It's Happening Here
Friday, June 30, 2006, 04:20 PM
We will not recognize it as it rises. It will wear no black shirts here. It will probably have no marching songs. It will rise out of a congealing of a group of elements that exist here and that are the essential components of Fascism....
It will be at first decorous, humane, glowing with homely American sentiment. But a dictatorship cannot remain benevolent. To continue, it must become ruthless. When this stage is reached we shall see that appeal by radio, movies, and government-controlled newspapers to all the worst instincts and emotions of our people. The rough, the violent, the lawless men will come to the surface and into power. This is the terrifying prospect as we move along our present course.
John T. Flynn, American Mercury,
For decades, beginning with the 1950 publication of Theodor Adorno's study The Authoritarian Personality, the conservative movement was regularly described as a form of incipient fascism. Cultural Marxists of the Frankfurt School, Adorno and his comrades denounced as innately “fascist” any organized effort to preserve traditional culture, institutions, and values from state-abetted subversion.
Adorno and his cohorts pulled off a neat little inversion of reality, given that Fascism – as instituted by Mussolini (who drew his inspiration from Lenin) was an effort to make all institutions subordinate to the state. Furthermore, from the time The Authoritarian Personality made its debut,until roughly the mid-1960s, the dominant strains in conservative thought were anti-interventionist, anti-militarist, as well as opposed to the growth of state power domestically – in short, very much the exact opposite of the Fascist program.
However, while Adorno and his ilk were spreading the bovine residue from which a thousand dishonest “academic” exposes of the Right would sprout, the seeds of an authentically fascist “conservatism” were being planted elsewhere.
In 1952, the individual who would become the Johnny Appleseed of American neo-Fascism, William F. Buckley, adumbrated that vision in an essay published by Commonweal. Owing to the threat posed by the Soviet Union, Buckley asserted, “we have to accept Big Government for the duration – for neither an offensive nor defensive war can be waged given our present government skills, except through the instrument of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores… [Thus we] will have to support large armies and air forces, atomic energy, central intelligence, war production boards, and the attendant of centralization of power in Washington....” (Emphasis added.)
Buckley never deigned to explain how home-grown totalitarianism would be preferable to the version exported by the Soviets, or how distant, impoverished Soviet Russia – even armed with atomic weapons it developed with the aid of its allies in the FDR regime – could pose a more credible threat to our freedoms than the government headquartered in Washington, D.C.
But these questions were of no moment to Buckley; his objective was to cure conservatism of its suspicions about Big Government and its tendency to seek the preservation of freedom. One of the first things he did was to reject for publication in National Review an essay written by the well-respected John T. Flynn warning that the real enemy of our freedoms was in Washington, rather than Moscow or Peking.
He then proceeded to conduct a purge – using methods infinitely milder than those employed by the Soviets, but following very similar priorities – of conservative elements deemed unsuitable, including the John Birch Society, followers of Ayn Rand and other libertarians, and sundry unsavory and insignificant figures whose worldview was entirely defined by racial or religious prejudices.
By the mid-1960s, the general outline of Buckley-style conservatism was well-established: It would countenance occasional complaints about tax rates or business regulation, as well as wistful efforts to defend traditional mores (as long as those efforts posed no serious threat to the cultural “consensus”) -- but the Warfare State was utterly sacrosanct.
Preservation of the Warfare State eventually requires redefinition of the State's domestic role, and inevitably this leads to efforts to redefine dissent as sedition.
By 1969, with the cultural conflict over Vietnam raging and other social conflicts feeding urban violence, National Review published an essay bearing the melodramatic title “Shall We Let America Die?” Harking back to Buckley's 1952 “murder-suicide” formula for “winning” the Cold War, the later essay seemed to argue that rather than letting America (a nation defined by liberty under law) die, we should put it to death through a program the author described as “expediential fascism.”
“The very nature of the situation creates competing codes and doctrines extreme in content and alien to the balancing compromises of liberal polity,” wrote NR contributor Donald Atwell Zoll, whose gifts obviously did not include clarity of expression. “The stringent demands of such a rudimentary struggle of power and ideas invites political approaches that are totalitarian in nature; not quite in the original fascist sense that puts all aspects of life under the aegis of political authority, at least in the general sense that political theory can no longer restrict itself to general conditions and procedural rules, but must offer a comprehensive, authoritative resolution of a number of specific political and social questions.”
Take the basic thought expressed in that paragraph, denude it of the academic vocabulary, dumb it down to the point of infantilization, and you have the standard-issue harangue delivered five days a week, three hours a day, by Sean Hannity: The liberals are only interested in power, they'll do anything to get it back, and so we have to be willing to do anything to keep it.
One of the fundamental conceits of the totalitarian mind-set is that reality itself must yield to the demands of the Party's ideology – and that mind-set is well-represented in the GOP-aligned Right. From there it's but a few goose-steps to the conclusion that those who persist on interpreting reality without the supposed benefit of the official ideology really should be killed.
And the Bu'ushists are already there.
Witness the comments from Ann Coulter that Rep. John Murtha, a decorated 37-year Marine combat veteran, should be “fragged” for his public (and highly qualified) opposition to the Great Decider's war in Iraq.
Witness as well the diseased musings of Ann Coulter wannabe Melanie Morgan (a radio talk show host and occasional guest on cable television) about putting various journalists to death for the supposed crime of publicizing the Bush regime's misdeeds: “[T]he best solution that I can think of to deal with any newspaper editor, whether it's from the NY Times, LAT, WaPo, or the Wall Street Journal who is responsible for leaking national security classified information, is to be locked in a steel cage with the family members of slain troop members who would happily deliver the ultimate punishment of death.”
By “national security classified information,” Comrade Morgan means concealed official misconduct. She also obviously employs some kind of reverse sliding scale in handing out death sentences, given that she hasn't issued a similar malediction against the Bush regime for its misuse of classified information to punish whistle-blowers.
(And if Morgan were serious about allowing survivors of “slain troop members” to have a crack at those Americans responsible for their deaths, the suggestion she would have to make would earn her a visit from the Secret Service.)
The ever-vigilant Lew Rockwell points to another illustration of this proto-fascist mindset, which comes in the form of a prefabricated “patriotic” spam e-mail, the likes of which we've come to know altogether too well.
Written in the form of a religious homily, the e-mail describes the same question asked by anguished mothers whose sons have died in foreign wars, from Iraq backwards to the War for Independence. In each instance the mother asks a sound and penetrating question of the president: Why did my son have to die on a battlefield?
“Then long, long ago,” concludes the author of this little exercise in blasphemous State-worship, “a mother asked, `Heavenly Father, why did my Son have to die on a cross outside of Jerusalem?' The answers to all these are similar -- `So that others may have life and dwell in peace, happiness and freedom.'”
This exemplifies a third element of the totalitarian worldview -- the deification of the State as the collective expression of a sanctified people.
Not content to cast the US President in the role of God the Father, and the president's victims in a role akin to that of God the Son, the e-mail concludes with that most Christian of expressions, the vulgar death threat:
“IF YOU DON'T STAND BEHIND OUR TROOPS, PLEASE, FEEL FREE TO STAND IN FRONT OF THEM.”
A half-century ago, describing conservatism as a species of incipient fascism was a vile and despicable canard. As for what is advertised as “conservatism” today, however....