Secondly, it is necessary to distinguish between a sudden proliferation of fascist tendencies and an imminent danger. There may be, among some neocons and some more populist right-wingers, unmistakable antidemocratic tendencies. But America hasn’t yet experienced organized street violence against dissenters or a state that is willing—in an unambiguous fashion—to jail its critics. The administration certainly has its far Right ideologues—the Washington Post’s recent profile of Alberto Gonzales, whose memos are literally written for him by Cheney aide David Addington, provides striking evidence. But the Bush administration still seems more embarrassed than proud of its most authoritarian aspects. Gonzales takes some pains to present himself as an opponent of torture; hypocrisy in this realm is perhaps preferable to open contempt for international law and the Bill of Rights.
And yet the very fact that the f-word can be seriously raised in an American context is evidence enough that we have moved into a new period. The invasion of Iraq has put the possibility of the end to American democracy on the table and has empowered groups on the Right that would acquiesce to and in some cases welcome the suppression of core American freedoms. ~Scott McConnell
Mr. McConnell’s article is an interesting synthesis of the developing near-consensus on the antiwar Right that, when it comes to neoconservatism and the modern Republican Party, the dark spectre of militarism and hegemonism is coming to resemble certain elements of European fascism more and more. Where this synthesis goes awry, I believe, is the rather optimistic assumption that democracy and fascism are really opposites in some sense, where the ‘rise’ of fascism means the ‘end’ of democracy. It does mean the end to legality, to real liberty and to humane civilisation (though no less than communism or social democracy did), but it seems to me that all its evils are a product of an age of mass politics in which the banaustic concerns of the mob become the driving issues of politics and the illiterate and vulgar opinions of mediocre men and their uninspired leaders rule. One of the most perceptive observations of a series of profound observations on 20th century politics made by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn in his Leftism Revisisted and Liberty or Equality? was that the interwar years saw the triumph of the Common Man in power, and this was not something to be desired from any remotely civilised perspective.
If the discourse and ideas of fascism and other mass political movements are trash, it is because they must be hawked to a mob just as in any elective democracy, and so are of a particularly low and degraded character. The popular character of fascist regimes, which we fail to perceive because we are deluded by the illusion that elective government is necessarily the most democratic or that the mass enthusiasms for a dictatorship are somehow less democratic, shows us the real and terrible results of mobilising masses of people to be ‘involved’. So the development of fascism cannot be seen so much as the ‘suicide’ of democracy as its graduation to a new, uglier level of degeneracy. Obviously, this is not to challenge any of the warnings Mr. McConnell or others have made about these trends, but to highlight that fascists and democrats are not very different and whatever occasions of hostility there have been between them is as much the squabbling between siblings as the rivalry between diametrically opposed foes. This will help to clarify what those of us in the opposition are opposing and what we mean to defend.
I was perfectly willing, in my correspondence with friends, to label neoconservatism as fascism as long ago as late 2001, and I saw unfolding before me in the ranks of the Republican Party the answer to a question that had long puzzled me: how had ordinary, largely sober, more conservative and often purportedly religious Europeans acquiesced to the superficial trash of fascism? The answer is twofold. One, I basically misjudged the sources of support for fascism, which were principally from the old liberals of the 19th century who had become radicalised nationalists, no longer content with the parliamentarianism and legalism of their political fathers and unwilling to go down the road to international socialism, mixed together with some of the remnants of the conservative society those liberals had busily been underming for decades. Importantly, the most religious and ‘reactionary’ elements in Germany and Austria were those most likely to resist fascism and the least willing to ever collaborate with it; reactionaries might have shared common antipathy for the particular constitutions then in effect, but neither did they want any part of the vulgar demagoguery of a Mussolini or Hitler.
What is important to keep in mind is that it was the ‘former’ liberals who shaped the content and drove the development of fascism, which was basically a leftist, elitist-run, mass-based political and social revolutionary movement infused with some of the more decadent philosophical and aesthetic notions of the start of the century. Conservative people are not vitalists, nor do they like avant-garde things in general, much less do they desire to be avant-garde themselves. This is telling: fascists, like neocons today, very much wanted to be considered modern, scientific and cutting-edge, whether they were ‘objectively’ or not. Thus neocons flavour their blatant and irremediable chauvinism with touches of cosmopolitanism, as they are themselves utterly detached from the “homeland” to which they purport to have such loyalty, and are interested in nothing so much as making the liberalism to which they used to belong respectable again–provided, of course, that it gets them the right jobs and positions of power.
Fascism meant to wipe away the old world and old order that had purportedly failed the countries in which fascism flourished: it was Jacobinism with a chainsaw and machine gun instead of a mere guillotine. The new Jacobins have even more splendid weapons with which to engage in their ‘total critique’ of the existing world. Michael Ledeen’s love of “creative destruction” makes sense only in the context of these or Bakunin-like anarchist ideas. As Bakunin said, “the passion for destruction is also a creative passion”. Likewise for the neocons, the lack of restraint in passion, indulgence and consumption are perfectly fine in the eyes of neocons: morality and virtue seem now to consist in steeling oneself to will the deaths of others.
There is also the usual talk, which becomes collectivist on their lips, of serving ‘something greater’ than oneself. They are not, of course, referring to God when they speak of ‘something greater’, but the state–for some of them there is nothing greater or more admirable, nor anything more worthy of being served. Nothing else excites them more than ‘emancipation’ from social, moral and religious hierarchies: this is their freedom, which is nothing other than the exultation of autonomy and the individual will, which we know to be the heart of all sin. They are, of course, not principally interested in these things in their own right (why do neocons ever show concern about the civil rights of minorities anyway?), but only insofar as these things serve to break down all intermediary institutions, natural loyalties and obstacles to centralised power, over which they desire to have constant control.
The second part of the answer to my question took a little longer: when the fascists invoked words they knew would be popular with more traditional audiences, such as “blood and soil” or “freedom,” their audiences took these things in the way that they themselves understood them, while the fascists meant them in an entirely different way. When the fascist said “freedom,” he meant the freedom to dominate others, the freedom derived from greater power, which was itself a product of the superiority of his will over that of others. If the neocons shrugged off or ignored the torture scandals in Iraq and elsewhere, it was because there was nothing important in these scandals for them (except to deny them and use them as proof of the neverending global conspiracy against the poor imperial American): it was the natural product of the will to dominate that characterised their entire view of the world.
It is impossible for fascism to arise in a body politic where there are no strong senses of grievance and persecution, preferably by foreigners and internal enemies, and for our domestic fascists this persecution mentality stems from their usually hysterical reaction to foreign criticism of American policy and their narrative of history in which America has repeatedly awoken, almost too late, to the threats raging just outside our door. It is not just that these people believe the world is a dangerous place (which it is), but that it is fundamentally, inexorably and unreasoningly hostile to them and their definition of America, which necessitates their constant, aggressive drive to conquer and subjugate those around them and the nations they regard, for whatever reason, as our enemies.
Neoconservatism has so many of the same goals and so much of the same rhetoric as fascism: the worship of will, resolution, action, decisiveness and a virtual cult of war and struggle; adherence to state capitalism; the empty, sloganeering nationalism of chauvinists and supremacists who know nothing about their country and belong to it for the power it can provide and because of their contempt for other nations; the preference for government solutions in league with corporations; the juvenile obsession with words such as liberation, revolution and freedom; the ideologising and mythologising of history, reducing events and people to the principles and politics they represent; the ready dehumanisation of enemies and the trends towards collectivism, of which WWII and FDR are their great symbols, and the mob mentality in confronting dissenters and critics. The valorisation of the soldier and the military is not in itself fascist, as many political regimes of all stripes will engage in this, but it is the peculiar way in which neocons do it that marks them out as the sort of faux-macho metrosexual admirers of masculine virtues in which these fascists themselves have never participated.
All of these things taken together, one may find the rhetoric of freedom and democracy puzzling. Combine this with the endless, confused popular misperception that fascism is of Rightist derivation, and it makes neocons’ rambling about civil rights, women’s liberation and their “anti-fascist” foreign policy, as they would define it, seem even more peculiar. Most critics assume that they must simply be cynics, exploiting the words without attaching any value to them. While it is true that the only meaningful thing for these people is the acquisition and continuation of their power, they do seem well enough convinced that the evidently fascistic tendencies in their thought are not contrary to democracy at any rate. Oddly enough, I happen to agree with this assessment, but only because I regard democracy as such a low and vile form of government that its natural champions would have to be such people who espouse such subversive and destructive notions.