American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America

Watch out: we’re coming for you, Hedges!

I never did get around to finishing Hedges’ War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning.  Every few pages, after drawing you in with his fairly interesting stories and “straight from the front” war reporting experience that had informed his project, he would say something so phenomenally stupid (usually about the Balkans) that you simply had to stop reading for a little while so that you could still take him seriously when you resumed.  In the end, I stopped once too often and never continued.  Perhaps that was a mistake in that case, but here I think we are safe in assuming that a book that claims fascism is on the rise in America in the form of Christian fundamentalism is incredibly silly and almost needs no other comment.  

It appears that Mr. Hedges has taken his previous mixed bag of experience, insight and stupidity and taken out the first two parts, coming up with American Fascists with what remains.  Instead of more credibly noting that it is neoconservatives who exalt the power of will, glorify war and express a sort of aggressive hypernationalism and exude a secularising, revolutionary and modernist fervour similar to those of historic fascists, Hedges manages to target adherents of Dominion theology as the “American fascists.”  Here Hedges reminds us that to call someone a fascist is mainly to say, “I really hate that guy.”  It has no real meaning, because it never bears any relationship to the reality of the person or idea being described.  It hardly needs to be said that anyone who confuses the belief that the world should ordered according to Christ’s will with fascism, which is as close to the antithesis of this as there is, cannot be taken at all seriously.  Yet for some reason, for many on the right today, it is not clear that carrying out the will of Allah and exalting a secular nation-state are two radically different and mutually opposed things.  It is no wonder that left-liberals continue to indulge their favourite anti-Christian tropes when those conventionally assumed to be on the right begin babbling about fascist-this and fascist-that.  If an intellectually shallow slogan is good enough for them, why not for the left-liberals, too? 

For many of the same reasons why Islamofascist is a ridiculous and stupid term that ought to be driven from our political discourse forever, applying the word fascist to Christian fundamentalists of any stripe in this country is painfully wrong and betrays such an ignorance of what fascism is as to make the entirety of Hedges’ argument virtually worthless sight unseen.  It is worth mentioning here that all of the endless braying about Islamofascism or “Islamic fascism” has helped to give a new lease on life to this absurd designation of contemporary political and religious movements, so that the Ledeens, Hansons and Santorums have helped to pave the way for Chris Hedges’ screed.  Joining in the old leftist cant of screaming, ”Fascist!” while directing this rhetoric at jihadis, warmongers in this country have legitimised the basically illegitimate, destructive rhetorical habit of flinging the word fascist at all and sundry whom you find offensive.  As it always has and always will, it functions as a replacement for argument.  Using it is to strike a pose of moral righteousness as a way of denouncing someone else as ideologically deviant in the worst possible way and to tie their ideas, no matter how completely unrelated they are to fascism, to the crimes and horrors of Nazism in particular.  This tactic superficially endows the user with moral authority and a sense of historic purpose: my policy preferences and prejudices are not simply that, but they are expressions of a noble, abiding anti-fascist cause, and to oppose my positions is to objectively take the side of fascists everywhere.  To oppose my views on taxes (or foreign policy or health care or pensions) is to reincarnate the secular equivalent of absolute evil.  Because the anti-fascist has taken a stand against fascism of whatever kind, everything else he touches is ”sanctified” by association, just as anything associated (however falsely and dishonestly) with fascism is automatically considered dangerous, foul and retrograde.  This is quite mad, but it is also fairly common in our political discourse today.   

Like their neocon cousins (cousins whom they may despise, but who are nonetheless related to them), left-liberals define who they are by their “anti-fascism,” past and present, and perceive all of their enemies at home and abroad as varyingly serious versions of fascist.  Fascism–or the illusion of it conjured up by polemicists–is a force that gives liberals meaning.  When I say liberals, I am including many who are not normally considered to be either liberal or on the left. 

If I can overgeneralise a little, left-liberals are liberals who tend to see fascists all around them at home, while neocons are liberals who see fascists everywhere else in the world.  They are two sets of liberals who use the same kind of language, the same warnings, the same lame allusions to mid-twentieth century politics and international affairs and work from roughly the same assumptions about what constitutes the good, liberal democratic alternative.  All of them are preoccupied with finding and combating the new fascism and with preventing the rise and/or success of some supposed echo of Nazism; their shared moment, which they pretend they are always reliving, are the years just before and during WWII.  Jonah Goldberg has perhaps managed to combine these two kinds of paranoia by aligning left-liberals, at least rhetorically, with fascism and believing that the world is full of other new fascists.       

All of Hedges’ heavy breathing might be worth at least a chuckle, except that Dominionists have zero power in this country and are effectively represented by nobody in politics today.    Plus, it isn’t even new by the standards of lame, left-liberal attacks on religious conservatism–Michelle Goldberg and Damon Linker both beat Hedges to the theocratic punch last year with different, but related warning cries about impending theocratic domination in Kingdom Coming and The Theocons.  As Ross Douthat told us at the time, these books are all very silly and deeply flawed.