The Nuremberg Defence Mark 2

One of the big questions ever since it became clear that the corona vaccines were not going to provide the miracle that was promised has been how we would handle the fallout of what is undoubtedly the biggest peacetime public policy failure in modern history.

Here in Melbourne, Australia, we had what ended up being the longest lockdown of any city in the world. As a result, we have accrued, if not the largest government debt of any city in the world, at least the largest of any state in Australia. The bill for this debt is now coming due.

Late last year there was a state election where the opposition party suggested cuts to planned spending to address the budget problem. Our Devouring-Mother-in-Chief, Dan Andrews, scoffed at such suggestions and said there was no need for spending cuts. We could have it all, he said. He was duly re-elected.

Just six months later, the state budget is due to be delivered this week and will feature huge spending cuts including one major infrastructure project. It turns out we couldn’t have it all. The Premier must have known that prior to the election last year. Even by the gutter standards of modern politics, that’s some premium political cynicism.

Now that the bill for the lockdowns is due to be paid, it’s no surprise that politicians are trying to weasel out of responsibility. But even I was taken aback by the recent statement from the Victorian Health Minister. In relation to corona, she said: “We did what we were advised to do.” (The interested reader can see the statement at the 1 minute 25 second mark of this video).

Anybody can see that this is an almost exact reproduction of the Nuremberg Defence. But there’s an important difference here and one that says much about what is really going on with our current political shambles.

In the Westminster system of government which Australia inherited from Britain, the Minister IS responsible. That is the whole point of having ministers. The buck stops with the minister. It used to be a common occurrence that ministers would resign from their positions when things went wrong, even in situations where there could be no proof of a wrong decision on their part. The point of this practice was to uphold the ideal of the system: the minister is responsible and doesn’t get to blame anybody else.

The Victorian Health Minister wasn’t technically pulling a Nuremberg Defence because that defence states that a subordinate can escape responsibility by following orders from a superior. This was an already established principle in military law prior to WW2. It makes sense in a military setting where disobeying orders has severe ramifications for military personnel including potential court martial.

What made the Nuremberg Trials unique was that some non-military leaders of Germany were included in proceedings. That is, political and economic leaders were charged alongside military commanders. There was much debate before the trial about whether this was appropriate but that’s what ended up happening.

The reason that the non-military leaders of Germany could invoke the Nuremberg Defence was because of the Führerprinzip enacted by the Nazis which specified that every person was required to obey the orders of Hitler even where those orders contradicted one’s immediate superior, the constitution, the law, or anything else. That’s why the Nuremberg Defence has ended up becoming a far more general principle and for the first time brought the issue of following orders outside of a military context.

In a post last year, I explained in detail Hannah Arendt’s great insight that what the Führerprinzip unleashed was a new form of organisation called Totalitarianism. It allowed even military lines of command to be bypassed. Organisation now became predicated on ideology. The same pattern played out in Stalin’s Russia. Our historical misunderstanding of the situation is caused by the surface appearance of tyrannical political structure which both Hitler and Stalin portrayed and was further reinforced by the fact that the defendants at Nuremberg all tried to blame either Hitler or other senior Nazi leaders for their actions.

If we reinterpret the Nuremberg Defence using Arendt’s insight, what it really amounted to was a blind fealty not to a leader but to an ideology. It was the Nazi ideology which united both the military, political and economic leaders of the nation. The nation state was supposed to represent the general will. In the Enlightenment ideal, the will would be tempered by reason and logic. But reason and logic went out the window in WW1 and were replaced by ideology and propaganda.

These developments were related to creation of Total War where modern military force is predicated on the functioning of an industrial economy. It was Napoleon who can be credited with laying the foundations for Total War. Before Napoleon, soldiers were expected to source their own food from the local area where they were stationed. But Napoleon introduced the concept of supply lines which tied military operations back to the national economy.

As an aside, this is why sanctions against Russia have formed part of the war in Ukraine. If war is an extension of politics by other means, so too is economics and finance nowadays.

Totalitarianism, then, was a decentralised system of government held together by a shared commitment to ideology. That was Arendt’s great insight. And this brings us to the Victorian Health Minister’s statement which I’m going to call the Nuremberg Defence Mark 2:

“We did what we were advised to do.” In other words: “we followed the ideology”.

To reiterate, this is the opposite to how the Westminster system of government is supposed to work. Say it with me: the Minister IS responsible. The minister takes advice. But, ultimately, they make the decision. There is no higher authority than the minister.

Part of the problem here is the falling standard of government that has been going on for decades. Ministers used to resign when things went wrong because that was in the spirit of a system where the minister must be responsible even if they are technically not. At some point, ministers realised they could blame “the advice” they received and use that as an excuse not to resign. Fast forward to today and blatant corruption now goes unchecked and ministers regularly avoid responsibility on the flimsiest pretexts.

But corona was something different. When the minister talks of “the advice” she might as well be referring to “the science”. Where did that science and that advice come from? There is no clear answer to that. We might say it was the WHO but I recall the WHO recommending against lockdowns in late 2020 and the Victorian government then proceeded with several more lockdowns. We also know as a matter of political fact that decisions around curfew here in Melbourne came direct from the Premier’s office not “the advice”.

In a sense, corona facilitated our own version of the Führerprinzip. A handful of tinpot dictators got to pretend that they were all-powerful and all-knowing. It’s worth remembering that the Westminster system of government allowed Britain to avoid becoming a military dictatorship at the time when much of Europe, not just Germany, was falling into that mode of government. If we appreciated our history better, we would not take such things for granted and ministers of government would not get away with being able to blame “the advice”.

But there is something more than just general corruption going on here. “The advice” is ideology and, despite what many conspiracy theorists believe, the ideology has become decentralised. What the Premier of Victoria and his Health Minister were really following was “the ideology”. That ideology may be enforced by powerful actors in the network, but the mechanism of distribution of the ideology is now global and decentralised.

If Totalitarianism is a decentralised form of government held together by allegiance to an ideology, then corona fits the bill perfectly. The reason the average person can’t accept this is because they are told corona was based on “science” or “advice”. And because so many scientists now earn their living from government and corporate money, they are unwilling to set the record straight. Plus, setting the record straight would require an independent news media but news media are also now reliant on government and corporate funding.

All this raises the question: is this just a temporary state of corruption or are we sleepwalking into totalitarianism? The current system is held together by one thing: money. Compliance is bought and sold. That is a fundamental difference from Nazi Germany. The Führerprinzip was not an invention of the Nazis (the Nazis created very little). It was a belief in the power of the superior individual. This was a common theme in the German-speaking lands in the late 19th and early 20th century. Spengler’s concept of Caesarism and the Nazi’s bastardisation of Nietzsche’s Übermensch concept were just two examples of this idea.

Corona gave all kinds of tin pot dictators their chance to pretend they were Caesars. Can that continue outside of the realm of a purported emergency? This will depend on whether Arendt was right. Can totalitarianism work without the equivalent of a Führerprinzip? I think the answer is a qualified ‘yes’. In place of physical coercion, we have substituted money as the stick which keeps people in line.

Money has always been able to invisibly subvert democratic political institutions. It is arguably the greatest weakness of democracy and has been used against modern democracies almost from their inception. But the system only works as long as the financial system holds together and our system appears on the verge of breakdown. If it does breakdown and get replaced by a functional CBDC system, then we are in deep trouble as that would enable the invisible coercion to continue indefinitely. I don’t believe a functional CBDC-based financial system is possible but it won’t stop the powers-that-be from trying.

The Westminster system of government and its offshoots defeated both Nazi and Soviet totalitarianism. Whether it can defeat the new attempt at globalist totalitarianism is the number one question before us right now.

10 thoughts on “The Nuremberg Defence Mark 2”

  1. Hi Simon,

    The debt story is massive, and nobody seems to notice. That is until the redundancies begin. You’ll hear about it then. If you ignore the sheer weirdness of the lockdowns, it looks to me like a repeat of the early stages of the recession we had to have in the 1990’s. Over the past few days I’ve read some references to the Cain-Kirner governments. I believe that one of them in that pairing was the fall guy.

    The grand poo-bah has also begun to try and suggest that not all debt is equal. It’s a fascinating argument, and wrong.

    There’s a lot going on. My best guess is that certain people will jump ship and retire, in preference to enjoying the sinking feeling.



  2. Chris – there’s rumours that Andrews will resign soon. Things could get very sticky if that happens. Power has been very much concentrated in the Premier’s office during Andrews’ reign (of terror?). I very much doubt the next Premier will have his ability to hold things together. It could be the early 90s all over again although they might be able to prop it up longer with immigration.

  3. Hi Simon,

    The house price ponzi game will probably be propped up with immigration, but all policies have diminishing returns. In this case, I’ve heard the rental market described as: ‘The Hunger Games’, due to the bonkers low vacancy rates, and making that rental market tighter by increasing demand, can only increase the pressure. Did I mention that houses are incredibly expensive to build? I had the thought that perhaps the tight rental market was a deliberate policy choice. Dunno. But asset prices usually drop at the concluding stages of a bubble when enough people try to exit the market (i.e. sell their house) – that would ordinarily be possible, but that rental market is not an appealing option. We’ll find out I’m sure.

    The various underlying problems looks to me like a confluence of poop.

    My gut feeling suggests that he won’t run the full term. The rumours might be solid. I agree, change will be in the air at that point.



  4. Chris – yeah, all the normal feedback mechanisms are broken now. They have saturated everything with cash which creates a huge pressure that has no outlet. To the extent that there is a plan, it’s to release the pressure by slowing reducing the standard of living via inflation. That’s what’s really been happening beneath the covers for a couple of decades but now the inflation is not so slow anymore and they don’t have any more hiding places for it. Time to batten down the hatches.

  5. Although I certainly agree with your premise here Simon I have quibbles with the historiography of the Nuremberg trials. They really were a big hypocritical theatre show rather than any landmark process. If it were serious Bomber Harris would have been one of the first in the dock, and he would have used exactly the same defence. Same with those US pilots killed 100,000s of Japanese civilians.

    The Westminster system (ie the refined form of Aristocratic rule like the Roman senate) was ascendant because it is great way for elites to hold power and is never challenged internally: parties compete for the levers of power rather than attempt to overthrow the power itself, like what happened on the continent.

    Looking at things cynically, perhaps ministers used to resign because they were in large part pulled from the elite, aristocratic interests of society. This applied in Australia as much as in the UK. They didn’t need to be in government to have power, or wealth, rather they did it as a duty. Nowadays average joes are put in positions as ministers and are therefore dependent of the position for wealth and power, and are going to cling to it at all costs, and toe whatever line they are told to.

    The House of Lords does have some logic to it.

  6. Skip – totally agree re the show trial but the Nuremberg Defence has nevertheless become a meme in our culture. Of course, as you point out, it is also wound up with our hypocrisy. Perhaps that’s why our politicians can get away with it. We know that if we dug too deep we might not like what we find.

    You might be right about the resignation thing. I hadn’t thought about it that way. My assumption was that it was a sign of the waning power of the mainstream media because the media were the ones who used to get the scalp of a minister. However imperfectly, the media did also represent the interests of the general public who funded them partly through buying newspapers. Now, nobody buys media at all and then they complain that the media doesn’t represent their interests. Well, if you want the media to represent your interests, you need to pay for it.

  7. Yeah I think the secret success of the Westminster system was this core set of families who ran things in their respective countries. These families were by no means constant, but would come and go throughout the centuries, first from a land based aristocracy then to a mostly money based one. A connection to the military is usually pretty common too.

    Because they ruled in reality as well as in name, I’m sure they felt as if the government was indeed ‘their’ government, and therefore had an obligation towards serving it and maintaining its traditions. An honour code is also synonymous with an aristocratic class so resigning and taking blame as minister are par the course.

    I think the Trump phenomenon is part of this in that the choice seems to be between an elite rule that is national, which is based in wealthy and powerful individuals and families that at least are countrymen, or an elite rule based on amorphous international interests, that are probably just the same thing but are from somewhere else with somewhere else’s interests in mind. This international rule installs yes men and puppets as politicians to do their bidding.

    From an Australian perspective, I suppose I actually trust Twiggy Forrest, Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer and Bob Katter to act in Australia’s interest more so than Dan Andrews, Anthony Albanese or Petter Dutton. I’d rather have beer with the former too.

  8. Skip – I think Edmund Burke hit the nail on the head. The British parliamentary and legal systems were uncodified for most of their history. They adapted naturally over time with a large amount of tacit and unspoken assumptions and conventions that could quietly be dropped when necessary. The rule that the minister should resign if they weren’t “seen to be” above board was an honour rule and of course it was dropped as soon as the first politician decided they weren’t going to follow it thereby leaving the way open to less honourable opponents. Fast forward thirty years and everybody on both sides of hte political divide agrees the system is corrupt (but of course it’s always the “other side” that’s the bad guys).

    We seem now to be in a vicious cycle. The public doesn’t trust the system and the politicians can no longer win support based on trust hence we get increasing authoritarianism, propaganda and gaslighting just to get anything done.

  9. This post and tollowing discussion were really interesting for me to read, I thank you Simon, Chris, and Skip.

    Israel also inherited the Westminster system, and because we have a long time with one prime minister (who seems to me to have become Israel’s mommy – more and more of his supporters claim he “is keeping us safe”, both during covid and after), I think another problem it has is the lack of term limit present in the US system.

    Politicians essentially trade favors. In the past, the primary exchange was with the public – “I will do what you want and you will give me votes”. Now it is increasingly with big money. The advantage of the US term limit enforced by a consitutional amendment is that it can save a politician from himself – since any head of state will edventually end up owing too many favors to too many people, if he holds on to power of long enough, he will edventually become politically bunkrupt, especialy if he is an avarage joe.

    The Westminster system assumes a gentleman aristocract, while the US system with its term limit offers a solution for when this is not the case.

    But I am told the term limit is imcompatible with the Westminster system and can only work in a consitutional republic such as the US.

    In practice in Israel the issue of a term limit for the PM is somrthing the opposition keeps bringing up, until they become the coalition, at which time they never seem to get around to it.

    I would love hearing your thoughts about it since it seems similar problems are arising in Austrelia for similar reasons.

  10. Bakbook – the trouble with the US is that it’s only the presidency that has term limits. The congress is full of people who have been there for life and those people are completely in hock to monied interests. So, the president might not become politically bankrupt but the “system” does. That’s why the system promotes a mediocrity like Biden to president. Biden is corrupt and therefore can be relied upon to do whatever they tell him to do. On current course, the US system will collapse for that reason. It will be interesting to see if the role of President can actually stop the system from collapsing.

    In Australia, we have a role called Governor-General who can dissolve parliament but there’s not anything in that role that can fix corruption. So, we don’t have the release valve of President or Monarch like Britain. That’s especially true now that we have culturally detached from the British monarchy (although there’s still a lingering connection there).

    At some point Australia will formally detach from Britain and become a republic and at that time we will have to design a new system which will almost certainly include a President role. That’s already been discussed once before.

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