Jonah Goldberg

Three of Maryam Farahat's children died in the process of murdering Israelis. In a recently released video she exhorted her youngest living son, Mohammed, 17, not to come back alive from a mission against the Jews. Indeed, she hopes all three of her remaining sons will die in the process of slaughtering Jews.

Farahat isn't merely an unconventional stay-at-home mom. She has a day job. She's one of the Hamas delegates swept into power by an electoral landslide in the Palestinian territories.

I bring this up not to repeat the already-conventional wisdom that this was a victory for terrorism or that Hamas' surprise win offers some sorely missed "clarity" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Rather, the Hamas landslide clarifies another issue. In 1996, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen wrote a hugely controversial book, "Hitler's Willing Executioners." The thesis was straightforward: The German people were in on the Holocaust; German culture and history harbored and nurtured an "exterminationist" version of anti-Semitism that simply awaited ignition from Nazism's torch.

Goldhagen's thesis was overstated but fundamentally accurate. There was something unique to Germany that made fascism genocidal. Around the globe there have been dozens of self-declared fascist movements (and a good deal more that go by different labels), and few of them embraced Nazi-style genocide. Indeed, fascist Spain was a haven for Jews during the Holocaust.

Goldhagen's book was immensely controversial in Germany, where an odd cult of victimhood had settled in.  According to this view, Germany was in effect "occupied" by the Nazis, and the German people were victims, too. Obviously, this is a very convenient interpretation for a country understandably desperate to distance itself from the Holocaust and various brutal military adventures.

But variations of the don't-blame-the-people thesis have been around for a long time far outside of Germany. Democracy can be wonderful, but some of its boosters across the ideological spectrum assume that all democratic outcomes are good outcomes, and that's nonsense. Also, the left historically has located political morality in the interests and desires of the masses, therefore it is heretical to blame "the people" for evil deeds. Causes must be "hijacked" by small cabals of bad guys.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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