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107 of 120 people found the following review helpful
This book answers the plaguing question: How could it happen? How could ordinary people, seemingly decent Germans, turn into goose-stepping, Sieg-Heil-ing robots, eager to obey any orders, even to administer the "final solution"--the Holocaust?
This book answers those questions, and makes the rise of the Nazis finally intelligible. The cause, Dr. Peikoff demonstrates, lies in certain philosophic ideas--the anti-reason, anti-self, anti-freedom ideas that were already deeply imbued in German culture long before Hitler's rise.
If one were to compile a list of the most fanatically anti-reason philosophers since the Renaissance, almost every top figure--Kant, Hegel, Marx, Schopenhauer, Heidegger--would turn out to be German.
This is not to say that German culture produced evil philosophers. Just the reverse: Germany's evil philosophers produced an evil culture. Men act on their ideas, and ideas originate somewhere. Fundamental ideas, ideas about morality, knowledge, reality, are originated by philosophers. The vast majority of people simply absorb gradually the ideas available to them in their culture. Thus, most people get their life-shaping ideas, indirectly, from the philosophers of their culture (with a time-lag for these ideas to seep down into the educational establishment, the media, the arts, etc.).
Dr. Peikoff's answer to "How could it have happened?" is: "The land of poets and philosophers was brought down by its poets and philosophers."
This book is an impassioned call to jettison the philosophy of obedience, the philosophy of unreason and self-sacrifice, in all its versions lest we follow the German path to destruction.
In regard to the U.S., Dr. Peikoff emphasizes the gulf between the pro-reason Aristotelian spirit of the people and the Kantian-Pragmatist philosophy of our intellectuals. This conflict is the source of the frequently noted anti-Americanism of American intellectuals. He points out that anti-Germanism was NOT a feature of the Weimar Republic (the period in which Hitler rose to power). There, the intellectuals and the people were united philosophically, and the intellectuals (e.g., Heidegger) lined up solidly in support of "Fatherland" and "Volk."
This is a fascinating, gripping book, exhaustively researched, but presented with a masterful prose style, not pedantic "scholarship." It will change forever the way you think about ideas and history.
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104 of 121 people found the following review helpful
on January 17, 2004
As a Jew, I have watched, read, and visited countless accounts of the Holocaust - but not one of them correctly identified the ideas that brought it about or the ideas that will prevent it from happening again. In some cases, I was first shocked by the accounts of survivors and then horrified when they offered as a solution the same ideas that created the Nazis.
"The Ominous Parallels" finally exposes the cause and answer to Fascism. Dr. Peikoff presents a compelling and cogent thesis on the evil of collectivism in terms of the fundamental ideas that shape our history by masterfully analyzing the intellectual and cultural climate that led to the Holocaust and its parallels to today's America. Along the way, he outlines the development of Western philosophy - from the glorious creation of the United States to the rise of skepticism, pragmatism, collectivism, and the Weimar culture. Broad philosophical, political, and cultural trends are analyzed and dissected according to their basic premises, as you will never hear in a history class.
Both those well read in and new to the philosophy of Objectivism will find this book accessible and the arguments reasoned out and supported by numerous examples. This is not light reading, however- I spent as much time pausing to digest and integrate the ideas in this book as I did reading it. Those unfamiliar with Objectivism may have some difficulty connecting the author's asides on abortion, physics, and religion to the central theme, but it does not detract from the overall message.
As Dr Peikoff states, it is impossible to predict the future or know whether the Holocaust will repeat itself - but it is certain that only by understanding and adopting a proper philosophy can America survive as a free country. If this book succeeds in teaching the world about the importance of ideas, then six million shall not have died in vain.
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52 of 61 people found the following review helpful
on March 19, 2000
"The Ominous Parallels" by Dr. Leonard Peikoff is a brilliant study uniting philosophy and history to identify the fundamental cause of the rise of Hitler and Nazism, and more broadly, of fascism. Dr. Peikoff's theme is that actions follow from ideas. With passionate dedication to truth he quotes from the writings and speeches of the principle architects of Nazi Germany to show the ethical premises guiding their political actions and programs. The evidence is clearly presented. And it leads inexorably to the conclusion that the same ideas which made possible the horror that was Nazi Germany, currently dominates the intellectual establishment of the United States.
"The Ominous Parallels" is both a warning and an alert. It tells us what we should do to avoid becoming a fascist state. It alerts us to how far down that road we currently are.
Dr. Peikoff's "The Ominous Parallels" is also a rallying point for all of us who care deeply about the future of our country and the freedom of its citizens. It helps us to recognize that "it could happen here" if we do not change our views regarding the proper beneficiary of one's actions.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on November 25, 2014
This book is a great condensation of the essence of what went wrong in Germany in the Twentieth century as it passes out of the memories of the living. It covers the topic without the second level of complexity of comparisons with America. That can come later to the interested. That way, you are free to pursue the other edition of the book, or check things out for yourself and ask yourself if the author is right. After all, he has written a follow-up that major changes will come to America, triggered by a crisis, but not caused by geography, poverty, race wars, international politics and that other nonsense, but driven by ideas originating from modern American universities. Anytime you see a social, political or religious movement, the cause can be traced to universities, even such movements as Fundamentalism, or "Left Behind" eschatology. Even Islam never fully established itself until its intellectuals found a way to answer Greek reason in a definitive statement by philosopher al-Ghazali. Peikoff's book shows the consequences when intellectuals who teach that human reason has no power and meaning train masses of mindless followers who then take over.

Over time, there may be minor scholarly clarifications of points in this book, or side notes on other totalitarian societies, thinking of Cambodia or North Korea. Others will try to draw comparisons with non-totalitarian use of concentration camps, and others might try to deny their existence or essence, a hopeless as well as unforgivable evasion. Enjoy the book for what it is--a slap on the side of the head showing that totalitarianism and freedom are driven by ideas, not accidents.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 1999
Dr. Peikoff fully integrates and examines the philosophic FACTS that led to Nazi Germany and its frightening, yet inevitable, conclusion. He also clearly and convincingly presents how many of the most pressing concerns facing the United States today are rooted in the same belief system that led to the Nazi catastrophe.
By basing his conclusions on solid evidence, Dr. Peikoff brings unusual clarity to the root cause of Nazism which is often lost in a fog of ambiguity. The power and effect of this truth can be seen in his opponents who refuse to confront his arguments and resort to either ignoring the true issues or lame attempts at mockery.
This is an outstanding book that is highly recommended to anyone, but especially those who are tired of the philosophic "blue smoke and mirrors" that is so pervasive in our society!
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on March 12, 2000
Dr. Peikoff, philosopher and long time student of the late Ayn Rand, masterfully shows the real reason for Germany's National Socialists' rise to power: ideas. Not "charismatic leaders" or simply brute force. This thesis is proven by a systematic demonstration of the kind of ideas that Germans embraced -- duty, self-sacrifice, mysticism as a means to knowledge -- where they originated, and why these ideas necessarily lead to evil results where implemented. And even more than a uniquely insightful work on the causes of Nazism, this is a work of philosophic detection and mystery solving on a historical scale: What really, fundamentally creates history? For the astute historian or student of history, there is an entire approach to studying history implicit in this book. For that alone, it deserves 5 stars.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2014
The single most important book on the cause of Nazism and the only book that identifies the cause at the deepest level: philosophy. A brilliant analysis of the ideas that led to Nazism. Superficial thinkers will complain that, for example, Kant was not a Nazi. True but this misses the point. Kant destroyed both reason and values, including the morality of loving oneself. The assault on reason set up the Nazi worship of the irrational will. The assault on the self set up the Nazi demand that the self is of no importance and that man must sacrifice for the state (volk). Kant's apparent defense of rights in politics is meaningless since his epistemology and ethics destroyed the foundation of rights. Peikoff weaves in the ideas of Kant and other philosophers and ties it all into pre-Nazi culture and the philosophies of the contending political parties into an integrated whole. A brilliant piece of philosophical detection and integration.
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on October 15, 1999
Heh, you know a book has struck a nerve when a string of well-reasoned 5-star reviews are interrupted by a few feverish 1-star reviews by people courageously beating up on strawmen.
Dr. Peikoff's book builds a step-by-step case for his claim that the root causes of Naziism were in the major philosophical trends in Germany up thru the Weimar period. The major intellectual battles were between the "left-wing" neo-Hegelian Marxists and the "right-wing" neo-Hegelian Nazis, with the anarchists, churches & monarchists pulling in their directions as well. But NOWHERE in Germany's intellectual heritage was there any idea of moral individualism based on rationality. (The anarchists & Neitscheans were individualists, but irrational. The Marxists & Nazis styled themselves as rational, but were collectivists.)
Only America, with our rational individualist philosophies based on Lockeean natural rights, was able to produce a society where individual rights were secure. Peikoff then looks at today's America and our own intellectual elites' abandonment of rationality & individualism, concluding that the parallels are, indeed, "Ominous".
The publishing date says 1997, and I hope this means he updated the book. The original came out in 1982. Nothing he wrote then seems out of date today (unfortunately for our country), but it would be nice to see an updated edition someday, if this isn't.
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27 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2000
What was the cause of Nazism? What made the land of poets and philosphers ripe for a power hungry mediocrite like Adolph Hitler? With the sparkling clarity that characterizes an Ayn Rand novel, Dr. Peikoff examines all the conventional explanations and shows that all of them lead to the same intellectual root: the duel between the this-worldy, egoistic Aristotle and the other-worldly, altrusitic Plato.--From a review in Capitalism Magazine.com. Posted with permission.
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26 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on April 1, 2000
If you are an admirer of Ayn Rand's works or interested in the root causes of history, you should enjoy this book. Dr. Peikoff makes Ayn Rand's philosophy, Objectivism, clearly understood by contrasting it to altruism, mysticism and Kantianism, the three philosophies which gave rise to National Socialism and the atrocities committed by the Nazis during World War II. Through Dr. Peikoff's clearly-written work one can easily see how history was and is caused by philosophy. There is an excellent chapter on the uniqueness of the American Founding Fathers, best characterized by one of them, Elihu Palmer: "At last men have grasped the unlimited power of human reason....Reason which is the glory of our nature." Dr. Peikoff gives us a timely warning of the "Ominous Parallels" between pre-war Germany's intellectual culture and contemporary America's, and that the philosophies which gave rise to both, are the same.
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