As I go about my daily life in Britain, under the worst government in living memory, I share a sense of cameraderie with Americans who are doing the same. I also think, periodically, about Neville Chamberlain.
Chamberlain now exists at the edge of the aforementioned living memory, as the British Prime Minister in the 1930s, but he still counts. He has come to be remembered for one enormous mistake: He was the man who negotiated with Hitler.
As Germany rebuilt its arsenal and became increasingly belligerent, Winston Churchill – a relic from the days of Empire and something of a political pariah – worked desperately to try to get anyone in the British government to listen to him. Hitler was dangerous, he insisted. A re-armed Germany meant war. The Third Reich must be stopped before something terrible was put in motion.
Churchill was dismissed as an aging paranoiac. A warmongering old blowhard, nostalgic for his glory days.
In this spirit, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain went to Germany in 1938 to seek reassurance from, and a treaty with, the charismatic German leader. He returned to Britain in triumph, declaring “I have in my hand a piece of paper that will ensure peace in our time.”
It was a statement which has become political shorthand for an obviously bad deal.
In spite of this, Chamberlain cannot be judged too harshly through modern eyes for the simple reason that he was dealing with the actual Nazis.
Chamberlain was perhaps naive to think that the Nazis would play fair, but he was also looking at a heavily armed and angrily nationalist Germany, ready for a fight. He backed down in the face of scary odds.
Then, crucially, when the time came to act, the British government decided to fight the Nazis anyway, no matter how frightening they seemed.
Compare that to the modern world. In recent days, one of the excuses used for not abandonning the embarrassing Brexit shambles is that far right groups would be angry if they didn’t see their xenophobic little pet project come to fruition.
In America, far right lunatics make a habit of threatening civil war if Trump were justifiably impeached, and the crazy thing is that people on either side of the Atlantic seem to listen to these idiots.
We have no right to judge Chamberlain for capitulating to the literal Nazis when modern politicians run and hide from a third-rate fourth reich that could be outnumbered by the audience of a medium sized concert venue.
The far right are nothing to be scared of – they’re a sad collective of lonely and unloved men who couldn’t work out why they weren’t happy and listened when someone told them that the answer was brown people.
They meet in secret, in the woods and in basements and in secret clubs because they KNOW that their ideas aren’t popular. And the only way their unpopular ideas can gain traction is if the rest of us are scared of the neo-Nazi boogeyman to a point where the actual neo-Nazis – pale, unhappy, joyless men who earnestly respect Ben Shapiro and Milo Yiannopoulos – can start to seem intimidating.
Just look at the rallies that these people attempt to hold on a regular basis. Here’s one from the UK, spotted by a Twitter user:
The neo-Nazis are the small group of men being hemmed in and outnumbered by the police, who are there for their protection in case decent people decide to give them a well-deserved beating. Meanwhile, in America, the Unite The Right 2 rally drew what CNN estimated to be “two dozen people.”
Never forget that the far right are tragic, first and foremost; what many of them need is a hug. They’re also ridiculous; what all of them deserve is derision. They can also be dangerous; a few of them need a good ass kicking.
What we should never do is appease them. And above even that, we should never treat these lonely misfits like they’re scary. The only way this delusional, pitiful corner of the political spectrum can exert any power is if we treat them as though they already have it – as though their opinions and reactions and threats actually carry weight.
I’m not about to start treating these people as though they matter: