Monday, February 04, 2008

Not conservative, fascist.

In Sunday’s Washington PostBook World,” UCLA’s Michael Mann reviews Jonah Goldberg’s excremental Liberal Fascism, and he does a good, if unenviable job. But he errs badly in his third sentence asserting that, “Hurling the calumny ‘fascist!’ at American conservatives is not fair.” In this he echoes Ezra Klein’s recent assertion, in his otherwise cogent American Prospect response to Goldberg, that “The contemporary right is not fascist.” Both men are dead wrong. It may not be fair to call today’s “conservatives” conservative, but it is certainly fair to call them fascist.

Perhaps Professor Mann has in mind some stern, learned, patrician yet principled mentor of long ago in mind as conservative paradigm, some curmudgeonly Professor Kingsfield for whom reason was man’s crowning glory, for whom the aggregate, hard-won wisdom of the ages should restrain men from wrong or rash actions. But “conservative” does not mean this anymore (especially to those who call themselves conservative), just as gay doesn’t mean simply what it once did. Self-described “conservatives” today may well choose that label partly because of its antique laudable connotations; they plainly like to think of themselves as hard-minded and skeptical, especially of utopian experiment. But they are not conservative in any meaningful sense. Today’s conservatism, as lavishly espoused and rewarded on Fox and Clear Channel, as distilled by the mandatory “balancers” of the major TV networks and major editorial pages, is no more like conservatism of fifty years ago than National Socialism was like Socialism.

The conservative base, the Fox-fan, the Dittohead, the Bushite, the Chritianist and the Minuteman care nothing for the carefully preserved lessons of history, science, and literature, nothing for reason and evidence; they’re contemptuous of those who do care for these. They sweep study aside for dogma, for various preposterous mythologies that assuage their anxieties, bolster their prejudices, and legitimize their predations. Survey the actual expressions of the ubiquitous multibillion-dollar conservative propaganda mill, listen to their echo and resonance among the right-wing citizens, parse the coded stump speech of the candidate appealing for those citizens’ support, and you will find an amazingly consistent set of rather radical, counterfactual beliefs.

The conservatives of today believe in an imagined past when American was harmonious, safe, contented, chaste, because it was predominantly white, Christian and straight, (rather like Mayberry) and that it should be so “again.” Towards that end, they believe the state should promote prayer and police our private morality, our entertainments, our sexuality, and our use of mood altering drugs. They believe that if one refrains from using bigoted epithets in public, one is morally free to demand policies that punish people by class or race. They believe (with a heel-clicking “Credo!”) in the unicorn-myth of a “free market,” the wisdom of which makes constant growth a panacea rather than, as Edward Abbey had it, the “ideology of the cancer cell.” They believe, thus, in something for nothing; that, for instance, we can spree through a billion years’ accumulation of fossil energy in two centuries with negligible effect. They believe (despite abundant evidence to the contrary) that lowering taxes raises government revenue – through that miracle of perpetual growth.

They believe fervently that the Bill of Rights makes inalienable the gun with which they will someday defend themselves from dusky housebreakers. They believe in laissez-faire, unless the markets are tanking, in which case they believe it our collective duty to provide billions in corporate welfare. They believe that the social safety net is socialist redistribution (“handouts”) but that no-bid defense contracts are The Price of Freedom. They believe, in the face of all evidence, that voter fraud by black and brown people is rampant, but that Jim Crow suppression of the vote is a Conspiracy Theory. They believe (although not usually to the point of serving) in trillion-dollar experiments in nation-building through blitzkrieg, that pre-emptive war leads to peace, that freedom can be compelled with guns, bombs, prisons, torture chambers, and warrantless surveillance. They believe the commander in chief is above the law (if “conservative”); that the happiest state is run by a stern yet gentle despot, like Sheriff Andy or Ron Reagan. They believe, above all (for cruelty is the movement’s libido), in draconian punishment of our “enemies” and all lawbreakers (except “conservatives” like Scooter), in maximum punishment with as little troublesomem jurisprudence as possible – and no jurisprudence whatsoever in the case of black, brown, or Moslem foreigners. Think here of the recent GOP Presidential debate wherein all the white men in suits vied to express the most enthusiasm for bigger Guantanamos in their hypothetical administration. In short, today’s “conservative” is a zealot in the Leader’s personality cult, a racist, sadist, police-statist – in essence, in effect, in fact, a fascist, if not a Fascist. He’s just the sort of person who, like Jonah Goldberg, thinks this is good national policy: "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business."

The real purpose of Goldberg’s book is not to convince anybody that the liberals are really fascist; it is to get the rest of us to concede that the right wingers are not. The more successful they are in wringing this softheaded concession, the better their fascist projects can proceed. It is vital that we call them on this lie.


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