Monday, March 07, 2005

Preliminary Notes towards an Application of the Word "Fascism"

Since beginning to post on this blog a few weeks ago, I have become hyper-aware of my often tantrum-like tendency to label certain people and groups "fascist." I do not plan to desist from this denominative inclination. I will, however, hope to make clearer why I feel the use of the word "fascist" is not some naive or unthinking slander, but on the other hand empirically and historically legitimate. While I feel that a full elaboration of a theory vis-a-vis the use of the word "fascist" might take up too much space and prove far more boring than the exhilarating feeling of calling a fascist a fascist deserves, I do plan to at times offer some fragments of argumentation, in order to explicate the exact nature of fascism today, and the proper use of the word. This, then, will be a first in a sort of series, a series, that will, however, resist the totalizing influence of any fascist superstructure.

My first point, and perhaps the central point, is this: when one calls, say, a certain Bush administration policy "fascist," it is NOT as analogy to the earlier-twentieth century form of fascism practiced in Germany. The complaints that such name-calling is morally relativistic in that Bush has not murdered 6 million Jews, or whatever, are missing the point. When I say "Bush is a fascist" it is not saying that Bush is the same type of fascist, or that he is LIKE those fascists. Rather the essential point is that fascism HAS NEVER DISAPPEARED. Fascism is simply a form of state power. Analogy is not appropriate because there is no formal discontinuity. To say that Bush is a fascist, or Putin is a fascist, or Laura Bush is a fascist, or whatever, is not to say that they are "just like" Nazis, an easily refutable claim. Rather such a statement contends that these leaders draw on a form of power that has always and forever will be "fascist." It is so interesting to me that the "far" left is criticized for just calling whoever they want fascists, when the right and the center, what I might call the "fascist" mainstream, frequently talk about "Islamic fascism" or "Arab totalitarianism" when addressing the ephemeral, specter-like "war on terrorism." Well I don't like terrorists at all. I actually think they're mostly rotten. But the labels that the right has put on them, PRECISELY to attempt to construct an analogy between "this evil of terrorism" and "that evil of Nazism", are totally meaningless. Terrorists cannot be totalitarian or fascist because they do not represent state power! They are essentially anti-statist, whether or not they at times draw support from states. So saying you hate terrorists is fine, but don't be the ones who are constructing false analogies simply for political expediency. Calling a terrorist "totalitarian" or "fascist" is actually an insidious attempt to DE-POLITICIZE those terms. Terrorists can be guilty of many things but not totalitarianism, by any reasonable definition. Rather, when states start labeling terrorists as totalitarian or fascist, it should be a good clue that those states are attempting to aestheticize political terminology, terminology which turned against those states themselves would damn them.

I'd like to end with a quote from a Walter Benjamin essay I've just been re-reading. The essay is from 1936, when the Nazis were already going strong in Germany. If you excuse some of the dated terminology, you will see that Benjamin's argument is almost identical to Thomas Frank's much lauded conclusion in his "What's the Matter with Kansas":

"Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life."

The Right's battles against removal of the Ten Commandments from in front of a courthouse, or against removal of the Confederate flag from over state buildings are examples of this aestheticization. The war on terrorism itself is a massive aesthetic phenomenon, carefully crafted with the help of reactionary mainstream media outlets, and even the reactionary Democratic party.

When Thomas Frank cataloged how poor and working class Kansasians unconsciously exchanged economic betterment for "a chance to express themselves" on issues as superfluous to their common good as marriage inequality and abortion, he really could have answered his own question ("What's the Matter with Kansas?") with one word: Fascism.

What is most intriguing, in fact, about all of these "social" and "moral" issues bandied about nowadays by a plutocracy of warmongers and reactionary pundits, is that they are issues external to the voter in question. Presumably, if you don't like gays' marrying or abortions or whatever, you're not going to marry someone of the same sex, or get an abortion or whatever. The externalization of the political, tantamount to its aestheticization, ensures that the masses will not only yield to a vicious hypnosis, but that, in lapsing into the Republican fantasia of a classless society, will turn against themselves. The fascist mythology of "rugged individualism" as a cure-all for personal suffering, achieves, dialectically, the creation of a totally self-alienated, disinterested mass phenomenon -- that mass phenomenon is approximately the 51 percent of the country that voted for George Bush, with the millionaires and arms dealers added in for purposes of control.


At 2:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great, great post. I've followed up here.


At 12:39 PM, Blogger the actual rod said...

Brilliant (however I would contend that historical precedent is still amusing). But... the aestheticization of politics accompanies the politicization of art.

The other side of the coin (the coin being 'place in history') is even more interesting to me. To Benjamin, fascism also seizes on a quasi-apocalyptic disinterest toward the future: "The kind of happiness that could arouse envy in us exists only in the air we have breathed, among people we could have talked to, women who could have given themselves to us. In other words, our image of happiness is indissolubly bound up with the image of redemption. The same applies to our view of the past, which is the concern of history. The past carries with it a temporal index by which it is referred to redemption."


Post a Comment

<< Home

  • E-mail me: Dan Koffler
  • My YDN Column: Smashing Idols
  • The Reasonsphere
  • Hit & Run
  • Matt Welch
  • Julian Sanchez
  • Jesse Walker
  • Virginia Postrel
  • Tim Cavanaugh
  • Ringers
  • Andrew Sullivan
  • Josh Marshall
  • Crooked Timber
  • Matthew Yglesias
  • Kevin Drum
  • John Cole
  • Leiter Reports
  • Pharyngula
  • Gregory Djerjian
  • Atrios
  • Mickey Kaus
  • Jim Henley
  • Radley Balko
  • TNR's Plank
  • Balkinization
  • Glenn Greenwald
  • Thomas Knapp
  • Justin Logan
  • Laura Rozen
  • Mark Kleiman
  • Print Culture
  • Arthur Silber
  • Tom Tomorrow
  • James Wolcott
  • OxBlog
  • Eric Muller
  • Majikthise
  • Pandagon
  • The American Scene
  • Daniel Drezner
  • Will Wilkinson
  • The Volokh Conspiracy
  • Intel Dump
  • Prequels
  • Johan Ugander
  • Dan Munz
  • Josh Eidelson
  • Future Less Vivid
  • Sequels
  • (not)Delino Deshields
  • Actual God
  • Hidden Hand
  • I am justice
  • Death/Media Incarnate
  • (not)Marquis Grissom
  • Yanqui At Cambridge
  • Beneficent Allah
  • Mr. Wrongway
  • The Hippolytic
  • Discourse Decision
  • Tight Toy Night
  • Mulatto Jesus
  • Sago Boulevard
  • Immortalized Stillicide
  • Nick's Corner
  • Dead Trees
  • Reason
  • Dissent
  • The New Republic
  • The New Yorker
  • The Atlantic Monthly
  • The American Prospect
  • Arts & Letters Daily
  • The Economist
  • The Nation
  • Yale Daily News
  • Virtual Reality
  • Wikipedia
  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • Symbolic Logic into HTML
  • Slate
  • Salon
  • The Huffington Post
  • Crooks and Liars
  • The Smoking Gun
  • The Smoking Gun: Bill O'Reilly
  • Romenesko
  • The Christopher Hitchens Web
  • Draft Russ
  •'s Library
  • Urban Dictionary
  • Homestar Runner
  • Planet Rugby
  • Flex Online
  • Card Player Magazine
  • Gawker & Such
  • News
  • Politics
  • Gambling
  • Gossip (NY edition)
  • Gossip (LA edition)
  • Cool Shit
  • Cars
  • Video Games
  • Photoshop Fun &c.
  • Travel
  • MacGuyver Yourself
  • Porn
  • Prepare For The Worst
  • Bull Moose Blog
  • The Corner
  • Instapundit
  • Reel Blogs
  • BathTubYoga
  • More TK
  • R.I.P.
  • Jamie Kirchick
  • That Girl