Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Conservative fascism

-- by Dave

We've known for some time that Jonah Goldberg is on the verge of publishing a tome titled Liberal Fascism, though its original subtitle has apparently been pushed around a bit -- it's now "The Totalitarian Temptation from Hegel to Whole Foods" -- along with its actual publication date, as Roger Ailes has duly noted (Slate's Timothy Noah has more). Of course, it's an absurdly oxymoronic title, a hilariously doomed project from the start, and a brilliant example of conservatives' projection strategy.

Indeed, Goldberg delivers the real proof of that particular pudding today with a Los Angeles Times column arguing for a fitness test of some sort before citizens be allowed to vote.

The subhed pretty much sums up the illogic at play here:
We test immigrants before they can go to the polls; why not everyone else?

Actually, we test immigrants not merely before they go to the polls, but before they can become citizens, with all the rights that entails. And among the foremost of those rights is the right to vote.

The ensuing inanity of Goldberg's argument -- leaping over whole categories of logic to find some reason why we should limit voters' access to the polls -- is crystallized in his closing paragraphs:
Maybe the emphasis on getting more people to vote has dumbed-down our democracy by pushing participation onto people uninterested in such things. Maybe our society would be healthier if politicians aimed higher than the lowest common denominator. Maybe the opinions of people who don't know the first thing about how our system works aren't the folks who should be driving our politics, just as people who don't know how to drive shouldn't have a driver's license.

Instead of making it easier to vote, maybe we should be making it harder. Why not test people about the basic functions of government? Immigrants have to pass a test to vote; why not all citizens?

And who, exactly, gets to decide who is fit to vote and who is not? What's a passing mark on Goldberg's fitness test?

But that's only scratching the surface of what's wrong here. What Goldberg conveniently omits from his argument is that this sort of thing has been tried before. They called them literacy tests, and they were used throughout the South and other states as a way to deny African-Americans the right to vote after the Civil War. They were a fundamental component of the so-called "Jim Crow" laws that were only overturned in the 1960s, and a complement to the reign of eliminationist terror that kept blacks oppressed and impoverished for more than a century after they were freed.

Moreover, one would think a Republican would understand voting is the fundamental aspect of citizenship in a Republic -- it's the source of a citizen's franchisement within that Republic. It isn't merely a privilege, such as obtaining a driver's license. It is a right endowed to every citizen, and it is only revoked for reasons of criminality. Indeed, it is one of the defining rights of citizenship. Goldberg is essentially arguing for disposing of people's rights as citizens if they fail his test.

Creating and enforcing a fitness test on citizens before they can be allowed to vote can be described in no other term than as fascist.

You'll recall, perhaps, that scholars of fascism such as Robert O. Paxton and Roger Griffin have remarked on the fascist's insistence that he represents the true national identity; this becomes part of the complex of rage and violence by which others are deemed unfit to enjoy the rights of citizenship and polite society and then, gradually, eliminated.

Goldberg's proposal would be a clear first step in that direction, since its essence is to deny voting rights to those deemed uninformed enough to count. That it resembles so closely the political program of the old postwar Ku Klux Klan -- identified by Paxton as the original fascist organization -- is not mere coincidence.

Conservatives are becoming desperate. Probably mass disenfranchisement is their only hope for retaining much of the vestiges of power after 2008, so Goldberg conveniently floats a balloon like this.

Too bad it has a little smiley face with a Hitler mustache on it.

[P.S. Can someone explain to me why the editors of the LA Times editorial page thought the above photo was an appropriate illustration for Goldberg's piece?]

[Hat tip to Ray C.]

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