Salon has a must-read interview with NYT war correspondent Chris Hedges, who has seen fascism, savagery and oppression all over the world, and recently wrote the book American Fascists, which takes a good hard look at the religious right in this country.
“Fascist” is a loaded word, and one which some argue might deserve its own Godwin’s law. But it’s worth looking at some informed definitions of “fascism” and seriously considering how they apply to those who want the U.S. to be a “Christian nation”:
* “The Cult of Tradition”, combining cultural syncretism with a rejection of modernism (often disguised as a rejection of capitalism).
“Rejection of modernism” — does that sound anything like the people who refuse to accept basic scientific consensus (climate change, evolution) and progressive social change (women’s rights, LGBT rights)?
* “The Cult of Action for Action’s Sake”, which dicatates that action is of value in itself, and should be taken without intellectual reflection. This, says Eco, is connected with anti-intellectualism and irrationalism, and often manifests in attacks on modern culture and science.
Anti-intellectualism which often manifests in attacks on modern culture and science. Where have we heard this before? Modern religious conservatives are irrationally terrified of things like women’s sexual/reproductive rights and same-sex marriage, when in reality, there is absolutely no reason to fear either — unless you subscribe to a philosophy in which social control is a cornerstone.
* “Disagreement is Treason” – fascism devalues intellectual discourse and critical reasoning as barriers to action.
* “Fear of Difference”, which fascism seeks to exploit and exacerbate, often in the form of racism or an appeal against foreigners and immigrants.
Who’s afraid of the big brown Mexican (or Muslim, pick your poison)? Hint: Not us red-diaper doper babies.
* “Appeal to a Frustrated Middle Class”, fearing economic pressure from the demands and aspirations of lower social groups.
Who stokes fears about immigrants taking all of “our” jobs? Who blames feminism for destroying manliness? Who argues, in 2007, that white men should really step up and put the uppity black folks in their place?
* “Obsession With a Plot” and the hyping-up of an enemy threat. This often involves an appeal to xenophobia or the identification of an internal security threat. He cites Pat Robertson’s book The New World Order as a prominent example of a plot obsession.
Well, he cited it himself, so I don’t have to. But I’ll add the “war on Christmas” and the apparent “Islamist” plot to level America when, in fact, we’ve been killing people, starting wars, installing dictators, and propping up illigitimate leaders in majority-Muslim countries for several decades now (not to mention doing similar damage all over the rest of the world, but so far they aren’t plotting against us).
* “Pacifism is Trafficking With the Enemy” because “Life is Permanent Warfare” – there must always be an enemy to fight.
Do I really need to offer examples here? Ok.
* “Contempt for the Weak” – although a fascist society is elitist, everybody in the society is educated to become a hero.
Can you say Manly Jesus?
* “Selective Populism” – the People have a common will, which is not delegated but interpreted by a leader. This may involve doubt being cast upon a democratic institution, because “it no longer represents the Voice of the People”.
They like to talk a big game about democracy in the Middle East. And then they break out with stuff like this:
“Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ — to have dominion in civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness.
But it is dominion we are after. Not just a voice.
It is dominion we are after. Not just influence.
It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time.
It is dominion we are after.
World conquest. That’s what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish.”
-George Grant, former executive director of D. James Kennedy’s Coral Ridge Ministries
* “Newspeak” – fascism employs and promotes an impoverished vocabulary in order to limit critical reasoning.
Think basics of newspeak: a vocabularly which reflects a black-and-white worldview (good or evil; “you’re either with us or you’re against us”); neutral-sound euphimisms to cover up for atrocities (“collateral damage”); or simply completely mislabelling what they truly stand for (“pro-life,” “defending marriage”).
Other defining characteristics of fascism, according to various thinkers:
-Hostility toward feminism and women’s rights
-Hostility toward worker’s rights and socialism
-Idealization of “manliness” and supposedly “masculine” attributes
-Apocalyptic and millenarian emphasis
-”Fascism is a religious conception in which man is seen in his immanent relationship with a superior law and with an objective Will that transcends the particular individual and raises him to conscious membership of a spiritual society.” -The Doctrine of Fascism, signed by Benito Mussolini
Who does this sound like?
I realize this sounds alarmist, and I’m certainly not accusing all Christians or all Republicans or all conservatives of being fascists. But damn if the extreme Christian right doesn’t epitomize fascist ideology. As Hedges says, “I think there are enough generic qualities that the group within the religious right, known as Christian Reconstructionists or dominionists, warrants the word. Does this mean that this is Nazi Germany? No. Does this mean that this is Mussolini’s Italy? No. Does this mean that this is a deeply anti-democratic movement that would like to impose a totalitarian system? Yes.”
For all liberals like me mock the Jerry Falwells of the religious right and insist that they not be taken seriously, we may be in for a very unpleasant surprise:
When I first covered Hamas in 1988, it was a very marginal organization with very little power or reach. I watched Hamas grow. Although I came later to the Balkans, I had a good understanding of how Milosevic built his Serbian nationalist movement. These radical movements share a lot of ideological traits with the Christian right, including that cult of masculinity, that cult of power, rampant nationalism fused with religious chauvinism. I find a lot of parallels.
People have a very hard time believing the status quo of their existence, or the world around them, can ever change. There’s a kind of psychological inability to accept how fragile open societies are. When I was in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, at the start of the war, I would meet with incredibly well-educated, multilingual Kosovar Albanian friends in the cafes. I would tell them that in the countryside there were armed groups of the Kosovo Liberation Army, who I’d met, and they would insist that the Kosovo Liberation Army didn’t exist, that it was just a creation of the Serb police to justify repression.
You saw the same thing in the cafe society in Sarajevo on the eve of the war in Bosnia. Radovan Karadzic or even Milosevic were buffoonish figures to most Yugoslavs, and were therefore, especially among the educated elite, never taken seriously. There was a kind of blindness caused by their intellectual snobbery, their inability to understand what was happening. I think we have the same experience here. Those of us in New York, Boston, San Francisco or some of these urban pockets don’t understand how radically changed our country is, don’t understand the appeal of these buffoonish figures to tens of millions of Americans.
We know that people like Dennis Prager are idiots when they suggest the Bible is America’s most important document (to hell with the Constitution), but millions of Americans think his view is a-ok — to the point where the phrase “America is a Christian nation” is standard fodder in conservative publications. Michelle Golberg, who interviewed Hedges for the Salon piece, wrote a book of her own on this issue, some of which she discusses in this article. And it’s scary stuff:
In the Christian nationalist vision of America, non-believers would be free to worship as they choose, as long as they know their place. When Venkatachalapathi Samuldrala became the first Hindu priest to offer an invocation before Congress, the Family Research Council issued a furious statement that reveals much about the America they’d like to create:
“While it is true that the United States of America was founded on the sacred principle of religious freedom for all, that liberty was never intended to exalt other religions to the level that Christianity holds in our country’s heritage…Our founders expected that Christianity — and no other religion — would receive support from the government as long as that support did not violate peoples’ consciences and their right to worship. They would have found utterly incredible the idea that all religions, including paganism, be treated with equal deference.”
The iconography of Christian nationalism conflates the cross and the flag. As I write in “Kingdom Coming,” it “claims supernatural sanction for its campaign of national renewal and speaks rapturously about vanquishing the millions of Americans who would stand in its way.” At one rally at the statehouse in Austin, Texas, a banner pictured a fierce eagle perched upon a bloody cross. For a liberal, such imagery smacks of fascist agitprop. But plenty of deeply committed Christians also object to it as a form of blasphemy. It’s important, I think, to separate their faith from the authoritarian impulses of the Christian nationalist movement. Christianity is a religion. Christian nationalism is a political program, and there is nothing sacred about it.
But don’t take it from us godless liberals. Just ask the Christian fundamentalists themselves, and they’re happy to offer their views on:
-How female CEOs destroy the economy
-Why we should repeal the 19th Amendment (yes, that would be women’s suffrage)
-The Holocaust Hoax
-Feminism rooted in Communism
-How people who aren’t born-again Christians are failures as human beings; the ACLU, feminists and homosexuals are to blame for Sept. 11th; secular people are responsible for terrorism; Christians taking over public schools; AIDS as punishmnent for gay men; and unbelieving Jews.
-Christians taking over the country; overthrowing the U.S. government; how only Christians and Jews are qualified to be leaders; political assassinations; feminist plots to kill children and destroy capitalism; and the requirement of female submission.
-The state above all else
-Their plan to take it all back.
Have no doubt: These people see this as a war, and they don’t hesitate to use militaristic language when encouraging their followers to “obey” and “fight” for Christ (and against the New World Order). Fringe? Some of them, sure. But not folks like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Janice Crowse, and scores of other radically religious, anti-choice, anti-gay theocrats — they’re all quite chummy with our president and the Republican party. And they have a whole lot of power.
Just something to consider.
- Christian Fundies Hate America by Jill March 31, 2006
- Come to think of it, she was pretty strict about the glue by Linnaeus December 19, 2007
- The Priorities of Conservative Christians by Jill December 16, 2005
- Another issue for international godbags to bond over by Jill December 4, 2006
- Dear Dennis Prager, “America” and “Christianity” are not synonymous by Jill December 4, 2006