Judging Nazism and Communism

Judging between the totalitarian evils of the 20th century need not wait for a more balanced historiography; alas, the long farewell is not quite over.

Issue: Fall 2002

Now that the 20th century is at last "history", what does this enhanced perspective tell us about the relationship between that century's two great threats to liberal democracy, Nazism and Communism? During the high Cold War decade following 1945, the matter appeared simple to the majority of Western opinion: the two systems should be equated in their infamy. Yet, as anti-Communism came under fire in the 1960s, and as the Cold War itself dwindled into detente in the 1970s, the Hitler-Stalin comparison largely fell into disrepute. At the end of the 1980s, however, European Communism's ignominious end re-opened the question, thus inaugurating a decade of debate over the issue of which "totalitarianism" was the greater scourge. Nor will this issue ever really go away again.

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