James Q. Whitman
, Ford Foundation Professor of Comparative and Foreign Law at Yale Law School, began researching the book that became Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law
(Princeton University Press, 2017) by wondering whether Jim Crow laws in the U.S. had any impact on the development of the Nuremberg Laws. Some scholars have denied any influence. Professor Whitman came to a very different conclusion, and what he learned deserves to be much more widely appreciated than it is. For the United States was the global pioneer of explicitly racist law--and not just, by any means, in the Jim Crow South.
Strikingly, American law was most helpful to the most radical Nazi jurists. In the early years of the Third Reich, 1933 to 1936, conservative nationalist lawyers in Germany debated with Nazi radicals about how to create a body of anti-Semitic law, but one consonant with German legal traditions, which emphasized strict adherence to carefully-articulated concepts. The radicals found their model in U.S. citizenship and anti-miscegenation law, and in a legal culture that, from their point of view, was refreshingly open to innovation.
Yet even the most radical Nazi jurists found the notorious one-drop rule, and the extreme punishments some U.S. states meted out for entering into racially-mixed marriages, too harsh and inhumane.
Professor Whitman's unsettling, learned, and deeply-engaging book deserves a large audience.
Monica Black is Associate Professor and Lindsay Young Professor of History at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She teaches courses in modern European and German history.