See No Evil: Conservatism’s Blind Spot for Fascism
Addressing the crowd at his Phoenix political rally on August 22, Donald Trump gave a shout-out to Jeffrey Lord, an outspoken defender of the President who recently tweeted a sarcastic “Sieg Hiel!’ to one of his critics and was ejected from his pundit’s chair at CNN for it.
“Poor Jeffrey,” Trump sighed. “I guess he was getting a little bit fed up and was probably fighting back too hard.” But Trump’s speech would intersect with Nazism again when the President returned to the topic of Charlottesville, re-litigating for the third or fourth time his calamitous response to an ISIS-style car attack on counter-protesters at the Unite The Right rally that was organized by alt-right provocateurs.
Not content to let Trump muck up the conversation all by himself, Jeffrey Lord took to the American Spectator to explain why the entire context of the discussion was bogus.
That so-called “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville was about neither uniting nor “the Right.” Whatever its sponsors may pretend to, there is nothing — zero — that is “Right,” “conservative,” much less “Republican” about Nazis, Neo-Nazis, and white supremacists.
For a guy who knows the Right, Jeffrey could not be more wrong.
Escaping the yoke of “fascism”, understood by nearly everyone as a right wing phenomenon, has been a decades-long side project for American conservatives who would dearly love to lay the sins of not just Stalin and Mao but also Hitler and Mussolini at the feet of leftists. The idea has not gained much purchase outside the conservative echo chamber, but fresh attempts are always forthcoming. This summer, for instance, Dinesh D’Souza, conservatism’s shriveling Doogie Howser, debuted his own contribution to the project, a book titled The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left, and from its first Trump-cheering chapter it promises to turn tables and blow from out the water the myth that liberals in America are anything but the spawn of Hitler’s demon seed.
I would sooner beat off a bonobo then curl up with D’Souza’s latest cringy effort to stay relevant in the field of conservative thought, but it is also unnecessary. The definitive effort to re-brand the Left as the Right was already published in 2008 as Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning, written by the National Review’s Jonah Goldberg.
Half-baked but agonizingly footnoted, Liberal Fascism lays out in detail the case for fascism’s socialist parenthood and its legacy within the Democratic Party. Lifting “fascism” from its mere association with Blackshirts and gas chambers, Goldberg gives us a “working definition of fascism” that is a “religion of the state…totalitarian in that it views everything as political and holds that any action by the state is justified to achieve the common good.”
“Statism” will be the lynchpin of Goldberg’s argument for fascism as the soul of modern American liberalism, since all readers will understand that conservatives, if nothing else, stand for a small state (yes, they also crave a prison cell for every dope smoker and a military infrastructure to awe Darth Vader, but no one can foresee that ever leading to Big Brother!)
Beginning with uncontroversial evidence that Mussolini and Hitler both owed debts to the revolutionary Marxist movements of their time, Goldberg spins a web of increasingly spurious arguments which recast the peculiar chauvinism, ethno-nationalism and personality cults characteristic of fascist regimes as nothing more than socialism’s ripest fruits, achieving the one and only thing socialism has ever ascribed to: an onerous state with its nose in everyone’s business.
Goldberg exhausts his best arguments after only 100 pages, which leaves him 318 more pages to flip over every Democratic rock on the road between FDR and Obama to find fascist centipedes crawling there (who knew that JFK’s hunkiness was fascistic?) Before he is through, Goldberg will find Hitler’s spores attached to Abbie Hoffman, New Age religion, vegetarianism, The Dead Poet’s Society and, of course, all things Hillary.
But Goldberg palms a card in his argument. In seeking to prove once and forever that fascism is socialism’s bastard, and socialism is irreducibly of “the Left”, Goldberg neglects to define in any meaningful way what constitutes “the Right”, and what the characteristics are of an oppressive right wing state. Franco, Salazar and other B-list tyrants of the fascist era are ignored entirely, and Goldberg never attempts to prove that fascism — the “religion of the state…longing for a national leader attuned to the will of the people” — cannot manifest from right wing impulses as we understand them. In Goldberg’s paradigm, “right wing” and “conservative” simply elide, and since the latter is only virtuous, the idea of right wing fascism is ruled out of court.
Lord, at least, is more forthcoming, arrogating to the Right everything positive about America, leaving nothing but gristle for the Left:
Nazis, Neo-Nazis and fascists are not “the Right.” They are not about principles of freedom, liberty, limited government, and the civic society. They are about race, the glorification of The State, and hating capitalism.
But then, the obvious problem: only one side in the Charlottesville conflagration — the side not conflicted about their place on the Right — arrived dressed in Trump-themed khakis and polos, waving fascist flags, conducting a European-style neo-Nazi torch parade and shouting “Jews will not replace us!” The other battalion was clearly against all of this.
How to square this circle? Here is where the cognitive dissonance of Jeffrey Lord — and conservatism — kicks in. Looking for historical cover, Lord shamefully misquotes Ludwig von Mises, ascribing to him a bogus assertion that the Holocaust was a predictable result of socialist (therefor, liberal) theory. It is by this vehicle that Lord arrives at his Charlottesville, the one that the truth could not drive him to, where the chaos we beheld was only…
An intramural battle between American Leftists. They all believe in racism of one sort or another, whether the ‘white supremacists’ on one side or ‘identity politics’ on the other. They all hate capitalism.
And then the kicker:
They hate Jews.
This is where the conservative enterprise to exonerate the Right from the sins of fascism takes a turn for the grotesque, and where the self-deception of the conservative movement, currently being prepped for embalming, betrays America at a critical moment.
Goldberg, Lord and D’Souza would all probably call themselves Buckleyites of some sort, and their view of what it means to be “on the right” is blinkered by that standard. But even William F. Buckley understood that a right wing composed of libertarian anti-communists still shared an ecosystem with patriots who also thought that Eisenhower was putting fluoride in their kids’ milk to turn them queer. This was the John Birch Society brand of conservatism that was “read out” of the movement so that the principled Right could stand athwart history free from their stigma. Now that history has driven over Buckley’s conservatism with a Dodge Charger piloted by an egomaniac as unversed in Buckley as he is in Mises, that brand is reading itself back in.
What conservatives lack today is an understanding of their own deeper motives, the soil from which both conservatism and fascism grow: the right wing mindset itself. In trying to cast all of history’s sins upon liberals (or at least the worst of them), they have left themselves unprepared for a re-ignition of a fascist spirit that is presently chewing up their movement and the Republican Party like termites in a dead log. Conservative inertia is what has paved the way for Donald Trump, as surely as liberal inertia has saddled the Democrats with a politics based in gimmicks and matters of the crotch.
Conservatism’s sclerotic former vanguard had better wake up to what Charlottesville represents, and remember from where these new fascists draw their power: the bitter nostalgia and white tribalism that has always been the dark side of what conservatives were conserving. The new Right that is bursting from the chest of the cocooned Establishment are half-wits, but they are hipper, funnier, meaner and more activated than the descending stars of traditional conservatism. And now they also have a body count.
Jason Yungbluth is a cartoonist who would rather be complaining about Marvel’s latest glob of cinematic pap. Read his comics at Whatisdeepfried.com.