Friday, October 26, 2007

But If We Look To Other Commonalities....

When I think of the word "fascism", I think of traditional definitions such as this:
a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.
The colloquial alternative meaning, "a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control", also comes to mind, but I think it is fair to criticize that use as being... well, let's use the words of Jonah Goldberg's publisher,
“Fascists,” “Brownshirts,” “jackbooted stormtroopers” - such are the insults typically hurled at conservatives by their liberal opponents. Calling someone a fascist is the fastest way to shut them up, defining their views as beyond the political pale.
The first part is nonsense, of course - such accusations are occasionally made by a few people, but the assertion is an absurd overgeneralization. In terms of popularizing the meaningless, overbroad use of the term, people like Goldberg lead the field - "But who are the real fascists in our midst? writes his publisher in support of his evolving book, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. Alright then - so in one breath the use of the word "fascist" is an unfair tool used to impugn somebody's politics, and in the next, "By the way, liberals are fascists" - his "striking parallels":
Contrary to what most people think, the Nazis were ardent socialists (hence the term “National socialism”). They believed in free health care and guaranteed jobs. They confiscated inherited wealth and spent vast sums on public education. They purged the church from public policy, promoted a new form of pagan spirituality, and inserted the authority of the state into every nook and cranny of daily life. The Nazis declared war on smoking, supported abortion, euthanasia, and gun control. They loathed the free market, provided generous pensions for the elderly, and maintained a strict racial quota system in their universities—where campus speech codes were all the rage. The Nazis led the world in organic farming and alternative medicine. Hitler was a strict vegetarian, and Himmler was an animal rights activist.
Goldberg apparently believes that by finding commonalities between two political ideologies, they somehow merge.
  • Liberalism is not the same thing as socialism;
  • The idea that "free health care", instituted in Germany under Otto Von Bismarck in 1883, emerged from Nazism defies both history and common sense, while Italy long ago emerged from fascism yet has chosen to maintain national health care despite its being introduced by Mussolini;
  • I don't know of any liberals who believe in "guaranteed jobs";
  • I don't know any liberals who believe in confiscating inherited wealth, nor of any in the mainstream who support any form of confiscatory estate tax;
  • I am not sure what it means to expend "vast sums" on education, but I'm not aware of any mainstream conservative movement that admits to wishing to defund public education, of any mainstream "liberal" movement to significantly increase spending on public education, or of any appreciable difference in state education spending which follows from a transition from Democratic to Republican governance;
  • To characterize Nazi programs of eugenics as "pro-choice" in nature verges on the obscene; outside of that context, the Nazis encouraged population growth and large families;
  • The Constitution, which long predates the advent of fascism, separates church and state, although I'm sure if they were around the Founding Fathers would be the first to apologize for offending Goldberg's sensitivities (and, sorry, liberalism is not working to advance paganism);
  • To the extent that some on the political left support gun control as a means of reducing crime and gun-related accidents, there's a world of difference between their methods and motivations and those of a totalitarian regime which wishes to suppress specific individuals and groups;
  • The Nazis opposed smoking... and drug use, sure, as part of their goal of "bodily purity". Goldberg focuses on a nebulous, poorly implemented, and in no small part bipartisan "war on smoking", yet disregards the "war on drugs";
  • The number of "liberals" who can be reasonably deemed to "loathe the free market" is infinitesimal;
  • Fascists, like every developed country, offer some form of "pension" to the elderly? The horror;
  • Goldberg would equate quota systems meant to advance discrimination against disfavored minorities with affirmative action?
  • Goldberg would equate modern "speech codes" which protect conduct which the Nazis deemed punishable by death with Nazi-era totalitarianism as extended to University campuses?
  • Because Nazis liked organic farmers, organic farmers are Nazis?
  • Because Hitler was a vegetarian, vegetarians are Nazis?
  • Because Himmler was an animal rights activist, animal rights activists are Nazis?
It's easy to ridicule, as it's absolutely ridiculous. Himmler was interested in Astrology - does that mean, in Goldberg's mind, Nancy and Ronald Reagan were fascists or Nazis?

The publisher's note also tries to get some mileage out of people it deems as being on the political left, yet sympathetic to totalitarianism. "W.E.B. Du Bois was inspired by Hitler's Germany, and Irving Berlin praised Mussolini in song." No mention of Prescott Bush? It's just silly.

And yet others, who have perhaps advanced less on nepotism than Goldberg, make similar arguments in advance of the concept of "Islamofascism". Christopher Hitchens, who loves that term, argues,
The most obvious points of comparison would be these: Both movements are based on a cult of murderous violence that exalts death and destruction and despises the life of the mind. ("Death to the intellect! Long live death!" as Gen. Francisco Franco's sidekick Gonzalo Queipo de Llano so pithily phrased it.) Both are hostile to modernity (except when it comes to the pursuit of weapons), and both are bitterly nostalgic for past empires and lost glories. Both are obsessed with real and imagined "humiliations" and thirsty for revenge. Both are chronically infected with the toxin of anti-Jewish paranoia (interestingly, also, with its milder cousin, anti-Freemason paranoia). Both are inclined to leader worship and to the exclusive stress on the power of one great book. Both have a strong commitment to sexual repression—especially to the repression of any sexual "deviance"—and to its counterparts the subordination of the female and contempt for the feminine. Both despise art and literature as symptoms of degeneracy and decadence; both burn books and destroy museums and treasures.
It's interesting how there is zero overlap between what Goldberg deems to be the key aspects of fascism as applied against liberals, and what Hitchens deems to be the key aspects of fascism as applied against Islamic fundamentalists. It is interesting that Goldberg defines fascism as a tool to separate church and state, while Hitchens sees it as a tool to advance theocracy.

It is probably unfair to juxtapose Hitchens with Goldberg in this manner, given that Hitchens is trying to articulate a coherent argument whereas Goldberg's book is perpetually in progress (with the evolution of its tag line being something of a joke). However, it is fair to observe that in advancing the concept of Islamofascism, Hitchens takes a view of fascism that is at odds with any conventional concept of liberalism:
  • Hostility to modernity;
  • Hostility to other religions (not ot mention what they deem as inferior versions of their own religion);
  • Leader worship;
  • Adherence to "the power of one great book";
  • Sexual repression and misogyny; and
  • Advocacy, and sometimes overt acts, of censorship of the arts and literature.
The overlap he sees is largely a tendency toward totalitarianism, intolerance and dogma. It is perhaps also interesting to note that what Hitchens sees as key aspects of fascism are much more consistent with religious fundamentalism - any religious fundamentalism - than they are with fascism.

As for more traditional hallmarks of "fascism", "Islamofascism" is not associated with any particular race or nation - for those who don't know, the majority of the world's Muslims are not Arabs. It is not associated with any centralized autocratic government and, although the Taliban's example suggests it would be as autocratic as the regimes it seeks to topple, holds particular animus toward totalitarian Islamic regimes that it deems as being untrue to Islam. Advocacy of social regimentation? Happy to forcibly suppress opposition? Obviously. Advancing economic regimentation? Control of industry by the central authority? Not so much.

When you look only at the commonalities under a traditional definition of fascism, you're really speaking of autocracy, centralized control, subversion of opposing political and religious viewpoints, and subordination of the individual to the central authority.... That is to say, totalitarianism.

In short, as defined by Hitchens, the religious aspects of "Islamofascism" can be found among extremists in any major religion. (I will grant that the numbers of such extremists vary significantly, and concede that Islam has a disproportionately high number of powerful extremists as compared to other major religions, but this phenomenon is simply not unique to Islam.) The political aspects of "Islamofascism" are not fascist, but are totalitarian. And so you are left with a term which isn't actually descriptive of either Islam or fascism. But it sounds scary so, if for no other reason but your deep respect for the work of George Orwell, ya gotta stick with it.

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