Monday, January 6, 2014


Initially this post was entitled Nutty Professors, and maybe I'll still write a post under that heading some day. But Chris Vials, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Connecticut, is sufficiently erudite and honest to render my original title a slander. He's not nutty. He is wrong.

His article appears in Against the Current, the publication of Solidarity. The goal is ambitious: he wants to rescue the word fascism from the grave of meaninglessness. This blog, for example, has consigned the word to oblivion as a mere epithet.

Professor Vials acknowledges that militaristic fascism such as under Hitler is not a threat in the US or Europe. Still, "...amongst the many political challenges we face, we would do well to remember that the fascist form of repression is still very much alive on both sides of the Atlantic, existing, as always, as a fool’s response to the never-ending contradictions of capitalism. Unfortunately, we still need 'the F word.'"

So what purpose is there in resurrecting fascism? Professor Vials offers two reasons. First, while fascist gangs are unlikely to take state power, they can serve as storm troopers for the capitalist class. Professor Vials cites the (tendentious) research of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which purports to show that fascists "continue to terrorize and even murder people with frightening regularity."

Second, he wants to reclaim the term from the Right, and specifically to rebut Jonah Goldberg's book, Liberal Fascism, a book I read some years ago. Mr. Goldberg argues that fascism was a Left wing phenomenon, citing the cozy relationship between Leftists and Mussolini in the years leading up to WWII. He claims that Woodrow Wilson was America's proto-fascist, and had Warren Harding (succeeded by the vastly more competent Calvin Coolidge) not become president in 1921, the US may very well have gone down the fascist path.

Professor Vials argues that Goldberg (dishonestly) overstates the Leftist-Mussolini connection. I think Professor Vials is on weak ground here. There is no question that Mussolini considered himself a socialist and advocated for strong state control of the economy. The only difference between Il Duce and the Left is adherence to Marxist ideology. Mussolini disowned the Marxist meme we're poor because the rich people stole all the money, and replaced it with the equally absurd the fascist meme: we're poor because the foreigners stole all the money. To my mind, the only difference between brown shirts and red shirts is the color of the shirt.

To restore fascism as a useful term for the Left, Professor Vials offers this definition:
Fascism is a particular form of right-wing politics, finding fullest expression in Italy and Germany from the 1920s to the 1940s, based around militarism, anti-Marxism, a masculine cult of “action,” and a violent, racist, anti-democratic drive for national rebirth.
Obviously, if you define fascism as being a right-wing phenomenon, then you automatically win the argument. But this is preaching to the choir. Further, the definition has an ad hoc nature, i.e., is a list of symptoms. This gets us nowhere--we have no clue why fascism is still important, or why these particular symptoms cohere into an ideology. And third, by insisting on militarism it defines fascism as a tactic rather than as an ideology. It evades Mr. Goldberg's core argument embodied in his title, Liberal Fascism, where he argues fascism is not essentially militaristic.

Here is the definition of fascism I offer instead:
Fascism is an ideology that blames foreigners (however defined) for the economic and political problems of the favored race or nationality, and it proposes as a solution the forceful nationalization of politics and the economy to ensure that the favored race is restored to its prideful place.
This is a two-part definition. So, for example, France's National Front is fascist because (1) it blames Muslims, Jews, and Les Anglo-Saxons for France's decline, and (2) it advocates dirigisme as the solution. Dirigisme is just a fancy word for crony capitalism, i.e., capitalists serving at the whim of the state.

The Obama administration is not fascist, despite Obamacare. Obamacare enacts crony capitalism by completely politicizing the insurance market, so it meets condition (2). But it is not done in response to some imagined foreign or racial conspiracy, and thus fails condition (1).

Professor Vials exonerates the Tea Party for reasons I mostly agree with. The Tea Party fails both conditions of my definition: it doesn't blame foreigners (e.g., Blacks or homosexuals) for economic decline, but instead accuses the very crony capitalism which fascists advocate. Even Professor Vials acknowledges we're Libertarian.

Professor Vials says Goldwater was a fascist! For the life of me, I can't see that at all--Goldwater was Libertarian before it became popular. He's no more a fascist than Ron Paul. The Professor is hits closer with George Wallace (a Democrat), but even he didn't advocate greater state control. And I'm not sure he blamed Blacks for the economic problems of Whites.

I disagree with the Professor's characterization of the Christian Right as fascist (apart from some extremist outliers). I see no evidence that they blame foreigners for anything, and I don't believe they're motivated by hate. (See my comments on Duck Dynasty here and here). Their appeals for stronger government (stricter regulation of moral issues) have little or nothing to do with crony capitalism.

So who are some fascists in today's world? Arguably, Pat Buchanan might fit the bill. He blames foreigners (Chinese, Japanese, Jews) for America's problems, and thinks we should go back to the tightly regulated economy of the 1950s. He's against free trade and open borders. Though if you have to have a fascist, it's hard to imagine a more intelligent and entertaining one.

Paul Berman, in his excellent book Terror and Liberalism, makes a very strong case that the Muslim Brotherhood is fascist. He argues it is a direct descendant of European fascism of the 1930s. All they've done is taken Mussolini's Catholicism and replaced it with Islamism. I agree with his argument, which also encompasses the more radical forms of the phenomenon, such as al Qaeda, and sundry Saudi sects, etc.

In particular, Hamas is absolutely a fascist organization. The foreigners are the Jews, vilified as a people. Hamas explicitly advocates the mass murder of Jews for reasons that have nothing to do with Zionism. It is pure anti-Semitism. In this I think one can distinguish Hamas from the Palestinian Authority, which while it has fascist elements, is mostly a nationalist movement with some just grievances.

So American followers of Hamas are at very least sympathetic to a fascist movement, and I think they verge on being fascists. If there is any daylight between anti-Semitism and their supposedly political anti-Zionism, I certainly can't see it. And consistent with Mr. Goldberg's argument, anti-Semitism is mostly a disease of the political Left, which--Pat Buchanan notwithstanding--does seem to be the modern home of fascism. I am NOT saying that all Leftists are fascists, but some of them certainly are.

But the word is too inflammatory. I will resume my policy of not using it in this blog.

Further Reading:

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