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Comparing today's demagogues with Adolf Hitler is almost always unwise.If alarmism is counterproductive, the question remains: At what point are democracies truly in danger?The human incapacity to see what is coming also animates Sebastian Haffner's memoir Defying Hitler, written in 1939, a year after he left his native Germany.He saw how his fellow law students, none of whom were Nazis, came to accept each step – racial laws, abrogation of the constitution, and so on – precisely because they were couched in legal terms. There never seemed to be a point at which they recognized that an intolerable line had been crossed and only resistance or exile would do. Communists (instructed by Stalin), but also the non-Communist left in 1920s Germany, refused to defend the fragile Weimar Republic when it was under assault from the right. Communists saw social democrats as a greater danger than Nazis; and leftwing intellectuals were distracted by the hypocrisy and corruption of mainstream parties they really should have supported.In both cases, the particular dangers posed by today's right-wing populism are underrated or ignored.Yet freedoms must be defended, which is possible only when the threats are seen clearly.
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