In Nazi Germany, during World War Two, there was a man named August Landmesser. He was not the general of an army a politician or a journalist, yet he is an iconic figure of resistance to the Nazi regime. He was the lone man refusing to do the “Sieg Heil” salute at the launching of the Horst Wessel in Nazi Germany, in 1936, as seen in the picture below.
His story is one of love and family that quickly turned to sadness as laws enacted by the Nazi government ended up in his wife being killed at the Bernburg Euthanasia Centre along with 14,000 others. August was punished for loving a Jewish woman, for “dishonoring his race” and, in the end, his only reward for standing against these tyrannical laws was an incredible personal loss. His story is one of the breaking apart of his family; the removal of his children by the state; the killing of his wife by his (and her) own government; his own imprisonment, and eventually, his death as a draftee in a penal infantry unit in the final days of the war. This man suffered at the hands of authoritarian ideologues, due to their corrupt laws.
He stood against the group-think of his day, against what everyone else seemed to agree or sympathize with. He had the courage to back up his belief, and, in doing so, was not a silent accomplice of the genocide that would occur.
Today, we have groups reaching for similar powers that the Nazi Party enjoyed. The power to enforce one’s particular ideology on the mainstream of society. Starting with the creation of victimized groups, and then using those groups and identity politics in general as a reason to remove the rights of everyday citizens and force an ideology of obedience and subservience to government.
In Nazi Germany, the narrative was that the Germans were “victims” of the “evil Jews.” According to the Nazi regime, it was the Jews and immigrants who were the cause of all the problems in what would otherwise be the perfect Aryan utopia. The targeted people may have changed, but for a student of history, the tactics are glaringly obvious. Just because an idea is popular, just because the masses go along with it, does not mean that the idea is right.
I am not advocating against the rights of certain minority groups here; everyone (regardless of their identity group) deserves the same human rights and protections. What I am advocating against is the use of one’s “identity” or “victim status” to propel them into a position of power through force – by using the threat of violence, monetary penalty, or imprisonment to coerce people into obedience.
One of the core concepts of libertarian thought and philosophy is that everyone should have the right to live his or her life however they may choose – as long as that freedom does not limit or impose on the freedoms of another. When you start to impose on others, especially by force of law (which by its nature is violence) that is where you cross the line from fighting for your rights into the realm of authoritarianism and tyranny.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once wrote:
Human rights’ are a fine thing, but how can we make ourselves sure that our rights do not expand at the expense of the rights of others. A society with unlimited rights is incapable of standing to adversity. If we do not wish to be ruled by a coercive authority, then each of us must rein himself in…A stable society is achieved not by balancing opposing forces but by conscious self-limitation: by the principle that we are always duty-bound to defer to the sense of moral justice. (Rebuilding Russia: Reflections and Tentative Proposals)
These are words we would all do well to remember.