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Activist #MMT - podcast

Apr 29, 2023

Welcome to episode 143 of Activist #MMT. Today I talk with historian, author, and Harvard master's graduate, Emily Ruhl, on her new paper and master's thesis, In League with the Devine: How Religion Influenced Nazi Perpetrators of the Holocaust. This is the first of a three-part episode. You will find my full and detailed question list at the bottom of today's show notes. Also, be sure to see the list "audio chapters" in all three parts to find exactly where each topic is discussed.

(Here are links to parts two and three. A list of the audio chapters in this episode can be found right below [above the full-question list].)

(In order to preserve both my podcast and sanity as I proceed through the Torrens graduate program, I've decided to slow my podcast from one episode a week to once a month.)

The Nazi Party started by trying to resist and reject all religion, but soon, religion became a fundamental part of the Party's strategy of coercing and propagandizing everybody, from members of the public, to the highest ranking figures in both religious and political institutions, into accepting the brutal and systematic murder of eleven-million souls. The Nazi religion took elements of Christianity, Protestantism, and Paganism, to make one geared not to brotherly love, but primarily to erasing non-Aryans from the Earth.

This Nazi pseudo-religion served both as coercion – you must kill the unworthy, or at least stand back while others do – and also as a salve, to come to terms with what you've just done. As you'll hear in the cool quote for part two (the first minute before the opening music), that salve can make the difference between sanity and insanity, and life and death.

The Nazi's didn't want to murder eleven million people, they had to, because God said they had to. It was "unfortunate, but necessary." My primary goal for this interview is to demonstrate how this is parallel to mainstream economics, which is also a tool to justify suffering, this time in the form of austerity. Instead of a gun to the head at point blank range, austerity is mass deprivation and exploitation, resulting in a slow and torturous death by despair, starvation, exposure, and untreated sickness and injury – not to mention wasted potential.

We currently have the ability to provide all with what they desperately need, including healthcare, education, decent food and shelter, un-poisoned water, and breathable air. As illuminated by Kate Raworth's doughnut, if we are to continue existing as a species, then we must provide the desperate with what they most desperately need. At the same time, we also have to stop the very few on top from using the vast majority of our precious and limited resources to needlessly lavish themselves.

Unfortunately, we are instead digging ourselves into an even deeper ecological crisis, when we should be getting off fossil fuels entirely, and restructuring society so we don't require as much. On our current path, in the not-too-distant future, it may indeed become unfortunate but necessary to choose who must be deprived in order for the rest to live. Of course, given our obscene and still growing inequality, the most powerful few will be the ones to make those decisions, and the least powerful many will be the sacrificed. This is the lifeboat economics of the tragedy of the tragedy of the commons. Instead of the around eleven million murdered by the Nazi Party, mainstream economics is little more than a religion to justify what may ultimately result in the death of not millions, but billions. Austerity is genocide at a slower pace.

As if riding in a bus hurtling towards a cliff, we as a species currently face a binary choice, between having a terrible accident, and plunging off into oblivion. As Mark Twain said, "History never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme." There is still time to learn from that history. We can choose another path.

On a completely unrelated side note, while attending her master's program, writing her master's thesis and working full time, Emily also wrote… an entire fantasy novel. You can find out more about it, and read the entire first chapter, at her website,

In order to preserve both my podcast and my sanity as I proceed through Torrens University and Modern Money Lab's graduate program in MMT and ecological economics (🦉🤝🌍), I've slowed my podcast from one episode a week, to once a month. For as little as a dollar a month, patrons of Activist #MMT can hear all three parts with Emily right now. You can start by going to

And now, onto my conversation with Emily Ruhl. Enjoy.


  • Dirk Ehnts 2017 book, Modern Monetary Theory and European Macroeconomics, from the introduction:
    The crash of 1929 was a direct consequence of weak financial sector regulation in the US, and it had world-historical consequences. It caused the economies not only of the US and Canada to melt down, but also those of many other nations financially linked to the US – including the German economy, whose deflationary collapse in 1929 led to the election of Adolf Hitler by a desperate electorate in 1933, the same year Glass–Steagall was passed. Had Glass–Steagall been legislated ten years earlier, the Second World War would most likely never have happened.
  • Asad Zaman 2016 lecture entitled Macroeconomics, at around the 33-minute mark, states that had the right economic theories been implemented by those in power, that the Great Depression would have never occurred.
  • My post summarizing Polanyi’s 1941 book (2001 edition), The Great Transformation
  • My interview with Asad Zaman on Polanyi. See especially the eight-minute, 35-seconds mark in part one (see the audio chapters at the bottom of the show notes)
  • 2016 book by Christopher Browning, Ordinary Men
  • Daniel Goldhoggen Hitler's Willing Executioners
  • Calvin University online archives - start with this Google search for Calvin University online archives nazi

Audio chapters

  1. 7:12 - Hellos
  2. 8:49 - Overview of the paper
  3. 10:46 - Elaborating on the gap in the literature
  4. 15:30 - Harvard online masters degree
  5. 16:40 - Her experience writing the paper, the major sources, and the consequences of the pandemic
  6. 20:12 - Structuralist approach to writing the paper (interconnectness)
  7. 25:04 - The bias in even primary sources (the art of bias)
  8. 30:02 - Lebensunwertes Leben: Life unworthy of living
  9. 37:06 - Three theories why Jews are lebensunwertes leben
  10. 44:56 - Christian verses Catholic
  11. 45:45 - Nazi party desired to be non-religious. Religion became critical.
  12. 54:07 - German pseudo-religion: three parts: anti-Semitism, Blut und Boden (blood and soil), and Volksgemeinschaf (the German worldview)
  13. 59:40 - Racism is an impossible concept. The only way to preserve the German Aryan theory is to exterminate anyone not "definitely" Aryan.
  14. 1:04:30 - Duplicate of introduction, with no background music (for those with sensitive ears)

Resources come...

My full question list


  1. Introduce yourself. Your background and interests that led you to this paper. How it applies to your masters and career goals. (Be careful with what you want reveal to protect your job.)
  2. Can you give an overview of your paper?
  3. What research already exists related to this topic and what gap does your paper fill?
  4. Describe your experience writing the paper. The sources you used, the limitations of doing much of it during the pandemic, what would have been different if there wasn't a pandemic, the fact that you read German.
  5. You used a structuralist approach in your paper. Can you define that term and how it affected your paper and approach?
  6. Your evidence was primary sources such as diaries, testimonies, journals, books, documentaries, and propaganda movies. All these things however, were written in a certain context. For example, trial testimony captures the words of someone whose primary goal is to avoid legal consequences. Propaganda videos were obviously to manipulate in favor of those on top. Even a personal journal could be written in such a way to preserve their sanity such as by avoiding suicidal thoughts and actual suicide. How do you filter through that bias and understand reality? How do you trust even primary sources?


Some questions to answer, some summaries and insights to elaborate on.

  1. (I'm a classically trained singer learned how to pronounce German, SOUND like I can read it/speak :)

    Lebensunwertes leben means "life unworthy of life." We're going to talk about Jews in the next question, but in general, what lives were deemed unworthy by Nazis, and why? Conversely, how was a worthy life defined? (Aryan, and specifically German Aryan.) Who and what defines these things? Can you also talk about the history of these concepts? These definitions weren't invented in Nazi Germany.
  2. There are three major theories of why Jews are considered unworthy of life: the Christian view was that Jews killed Christ (even though Christ was Jewish; his final supper was a Passover seder!) The protestant view is from Martin Luther who just simply said that Jews are devils and they should be killed and their homes destroyed (resulting in Kristallnacht). It was also strongly asserted that all of Germany's ills were primarily caused by Jews. Can you elaborate on this? How were three such disparate theories used in concert?
  3. The Nazi party originally intended to be secular (non-religious) but ended up having to tolerate some of it for political expediency. If they didn't, they would have alienated a large part of the population. In other words, the Party accepted what they didn't want to accept, in order to not be destroyed. Conversely, religious institutions, from churches, all the way through the Vatican, had to accept Nazi pseudo-religion, in order for the church to survive.
  4. German pseudo-religion is built on three foundations: Above all is anti-Semitism, and also blut und boden (blood and soil), and volksgemenschaft weltanschauung (the German world-view). Can you define and discuss each of these?
  5. On page 1 of the introduction, you introduce someone named Franz Stangl who was a police superintendent at the Euthanasia Institute at Hartheim (a heck of an institution!). He explained how he only shot children who were motherless, saying it was "soothing to my conscience to release children unable to live without their mothers." As you point out, the word "release" means redeem or save in a religious sense. Therefore, his killing the child made him a savior or redeemer in the eyes of God.

    What shocked me about this was that he only killed children after their mothers were first killed by one of his comrades. So by simply REVERSING THE ORDER in which you kill a mother and her child, it changes from an immoral act of murder to an act of mercy sanctioned by God.
  6. Stangl also talks about how a Catholic clergy advocated for this "mercy killing" of the motherless child (that Stangl and his partner MADE motherless!). Stangl said in a 1971 interview, "Here was a Catholic nun, a mother superior, and a priest. And they thought it was right. Who was I then, to doubt what was being done?" So religion, even God himself, was utilized as a tool to justify and encourage mass murder. In addition, religion was also the excuse given to the murderer so they could clear their conscience after the act.
  7. Building on the previous question and returning to biases in primary sources: One of the biggest biases of all is power. It is REQUIRED to say that killing the unworthy is necessary (and commanded by God) in order to not be killed yourself. Even saying that someone is unworthy is required in order to not become unworthy yourself!

    This is true for average people, all the way through highest levels in both religion and government. How much did the clergy mentioned by Stangl really believe what they were saying, and how much of it was that they were protecting themselves and the church from being destroyed by the Nazi party? How threatened did the clergy feel?

    In other words, the fact that Stengel felt permission from the clergy is really his being COERCED by religion, because those religious figures in turn were coerced by the most powerful figures in Germany and the Nazi party.
  8. It turns out that religion and religious symbols became a core element of its strategy to propagandize the public. Can you talk about the religious symbolism in architecture, clothing, belt buckles, pins, and how these things come from both the pagan and Christian religions. (Paganism is basically NOT Christian. NOT one of the dominant religions. This is equivalent to the term heterodox in economics, which is the economics that is NOT mainstream.)

    Another important religious symbol was the white outfits worn especially by concentration camp doctors, and secondarily by commandants.
  9. Before the next question: I want to say a haunting quote I'm reminded of by the white outfits and the purity and moral and religious authority it gave to doctors and commandants, by Zygmunt Bauman in his book, Modernity and the Holocaust: "It was not illiterate savages, but graduates of the finest educational systems of the West who designed the gas chambers used to burn millions of innocent men, women and children in Germany."

    White outfits symbolizes these people as gods, because they alone decide who lives and who dies (and who is tortured and not tortured).

    There were different levels, such as how doctors killed people directly AND made the decision to do so; how commandants decided who should be killed but didn't do it themselves; and soldiers killed people but only under the command of an authority figure.
  10. In footnote 75 on page 26, someone named Albert Speer said he found "Hitler to be "deeply exciting" as a result of the "intermingling of frenzy and rationality" with which he spoke. In the footnote, it says, "listening to Hitler's speeches convinced him to commit himself to the party."

    The speech he watched almost certainly included the crowd's responses to it. Not unlike the Beatles and their crowds of fawning women.

    Can you speak about the concept of charismatization, of both Hitler the individual and the party and its institutions, and how all this was an important part of manipulating and propagandizing the public, to achieve the Party's goals?
  11. A tangent but a purposeful and important tangent for the Party.

    A major goal of the SS was dedicated to finding places and objects that could prove "the genetic and geographic roots of Aryans." Two major examples being Atlantis and the Holy Grail. The entire Indiana Jones movie series was based on this concept, especially part three, which was precisely a race to find the Holy Grail before the Nazis could.

    As you say in the paper, "the Aryan race… was believed to be descended from the deities who once lived in Atlantis." This is all complete fiction (they obviously never succeeded), yet the very pursuit validated and reinforced their beliefs in the eyes of the public (surely they wouldn't waste THAT many resources and THAT much time on utter nonsense!).

    The Holy Grail in particular was pursued not just as justification of their beliefs but also as a weapon to "repel the darkness" of those to be considered unholy.

    "If the SS found the Holy Grail, it would have appeared as though God himself had guided the Nazis to its location, thus implying that the Nazis had the approval of Heaven. This, in turn, would have depicted the actions of the Nazis including the genocide they initiated--as being morally correct and aligned with the desires of God."

    Can you elaborate on this?
  12. Mainstream economics is, like religion, a tool to justify genocide, albeit in a much less direct and overt fashion. This is especially true as our ecological crisis looms. That's the parallel I want to draw with this interview. (Mainstream economics, really, IS a religion, and Harvard's president is one of its leading acolytes.) You did a bit of reading on MMT, I wanted to get your thoughts on MMT in general, compare that to what you believed to be true before we met, and if it relates in any way to your paper.
  13. The other connection between our two topics is that, if the New Deal were implemented in the late 1800s, then WWI and the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party would have never happened. I've heard this from two PhD economists: the first is Dirk Ehnts in his book MMT and the European Monetary Union, and the second is Asad Zaman in his macroeconomics lecture, both of which will be linked in the show notes.

    A point made in Karl Polanyi's 1942 book, The Great Transformation, is that fascism is not a movement unto itself. There's no "strength" in fascism or fascists. Rather, fascism only exists to fill the vacuum left by the suffering wrought by neoliberalism (and more generally, the centuries of mass neglect and exploitation by the obscenely rich). So, the hatred by regular Germans of Jews (and other "unworthy" people) is in fact largely a response to the neglect and abuse *they've* experienced at the hands of those on top. They've just been deceived into thinking that society's ills are PRIMARILY caused by those with the least money and power.

    This gives those on top protection, because it provides their victims with an outlet for venting their rage, but in a way that allows them to remain in power. Citizens are: deceived into hurting themselves, so those on top don't have to.

    I say this, because it's both suggested and directly asserted by some of the figures in your paper that hatred of Jews and other "unworthies" was always lurking in the hearts of Germans, and I don't think that's true.