Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Liberal Fascism Leftovers: #1

-- by Dave

I mentioned when I ran my review of Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism that there was a lot of leftover material I couldn't squeeze into the review, and some material that substantiates what was in the review that I think will be of interest to readers. I'll be sprinkling these about the blog over the next week or so.

So here's the first one, which is in the form of substantiating a point made in the review:
Robert O. Paxton, in his book The Anatomy of Fascism, identifies the Ku Klux Klan as the first genuine fascist organization, a suggestion that Goldberg airily dismisses with the dumb explanation that the Klan of the 1920s disliked Mussolini and his adherents because they were Italian (somewhat true for a time, but irrelevant in terms of their ideological affinities, which were substantial enough that by the 1930s, historians have noted, there were frequent operative associations between Klan leaders and European fascists).

Here's Paxton, from The Anatomy of Fascism:
… [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.

Here's what Goldberg specifically says about the Klan:
The nativist Ku Klux Klan -- ironically, often called "American fascists" by liberals -- tended to despise Mussolini and his American followers (mainly because they were immigrants).

Of course, this obviates a historical fact about fascism: because it was congenitally nationalistic, each expression of it reflected bigotry against other "foreign" nationalities. Naturally, Italian fascists have been as hostile to immigrants historically as American fascists.

But the ideological affinities always eventually come to the surface, as they did with the Klan. From David Chalmers' Hooded Americanism: The History of the Ku Klux Klan (p. 322):
These were just not lucky days for the Klan and the next serious bit of trouble came over the German-American Bund. Not that the Klan and the Bunsh were antagonists -- far from it. During the late thirties there was a prolonged flirtation between the Klan and a growing proliferation of fascist organizations. The names of William Dudley Pelley, Mrs. Leslie Fry, James Edward Smythe, Col. E.N. Sanctuary, Gen. Foerge Van Horn Mosley, and many other "front" leaders turned up with Klan associations. Some had gotten their start in the Klan. X-Ray editor Court Asher was once D.C. Stephenson's lieutenant in Indiana. White Shirt leaders George W. Christians had been a Klansman. So had George Deatherage, founder of the Knights of the White Camellia, who claimed that the Nazis had copied their anti-Jewish policy and their salute from the Klan and who suggested to his followers that they now shift to burning swastikas. Deatherage did his best for the Nazi cause in America; so did Colonel Sanctuary, who organized the company that published the Klan's semiofficial history. Mrs. Leslie Fry had slipped back into Germany, but testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee claimed that she had made Hiram Evans a $75,000 offer for possession of the Invisible Empire.

Southern Klansmen and The Fiery Cross were generally hostile to the German-American Bund, but things were somewhat more friendly elsewhere. Two Klan leaders, one a New Yorker and the other from the West, reportedly wanted to support Hitler. Bundesfuhrer Fritz Kuhn later told Ralph McGill that there has been negotations with representatives from the Michigan and New Jersey Klans, with what he expansively claimed was the understanding that the Southern Klans would go along.

Things had certainly reached a far cry from the early 1920s when Klansmen in Paterson, New Jersey, had protested against the Steuben Society and the teaching of German in the schools. On August 18, 1940, several hundred robed Klansmen shared the grounds of the Bund's Camp Nordlund, near Andover, with a similart contingent of uniformed Bundsmen. Clad in yellow robes, Arthur H. Bell, the Bloomfield lawyer, who had led the New Jersey Klansmen in the 1920s, attacked the singing of "God Bless America," which he described as a Semitic song fit only for the Bowery taverns and brothels. Edward James Smythe, Protestant War Veteran head, who has organized the meeting, lauded Bund leader Kuhn. Then the Camp Director and Deputy Bundesfuhrer stepped to the front of the platform. "When Arthur Bell, your Grand Giant, and Mr. Smythe asked us about using Camp Nordlund for this patriotic meeting, we decided to let them have it because of the common bond between us. The principles of the Bund and the principles of the Klan are the same," he proclaimed.

As for Goldberg's consistency ... he later points to the Nation of Islam's occasional dalliances with the Klan (p. 196) as evidence of their innate fascistic impulse.

Then, on p. 259, he writes:
Perhaps an even better indication of how little moderrn popular conceptions jibe with the historical reality during this period is the Ku Klux Klan. For decades the Klan has stood as the most obvious candidate for an American brand of fascism. That makes quite a bit of sense. The right-wing label, on the other hand, isn't nearly as clean a fit. The Klan of the Progressive Era was not the same Klan that arose after the Civil War. Rather, it was collection of loosely independent organization spread across the United States. What united them, besides their name and absurd getups, was that they were all inspired by the film The Birth of a Nation. They were, in fact, a "creepy fan subculture" of the film. Founded the week of the film's release in 1915, the second Klan was certainly racist, but not much more than the society in general. Of course, this is less a defense of the Klan than an indictment of the society that produced.

This is just flat-out false: the Klan was much, much more than a "creepy fan subculture" of a film. The other event that inspired the founding of the Klan, of course, besides Griffith's movie, was the lynching of Leo Frank. The prescripts of the Klan at its founding were as follows:
First: To protect the weak, the innocent, and the defenseless from the indignities, wrongs and outrages of the lawless, the violent and the brutal; to relieve the injured and oppressed; to succor the suffering and unfortunate, and especially the widows and orphans of the Confederate soldiers.

Second: To protect and defend the Constitution of the United States ...

Third: To aid and assist in the execution of all constitutional laws, and to protect the people from unlawful seizure, and from trial except by their peers in conformity with the laws of the land.

Likewise, the Klan's battle cry was for "100 percent Americanism". One of its more popular tracts was titled "The Klan's Fight for Americanism," and it stated that the Klan
... makes no apologies for its members' attempts to impose their views upon "liberals," immigrants, Catholics, Jews, or peoples of color. Instead it sounds a clarion call for the Klan's "progressive conservatism" and celebrates its influence in American public life.

The Klan's "progressive conservatism," of course, was similar in tenor to "compassionate conservatism" -- the adjective serving mostly to soften and broaden their appeal, while remaining adamantly "conservative." That is, right-wing.

What this really demonstrates is Goldberg's tendency throughout the text to take the appeals of these rightists -- both Nazis as well as the Klan and other fascist figures, all of them people with a historically established and duly recorded tendency to nakedly lie -- in their attempts to soften or broaden their appeal at face value, when in fact these appeals were purely cynical attempts to disguise their real agendas. It's pure propaganda, and Goldberg simultaneously succumbs to and propagates it.

At any rate, Goldberg goes on at length pointing out that the Klan was not just a rural fundamentalist phenomenon but was also fully urbanized and spread throughout all layers of American society. This is factually correct -- but it does not make them any less a creature of the right.

Moreover, the Klan in every incarnation -- its original, its second, and its current, has been a creature of right-wing politics. Consider its current program:
-- Anti-Semitism

-- Racial separation

-- The quashing of civil rights for minorities

-- The destruction of federal government power

-- Anti-homosexual

-- Anti-abortion

-- Anti-immigration

What exactly is "liberal" about that? Well, nothing. All of these positions typically are part of what we call right-wing, and in the Klan's case, they are drawn to an extreme degree. The Ku Klux Klan are right-wing extremists by any accounting, and always have been. Indeed, much of their explicit animus has historically been directed at liberals -- as with the fascists, their antiliberalism has been a defining feature for most of their existence.

It's hard to tell in fact what Goldberg is actually saying -- at times he seems to scoff at the idea they were fascists, then at others tries to embrace the concept. But if he's trying to claim that they weren't and aren't creatures of the right -- well, then he's just obscuring and confusing both the history of the Klan and the meaning of "the right." Which, in the latter case, seems the larger purpose of this book in any event.

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