Tuesday, March 2, 2010

He Needs More Rehab: Glenn Beck's Newest Addiction is Fantasizing About the Destruction of Liberals and Progressives

It has been a while since we heard from our friend Werner Herzog's Bear. I can think of no better a moment for the bear to spring forth from hiding and devour Glenn Beck.

The boy has suffered a relapse. This time Beck's drug of choice is a bilious, poison filled, and twisted fantasy where Liberals and Progressives are a "cancer" to be "eliminated" from the Earth. As always, Werner is ready with a a special guest lecture on the real meaning of fascism, Glenn Beck's crazy talk, and why this is eerily frightening stuff:

Today I would like to talk about the way that the word “fascism” is currently being misunderstood, abused, and distorted in the public sphere. I’d like to start by saying that I do not think that any one political group has a monopoly on misusing the word “fascism.” The Soviet Union used it constantly to shut down its enemies, radical European students in the 1960s used it against democratic regimes, and it was certainly leveled carelessly by the opponents of the Bush administration. Basically, we have all agreed that “fascists” and “Nazis” are the avatars of evil, and to label your opponents fascists is a very effective form of political name calling. I think that unless you are talking about white supremacist organizations like the Aryan Nation, that the terms “Nazi” and “fascist” should be avoided, because they tend to shut off political debate rather than foster it.

That said, there has been a recent wave of Nazi talk that has gone beyond name calling to actually distorting the historical record. I am thinking specifically here of Jonah Goldberg’s recent book Liberal Fascism, Patrick Buchanan’s Hitler, Churchill and the Unnecessary War, and various statements made by Glenn Beck on his television show. These figures aren’t just mis-using the term “fascism,” they are trying to rewrite history. For example, Beck has called FDR a fascist on his show, and has consistently called progressives fascists. Goldberg does much the same in his book, and has made the preposterous claim that fascism was a movement of the political Left, rather than the Right. Patrick Buchanan, taking a different tack, has just written a book blaming Churchill for the Holocaust under the misbegotten notion that Britain prolonged what should have been a short war. In Buchanan’s eyes, Hitler was a nationalist who invaded Poland only to unite Germans together, not to subjugate Eastern Europe under German rule. All of these assertions are ridiculous, but are deadly serious, because they are being used to push a political agenda.

As someone who studies German history for a living, I feel that I should set the record straight. Because it would take too long for me to go into all of the distortions one by one, I will instead go into what fascism actually is. From that we will see the problems with the current rhetoric, and how it is based on is a gross misunderstanding at best, and a piece of calculated political mendacity at its worst.

First off, we should have a good definition of what fascism is. This is actually kind of tricky. In the first place, fascism is not merely dictatorship, militarism, or authoritarian government. While the term “fascist” was applied to Francisco Franco’s regime, he himself was not actually a fascist, but a conservative authoritarian, even though many of his supporters came from the Falange, the Spanish fascist party. In my estimation, and according to other historians like Stanley Payne, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany were the only two truly fascist regimes, while others, like Franco’s Spain, Vichy France, and WWII era Romania, had regimes influenced by fascist movements.

What is important to understand about fascism is that it is a revolutionary movement that seeks to overthrow the older order, not just preserve it. In that sense fascism was a break from prior movements on the extreme right, which tended to be more monarchical and clerical in nature. Robert Paxton, the great historian of Vichy France, has a definition of fascism that to my mind works best:

“a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.”

Extreme nationalism is thus the essential ingredient of fascism; you really can’t have fascism without it. Fascists wanted to purify the nation by destroying those elements they thought endangered the nation, and sought to make the nation great through military conquest. Fascists were also interested in mobilizing the nation, which made them different from traditional authoritarians; hence the creation of organizations like the Hitler Youth.

Furthermore, fascists defined themselves through their oppositions to women’s emancipation, artistic modernism, communism, socialism, and liberalism. They valued action, nation, violence, and cohesion. While they shared an emphasis on collectivism with Communism, fascists rejected the whole notion of class consciousness and instead substituted the nation.

Furthermore, the Nazi variant of fascism was fundamentally and almost exclusively concerned with the idea of race. Hitler placed German “Aryans” at the top of the racial hierarchy, and considered them a “master race” whose destiny it was to rule Europe. (This marked him off from Mussolini, who was not particularly anti-Semitic.)

The worst crimes of the Nazis are the direct outgrowth of their racial ideology. The Holocaust, persecution of homosexuals, enslavement of Russian POWs, and killing of the handicapped all were motivated by the desire to create a racially pure Volksgemeinschaft, or “racial community.” These principles were directly opposed to those of liberalism’s emphasis on individual rights and socialism’s belief in universal humanity. When commentators like Glenn Beck try to say that “collectivism” is what defines Nazism, they are wrong; it is race. This is also why Buchanan’s analysis is flawed: Hitler’s idea of Volksgemeinschaft required that those “unfit” would have to be destroyed.

But why not take this from the horse’s mouth? Mussolini himself wrote an essay called “What is Fascism?” in 1932 that is instructive in understanding how fascism wanted to break from other political ideologies:

"...given that the nineteenth century was the century of Socialism, of Liberalism, and of Democracy, it does not necessarily follow that the twentieth century must also be a century of Socialism, Liberalism and Democracy: political doctrines pass, but humanity remains, and it may rather be expected that this will be a century of authority...a century of Fascism."

Notice that Mussolini has defined Fascism in direct counter-distinction to democracy, liberalism, and socialism. The efforts by Goldberg and others to muddy the waters cannot overcome this fundamental fact: fascists viewed socialists and liberals as their enemies. Furthermore, fascists were most invested in enhancing the glory of their nations, which they claimed had been humiliated, something both Hitler and Mussolini did after World War I. From Mussolini again, we get the emphasis on national expansion and emphasis on the nation rising from humiliation:

“For Fascism, the growth of empire, that is to say the expansion of the nation, is an essential manifestation of vitality, and its opposite a sign of decadence. Peoples which are rising, or rising again after a period of decadence, are always imperialist; and renunciation is a sign of decay and of death. Fascism is the doctrine best adapted to represent the tendencies and the aspirations of a people, like the people of Italy, who are rising again after many centuries of abasement and foreign servitude.”

I provide these quotations for a reason, namely to show how wrong many of the people who talk about fascism today are about its actual nature. Now enter Jonah Goldberg. His book, Liberal Fascism, must stand as one of the most egregious abuses of the historical record ever written. Like others before him, he wants to pin the word “fascist” on his opponents, and goes to ridiculous lengths to do so. Here is what he has to say about modern day manifestations of fascism:

“Fascism was an international movement that appeared in different forms in different countries, depending on the vagaries of national culture and temperament. In Germany, fascism appeared as genocidal racist nationalism. In America, it took a “friendlier,” more liberal form. The modern heirs of this “friendly fascist” tradition include the New York Times, the Democratic Party, the Ivy League professoriate, and the liberals of Hollywood. The quintessential Liberal Fascist isn't an SS storm trooper; it is a female grade school teacher with an education degree from Brown or Swarthmore.”

Unfortunately for Mr. Goldberg, Brown doesn’t have an education program! Furthermore, people like him are always criticizing the New York Times, the Democratic Party, and Ivy League professors of not being nationalistic enough! His understanding of fascism is completely facile. For instance, he links the Nazi anti-smoking campaign, to the contemporary one, as an example of “liberal fascism.” That makes about as much sense as calling Dwight Eisenhower a Nazi for building the Interstate Highway System since the Nazis built the Autobahn. His problem is that he thinks that fascism has any kind of expression outside of radical nationalism. As we’ve seen already, it doesn’t.

Goldberg’s larger project, with which Glenn Beck and others have latched onto, is to term fascism a phenomenon of the “Left” rather than the “Right.” In the first place, we should acknowledge that these terms are highly subjective. Secondly, their grounds for doing so are highly suspect, especially because I cannot think of a single scholar of fascism who considers it to be primarily a Leftist movement. Goldberg for instance, likes to talk about how Mussolini started out on the Left, but that proves nothing. That would be like saying that since Ronald Reagan was a pro-New Deal leader of a labor union, that he was a liberal president. Paxton and others agree that there are elements of fascism that have their origins in the Left, such as the influence on revolution over restoration, but that doesn’t change the fact that fascism in France, Italy, and Germany, all had their origins in right wing, radical nationalist organizations at the turn of the century.

All of this is borne out in the historical record, where traditional conservative elites in both Italy and Germany allied themselves with fascism, something they never would have done with communists or socialists. People like Hindenburg saw Hitler as a tool for protecting their interests.

You might wonder why I am so passionate about this. I am because these distortions actually dishonor many of the people victimized by fascism. The first people targeted and killed by the fascist governments of Italy and Germany were Leftists. Hitler, for instance, purged the Communists and Social Democrats from the Reichstag soon after taking power, and built the first concentration camps in order to imprison them. The Social Democrats were the only party in Germany after World War I never to waver in their commitment to democracy, and they suffered for it.

Yet today they are being lumped together with Nazis. South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint did this recently, where he let this preposterous whopper drop, “we're about where Germany was before World War II where they became a social democracy.” Never mind that the social democrats lost their lives to defend democracy in the face of Nazi tyranny. If anyone deserves to be credited with trying to stop the Nazis, it’s them.

So in conclusion, I think it’s time that we stopped the name calling, and certainly that we stopped playing fast and loose with history. We all might have disagreements over politics with each other, but demonizing one’s opponents with the label of fascism is inappropriate and unproductive.


Bill the Lizard said...

I've always been a big fan of Godwin's Law.

Basically, its the "humorous" notion by Mike Godwin that basically says: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1". I put "humorous" in quotes only because I personally feel that it underlines a very serious issue, just as the Reductio ad Hitlerum fallacy does (e.g. Hitler didn't like smoking, so all anti-smoking campaigns are wrong).

England's The Economist actually takes Godwin's idea a bit further. In 2007, they said: "a good rule in most discussions is that the first person to call the other a Nazi automatically loses the argument." I tend to agree. If the only way you can "win" the discussion is by lobbing the most hateful accusation that you can at someone, regardless of whether its accurate, then perhaps your argument isn't as strong as you think it is.

Granted, while Godwin's Law may not actually be a "law" or 100% correct all of the time, the implications of it on the current state of American politics, I feel, are true and deeply disturbing. The "liberal fascist" rhetoric of Glenn Beck, Jonah Goldberg, and others (like Ron Radosh, and Michael Ledeen) is just the most recent attempt by the radical element of the conservatives to make "liberal" a bad word and legitimize their own divisive ideas. Nevermind 30 years of bad policies, political corruption, backroom deals and shortsightedness. Nevermind two wars, massive debt, political corruption and "Party of No" partisanship. It was a phantom group called "liberal fascists" who are undermining the Constitution, and if we just get rid of them, everything will be great!

The whole thing is smoke and mirrors. And if it wasn't for the fact that its extremely serious, I'd be laughing.

The most ridiculous element in all this is that the progressive movement can be labeled as both "Marxist revolutionary" and "fascist" at the same time. Apparently, no one Glenn Beck's circle got the memo that said that you can't really be both... It's almost as if they're just opening a thesaurus and just throwing out anything that will evoke knee-jerk emotional reactions.

Personally, my feelings are this - if people like Beck and Goldberg and others feel that the progressive movement is so anti-Constitutional and anti-American, then they should formulate rational arguments against it.

However, they should be prepared to explain themselves and defend their positions. If they can't, then Glenn Beck should seriously consider going back to his former job as a sub-par Connecticut radio shock jock.

He was more amusing when he made fart jokes.

C.R. said...

Another integral part of the German kind of fascism was, of course, anti-semitism. It is striking how a certain person's choice of words (disease, cancer, parasites, virus, suck blood) resembles the rhetoric of Nazi Germany. So may I call this structural anti-semite a crypto-fascist, Godwin's law notwithstanding?

オテモヤン said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bill the Lizard said...

@C.R.: "So may I call this structural anti-semite a crypto-fascist, Godwin's law notwithstanding?"

There is a very interesting quote from Dan Carlin that I personally like a lot and that I think supports your observation regarding real crypto-fascism in this country.

Dan Carlin is a political commentator, radio personality and amateur historian.

In a October 2007 podcast called "Nazi Tidbits", he says the following:

"You're never going to have German fascism in this country. Fascism ties itself to the national roots of the nation. It weaves itself through the myths of who a nation thinks they are and weds itself to them. Fascism worked in Germany because it was German fascism... If it ever happened in America, it would be American fascism. It would be wrapped up in our national heritage and in our national beliefs and John Wayne would be the demagogue president, not Adolph Hitler."