Wednesday, April 16, 2003

More 'prowar' thuggery

From the Weatherford Daily News in Weatherford, Okla. [Web site doesn’t show the whole story]:

Counter protestors show up in force
Peace rally draws few
Weatherford’s Coalition for the Promotion of Peace encountered a hostile crowd Saturday when a small group gathered for a peace rally in Centennial Park.

Approximately 300 bikers, military family members and other Weatherford residents showed up in full force to counter-protest the coalition’s actions.

Only Nina Kelso, Rachel Jackson and James Branum showed up for the coalition. A handful of its other members left as soon as they saw the angry crowd.

“I think these peace people bit off a little more than they could chew,” Veteran Les Guesby said. “I’ve never seen anything like this in Weatherford.

The counter protestors surrounded and backed the peace promoters up against a light pole. When the coalition tried to speak, its members were either silenced by chants of “USA, USA” or interrupted by shouts from angry biker, military mothers and veterans.

Other "pro-war" protests have seen a high turnout from the biker crowd as well.

[A tip o' the Hatlo Hat to Bruce Forst for the tip.]

Fighting back

Gil Smart, who fights the good fight out in Lancaster, Pa., and runs an excellent blog called Smart Remarks, writes in with his own thoughts on fascism:
The subject is one I've been thinking about and writing about lately, a subject which in fact was behind my opposition to the war in Iraq, now apparently won.

Having read extensively about Hitler's brand of fascism, in particular, I see similar sentiments at work in our country today, as do you. I make regular trips to the lion's den, places like Little Green Footballs, to argue with the ideologues there; the naked hatred often takes me aback.

I've also written on the issue for my newspaper, getting the sort of responses you might expect in small-town America, from people who say I'm lucky to live in a land where I can say such things and not get a bullet through my head. The insinuation being they wished I could get a bullet through my head, and in fact they might like to fire it.

I had hoped the war might be more difficult than it was not because I wanted more Americans or Iraqis to die, nor was I solely interested in proving the left's points. But I thought that if the war did not go off as planned, it might discredit what I can only describe as the fanatical, ideologically driven right. Instead, it was a quick and relatively bloodless victory, affirming -- at least in their own eyes -- everything they thought and believed.

So now, I fear, we will go further down this road. The attempts at intimidation will continue; may get worse. Frankly, I expect violence. I feel the country lurching in that direction, or at least being taken for the ride without too much of a protest.

And I fear, ultimately, that this road leads to certain disaster. But what to do about it?

Fight, head-on, verbal hook to verbal hook, physical blow for physical blow, if it comes to that? Sometimes I think that it all is going to come to violence, that those who oppose this sort of thing had better be ready to fight.

But what other way is there? Hoping people eventually see the light? In light of recent military triumphs and the ascendency of neoconservative ideology on the airwaves, how is that possible?

I don't know, I don't know. But I was glad to see others thinking about it; I hope you've made others consider what this movement might turn this country into: something that ultimately might make us as vicious as Hitler's Germany was. And something that I fear might lead to the destruction that ultimately befell that nation.

That's exactly correct. There has never been a fascist regime that did not meet a violent demise. Which will mean a lot of, um, "collateral damage."

Another reader recently offered similar thoughts, wondering if the antiwar crowd shouldn't take the offensive, nipping the incipient violence in the bud. As I answered then; I don't think descending to their level is anything but a recipe for escalation.

I think the answer is simply to respond firmly and, if need be, forcefully to attempts at invoking violence and disrupting the antiwar message. Most of the historic victims of fascist thuggery were unprepared for violence and incapable of meeting it effectively. Most of them failed to recognized the need to form alliances with law-enforcement and civic officials, as well as to be organized and prepared for violence. It will be vital that the antiwar movement does not make the same mistake.

Falangism, not fascism?

James R. MacLean offers an alternative way of looking at the discussion of fascism:
I think that there is a basic misunderstanding because we forget about a far more common variant of right-wing authoritarianism: falangism. "Falangism", the name of Gen. Francisco Franco's adopted party (he seems to have liked that it was ideologically amorphous and pliant, yet extreme and bitter); also, the name of an extreme party of the Lebanese Maronite community which advocated violence against the Palestinian exile community and its detachment from the Lebanese state.

Perhaps it would be helpful to explain the distinct between falangism and fascism. In North America (in particular), the political right is in favor of devolving power to states or to firms; we are all, I'm sure, familiar with conservative politicians insisting they are the party of freedom because they're opposed to federal control (except that that federal control they're opposed to is nearly always control over firms, or over states, controlling individuals).

In Europe, the extreme right is always in favor of centralizing control. The leftists -- e.g., Karl Marx and the Paris Commune -- actually wanted to see Europe run by cooperatives of cooperatives, not states. In the USA, in contrast, our own traditions of repressive violence have traditionally been checked by a strong federal government. This is not said to absolve the federal government of terrible crimes -- there have been many of them -- but it must be said that crimes such as the Indian genocide, the importation of Chinese as virtual indentured servants (and redneck violence against them), the entire episode of slavery and barbaric savagery against African Americans, pogroms against Latinos--these are usually "do-it-yourselfer" atrocities.

So fascism is a type of tyranny in which the state is at war with the nation; the state is militarized, and the elites (viz., the owners of capital) are sufficiently frightened of the masses that they are willing to cede control to a junta. The fascist state is a praetorian state which exacts a stiff price from the traditional elites for its protection.

Compare this to the falangist state of Gen. Franco (in Spain) and those of Latin America since 1930. The falangist state is in many respects very different from a fascist state, because the elites in a falangist state are much more self-confident and are prepared to administer repression directly. Society is not militarized under a falangist state because the elites simply hire recruits from an underclass.

Another distinction: under a fascist state, laws simply are in abeyance. If you ever get a chance to read about the trial of members of The White Rose (dissidents in Third Reich) it's very illuminating: the tribunal tries them without any reference to any legal framework at all. Nazi Germany was a society where laws, in a sense, were meaningless: the state excluded any theoretical bounds on its own power. Whereas under a falangiast state, such as the juntas of Latin America, there were laws and they did restrain the state; so the junta would have criminal gangs (or the elites would have criminal gangs) who murdered or assaulted people willy-nilly. My point is, the falangist would carry out ITS violence through selectively tolerated criminality. Falangism, in essence, is class warfare by a state which is assuredly devoted to a particular elite and which remains subordinated to that elite.

Now, there's a reason I'm explaining this: it's a distinction which I think is really worth noting. On the one hand, the current administration is horrible; but it's horrible in a way which is very different from the horrible-ness of the European fascist regimes. And it will be noted that sometimes people who accuse the administration of being fascist are tripped up by this distinction, because in many respects a society degenerating towards falangism does the opposite things from one plunging into the hell of fascism. Both are horrid, but apologists for American rightists--or ordinary skeptics--can point to the fact that the GOP's supporters defend the 2nd amendment , tax cuts, deregulation, devolution of power to the states and so forth. And they haven't quite "militarized the state," either.

My point is, since our problem is falangism (and not fascism) the GOP behavior described above DOES NOT refute the drift towards an authoritarian rightwing regime. But it is inconsistent with fascism.

I received this letter just before posting the most recent addition to the series. Afterward, Mr. MacLean wrote in with an addendum:
The reason I mentioned "falangism" in my previous email and the reason I thought it was relevent is that after reading about the "groupuscular" patriot movement I still feel that this movement doesn't really seem to threaten us with a fascist movement such as what was seen in Europe between the wars. On the other hand, I do think falangism is a far more urgent and likely risk; while it is not implicated in monstrosities such as Hitler's Final Solution, it is more ubiquitous and has been implicated in a large number of large-scale terrors. There are certain historical events which would have to happen before that occurred here: one is the fresh anguish of a really horrible war like WW1. Spain was neutral in that war and drifted into a bitter and bloody movement which was closer to being full-blown fascist than I have implied in "my" definition of falangism. But there was one core feature of the falangistas which I think is a crucial distinction, and which explained its ability to endure.

This distinction was that, while fascist regimes are characterized by a boundless praetorian state, falangist states are actually limited in scope and action; and they remain subordinated to a coalition of class interests. I don't mean by this to imply that fascist states are disinterested and non-ideological--but the fascist state really attempts to subordinate all classes and interests to a total state. Civil association outside of the state is impossible and there is no meaningful legal frame of reference. If the fascist state fails to achieve or sustain totalitarianism--not quite the same thing--then it is "doomed" to dissipate into falangism.

In contrast, the falangist state has the same rightist character, but there are associations outside of the state. There are elites who are above the state, enjoy the protection of its laws, and the ability at times to act separately from it. A fascinating case of this in Indonesia, where geography and demographics (and economics) probably prevent true fascism from emerging. I was interested in the fact that Indonesia was terribly violent, authoritarian, had an internal racism of its own, and had soldiers' associations routinely violating the law on behalf of the state (a "pro-state insurgency") There was a weird situation where some elements of law enforcement in the islands were trying to investigate the routine homicides of workers, and of course they were stymied by the very government they were working for. Indonesia's pro-state insurgencies are actually just an extreme example of the contorted violence of falangist states.

So why is this relevent to the US? Because I don't think the US is really vulnerable to fascism at this time. It's not because of our democratic traditions that I think this, but my sense of how the "patriot movement" abets business nationalists other comercial beneficiaries of the far right. And I think fascism is actually quite exotic--it's like a Category 6 storm, rather than a bunch of Category 4's accompanied by flooding and cholera (or falangism). And finally, the groupuscles are already useful to falangist interests whereas it would take stupendous consolidation of the "patriot groups" before they posed anything like shocktroops or a vanguard of fascism. Falangism can function just as efficiently when its practioners hate each other, and when they have mind-bendingly contradictory propaganda.

But there is another feature still. Falangism flourishes when there is right-wing distrust of the state, and scorn for the regime's laxness with crime. Groupuscles need no actual affiliation with the state; they can remain in hate with a state they regard as coddling "commies" or target ethnic groups. And falangism is very simpatico with technocratic administration of a stagnant economy.

At this point, I'll just say that Mr. MacLean makes some interesting points -- I'm not sure he's right, but he raises some worthwhile objections I'm hoping to eventually address.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

A little more about fascism

I've mentioned previously that "Rush, Newspeak and Fascism" was something of a work in progress (I'm not even sure that will be its final title, though I'm leaning that way). I think I mentioned early on that I intended Orcinus to be more in the way of a genuine journal, being a place to post my thoughts as well as source material, along with news stories that I think are important. (This may explain why my posts have been spotty lately; I'm embroiled in a couple of other work projects that require my focus, so the blog has taken a back seat.)

Of course, the beauty of blogging (as opposed to a traditional journal) is the remarkable level of input you get back, and the sort of democratic effect of it all. My readers have in many cases helped shape my own thinking, in no small part because I've been blessed with very high-quality correspondents who keep me on my toes. Certainly they've provided me with a wealth of fresh materials in this endeavor -- which is, ultimately, to assess the relevance of fascism to our current conditions.

Among these have been my friend John McKay, whose responding posts at his own blog, archy have been exemplary -- to the point that I mostly can only nod in complete agreement with nearly everything he says.

However, I'm not sure that we can discard the term "fascism", as he suggests, if we want to be accurate about the ongoing phenomenon. Certainly its widespread misuse and abuse has rendered it impotent to a degree; but if we start calling it, accurately, American Fascism, then I think that gets the point across simply and unmistakably.

The chief drawback to this approach is that this kind of catchphrase eventually is going to be flung by people who don't understand fascism. The people making the argument that a real wave of fascism may be about to hit us need to be rational and logical, but I don't think that's going to be possible. Liberals do love to browbeat their opponents with the Nazi label, and these arguments unfortunately may be used as just such a club.

Nonetheless, I think Robert O. Paxton has it right in his essay "The Five Stages of Fascism," which appeared in the March 1998 edition of The Journal of Modern History:
We cannot give up in the face of these difficulties. A real phenomenon exists. Indeed, fascism is the most original political novelty of the twentieth century, no less. … If we cannot examine fascism synthetically, we risk being unable to understand this century, or the next. We must have a word, and for lack of a better one, we must employ the word that Mussolini borrowed from the vocabulary of the Italian Left in 1919, before his movement had assumed its mature form. Obliged to use the term fascism, we ought to use it well.

This essay by Paxton (who is Mellon Professor of Social Sciences Emeritus at Columbia University), you may recall, was brought to my attention by Christopher Skinner:
Paxton's approach allows a certain degree of reconciliation among thinkers, particularly between those who see fascism as an ideology and those who see it as a mélange of uneasy alliances. Paxton admits that he was, until very recently, a firm believer in the notion that fascism was not an ideology. But by suggesting a dynamic model that "begins at the beginning," Paxton reminds us that fascism is not unlike an elementary particle to which we must apply Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. The more thoroughly we study a particular fascist movement at a given moment, the less likely we are to be able to judge the arc of its overall progress, and the more we study the ultimate impact of a movement, the less likely we are to examine its particulars. Many historians, for example, who study the "arc" of movements, have treated Nazi Germany as the touchstone for a "true" fascism. All other movements are seen as not fully "worked out," and therefore, not fully fascist.

Readers of the "Rush" series will recall that its exploration of the scholarly treatment of fascism more or less concludes with the views of Roger Griffin, whose insistence that fascism is an ideology is somewhat problematic in that it is a very static analysis, while fascism itself, as Mr. Skinner suggests, has behaved more like a mutagen, shifting shapes constantly while maintaining certain core animating impulses. Paxton's essay, however, comprises an important contribution to the literature, and offers a very useful model for moving beyond the swamp of merely defining fascism toward a practical understanding.

Paxton, as Christopher noted, offers a sort of middle pathway, identifying a central organizing principle -- "each national variant of fascism draws its legitimacy … not from some universal scripture but from what it considers the most authentic elements of its own community identity" -- that is closely akin to Griffin's "palingenetic populist ultranationalism", while at the same time constructing a five-step arc of motion for fascism that recognizes its essentially mutative nature.

Griffin, helpfully, does quote Pierre-André Taguieff: "Neither 'fascism' nor 'racism' will do us the favour of returning in such a way that we can recognise them easily." Paxton agrees:
… [O]ne can not identify a fascist regime by its plumage. George Orwell understood at once that fascism is not defined by its clothing. If, some day, an authentic fascism were to succeed in England, Orwell wrote as early as 1936, it would be more soberly clad than in Germany. The exotic black shirts of Sir Oswald Mosley are one explanation for the failure of the principal fascist movement in England, the British Union of Fascists. What if they had worn bowler hats and carried well-furled umbrellas. The adolescent skinheads who flaunt the swastika today in parts of Europe seem so alien and marginal that they constitute a law-and-order problem (serious though that may be) rather than a recurrence of authentic mass-based fascism, astutely decked out in the patriotic emblems of their own countries. Focusing on external symbols, which are subject to superficial imitation, adds to confusion about what may legitimately be considered fascist.

…[E]ach national variant of fascism draws its legitimacy, as we shall see, not from some universal scripture but from what it considers the most authentic elements of its own community identity. Religion, for example, would certainly play a much larger role in an authentic fascism in the United States than in the first European fascisms, which were pagan for contingent historical reasons.

… The great "isms" of nineteenth-century Europe -- conservatism, liberalism, socialism -- were associated with notable rule, characterized by deference to educated leaders, learned debates, and (even in some forms of socialism) limited popular authority. Fascism is a political practice appropriate to the mass politics of the twentieth century. Moreover, it bears a different relationship to thought than do the nineteenth-century "isms." Unlike them, fascism does not rest on formal philosophical positions with claims to universal validity. There was no "Fascist Manifesto," no founding fascist thinker. Although one can deduce from fascist language implicit Social Darwinist assumptions about human nature, the need for community and authority in human society, and the destiny of nations in history, fascism does not base its claims to validity on their truth. Fascists despise thought and reason, abandon intellectual positions casually, and cast aside many intellectual fellow-travelers. They subordinate thought and reason not to faith, as did the traditional Right, but to the promptings of the blood and the historic destiny of the group. Their only moral yardstick is the prowess of the race, of the nation, of the community. They claim legitimacy by no universal standard except a Darwinian triumph of the strongest community.

These last two sentences ring a particular bell in the current environment. Nothing could better describe the Bush administration's approach to governance, particularly to waging war, than as one in which "thought and reason are subordinated to faith." And the Bush Doctrine, boiled down, ultimately bases its morality on a belief in the superiority of American values, and argues for waging war essentially as a "triumph of the strongest community."

This is not to argue that the Bush Doctrine is fascist per se -- but rather, that it has enough elements in it to appeal strongly to the right-wing extremists who are increasingly becoming part of the mainstream GOP fold. It plays out in such manifestations as its utter disregard -- indeed, clear contempt -- for the United Nations and multilateralism generally, a stance that resonates deeply with the John Bircher crowd.

Likewise, the Bush administration and its supporters, particularly those in the "transmitter" crowd -- Rush Limbaugh and talk radio, Fox News, the Free Republic -- have begun deploying the very same "mobilizing passions" in recent weeks in countering antiwar protesters that Paxton identifies as comprising the animating forces behind fascism. Again, these kinds of appeal clearly resonate with the proto-fascist Patriot element that have been increasingly finding common cause with the Bush regime.
… Feelings propel fascism more than thought does. We might call them mobilizing passions, since they function in fascist movements to recruit followers in fascist movements to recruit followers and in fascist regimes to "weld" the fascist "tribe" to its leader. The following mobilizing passions are present in fascisms, though they may sometimes be articulated only implicitly:

1. The primacy of the group, toward which one has duties superior to every right, whether universal or individual.

2. The belief that one's group is a victim, a sentiment which justifies any action against the group's enemies, internal as well as external.

3. Dread of the group's decadence under the corrosive effect of individualistic and cosmopolitan liberalism.

4. Closer integration of the community within a brotherhood (fascio) whose unity and purity are forged by common conviction, if possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary.

5. An enhanced sense of identity and belonging, in which the grandeur of the group reinforces individual self-esteem.

6. Authority of natural leaders (always male) throughout society, culminating in a national chieftain who alone is capable of incarnating the group's destiny.

7. The beauty of violence and of will, when they are devoted to the group's success in a Darwinian struggle.

Going through this list, it is fairly easy to identify these "passions" at play particularly in the debate over the Iraq war and the growing attacks on dissenters.
1. See, again, the Bush Doctrine. An extension of this sentiment is at play among those jingoes who argue that Americans may need to sacrifice some of their civil rights -- say, free speech -- during wartime.

2. This meme is clearly present in all the appeals to the victims of Sept. 11 as justifications for the war. It is present at nearly all levels of the debate: from the White House, from the media, even from the jingoist entertainment industry (see, e.g., the lyric of Darryl Worley's extraordinarily popular country-western hit, "Have You Forgotten?": "Some say this country's just out looking for a fight / Well after 9/11 man I'd have to say that's right.").

3. This meme has been stock in trade of the talk-radio crowd since at least 1994 -- at one time it focused primarily on the person of Bill Clinton -- and has reached ferocious levels during the runup to the war and after it, during which antiwar leftists have regularly and remorselessly been accused of treason.

4 and 5 are, of course, among the primary purposes of the campaign to demonize liberals -- to simultaneously build a cohesive brotherhood of like-minded "conservatives" who might not agree on the details but are united in their loathing of all things liberal. It plays out in such localized manifestations as the KVI Radio 570th On-Air Cavalry, which has made a habit of deliberately invading antiwar protests with the express purpose of disrupting them and breaking them up. Sometimes, as they did recently in Bellingham, this is done with caravans of big trucks blaring their horns; and they are also accompanied by threatening rhetoric and acts of physical intimidation. They haven't yet bonded in violence, but they are rapidly headed in that direction.

6. Needs hardly any further explanation, except to note that George W. Bush is actually surprisingly uncharismatic for someone who inspires as much rabid loyalty as he does. But then, that is part of the purpose of Bush's PR campaign stressing that he receives "divine guidance" -- it assures in his supporters' mind the notion that he is carrying out God's destiny for the nation, and for the conservative movement in particular.

7. One again needs only turn to the voluminous jingoes of Fox News or the jubilant warbloggers to find abundant examples of celebrations of the virtues -- many of them evidently aesthetic -- of the just-completed war.

Again, the purpose of the above exercise is not to demonstrate that mainstream conservatism is necessarily becoming fascist (though that is a possibility), but rather to demonstrate how it is becoming hospitable to fascist motifs, especially as it resorts to strong-arm tactics from its footsoldiers to intimidate the political opposition. This underscores the real danger, which is the increasing empowerment of the extremist bloc, particularly as it blends into the mainstream GOP. The increasing nastiness of the debate over Bush's war-making program seems to be fertile territory for this trend.

More than anything, though, I think the exercise underscores just to what extent fascism itself is comprised of things that are very familiar to us, and in themselves seem relatively innocuous, perhaps even benign. More to the point, this very familiarity is what makes it possible. When they coalesce in such a crucible as wartime or a civil crisis, they become something beyond that simple reckoning.

Can fascism still happen in America? Paxton leaves little doubt that the answer to this must be affirmative:
… Fascism can appear wherever democracy is sufficiently implanted to have aroused disillusion. That suggests its spatial and temporal limits: no authentic fascism before the emergence of a massively enfranchised and politically active citizenry. In order to give birth to fascism, a society must have known political liberty -- for better or for worse.

Indeed, Paxton identifies perhaps the origins of fascism in America:
… [I]t is further back in American history that one comes upon the earliest phenomenon that seems functionally related to fascism: the Ku Klux Klan. Just after the Civil War, some Confederate officers, fearing the vote given to African Americans by the Radical Reconstructionists in 1867, set up a militia to restore an overturned social order. The Klan constituted an alternate civic authority, parallel to the legal state, which, in its founders' eyes, no longer defended their community's legitimate interests. In its adoption of a uniform (white robe and hood), as well as its techniques of intimidation and its conviction that violence was justified in the cause of the group's destiny, the first version of the Klan in the defeated American South was a remarkable preview of the way fascist movements were to function in interwar Europe.

I agree strongly with this. Adolph Hitler reportedly was a great admirer of the Ku Klux Klan, particularly its post-1915 edition, which was obviously modeled on the original as well, in its treatment of the races and glorification of the white race. Indeed, Hitler would mock American critics of his program against the Jews by pointing to this nation's own history of lynching and Klan activities.

The latter Klan was even more pronouncedly fascist in its character than the original, particularly in its claim to represent the true national character: "100 percent Americanism" was the organization's chief catchphrase. Its origins -- its first members were the mob that lynched Leo Frank -- were openly violent. Though this manifestation of the Klan -- which spread to every state, counted membership of up to 4 million, and elected seven governors, three U.S. senators, half the 1924 Indiana state legislature, and at one point controlled the political levers in Oregon as well -- petered out by the early 1930s, its spirit remained alive in such clearly proto-fascist organizations of the 1930s as the Silver Shirts of William Dudley Pelley.

It is this lineage, in fact, that helps us identify the Patriot/militia movement as proto-fascist in nature. Much of the political agenda, as well as the legal/political theories, espoused by the Patriots actually originated with the far-right Posse Comitatus, whose own originators themselves were former participants in both the 1920s Klan and Pelley's Silver Shirts. (The definitive text on this is Daniel Levitas' excellent The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right.)

It is worth remembering that before World War II, there were in fact active fascists openly at work in America, and they were not all German-American Bund members. Indeed, what's striking about groups like the Silver Shirts is just how ordinary-American their character seemed. (The similarities to the Patriot movement of the 1990s is also striking.) Pelley himself was a bit of an eccentric and slightly loopy, but the rank and file of his followers were often the same "100 percent Americanists" who had filled the ranks of the Klan a decade previously.

But fascism has always previously failed in America, and Paxton's analysis points with some precision to exactly why. Much of this has to do with the fact that fascism is an essentially mutative impulse for the acquisition of power -- it abandons positions as fresh opportunities for power present themselves. This is particularly true as it moves from its ideological roots into the halls of government. In the end, the resulting political power is often, as Griffin puts it, a "travesty" of its original ideology. Paxton describes it thus:
In power, what seems to count is less the faithful application of the party's initial ideology than the integrating function that espousing one official ideology performs, to the exclusion of any ideas deemed alien or divisive.

Paxton identifies five stages in fascism's arc of flight:

1. The initial creation of fascist movements
2. Their rooting as parties in a political system
3. The acquisition of power
4. The exercise of power
5. Radicalization or entropy

In the United States, as in France and elsewhere, fascism typically failed in the second stage, because it failed to become a cohesibve political entity, one capable of acquiring power (though as I just noted, there was even some danger of this in the 1920s as the Klan in fact obtained some short-lived political power):
The second stage -- rooting, in which a fascist movement becomes a party capable of acting decisively on the political scene -- happens relatively rarely. At this stage, comparison becomes rewarding: one can contrast successes with failures. Success depends on certain relatively precise conditions: the weakness of the liberal state, whose inadequacies seem to condemn the nation to disorder, decline, or humiliation; and political deadlock because the Right, the heir to power but unable to continue to wield it alone, refuses to accept a growing Left as a legitimate governing partner. Some fascist leaders, in their turn, are willing to reposition their movements in alliances with these frightened conservatives, a step that pays handsomely in political power, at the cost of disaffection among some of the early antibourgeois militants.

In the 1930s, the ascendant liberalism of FDR effectively squeezed the life out of the nascent fascist elements in the U.S. This was particularly true because FDR openly shared power with the Right, appointing noted Republicans to his Cabinet and maintaining a firm coalition with arch-conservative Southern Democrats. The mainstream right thus had no incentive to form a power-sharing coalition with fascism. At the same time, liberalism gained a significant power base in rural America through the many programs of the New Deal aimed at bolstering the agricultural sector. This too may have been a critical factor in fascism's failure.

Significantly, Paxton points out that fascism in Europe took root in a neglected agricultural sector -- something that did not happen in the United States in the 1930s. Indeed, it gained its second-stage power in the crucible of organized thuggery against liberals:
…[I]t was in the countryside that German Nazism and Italian Fascism first succeeded in becoming the representatives of an important social and economic interest. The comparison between the success of rural fascism in German and Italy and its relative failure in France seems to me a fruitful one.

… All three of these countries experience massive strikes of agricultural workers: east-Elbian Germany during the postwar crisis in 1919-23; the Po Valley and Apulia in Italy in 1920-21; and the big farms of northern France and the Paris Basin during the two summers of the Popular Front; in 1936 and 1937. The German strikes were broken by vigilantes, armed and abetted by the local army authorities, in cases in which the regular authorities were too conciliatory to suit the landowners. The Italian ones were broken by Mussolini's famous blackshirted squadristi, whose vigilantism filled the void left by the apparent inability of the liberal Italian state to enforce order. It was precisely in this direct action against farm-worker unions that second-stage fascism was born in Italy, and even launched on the path to power, to the dismay of the first Fascists, intellectual dissidents from national syndicalism.

Paxton compares this to France, where fascism likewise failed:
… It was the gendarmerie, even with Leon Blum in power, who put down the agricultural strikes in France. The French landowners did not need the chemises vertes. The authority of the state and the power of the conservative farmers' organizations left hardly any space in the French countryside for the rooting of fascist power.

Fascism as a political force suffered from the same sort of bad timing in the United States when it arose in the 1920s -- conservatives were in power and had no need of an alliance with fascism, and there was no great social crisis. When one arose in the 1930s, the ascendance of power-sharing liberalism that was as popular in rural areas as in urban, again left fascism little breathing room.

And in the 1990s, when proto-fascism re-emerged as popular movement in the form of the Patriots, conservatives once again enjoyed a considerable power base, having control of the Congress, and little incentive to share power. Moreover, the economy was booming -- except in rural America.

Unsurprisingly, that is where the Patriots built their popular base. And importantly, much of that base-building revolved around a motif that created a significant area of common interest with mainstream conservatives: hatred of Bill Clinton.

To right-wing extremists, Clinton embodied the totalitarian threat of the New World Order, a slimy leader in the conspiracy to enslave all mankind. To conservatives, he was simply an unanswerable political threat for whom no level of invective could be too vicious. Moreover, he was the last barrier to their complete control of every branch of the federal government. These interests coalesced as the far right became an echo chamber for attacks on Clinton that would then migrate into the mainstream, ultimately reaching their apex in Clinton's impeachment.

Possibly this commingling had a moderating effect on the extremists. But it was mainstream conservatism that underwent the most dramatic change in this cauldron: It seemed to increasingly view the Left as an unacceptable governing partner. Following the hectoring lead of Rush Limbaugh, it has become increasingly common for conservatives to openly reject any hint of liberalism, and to demonize liberals as a caustic and ultimately unacceptable force in society.

When Bill Clinton's presidency ended, these attacks stepped up another notch. First there was the ludicrous caricaturization of Al Gore during the 2000 election. Importantly, it was in this election that large numbers of former Patriots -- many of them disillusioned with the movement after the failure of the "Y2K scare" to materialize, but still maintaining their attitudes about government, liberalism and conspiracies, and disenfranchised by Pat Buchanan's presidential campaign -- turned to the politics of the Bush team, which made all the right gestures to make them feel welcome.

Thus, even though the Patriot movement never even came close to achieving any kind of actual power -- outside of a handful of legislators in a smattering of Western states -- the absorption of its followers into mainstream conservatism successfully brought a wide range of extremists together under the banner of Republican politics, embodied in the defense of the agenda of President Bush and in the hatred of all forms of liberalism.

Then, after Sept. 11, the attacks on liberalism became enmeshed with a virulent strain of jingoism that at first blamed liberals for the attacks, then accused them of treasonous behavior for questioning Bush's war plans. Now we're seeing a broad-based campaign of hatred against liberals -- particularly antiwar dissenters -- that serves two purposes: it commingles mainstream pro-Bush forces in direct contact, and open alliance with, a number of people with extremist beliefs; and it gives the extremist element of Patriot footsoldiers who turned Republican in 2000 an increasingly important role in the mainstream party. Namely, they are increasingly starting to look like the "enforcers" of the Bush agenda, intimidating and silencing any opposition. In the process, this element gains power and influence far beyond what it could have had as a separate proto-fascist element.

In a sense, this turns the scheme of Paxton's second stage of fascism on its head. That is, the proto-fascists of the Patriot movement, rather than obtaining power by the ascension of their own political faction in an alliance with conservatives, obtain power through absorption, from within conservatism. Forming alliances first in hatred of Clinton and Gore, and then in defense of Bush's war, the conservative movement has, perhaps unthinkingly, allowed itself to be transformed from within.

It's difficult to say whether this absorption has mitigated the extremist impulses of the former Patriot footsoldiers, though it probably has. Certainly it has had the predictable effect of making a travesty of the Patriots' original ideology: those who once were rabid anti-government activists have become equally rabid defenders of the government of the Bush regime.

More important is the effect that the absorption has had on the larger Republican Party. Just as the Southern Strategy changed the very nature of the GOP from within, so has this more recent absorption of an extremist element transformed its basic nature. Now, positions that at one time would have been considered unthinkable for Republicans -- unilateralist foreign policy, contempt for the United Nations and international law, a willingness to use war as a first resort, a visceral hatred of even the hint of liberalism -- are positions it touts prominently.

Now its agenda aligns with the base impulses Paxton identifies as fascist, and which drove the Patriot movement: national identity uber alles; a claim of victimization; hatred of liberalism; reigniting a sense of national destiny and a closely bonded community; an appreciation of the value of violence; and of course, all of this uniting under the divinely inspired banner of George W. Bush, the Frat Boy of Destiny.

I've said it previously, and I'll say it again: These are dangerous times.

The more conservatives bond with their proto-fascist element; the more they attack liberals and escalate the violence against antiwar protesters; and the more that corporations like Clear Channel with ties to the Bush administration, and the White House itself, encourages this kind of activity, then the greater the danger becomes.

In reviewing the text I've written so far for "Rush," it's become clear that there are a couple of areas I still need to address in detail. Two of them are contained in the paragraph from Paxton I bold-faced above: the claim to representing the genuine community values that is becoming central to the Right's attacks on liberalism; and the central role of fundamentalist Christianity in any genuine American fascism. Third, I'm also planning to write a more detailed exegesis on Newspeak and its role in the ongoing scene.

These should appear sporadically over the next couple of weeks. Then, when they're done, I'll try to cobble all the text together into a cohesive whole, zip it into a PDF file, and then make it available for easy downloading.

In the meantime, blogging may continue to be sporadic at best. I'm taking a vacation later this week and will only have occasional Web access. But I'll do my best to keep my ear to the ground, and post important material as it comes along.

P.S. For handy reference, here are the links to the Rush series:

[Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and Postscript.]

Monday, April 14, 2003

Faith-based reconstruction

Following up on my recent post about putting fundamentalist proselytizers in charge of humanitarian work in Iraq, there's tonight's cover story in Salon, by Max Blumenthal:

Onward Christian soldiers [Premium content]
Officially, the Bush administration has taken no position on the campaign for converts. But foreign policy experts -- and even some moderate Christian groups -- are already warning that efforts by the conservative Christians to capitalize on the fall of Saddam could inject a decidedly religious tone into Bush's stated plan to democratize Iraq. And unless the administration takes a strong stand against that campaign, some say, the missionaries may provoke a deep, damaging backlash there and throughout the Muslim world.

Christian groups' proselytizing in Third World countries is nothing new, but critics of In Touch allege that the ultrapatriotic nature of Stanley's sermons render its plans to expand operations in Iraq dangerous and insensitive to the country's complex and fragile social fabric. Many Muslims worldwide have accused the U.S. of waging a "crusade" and consider the prospect of Christians proselytizing in Iraq a revelation of the U.S.'s nefarious agenda. In the past, anti-Islamic comments made by Southern Baptists allied with Stanley, like Jerry Falwell, have stoked the rage of the Muslim world and made life dangerous for Middle Eastern Christians and Western missionaries operating in the area. But Stanley and his compatriots remain fiercely committed to winning the souls of the Iraqi people, even if it undermines the work undertaken by U.S. troops and civilian administrators to win their hearts and minds.

It should be clear by now that "supporting our troops" is Newspeak for "supporting Bush's agenda" and little else.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

The crime of committing journalism

Here is a brilliant and frightening essay, from New York Magazine writer Michael Wolff, who had the temerity to ask a common-sense question at one of the Pentagon's blow-smoke-up-your-ass Centcom briefings:

I was only asking
So the Rush thing. First it was CNN that replayed my question - the CNN view was, more or less, the liberal media view: a certain hand wringing about whether the media was being used. Then it was Fox, with its extreme, love-it-or-leave-it, approach to the war, which took me apart: I was clearly a potential traitor.

And then it was Rush.

To his audience of 20 million - pro-war, military minded, Bush-centered, media-hating - lily white-Rush laid me out. I was not only a reporter, but one from New York magazine. "New York" resonated. It combined with "media" and suddenly, in the hands of Rush, I was as elitist and as pampered (fortunately nobody mentioned the Ritz) and as dismissive of the concerns of real Americans as, well, Rush's 20 million assume the media to be. Whereas Rush, that noted foot soldier, represented the military heartland.

What's more, according to Rush, that great defender of the rights of African-Americans, I was a racist. Duh. A white liberal challenging a black general. It's a binary world.

And Rush gave out my email address. Almost immediately, the 3,000 emails, full of righteous fury, started to come.

Almost as disturbing was the distinctly thuggish handling he subsequently received from White House staff:
Clearly marked as the rabble-rouser of the get-out-of-Doha movement, I was approached by some enforcer types. The first person was a version of a Graham Greene character. He represented the White House, he said. Wasn't of the military. Although, he said, he was embedded here ("sleeping with a lot of flatulent officers," he said). He was incredibly conspiratorial. Smooth but creepy: "If you had to write the memo about media relations, what would be your bullet points?"

The next person to buttonhole me was the Centcom uber-civilian, a thirty-ish Republican operative. He was more full-metal-jacket in his approach (although he was a civilian he was, inexplicably, in uniform - making him, I suppose a sort of para-military figure): "I have a brother who is in a Hummer at the front, so don't talk to me about too much fucking air-conditioning." And: "A lot of people don't like you." And then: "Don't fuck with things you don't understand." And too: "This is fucking war, asshole." And finally: "No more questions for you."

I had been warned.

Consider this piece essentially a supplement to the Rush, Newspeak and Fascism series. [More on that tomorrow, BTW.]