If there was any question that Rush Limbaugh is the most dangerous demagogue in America, he may have erased it with his latest broadside, describing antiwar protesters as "fascists and anti-American."
This is the latest step in the right-wing campaign to demonize opposition to President Bush's questionable policies as "anti-American," a campaign I've described previously. It is closely associated with attacks on multiculturalism. But Limbaugh takes it another step by associating liberals with Nazis and other fascist regimes.
This is not the first time he has misused the term. He has referred at various times to "liberal compassion fascists," and on other occasions has explained to his national audience that Nazis in fact were "socialists." This is, of course, the kind of twisting of terminology that turns the meaning of a concept into its precise opposite -- thereby nullifying its meaning and reality -- that is the essence of Newspeak.
"Fascism" has indeed come to be a nearly useless term in the past 30 years or so. In many respects, leftists are most responsible for this degradation; it became so common to lob the word at just about anyone conservative or corporatist in the 1960s and 1970s that its original meaning -- describing a very distinct political style, if not quite philosophy -- became utterly muddled, at least in the public lexicon. But the historical record is very clear about just what fascism really was and is.
Put simply, fascism is maybe best understood as an extreme reaction against socialism and communism. It was explicitly anti-democratic, anti-liberal, and corporatist, and it endorsed violence as a chief means to its ends. It was also, obviously, authoritarian, but claiming that it was oriented toward "socialism" is just crudely ahistorical, if not outrageously revisionist. Socialists, let's not forget, were among the first people imprisoned and "liquidated" by the Nazi regime.
But over the past 30 years or so, "fascism" has been bandied about so freely that is has come loosely to represent the broader concept of authoritarianism, which of course encompasses communism as well. And Limbaugh is clearly hoping to leap into that breach of popular understanding to exploit his claim that those on the left who are opposed to the war are "fascists." He's also hoping to tie the antiwar protesters in with his previous references to the "Islamofascists" of Al Qaeda, thus making them out clearly as enemy sympathizers.
Before he carries this much further, let's take a look at the real meaning of the word "fascism."
Over the next few days, I'll be offering a reasonably serious scholarly discourse on fascism and its meaning in today's politics. But first I wanted to offer a piece by Umberto Eco, who is a cultural scholar, of course, though not what I would consider a genuine expert on fascism. Nonetheless, his piece is on the right track, and lets me illustrate the point clearly:
Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt
Eco identifies a series of traits that descry the essence of what he calls "Ur-Fascism," that is, the beast that has always been with us and will always be. Now, although this piece was written in 1995, let's see how many we can recognize today:
The cult of tradition.
[Who are the folks who beat their breasts (and ours) incessantly over the primacy of 'traditional Judaeo-Christian culture'?]
The rejection of modernism.
[Think 'feminazis.' Think attacks on the NEA. Think attacks on multiculturalism.]
[Think how G.W. Bush's anti-intellectualism and illogical, skewed speech are positively celebrated by the right.]
Action for action's sake.
[Exactly why are we making war on Iraq, anyway?]
Disagreement is treason.
["Liberals are anti-American."]
Fear of difference.
[Again, think of the attacks on multiculturalism, as well as the attacks on Muslims and Islam generically.]
Appeal to a frustrated middle class.
[See the Blue states.]
Obsession with a plot.
[Limbaugh and conservatives have been obsessed with various "plots" by liberals for the past decade -- see, e.g., the Clinton impeachment, and current claims of a "fifth column" among liberals.]
Humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies.
[Think Blue states vs. Red states.]
Pacificism is trafficking with the enemy.
[The very essence of these latest attacks.]
Life is eternal warfare.
[This perfectly describes the War on Terror.]
Contempt for the weak.
[Think both of conservatives' characterization of liberals as "weak spined," as well as the verbal attacks on Muslims and immigrants from the likes of Limbaugh and Michael Savage.]
Against 'rotten' parliamentary governments.
[Remember all those rants against 'big government'?]
Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak.
[See all of the Newspeak entries being compiled at this blog. Also see, especially, Limbaugh's contention that liberalism equals fascism.]
Well, I think it was Richard Hofstadter who first observed that arch-conservatives are highly prone to projection.