Commentators right and left are talking about fascism in the U.S. of A. Libertarian conservative Lew Rockwell, in a recent article entitled “The Reality of Red-State Fascism,” declares, “what we have alive in the US is an updated and Americanized fascism.”
Fellow libertarian Justin Raimondo, in a piece called “Today’s Conservatives are Fascists,” calls the neocons shaping U.S. foreign policy “fascists, pure and simple.” United Methodist minister Rev. William E. Alberts accuses some of Bush’s followers of upholding a “super religion displaying tendencies similar to Hitler’s super race with its fascist ideology of superiority.”
Meanwhile the Revolutionary Communist Party circulates in the tens of thousands a statement declaring that “Bush and his people” are “Christian Fascists—dangerous fanatics who aim to make the U.S. a religious dictatorship and to force this upon the world.” This is quite a wide spectrum of anti-fascist opinion.
I think it’s good the f-word is out there, and the issue on the table. Fascism needs to be discussed. I thought so in October 2002, when I wrote an essay posted on CounterPunch, “Talking to Your Kids About Fascism.” It was a presented as a quiet talk one might have with preteens, delivered with the simple clarity and sobriety one might assume when talking with one’s young about drug use or sex or any serious issue. My point at the time was fascism’s not just a phenomenon unique to 1930s and 40s and defeated in 1945 but something that can recrudesce. One should be alert for warning signs.
That was over two years ago, before the criminal invasion of Iraq, based on lies, and the cynical exploitation of racist-based fear. It was before British officers complained that their U.S. counterparts in Iraq were treating the Iraqis like Untermensch (subhumans, a term the Nazis applied to various non-Aryan groups). It was before the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo torture revelations, and the reorganization of the “intelligence community” to better disseminate disinformation in the service of ongoing war. It was before the Bush campaign to amend the constitution, for the first time to specifically prevent the expansion of liberties. It was before persons in and around the administration defended Japanese-American wartime concentration camps with an eye towards new camps for other groups in the future. The fascist tide has surged in the interim, as I thought, back in 2002, was very likely.
A Fascist Movement
I’m not suggesting that the state has become fascist. We remain a bourgeois democracy, in which you are free to vote for the corporate-sponsored Republican or Democrat of your choice. You can still maneuver around as best you can in a marketplace controlled by ever fewer people. You can access a broad range of websites, protest in the streets (under carefully controlled conditions), and say what we think in emails and phone calls (although the
authorities can legally monitor them as they please). You can still write and maybe have published letters to the editor criticizing the regime. The country itself remains pre-fascist.
Nor is there, a mass-based fascist party yet. The Republicans may morph into such, but there remain the occasional Ron Pauls. (I have to note, though, that the Texas Republican Congressman himself opines that “a total police stateis fast approaching.”) What we have is a fascist movement, even if its storm troops themselves do not, by and large, conceive of it as such. Many of them simply think they’re God’s Army, having nothing in common with Hitler’s Brownshirts, whom they learned in school were bad people defeated by fine Americans. They will be insulted if told they resemble the Nazi supporters of the 1930s, but in many respects they do.
Fascism feeds on fear. Hitler’s Reichmarshall Hermann Goering declared that “people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and attack the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.” Question for discussion, ladies and gentlemen: How does this apply here? Are the myriad threats the movement has used to frighten all who will listen (weapons of mass destruction, mushroom clouds over New York, Muslims in general, liberal college professors, homosexuals) working to get people to do the bidding of leaders in this country?
Fascism also feeds on ignorance. “Good Germans” were truly persuaded that Jews, Slavs and Bolsheviks threatened them in 1939. Fascism is inherently anti-intellectual, deploying emotions (national pride, resentment at “outsiders,” feelings of injury, millenarian hope) and targeting prominently among internal enemies those who challenge its self-validating myths. A key factor in the American variety is a frontal assault on whole fields of science, especially those challenging the Biblical depiction of the earth as merely 6000 years old.
A top Bush aide actually told the New York Times’ Ron Suskind that administration officials disparagingly dismiss what they call “the reality-based community”—specifically, people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality” as irrelevant. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he declared. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors. . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
In other words, truth is for wimps; forget about it. We are the champions, the powerful, we make it up as we go along and if you want a piece of it, embrace the delusion. We will punish the French for rationally rejecting the attack on Iraq, and for that matter for inflicting the Enlightenment (with its emphasis on unmanly, unheroic rational empiricism) a few centuries back. We will punish the CIA for obnoxiously promoting reality-based intelligence over the requested, required disinformation before the Iraq attack. This is the sort of fascistic thought not only trumpeted by right wing talk radio, but from countless pulpits, cable news, and the White House—proudly irrational, fear mongering, sneering, creating its own reality with the calculated support of large sections of corporate America.
Gott Mit Uns
“Christian fascism,” the Maoists call it, emphasizing its social agenda which presently includes reversing Roe vs. Wade, banning gay marriage, promoting school prayer, challenging science, and generally attacking the strict separation of church and state. The libertarians in contrast focus on the agenda of the neocons, who as it happens are primarily secular Jews highly supportive of Israel’s Likud Party and influential in shaping foreign policy after 9-11, particularly as it pertains to what they’ve been calling “the Greater Middle East.” Clearly the term “Christian fascist” doesn’t describe these people, who may have mixed feelings about a movement currently useful to their foreign policy agenda but which could turn on them and make life uncomfortable for many people who reject fundamentalist Christianity. If fascists, they are of a different if kindred variety. Everyone applying the f-word agrees that the fascists have no regard for civil liberties and have used 9-11 to vitiate the Bill of Rights.
The question in my mind is this: Given that this fascist tide is so related to a post 9-11 foreign policy so shaped by non-Christians, can we indeed call the movement “Christian fascist”? If one does so, one acknowledges the obvious: that Bush’s social base is largely a Christian fundamentalist one, committed to what it perversely terms a “family values” agenda. But Christian fundamentalists, who have been agitating for years for prayer in the schools, textbook censorship, public display of the 10 Commandments, etc., haven’t from the grass roots been demanding U.S. military action to achieve regime change in the Middle East. The movement to achieve that central aspect of the fascist program comes from the elite, with the neocons in and out of government playing key roles. Their plans for the Middle East do happen to dovetail with the fundamentalists’ “End Times” hopes and expectations for that region, such that even the collapse of the original justifications for the Iraq War doesn’t daunt the latter in their support for what they see as God’s plan. The neocons in power, in concert with their fundamentalist colleagues (Bush and Cheney among them) have played the Christian fascists at the grass roots like a harp.
Does calling the fascist trend in general “Christian fascist” send the wrong message to those Christians who reject it and find it irreconcilable with what they consider Christianity? Surely such believers are the majority among the 75-80% of the American people who identify themselves as Christians. Is it unfair to staunch Catholics, who follow their church’s teachings on issues such as abortion and homosexuality and might, say, vote to ban gay marriage but who passionately oppose the war? Might we, noting the non-Christian input into this fascist trend refer to it merely as “religious fascism”? Or just “American fascism”?
Yes, you have at the summit Bush and Cheney, registered Methodists who may or not sincerely believe in the theology of John Wesley, which is not all that dissimilar to that of his contemporary Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, but derive support from the religious right, especially the less educated among them. But then you have the above-quoted Methodist minister Rev. William E. Alberts too. The problem is not any specific religion but the specific necessity of crisis-ridden capitalism to transform the world, exploiting religion whenever it’s useful to do so. Hitler embarked on his world-transforming mission depicting himself as devout God-fearing man; in Mein Kampf he refers repeatedly to “the Lord,” “the Almighty,” and Jesus as “the great founder of a new doctrine.” “I am fighting for the work of the Lord,” he declared, and a whole lot of German Christians, Protestants and Catholics, believed him. Soldiers for the Wehrmacht wore belt buckles with the slogan Gott mit uns (God is with us).
On the other hand, some Christians rejected the exploitation of their faith. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran cleric who died in a concentration camp at age 39 in 1945, was the antithesis of the Christian fascist. In his book Ethics, he charged that fellow Christians failed to directly attack the specificity of evil in his time. Bonhoeffer was executed for his involvement in a heroic attempt to assassinate Hitler. He was, in the then-respectable view of the fascists, a terrorist. Martin Niemoeller, another Protestant pastor, was interned in a prison camp for eight years, freed in 1945. He had sermonized against aspects of the regime. After his liberation he suggested he and other Protestants hadn’t done enough. Although the quotation is disputed Niemoeller is said to have stated, “First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”
It is really for such Christians of today to reject and refute the unholy association between their faith and the “work of the Lord” that Bush claims he is achieving, and to speak out against fascist trends occurring here and now in the name of a man who counseled his followers, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.” Surely there is here the basis of a Christian anti-fascist movement.
GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org