Remember Tom Perkins? The guy who wrote a letter to the editors of The Wall Street Journal comparing the war on the 1% not to Kristallnacht, but to the beginnings of a pattern that could possibly lead to something like Kristallnacht further down the road?

If you don’t remember, here’s a refresher on the relevant part of Perkins’ letter:

From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent…This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant “progressive” radicalism unthinkable now?

Perkins’ missive may just be “the most-read letter to the editor in the history of The Wall Street Journal.” And now he’s been forced to eat a little crow:

Amid the ongoing media furor and an ungallant rebuke from Kleiner Perkins, Mr. Perkins has apologized for the [Nazi era] comparison, without rebuking the larger argument.

It’s no surprise that Perkins was made to walk back his Kristallnacht reference—a fact that doesn’t take away from his point.

Predictably, when a person invokes a Nazi comparison people scoff, and Perkins compounded his scoffability quotient by invoking the Nazi comparison while defending the very rich, who were already not everybody’s favorite people for whom to feel sorry.

Nevertheless, what Perkins said isn’t even really all that controversial.

His point was about the dangers of the purposeful drumming up of hatred, not mere disagreement with or criticism of, an entire segment of society. And his analogy was between today and Germany in the earlier days of the Nazi rise (Hitler was not even chancellor yet in 1930), not to Germany as it was in 1938 (the date of Kristallnacht) or Germany later, when the Nazi machine had gotten the death apparatus fully in gear. His point is that hatred can be a continuum, and that the early propagandist days of hateful rhetoric might contain the seeds of later ones of hateful and destructive action.

The last sentence of the WSJ‘s editorial defending Perkins is therefore somewhat naive:

The liberals aren’t encouraging violence, but they are promoting personal vilification and the abuse of government power to punish political opponents.

There are many ways to encourage violence, and not all of them take the form of saying, “Go out and kill the [fill in the blanks]!” To encourage hatred and envy rather than rational criticism is to help to encourage violence, at least potentially, and that’s what Perkins was talking about.

Of course, sometimes violence isn’t necessary. Sometimes the re-education camps will do. Sometimes it’s enough to discourage people from speaking out in a way judged to be insufficiently PC.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]

[Featured Image Source: Know Your Meme. Explanation of Godwin’s Law here: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.”]


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