Ideas Have Consequences

Justin Stapley
The Liberty Hawk
Published in
7 min readSep 3, 2020

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Ideas cannot be contained, the full breadth of their consequences cannot be mitigated, and the sheer gravity of the images they arouse in the minds of those who come under their sway cannot be controlled.

Blood and Soil

Blood and soil, or Blut und Boden, was the nationalist slogan of Nazi Germany. It was a rallying cry for Germans who became convinced that non-German influences were responsible for defeat in the Great War. It was a slogan elevated by those who believed the harsh economic conditions under the Weimar Republic and the loss of ancestral territory were directly caused by those hostile to pure German sentiments.

The slogan resonated with Post-WWI Germans who sought a return to glory, to victory, by emphasizing what they believed to be the German people’s unique strengths and greatness. It was this sentiment that enabled Hitler to rebuild the German war machine and blitzkrieg across the European continent. It was this belief that aroused hostile passions towards those who became Untermensch, sub-humans, under the Nazi Regime, including Gypsies, Poles, homosexuals, political and religious dissidents, Africans, and especially Jews.

There has been considerable debate about how modern Germany could have allowed the Nazi Regime to take power. It often shocks the senses to consider that a scientifically and culturally advanced society could have indulged in such brutal and horrific abuses of human rights. Many theories have been postulated, but most agree upon one detail: ideas have consequences.

Seemingly benign combinations of words, such as “blood and soil,” are not racist and dangerous because of the words themselves. They become so because of the ideas behind them and the terminal reality of those ideas. When animated by ideas, words become symbolic of much more than their strict definitions. Symbols, and words, can be forever corrupted of their origins by the ideas which come to embody them. The swastika, for example, meant something entirely different for nearly 12,000 years before the Nazis took it as the symbol of national socialism.

Sometimes Intent Isn’t the Issue.

It should go without saying that certain symbols, phrases, and rhetoric inevitably invite the imagery of specific ideas. An understanding that these ideas can, and often do, create imagery beyond a messenger’s intent is key to understanding their dangers. We need not fear the Third Reich’s resurrection any time soon, least of all in America. But, ideas that can revive blood and soil imagery are going to have consequences.

Too often, amid extreme partisan passion, we hear only what we want to hear. When those who see injustice in a capitalist society hear, “Maybe it’s time to give socialism a try,” they hear an affirmation that injustice is wrong. They don’t hear the millions of voices crying from the earth whose lives were cut short because their country gave socialism a try.

Similarly, when a parade of slogans, chants, and statements lays the groundwork for an undercurrent of nativism, xenophobia, and ethnic nationalism, those who do not see themselves as nativists or ethnic nationalists will often be blind to the racist and xenophobic nature of the imagery ensuing from the underlying message. This is especially true when the messenger is a political chameleon, neither attached nor fully invested in any single ideology or political identity.

The reality of our nation’s current political discourse is that populist fervor has elevated figures who embody passions and fears. The statements and actions of these figures often go no deeper in their intent than to stoke the passions and fears which lifted them to relevance. In the age of trolls, it should not be surprising that master-trolls become our leaders.

However, the shallow nature of the intent of America’s leaders is not a defense for the imagery invited by the ideas they introduce into the national consciousness. Specifically, intent becomes only a passing concern when the combined weight of slogans, chants, and accompanying rhetoric invites the image of a country beset upon by others who have robbed it of its greatness. To understand the danger and consequences of these ideas, let us consider them independent of the messenger.

Make America Great Again

The desire to “Make America Great Again” is neither unique nor concerning. Previous Presidents, both Republican and Democrat, have used the term to communicate a typical political idea: things used to be better, vote for me.

America is, in fact, a great country with a great history. The concept of American greatness, especially when connected with its underlying creeds of liberty and justice for all, has no dark connotation. However, it is quite a neutral term. We must consider the emphasis placed in the context of its use. How has America fallen from its greatness? What must America do to reclaim its greatness? Much rides on the answers to those questions.

Take as an example a speech that alludes to the idea that American greatness has fallen into “serious trouble” as a result of those who have been “sent” to America with “lots of problems,” whose interests have been allowed to supersede American interests by “stupid” leaders.

The imagery invited is that America is beset by alien forces, that Americans are victims of leaders who have sacrificed their interests on the altar of the other. This imagery sullies a benign desire to “Make America Great Again.”

But nativist imagery is easy to slip into when a nation has a broken immigration system and when refugees are seeking asylum from countries filled with radical and militant intent against America. Over-zealous rhetoric in the face of extraordinary circumstances is nothing new. But embracing a direct link to nativism and xenophobia in the past heightens the gravity of the situation.

America First

At first glance, the slogan “America First” seems benign and neutral as “Make America Great Again.” Former presidents, in fact, used it in the early 20th Century and, we can assume, it’s connotation depends on the context of its use as well.

However, its history does invite dark implications, especially when accompanied by rhetoric echoing its former use. The term’s legacy is most connected to the America First Committee that opposed American involvement in World War II and engaged in anti-Semitic and fascist messaging. Most concernedly, it was in this context of America First that Pat Buchanan resurrected its use and, essentially, kept it alive to pass on.

An image then is invited, one that suggests American greatness is only by placing American interests over the interests of the others and their traitorous enablers.

And who are the others? Whose interests are those who have subordinated American greatness? Is the imagery invited by the hints of nativism and xenophobia an underlying theme? Or, was this only rhetoric unbound from political correctness as it brings awareness to genuine problems that need immediate solutions?

The criminal and humanitarian concerns resulting from illegal immigration and the dangers presented by international terrorism are legitimate issues in need of comprehensive solutions. Not all Mexicans are illegal immigrants. Not all Muslims are terrorists. Surely no one is suggesting otherwise.

The Full Breadth of the Underlying Message

And maybe no one truly is. But ideas are what they are, and we cannot deny the images they invite. Consider the following statements and the imagery they invite:

Native-born Hispanic judges cannot be impartial. Muslim immigration must be totally and completely shut down. Not only terrorists but families of terrorists should be military targets. Parents of a fallen American soldier can be singled out for ridicule because of their Islamic religion. A great sea-to-sea wall should be built between America and a neighboring hispanic country. Political opponents need to be locked up. Neo-Nazis are very fine people. Reporters and others with dissenting opinions are enemies of the people. Non-white American citizens should be quiet or go back to where they came from even if they were born here.

This does not paint a picture of reasonable concern over a small radical or criminal subset of Mexicans and Muslims. It is not the sentiments of a movement contesting opposing views in good faith in a free market of ideas. It is an image of fear and distrust directed at whole peoples and political beliefs, considered so incompatible with American greatness that they must be marginalized, silenced, and removed.

Ideas Have Consequences

Again, this article is about the imagery invited by certain ideas and the consequences they can have. It seems most likely that the ideas discussed in this article, and other similarly charged rhetoric across the entire political spectrum, are being peddled by trolls who are dangerously unaware of the dark connotations and dangerous consequences that can arise in the wake of their political performances. But, herein lies the great warning of this article.

The phrase “Blood and Soil” was not Hitler’s invention. National Socialism was not Hitler’s created political model. Hitler did not found the Nazi Party. Hitler did not invent German Nationalism.

Anti-Semitism, fascism, genocide, eugenics, propaganda, and all the trappings by which we recognize the evil of Nazi Germany were not unique to Hitler’s mind. Hitler was nothing more and nothing less than the embodiment of his country’s zeitgeist.

If Hitler had not become Fuhrer, it most assuredly would have been Himmler, or Goebbels, or Goring, or some other evil-hearted man willing to embody the dark turn of the German people’s sensibility. Why? Because the ideas were there. Ideas have consequences. Ideas, when attached to national consciousness, can set a nation on an unavoidable course.

Ideas cannot be contained, the full breadth of their consequences cannot be mitigated, and the sheer gravity of the images they arouse in the minds of those who come under their sway cannot be controlled. They are either countered and circumvented by wholesome ideas or are allowed to grow towards their inevitable fruits.

If allowed to grow, it is only a matter of time until someone comes along who is willing to take the ideas to their eventual destination. Certain types of rhetoric have no transactional value. History is rife with those who meant well, riding the dangerous wave of dark rhetoric in hopes of inserting good things amidst the calamity, who in the end either succumbed fully to the zeitgeist or became simply the next victim of its appetites.

When dangerous ideas appear on the lips of America’s leaders, no excuse or equivocation can defer the consequences of those ideas. Americans can either awaken to a sense of the awful imagery and denounce it or sit idly by until the momentum of history moves events beyond control. There is no escaping history’s highest truth: ideas have consequences.

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Justin Stapley
The Liberty Hawk

Student at UVU, political theory and constitutional studies. Editor/Owner of The Liberty Hawk. Weekly newsletter and intermittent podcasting at Self-Evident.