A thread on BoingBoing recently asked why conservatives always accuse liberals of being fascists. Why choose fascism, when the proposals they are complaining about are closer to socialism?
The reason the question was raised is the letter published in the Wall Street Journal by venture capitalist Tom Perkins, in which he compared Obama’s tax proposals to the Kristallnacht, the first major Nazi pogrom against German Jews.
“Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its ‘one percent,’ namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich.”
Mathew O’Brien writing in the Atlantic suggested that that the super-rich do this sort of thing because they feel powerless. But I think it’s the opposite. The reason that the right keeps bringing up Hitler and Nazis is pure projection: They accuse Obama of doing what they would do in the same situation. They accuse Obama of fascism because they admire fascism.
Before you suggest that this is just diving into the Republicans self-made cess-pool of Hitler-calling, let’s consider recent history. Which administration opened secret prisons, condoned torture, and killed hundreds of thousands of people in multiple wars that weren’t necessarily needed?
To understand how deeply “projection” is the basis of the conservative meme of ‘Liberal Fascism,’ we need look no further than conservative writer and bomb-thrower Johnah Goldberg. One of his best-known pieces was this little nugget in his essay “Baghdad Delenda Est“:
So how does all this, or the humble attempt at a history lesson of my last column, justify tearing down the Baghdad regime? Well, I’ve long been an admirer of, if not a full-fledged subscriber to, what I call the “Ledeen Doctrine.” I’m not sure my friend Michael Ledeen will thank me for ascribing authorship to him and he may have only been semi-serious when he crafted it, but here is the bedrock tenet of the Ledeen Doctrine in more or less his own words: “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.” That’s at least how I remember Michael phrasing it at a speech at the American Enterprise Institute about a decade ago (Ledeen is one of the most entertaining public speakers I’ve ever heard, by the way).
The word fascism comes from the fasces, the bundle of rods binding an axe, that were a symbol of power and authority in Ancient Rome. Fascism is literally the worship of power. Goldberg’s piece above shows exactly where he stands on that score.
But carving out a new definition of fascism, and showing that the GOP matches it, is rather too easy a game to play. If we want the test to be fair, we should go back to a definition that predates Bush and Obam, and see which matches best. For this I suggest we look to Umberto Eco’s ‘Eternal Fascism’ written in 1995.
Eco gives fourteen features of what he calls ‘Ur-Fascism’. I won’t go through the whole list, the comparisons to the Bush administration need little explanation.
The Cult of Tradition: Eco identifies ur-fascism as being based on absolute belief in revealed knowledge from multiple, incompatible sources, and that this means that there can be no advancement of learning. “Truth already has been spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message.”
Movement conservatism has been culled from many sources, all of which are asserted to be true beyond question. You can’t question the Bible, you can’t question the works of Ronald Reagan, you can’t question Adam Smith. All of the sources of movement-conservative ideology must be accepted as absolutely and perfectly true, regardless of the obvious contradictions between them.
When Liberals are faced with two contradictory claims, they use science and the scientific method to choose which one to reject, or they accept that neither claim is perfectly true in all circumstances.
Conservatives can’t do that, because the core scriptures of the movement cannot ever be questioned. So the result is intellectual paralysis. There are no intellectuals in movement conservatism, there is only room for theologians who interpret the works of Adam Smith or Ayn Rand or God or whoever is needed to save the appearances to meet the immediate needs of the party.
Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action’s sake. Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, reflection.
So Bush must invade Iraq to look manly and John McCain must choose Sarah Palin as his VP candidate to look decisive.
The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. “In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.”
Which administration suggested that anti-war protesters were guilty of treason?
The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies.
The biggest puzzle of movement conservatism is why so many people who are desperately poor support a party of and for the ultra rich. Its not Mitt Romney and Wall Street that make Joe Six Pack, living in a trailer park, feel inferior and a failure. It’s the people in his class who did better than him, and got ahead, that he resents. He could have got ahead if he had had their chances, he could have gone to college if he had been black and benefited from affirmative action, etc.
For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle. “Thus pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. It is bad because life is permanent warfare.”
Thus there must be a War on Terror that will never end.
Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters.
And women can’t control their uterus, gays can’t get married, etc. etc.
Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism, one might say. “Wherever a politician casts doubt on the legitimacy of a parliament because it no longer represents the Voice of the People, we can smell Ur-Fascism.”
Or when a political party spends five years trying to prove that the President was born in Kenya.
Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak.
And torture is now ‘enhanced interrogation’, kidnapping is ‘extraordinary rendition’, etc. etc.
Now a case could be made that Obama, or the Democrats in general, have done things or made statements that arguably fall under parts of Eco’s definition. But I don’t think anyone could take the whole list and plausibly claim that it describes the Democratic party or the progressive movement in general.
Eco’s list does match the modern Republican party perfectly, however.