How Conservatives are the Death Eaters of Fascism
Keep it warm. Even if it’s gone underground, it will sprout again.
Conservatives have shepherded Fascism through its dark night of the soul. Having had its butt whipped during World War Two, it was not, unfortunately, dispelled completely. Discredited, yes. Rendered clawless, kind of. Muzzled, more or less. Extirpated from the human political vocabulary and excreted into History’s lavatory? Certainly not.
What happened to Fascism in the wake of World War Two was more of a Voldemort experience: Its killing-the-Potter-Child-moment (taking over the World) rebounded. Just as Voldemort disappeared from view only to reappear a decade later, Fascism went dark for a time, but has come back, albeit as a deformed baby, with no nose.
Upon the defeat of Nazi Germany and the ultimate collapse of the Axis powers in 1945, a small part of Fascism’s soul detached from its dying body and lodged itself in the right half of the Western mainstream body politic, thus ensuring its escape from obliteration and its ability to stage a comeback when the time was ripe, that is to say when the winning ideology of Liberalism and Parliamentary Democracy ran into economic trouble. Such trouble was inevitable, as the post-war world economy, as designed at Bretton Woods, was premised on constant (therefore unsustainable) growth, ensuring there would be booms and busts, as well as winners and losers. Unfortunately the Fascist shard that lodged itself in the human body politic fed greedily on economic malaise, the latter providing the excuse for latent anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, etc., to rise to the political level.
After a half-century of quiet recuperation, and even notwithstanding the baby-Fascist’s hideous deformity, its return is proving surprisingly effective. This is because, like the Dark Lord himself, there is an army of Death-eating Neo-Fascists ready to assist.
They are called Conservatives.
I know, I know, hold your outrage for a second. Not all Conservatives are Fascists, and certainly the two should not be conflated. And I also know that we rush to hurl the Fascist epithet at those we dislike. But two points pertain here. The first is that the beliefs that post-war Conservatives maintained in the United States mirror in many ways the ideologies that constituted Fascism in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. We will look further at them below.
Secondly, although most political traditions have antecedents, none directly correspond to them. Fascism today in other words cannot be a mirror image of Fascism yesterday. Times change. Context is everything. Islamic Fundamentalism, for example, is more about the modern-day political context of Islam than the era of the Prophet, and arguably has more in common with Twentieth Century Fascism (if you’re interested check out Youssef Choueiri’s work, or John Esposito’s, or the writings of Muslim Brotherhood founding father, Sayyid Qutb). In the case of Fascism, therefore, we will probably never agree on a complete definition. Some will highlight ultra-nationalism more, some redemptive violence, some an anti-clerical sentiment, others a corporatist ideology. Anti-clerical sentiment is not really relevant today. What is relevant to today’s fascists— or quasi or neo-fascists — is the role of national-vs-global, violence, suppression of opposition, corporatism and scapegoating. These, we see from Greece and Turkey to Poland, France, the UK and USA, with variations and differences for sure, but at this point, who cares about the small print? What we are learning from almost all of these, and especially our own homegrown US variety, is that the role of hatred is key – mirrored and promoted by our president who is at the head of the Republican party – which is where most conservatives live today.
Some of my best friends, nay family, are Fasc..I mean, Conservatives. And they are good people. They do not, in other words, promote killing Jews, Scapegoating Mexicans, marginalizing women, stripping all equality and justice-focussed government initiatives, giving big business tax breaks, press censorship, newspeak.
Well, actually they kind of do. At least some of the above.
But this is the crux: Conservatives would not agree with the language I’ve used here to describe what others think of as “bad things.” In place of “scapegoating,” read “blame.” In place of “marginalizing women,” read “maintain a traditional balance of the genders,” instead of “equality” read “communism.” And even in simply not speaking up about abuses against women and minorities, they echo the Fascist past, for silence, as many Holocaust survivors, from Premo Levi to Elie Wiesel have said, is complicity.
That is the rub: conservatives, even if not screaming for lynchings, would rather see Trump further their political agenda than protect the innocent, decry racism, and uphold America’s founding values of freedom and democracy.
The Conservative movement in America, as well as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Greece, and others, has shepherded the deformed body of partially-defeated Fascism through the period of post-war growth and prosperity that included the nineteen fifties and sixties. Starting with the Arab oil embargo in the 1970's and the economic instability that followed, Conservative politics globally became the mainstream vehicle for the most heinous political ideologies and the kinds of policies that covert Fascists can really get behind: Gun Rights (expressing the embrace of violence), voter disenfranchisement (only “We” should vote) anti-feminism (the cult of masculinity); anti-immigration and anti-immigrant (hatred and fear of others), pro military (more redemptive violence); anti spending on social services (cult of Corporatism, rule of the wealthy); anti Gay (hatred of minorities and identity politics). All of these amount to a direct threat to civil society.
In the UK and the US, in the form of neoliberalism, an economic theory promoted most notably by economist Francis Hayek, Via Milton Freidman, politicians like Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan pursued economic policies based on de-regulation and privatization. Now, I should point out that the entire Western capitalist system was primed for Fascism in that it rested upon neoliberalism and even the “left-of-center” politicians enacted policies within this framework, most notably Bill Clinton, who gained the presidency by moving the Democratic Party to the right, and Tony Blair in the UK, who did the same with the Labour Party. But, and it’s a considerable but, how much worse would things have been had the Blair/Clinton eras been driven by Conservatives? Their economic policies created considerable wealth. But none of it was equally spread. However, their taxation policies represented a brake on the much more egregious taxation policies proposed and variously enacted by Conservatives like George W. Bush, and again more recently by Trump.
In Britain, Maggie famously announced there was no such thing as “Society,” echoing Ayn Rand’s philosophy of compassion-free individualism and opening the door for a Corporatist outlook. Similarly Reagan, stateside, promoted the idea of trickledown economics, a Corporatist concept which did not ultimately end well for those at the bottom. Thatcher’s neoliberal agenda allowed her to attack the “welfare system” and unshackle business from the annoying restraints placed upon it by the need to do things like protect the environment, require highly profitable companies to contribute to the state, and provide a safety net for citizens in a world in which economic gains were distributed highly unequally.
This she did while whipping up a nationalist frenzy which culminated in sending thousands of British soldiers to the Falkland islands, a small British outpost in the South Atlantic, long claimed by Argentina. I won’t go as far as to support the Argentine position here — General Galtieri was after all a military dictator who operated out of his own authoritarian motives — but it should be pointed out that there was lots to gain for Thatcher, politically speaking, in drawing on nationalist and xenophobic sensibilities at home, to create her own wag-the-dog moment: “Stick It Up Yer Junta,” as the right wing tabloid, the Sun, phrased it one day in 1982 on their front page.
But probably the most important Fascist trait that was shepherded by Conservatives in the US and the UK has been ultra nationalism, and this was encouraged by globalization, immigration and the growth of the European Union. Fascists, unlike communists, hate all things international. The nation, after all, is supreme, and becomes, in the Fascist playbook, the ultimate identity — todo por la patria, is the motto of General Franco’s thugs who became Spain’s Guardia Civil. And we are all familiar with the more threatening Deutschland Uber Alles.
The very impetus for the European Union, after all, was the combining of interests of different European nations, so as to render another war unthinkable. But the inevitable inefficiencies of government were just as evident in the Eurozone as they had always been in each individual nation. Euro skeptics complained about top-down government from Brussels. Even while, for instance, Welsh farmers now had a giant market for their lamb, other Welsh folk complained about paying money to the Continent, and to faceless foreign bureacrats who told them how to run their affairs. The truth of the matter, however, is that government is always a compromise. You pay taxes. You get a return (roads, schools, garbage collection, police, army, welfare, in some countries). But perhaps if the government is constituted by people like you, then we cannot blame their failures on their identity. We have instead to debate policies. The likelihood is that if the Welsh were ruled from Cardiff, there would still be all sorts of problems, inefficiencies, and corruption, the truth being that Uncle Davy is just as corrupt and stupid as some faceless foreign bureaucrat. But no matter, because better the devil you know….
But Conservatives, like their Fascist cousins, don’t tend to go for the International. There cannot, therefore, be global solutions to anything. This is why climate change cannot be accepted as a fact by conservatives and Fascists alike. It is a global problem which requires global, not national, action. And for the Right, it’s all about the Nation, which as Trump keeps telling his followers, is Number One.
The obsession with the flag has long been a marker of death-eating Conservatism. You can’t burn it, desecrate it, blow your nose on it, or forget to stand up and salute it in class. This obsession reduces human identity to the Nation. Whereas other more well-adjusted humans, will be able to be simultaneously patriotic, feminist, vegetarian, etc., in other words be able to belong to multiple identities, multiple “tribes,” the Conservative and Fascist — to slightly differing degrees — can only admit to belonging to one identity, the Nation. That is why identity politics is so enraging to Fascists.
And I say enraging purposefully, for rage fuels the Fascist movement, which also endorses and uses violence in a redemptive manner. Again, we see similar rage among the Right in general. Not for nothing that almost all acts of political violence in America in recent decades have been from right wing movements. Even way nack, at the beginning of Trump’s campaign, he urged followers to inflict physical harm on protesters, and referred nostalgically to the violence used in the “old days.” FBI statistics bear this out very clearly (and for promoters of the “Deep State” and other conspiracy theorists, I will remind them that the FBI is about as Liberal as your Uncle Bob from Virginia, you know, the one with all the guns?)
One reason why people tend to freak out when you say that Conservatives are Fascist is that we forget that Fascism was a movement that was embraced by millions of….humans. Not monsters, not freaks, but humans like you and me. And the truth as Alexandria Octavio Cortes recently pointed out, is that there are no bad people. There are only bad ideologies. You can in other words recover from white supremacy.
The Nazis truly believed that their policies of violence and discrimination would lead to a better world. The problem was that this world was only to include Aryans. Just like the better world envisioned by Neo-Fascists. It does not include you, gay man or woman. Or you, Mexican. Or you, Negro. Or you, handicapped dude. Or you, Vegan. And probably not me.
Ultimately, this Fascist/Conservative relationship will end up making a world only fit for a very small number of us. And you probably aren’t among them. Furthermore, the world today IS global. The threats we face ARE global in nature, and they DO require a global response. This means participation in treaties and organizations spread across the globe, to counteract the nuclear threat, the climate threat, the energy crisis, the refugee crisis, ISIS. Where there are global problems there must be global solutions. Its time to recognize our commonality. And this can only be done if the conservatives, who constitute some one-half of the voting population of the Western world, relinquish some of these deeply-held beliefs and practices, and everyone else calls them out for what they are.