider and his colleagues want to close Austria’s borders to immigrants because foreigners, they say, are largely responsible for Austria’s crime rate, drug problems, and welfare fraud.
Wait a minute! Haven’t we heard these things before … right here in the United States? “They’re coming to the United States just to get on welfare.” “They’re bringing drugs and crime to America.” “They’re polluting our culture.” “They don’t speak English.” It sounds to me that American anti-immigrant diatribes would be right up Haider’s alley.
Let’s also not forget how our own president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the U.S. State Department, intentionally used U.S. immigration controls to prevent German Jews from immigrating to the United States in the 1930s.
Haider’s praise of Nazi employment policies during the Great Depression is also upsetting European and U.S. officials. Were Hitler’s economic policies in the 1930s, however, significantly different from those of Roosevelt, his counterpart in the United States?
On the contrary, there was a striking similarity between FDR’s New Deal and the methods that Hitler used to get Germany out of the Depression. Both FDR and Hitler instituted massive government spending campaigns, including public-works programs, to bring full employment to their countries. In the United States, for example, there was the Hoover Dam. In Germany, there was the national autobahn system.
The Nazis also imposed an extensive system of governmental control over German businesses. Was Roosevelt’s approach any different? Consider FDR’s pride and joy, his National Recovery Act, which was characterized by the infamous Blue Eagle. With the NRA, the U.S. government required entire industries to combine into government-protected cartels, and directed them to fix wages and prices in their respective industries. If a businessman refused to go along, he faced prosecution and punishment, not to mention protest demonstrations from Blue Eagle supporters. (The Supreme Court ultimately declared the NRA unconstitutional.)
Let’s also not forget the important paternalistic elements of Hitler’s national socialism: Social Security, national health care, public schooling, and unemployment compensation. Sound familiar?
Hitler himself showed keen insight into this matter. In his biography Adolf Hitler,John Toland writes, “Hitler had genuine admiration for the decisive manner in which the President had taken over the reins of government. ‘I have sympathy for Mr. Roosevelt,’ he told a correspondent for the New York Times two months later, ‘because he marches straight toward his objectives over Congress, lobbies and bureaucracy.’ Hitler went on to note that he was the sole leader in Europe who expressed ‘understanding of the methods and motives of President Roosevelt.'” In turn, Winston Churchill, in his 1937 book Great Contemporaries, expressed his “admiration for the courage, the perseverence, and the vital force, which enabled [Hitler] to challenge, defy, conciliate, or overcome all the authorities or resistances which barred his path.”
Haider’s suggestion that German soldiers who fought for the Third Reich were victims rather than criminals is also upsetting European and American officials. But isn’t the support of one’s own government during war the guiding principle for patriotism for both European and American governmental officials? During the Persian Gulf War, for example, didn’t we hear countless congressmen repeatedly tell us, “Once the shooting starts, we have a duty to support our government and the troops”?
What lessons can we draw from the Austrian controversy? A government that has the power to do good things for people also has the power to do horrific things to people. The solution lies not in trying to get “good” people get into public office but rather in restricting the power of government to do good things for people. In this way, when a “wrong” person is democratically elected to office (as Haider, Hitler, and Roosevelt were), his power to abuse the citizenry is limited. Finally, true patriotism entails standing for what’s right, even if it means standing against one’s own government and even in the midst of war.