I certainly wouldn't want to suggest that this association isn't appropriate; Hitler—and to a greater extent the general populace who followed him—make vivid the potentials of human depravity and wickedness (though Hitler isn't as historically unique as we too easily think). But this association (again, appropriate as it certainly is) between Hitler and evil is socially constructed, and this social construction is what fascinates me. In other words, there was a time when neither National Socialism, Adolf Hitler, fascism, the swastika, or anything else associated with the Third Reich automatically conjured images and feelings of evil, either in Europe or in the United States. Undoubtedly some voices within European and American political discourse in the 1930s always saw the National Socialist movement as dangerous; but the dangers posed by the German state were topics of debate rather than the foregone conclusions that they are today, conclusions that motivate visceral, almost primitive emotions of anger and outrage.
So what changes, whether historical, social, cultural, or whatever, explain this change in the place and function of fascism in Western social memories? Is it simply the historical development that the Allied nations didn't know the extent of the Third Reich's pugnaciousness, and in the course of liberating Western Europe we learned the extent of the awful truth? If so, we might believe that everyone in 1930 America would have agreed with us today about the evils of fascist Germany, if only they knew about Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, and other details of the Final Solution. But is that really all that's wrong with fascism? Was Hitler evil only because he killed a lot of people, or is fascism reprehensible on a more fundamental level? (hint: Yes.) And if so, how do we evaluate American and European institutions that admired, valued, and advocated National Socialist structures and/or policies other than the murderous ones?
This last seems to be the question driving Norwood's book. I think I'll have to order a copy, as soon as I'm given permission to spend more of the family's resources on books.