Tuesday, January 09, 2007

American Fascists

Yesterday on Salon, there was a great interview with author Chris Hedges about his new book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. The same book got pretty much slammed in the NYT Book Review on Sunday (and they have valid arguments), but I really want to read it anyway. Hedges sounds like a really interesting, thoughtful guy, and the fact that he himself is a hardcore Christian offers a little more validation to me. At least you know it's not just some super hardcore atheistic liberal with an axe to grind.

I know some of you will be rolling your eyes, and saying, "Yes, but he's still using the word 'fascist,' with all its connotations to Hitler and what not, but the Salon interview addresses that in the very first question:
Let's start with the title. A lot of liberals who write about the right see echoes of fascism in its rhetoric and organizing, but we tiptoe around it, because we don't want people to think that we're comparing James Dobson to Hitler or America to Weimar Germany. You, though, decided to be very bold in your comparisons to fascism.

You're right, "fascism" or "fascist" is a terribly loaded word, and it evokes a historical period, primarily that of the Nazis, and to a lesser extent Mussolini. But fascism as an ideology has generic qualities. People like Robert O. Paxton in the "Anatomy of Fascism" have tried to quantify them. Umberto Eco did it in "Five Moral Pieces," and I actually begin the book with an excerpt from Eco: "Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt." I think there are enough generic qualities that the group within the religious right, known as Christian Reconstructionists or dominionists, warrants the word. Does this mean that this is Nazi Germany? No. Does this mean that this is Mussolini's Italy? No. Does this mean that this is a deeply anti-democratic movement that would like to impose a totalitarian system? Yes.

He goes on to talk a lot about what exactly many of the factors are that create these types of movements in typically more "liberal" societies, what will push America past the tipping point, and what Democrats are and are not doing to address these issues.

Yeah, the economic is part of it, but you have large sections of the middle class that are bulwarks within this movement, so obviously the economic part isn't enough. The reason the catastrophic loss of manufacturing jobs is important is not so much the economic deprivation but the social consequences of that deprivation. The breakdown of community is really at the core here. When people lose job stability, when they work for $16 an hour and don't have health insurance, and nobody funds their public schools and nobody fixes their infrastructure, that has direct consequences into how the life of their community is led.

I know firsthand because my family comes from a working-class town in Maine that has suffered exactly this kind of deterioration. You pick up the local paper and the weekly police blotter is just DWIs and domestic violence. We've shattered these lives, and it isn't always economic. That's where I guess I would differ with Frank. It's really the destruction of the possibility of community, and of course economic deprivation goes a long way to doing that. But corporate America has done a pretty good job of destroying community too, which is why the largest growth areas are the exurbs, where people have a higher standard of living, but live fairly bleak and empty lives.

But my favorite quote comes when he's talking about when these things have happened in other societies and people didn't even see it coming, and had they, they would have packed up their shit and gotten out:

Well, most people didn't pack up and go. The people who packed up and left were the exception, and most people thought they were crazy. My friends in Pristina had no idea what was going on in Kosovo until they were literally herded down to the train station and pushed into boxcars and shipped like cattle to Macedonia. And that's not because they weren't intelligent or perceptive. It was because, like all of us, they couldn't comprehend how fragile the world was around them, and how radically and quickly it could change. I think that's a human phenomenon.

Hitler was in power in 1933, but it took him until the late '30s to begin to consolidate his program. He never spoke about the Jews because he realized that raw anti-Semitism didn't play out with the German public. All he did was talk about family values and restoring the moral core of Germany. The Russian revolution took a decade to consolidate. It takes time to acculturate a society to a radical agenda, but that acculturation has clearly begun here, and I don't see people standing up and trying to stop them. The Democratic policy of trying to reach out to a movement that attacks whole segments of the society as worthy only of conversion or eradication is frightening.

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