Fascism of the Left?
Yes it seems like a contradiction in terms. There's a back-story. David Neiwert is a journalist of the left who has used his blog, Orcinus
, to document the alleged rise of fascism in the Bush adminstration, or at least among Bush's supporters, and in the country generally. On that blog he has published a 15-part series called Rush, Newspeak and Fascism
, which is also available as an 87 page pdf file, and a 4-part series called Bush, the Nazis and America
. The fact that he doesn't believe in using commas before an 'and' in a list is just a minor annoyance compared to the content of these polemics.
I first ran across Neiwert when I posted From Multiculturalism to Anti-Americanism in Six Easy Steps
on this blog, and he posted a response
which suggested that I wanted internment camps for liberals.
Anyway, as you may have already ascertained, Neiwert's big issue is American fascism. He acknowledges that there's no easy and widely agreed upon definition of fascism, but does single out one Robert O. Paxton as being very helpful in defining fascism in Paxton's essay The Five Stages of Fascism
Neiwert quotes from Paxton:
… 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 [note that these are Paxton's 7 mobilizing passions of fascism, as distinct from his 5 chronological stages of fascism]:
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.
Neiwert then takes those 7 points and demonstrates how each of them applies to Bush and/or Bush supporters. It's my contention that these 7 points apply equally as well to the extreme left as to the extreme right and that they do not signify fascism so much as authoritarianism, which is equally a liability of both the left and right.
What follows is Neiwert's take on the 7 points and Bush and Bush supporters followed by my take on how the 7 points apply just as well to the left.
Going down Paxton’s list, it is fairly easy to identify these “passions” at play today, particularly in the debate over the Iraq war and the attacks on dissenters that occurred during it.
1. [Group primacy]: 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.
For Neiwert's purposes, the group is the nation, and a policy of putting national interests first is a step towards fascism. Put aside for the moment the fact that if the US government doesn't put US interests first then surely no one else will. What's aimed at here is that there are people suggesting that personal freedom should be curtailed in the interest of the country. But outside of actual terrorist suspects, there are no such restrictions, unless Neiwert has some evidence that innocent Muslim charities are being unfairly targeted.
Contrast this with the group primacy of the multicultural left, for whom the primacy of the racial group, or class (for instance) clearly is more important than individual rights. On the left, you are expected to toe your group's party line and when you do not, you are branded an Uncle Tom, a sell-out, or the like. Universal and individual rights mean nothing when they conflict with what the left has determined a particular group's political line should be. If you do not support that group's line, you are a traitor to it.
2. [Victim mentality]: 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.”).
The US was
the victim of the 9/11 attacks. But it is not a victim mentality which drives us now. Ironically, it is the left that laments the fact that we didn't use our victimhood more- we "squandered the world's sympathy" and all that. In fact, we are using our strengths to fight terrorism and future threats, not our weaknesses.
Contrast this with the endless victim worship of the left. So much of their moral strength comes from their victimhood. Race, national origin gender, class, sexual orientation. Every possible axis is callous oppressor and noble oppressed. And for the left, correcting this injustice justifies nearly everything. Past racism justifies current racism, historical victimhood requires cash payments today.
3. [Dread of liberal decadence]: 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.
Of course it was Bush who advocated that the average American's response to 9/11 should be to go shopping as usual. Fly United or American. This kind of decadence was ridiculed by left and right at the time. It was especially the left who wanted Bush to demand more sacrifice from the American public.
Decadance from the leftist perspective involves driving an SUV or earning a salary from corporatist America. For the left, these are crimes equivalent to the right's views on moral decadence. The left is more shrill about it. Middle class values are perceived as as decadent to the extreme left as they are to the extreme right. But who's building their case on the decadence of the group more these days? Left or right?
4. [Group integration] and 5. [Group identity as personal validation] 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 — someone did phone in a threat to sniper-shoot protesters — but they are rapidly headed in that direction.
For any group that'll last, there must be factors that will stress the commonality of its members and make it an advantage to belong, and a disadvantage not to belong. The case that this proto-fascist movement to demonize liberals is any different from the liberal movement to demonize Bush and his supporters is silly. As far as social dynamics are concerned there is no difference. I like you because you think like me. We don't like them because they don't agree with us.
Would Neiwert have us believe that the left is above this sort of cliquishness? If anything, the left is more guilty of this enforcement of group identity. Purity of leftist thought is mighty important to the left. We know this because they're still purging impure members (Hitchens, e.g.). It was the left that said that if you're not a part of the solution you're a part of the problem. Which was well before Bush's formulation that you're either with us or with the terrorists.
We also know that the multicultural left explicitly links the grandeur of the group and individual self-esteem. Their whole reason for being is that individual self-esteem depends on the esteem of one's group. How Neiwert can read Paxton's the grandeur of the group reinforces individual self-esteem
and not think about multiculturalism is beyond me.
6. [Authority of leaders]: This 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.
This is the one element that doesn't apply to the US much. Neiwert would like to fit Paxton's 6th point to Bush, but there's nothing like that going on on either side in the US. Note that Paxton requires said authority of leaders to exist throughout society while Neiwert only suggests Bush as meeting the requirement. The US is nearly pathologically anti-authoritarian. There is no priesthood of power here.
There's no one on left or right in the US who compares to the following a Hitler had in Germany. We're just not built for it on a cultural level.
7. [An aesthetic of violence]: 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 evidently just-completed war.
Nothing out of the news is anywhere near the aesthetic of violence that Hollywood has given us. I won't even say leftist Hollywood because you've got your Schwarzenegger/Willis/Eastwood side vs. your Tarantino/Stallone/Spielberg side.
That aside, the beauty of violence and will is not used exclusively by one side. The Black Panthers were once idolized by the elitist left for the beauty of their violence and will just as surely as violent and willful Castro still is today. Indeed, Castro is lauded in some quaters for his long reign, despite the fact that some level of violence is required to maintain it. Even now, there are people on the left lauding the Iraqi resistance for their violence and will. I suppose Neiwert would have us believe that the left is above this sort of thing, but that would be a lie.
So there it is. The rubbery definition of fascism is to a large degree the reason that charges of fascism are so easily hurled. Some may say that these fascist 7 points only apply if the group being defended is a nation or national party. But I'd ask if the tactics and goals of fascism would differ fundamentally depending on what type or level of group one had in mind. I think it's a fair question.
But what I think becomes more apparent from this exercise is that fascism cannot be easily defined apart from other forms of authoritarianism. We on the right are quite aware of leftist forms of authoritarianism, but we should not be surprised by their counterparts on the right. The left equally should not think that their realm of thought is without its authoritarian components.