Wednesday, February 09, 2005


Americans have a "Hunger for dictatorship"? Spare us!

Historically, American conservatism has always been isolationist. Isolationism is the translation into international politics of the basic conservative deal, "You leave me alone and I'll leave you alone". And that's why it has in the past always been Leftists or "Progressives" who have got American into foreign wars. So it is no surprise that America's interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq have always had opponents on the Right as well as on the Left. Old habits die hard and the fact that war was decisively declared on America by a new and dangerous foe on 9/11/2001 has not found its way into some thick old heads. And Patrick Buchanan and his American Conservative magazine have been the principal advocates of an isolationism that is in reality simply no longer possible. The Islamic fruitcakes are NOT going to leave America alone if America keeps letting them do what they like.

So it is no surprise that The American Conservative has now joined the Left in a cry that America is "going Fascist" under GWB. The article is however written by co-editor Scott McConnell rather than by Buchanan. Buchanan knows his history far too well to write such historically naive stuff. And a knowledge of what Fascism actually was is important if the accusation of "fascism" is to be taken as being more than just the routine and mindless swear-word that it has become among Leftists. And McConnell does make some claim to historical sophistication in his article. He quotes Fritz Stern, a retired professor of history at Columbia. Here is the nub of what McConnell says about Stern's views:

Stern had emigrated from Germany as a child in 1938 and spent a career exploring how what may have been Europe’s most civilized country could have turned to barbarism. Central to his work was the notion that the readiness to abandon democracy has deep cultural roots in German soil and that many Europeans, not only Germans, yearned for the safeties and certainties of something like fascism well before the emergence of fascist parties. One could not come away from his classes without a sense of the fragility of democratic systems, a deep gratitude for their success in the Anglo-American world, and a wary belief that even here human nature and political circumstance could bring something else to the fore.

This account of Fascism in terms of national character is however a very tired old one and is one that probably owes more to Stern's (understandable) antipathy to Germany than anything more profound. The great weakness of the account is its mismatch to Italy. To argue that Germans longed for order and stability is at least plausible for such a phlegmatic and orderly people but Italians are fundamentally an anarchic, fractious and volatile lot. Insofar as there are national characteristics, Italians and Germans are just about as opposite as you can get. (Ask almost any Italian if you doubt it). Yet both nations went heavily for Fascism, with Italy leading the way. So to attribute Fascism to a particular national character is just mindless.

The plain fact of the matter is that the appeal of Fascism was just a slightly different mix of politics as usual. Fascism appealed to and claimed to represent the workers with its socialistic promises and it kept everyone else onside with the second string to its bow -- strident nationalism. There is nothing mysterious and unique about Fascism or its appeal. Socialism and nationalism appeal to lots of people to this day. The Fascists were just clever enough to combine big dollops of both.

So where does that leave the claim that America is "going Fascist"? Given the criticism (if not hatred) of America that is taught in most American schools and which also pours out daily from most of America's mass media, America is about as opposite to a Fascist state as you could imagine. Any Fascist state worth its salt would have knocked all that on the head years ago. In a Fascist State you would be hearing nothing but patriotic and nationalist propaganda in your media and in your schools. So America lacks even the first precondition for "going Fascist". Despite big efforts, George Bush cannot even get American schools to teach phonics, let alone nationalism.

There are other idiocies in the article but what's the point....?


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