Eunomia · rhetoric

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“Congress voted yesterday to provide our troops with the funding and flexibility they need to protect our country,” Bush said in a statement Friday.

“Rather than mandate arbitrary timetables for troop withdrawals or micromanage our military commanders, this legislation enables our servicemen and women to follow the judgment of commanders on the ground,” he added. ~AFP

Once again, a mutant strain of Vietnam Syndrome has come to dominate the debate over the war.  Disillusioned Vietnam hawks have told a story about Vietnam that suits the interests of many groups, so it has become something of a consensus view.  According to this story, it was terrible micromanagers from Washington who doomed an otherwise “winnable” conflict to ultimate failure.  Because, you see, it was the White House selecting bombing targets, and not the collapse of ARVN, that led to the collapse of South Vietnam.  Mr. Bush decided long ago that no one would confuse him for a President who was extremely familiar with the details of his own war, and has made a fetish of his own hands-off approach to the war.  He is the Decider who prefers to defer to those under his command. 

Ever since 1975, it has been the mantra of most politicians, especially Republican politicians, that they will follow the judgements of military commanders during wartime and will essentially cede most decisionmaking to these commanders (all the better to wash their hands of whatever comes out of the conflict, I suppose).  Critics of the President, particularly Democratic members of Congress, have decided that their best course of action is to get into a contest with Mr. Bush to see who can follow the “commanders on the ground” more assiduously.  Mr. Bush’s failure, as Obama will tell us, is that he does not pay attention to the situation “on the ground,” while Mr. Bush will retort that he will not tolerate politicians (which apparently does not include himself) meddling in these affairs.  When it comes to a choice between Congress and the “commanders,” as Mr. Bush memorably told us not long ago, he is “the commander guy.” 

Obama has a point, as far as it goes, since Mr. Bush’s obliviousness is now proverbial, but speaking about “the ground” in Iraq has moved beyond an appeal to realism and a desire to measure results in the real world to a convenient trope that allows antiwar Democrats the room to claim that they are actually more hard-headed and tough-minded than Mr. Bush with respect to winning the war.  This approach may be quite appealing to some presidential candidates, since it seems to make it possible to be antiwar and in favour of a more vigorous, “effective” war at the same time.  It is understandable why everyone now wants to fixate on the reality “on the ground,” since so many of the tactical and administrative errors of the first four years have been a product of the administration’s old hostility to empirical evidence, history and any expertise that might contradict received ideological maxims, but the phrase itself has become a cliche–so much so that Mr. Bush has embraced it–and it has ceased to mean very much.  Indeed, “commanders on the ground” and “situation on the ground” are fast approaching the meaninglessness of such stock phrases as “support the troops,” “cut and run” and, everyone’s favourite, “we’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them here.” 

These phrases no longer refer to any actual coherent policy position, nor do they really refer back to anything in reality.  They are slogans used to say something in a less direct, but even more effective way.  When you want to say, “The administration is incompetent,” you say, “The President is ignoring the situation on the ground.”  Charges of incompetence are a dime a dozen in government, but this other accusation conveys the special quality of Mr. Bush’s incompetence–he is ignoring the situation on the ground.  That sounds much worse for Bush, which is why Democrats prefer to say this. 

Likewise, when you want to say, “We’re going to keep fighting this war forever,” you say, “We are following the advice of the commanders on the ground.”  It doesn’t matter what the advice of the commanders might actually be.  It doesn’t even matter whether the politicians actually follow that advice.  The commanders might unanimously call for withdrawal, but what matters is the attitude of the politician who expresses his respect and support for the decisions of the “commanders on the ground.”  This shows that he has the requisite hawkishness to be taken seriously on national security by people in the establishment. 

When you want to say, “Bow before the President,” you say, “Support the troops.”  We can tell this is the case because the phrase is quite often invoked at those moments when critics say something against the President.  Since virtually no one is saying anything against the troops, calls to “support the troops” might seem redundant, except that the phrase has next to nothing to do with the troops any longer.  There are uses of the phrase that may refer to actual troops, but very often this is almost incidental.  When you want to say, “I want to continue this war forever and ever,” you say, “We’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them here.”  Fighting forever is what this phrase logically entails, because it implies that “they” will attack us “here” if we stop fighting “over there,” which means that we can never be safe unless we keep fighting “over there” against “them.”  Instead of saying something as crazy as that, it is much better to cast the entire conflict in strictly defensive terms.    

So there is an obsession with this “ground” on which the commanders are operating and with which Mr. Bush has virtually no acquaintance.  Since Mr. Bush was once a National Guard aviator, perhaps his lack of attachment to “the ground” is understandable.  It seems to me that all the other commanders–those on the sea, for instance–must be feeling terribly hedged in and micromanaged, since it is only the “commanders on the ground” who are given this much flexibility and leeway.

James Poulos has a masterful post on the importance of rhetorical combat and puts the renewed calls for the study of military history into some perspective.  Any post that coherently ties together mentions of Henry Clay and The Untouchables has to win some sort of special award for creativity.

Mitt Romney’s War: the total conflation of all Islamist movements. Not only is the Muslim Brotherhood not a jihadist organization, but its very lack of jihadiness is what spawned Ayman Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Suffice it to say that there is no caliphate on heaven or earth that will simultaneously satisfy Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, which goes a long way toward explaining why there is no concerted “worldwide jihadist effort” by these groups to establish one. ~Spencer Ackerman
Via Drum

Ackerman is right that Romney’s remarks in the debate make no sense, but they are worse than he thinks.  Not only is there “no caliphate on heaven or earth that will simultaneously satisfy Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood,” Hizbullah presumably wouldn’t even want  a caliphate at all, since the last intertwining of Shi’ism and ideas of having a khalifat as such was in Fatimid Egypt more than a few years ago.  Plus, the Fatimids were Ismailis (though not, strictly speaking, Seveners), and Hizbullah today is from the Imamiyyah or Twelver Shi’ite branch, which makes the likelihood of this predominant strain in Iranian and Lebanese Shi’ism indulging dreams of a restored caliphate in Cairo (where virtually no Shi’ites today dwell) even more remote.  

Not that anyone is keeping score, but I would like to point back to a pre-debate post in which I zeroed in on Romney’s foreign policy and historico-cultural ignorance on display in his speech at Yeshiva University.  In the debate Romney offered up the same “gibberish,” as Drum called it, that he offered in the speech.  Few, if any, have called him on it in the past when he has said ridiculous things about “the enemy,” and so he keeps on repeating them, because they give him the superficial appearance of knowledgeability and understanding.  There are no candidates on the Republican side, except perhaps Ron Paul, who would either know to correct Romney or who would feel any strong desire to do so.  In the view of most of the candidates who were up on that stage Thursday, Hizbullah and Hamas must be our enemies because they are Israel’s enemies, and so any lazy or overbroad concept that unite them all together under a single umbrella term will do. 

For some of the ridiculous candidates (Brownback and Huckabee), and the Rick Santorums of the world, the catch-all idea is “Islamic fascism” or “Islamofascism,” a phrase and a word respectively so stupid that they must win some sort of prize for being the most stupid of the current century.  Romney shares in their profound confusion (or deliberately misleading rhetoric) for the same reason: all these diverse and disparate groups must be brought together under a single, frightening label and they must be made out to be enemies of America, whether or not these descriptions are plausible, true or reasonable.  As has been stated by some of the biggest supporters of the term Islamofascism, its value lies in its vagueness and its all-purpose application: everyone even nominally Muslim or remotely authoritarian can be classified as an Islamofascist, whether he is a Baathist, a member of al-Ikhwan, or a partisan of Hizbullah.  As May said in September of last year:

The problem, as I see it with using the term “Bin Ladenism”: It can’t be applied to the ideologies of the ruling Iranian mullahs, Saddam Hussein loyalists or other Baathists (e.g. in Syria).

In other words, the word we use to describe our enemies must be meaningless in order to accommodate the maximum number of enemies.  If there were ever a politician who was perfectly suited to an age in which words should be entirely malleable and subject to the political needs of the moment, it would have to be Romney.  Romney and rhetoric about Islamofascism were made for each other. 

The strategy of deploying charged and hyper-aggressive language is now evident: First intimidate one’s targets, then coerce them–into conformity or silence. And do it always under the banner of free speech and democracy. ~Daniel Henninger

Quite unintentionally, Mr. Henninger has just described the editorial policy of The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard and National Review.  It is amazing to me that someone at a newspaper whose editors and contributors have engaged in plenty of destructive and often false commentary about their political enemies would have the gall to lecture bloggers on intimidation, coercion and the silencing of opponents.  Sometimes I think that half the reason the WSJ op-ed page exists is to try to intimidate and silence opponents, particularly those on the right with whom they disagree; the same goes for the others, only more so.  Bloggers may speak harshly to their interlocutors and targets and call it democratic activism, but at least we do not launch invasions and cheer on organised slaughter in the name of freedom and democracy–that dubious honour belongs to Mr. Henninger and his ilk.

Speaking of “doublespeak” and general two-facedness, nothing captures it better than a columnist at an establishment rag such as the Journal pretending that bloggers have the monopoly on aggressive hostility towards political opponents.  If I write in a bitter, withering tone in many posts, I learned it from reading the Journal’s editorials as a boy–these were always laced with irony and also quite frequently with contempt for their subjects.  Yes, the blogosphere is far less restrained, and particularly in comment sections this becomes quite dreadful at some sites, and I am certainly strongly in favour of restraint, but any attempt to dictate a “code” to bloggers is an attempt to control them and limit their influence.  That would almost have to be the point of inventing such a thing, and the only beneficiaries of limiting their influence are the establishment media, the political class and the administration.  Looking at it that way, it seems to be a very bad idea.

Bloggers are notoriously combative and often seem unusually “angry” to the refined, calm columnists and media watchers, because many of us, unlike them, actually have opinions that do not resemble weak tea.  Having gagged on years and years of their spoon-fed pablum, we spit it back in their face and they discover that they don’t like it at all.  Sometimes we’re angry, and sometimes we’re simply calling establishment pundits and media outlets on their flaws in a particularly pointed and critical way that these people can only interpret as a “screed” or an expression of crazed rage.  What I despise is the pretense put forward by establishment figures and institutions that they hold the keys to the definitions of moderation and reasonableness.  Their insipid policy views are half the reason so many of us are so agitated about the state of affairs today.

I run what I am proud to say is a pretty clean and respectful house here at Eunomia, so I know it is possible to create a healthy atmosphere of combative back and forth that does not have to degenerate into mudslinging and insults.  If other bloggers fail to do that, that is their mistake, but I find the idea of a general code for bloggers (especially one sanctioned by the king of verbal abuse and intimidation, O’Reilly) to be ridiculous.  There is a lot of invective and criticism and obvious hostility to various hacks, villains and tyrants who deserve that hostility here at my blog.  If I were to subscribe to this bizarre code, I would basically have to stop writing 85% of what I write because of rule #2 alone:

We won’t say anything online that we wouldn’t say in person.

I find such a restriction completely unrealistic and inappropriate.  In person, I actually try to be diplomatic and seek to avoid harsh exchanges of words or even intense disagreements.  I do this for the sake of civility, and because I am not inclined as a matter of temperament to getting into shouting matches with people face to face.  FoxNews, which has perfected the medium of the shout-fest that is supposedly a “news” or “opinion” show, would not want to have someone like me on.

I have read that Jefferson was much the same way: he could write vituperative polemics against his political foes, but would be the image of civility in person.  As it should be.  The early satirists of the Opposition wrote things about Walpole and the Robinarchy, albeit they often had to write about them indirectly, that they would probably never have said in person to Walpole and his fellows.  Written invective will be the outlet for a society choking under the imposed constraints of political correctness and thought crimes.  The more consolidated major corporate media become, and the more autocratic the government becomes, the greater the demand will be for increasingly unfettered expression to rebel against these things.  To take away that outlet, or to try to say that there is something deeply wrong with that written invective will be to ensure that there are explosions of outrage elsewhere in society.

Whereas Larison imputes Goldberg’s thoughts as necessarily vapid, swimming in the mainstream of American culture as they are. ~Koz

Perhaps Koz has misunderstood me somewhere.  It is true that Goldberg’s frequent TV chatter and “timewasters” at The Corner make him seem rather less than a serious observer of the political and cultural scene, but we are talking about blogging after all and that is not really why I agreed with Alterman’s assessment that Goldberg has turned to intellectually bankrupt “movement shtick.”  I agreed with Alterman’s assessment because I think this is an accurate observation about the shallowness and, yes, vapidity of what passes for mainstream conservative intellectual activity today.  Goldberg seems to embody those things to a remarkable degree and much more than, say, Ramesh Ponnuru or John Derbyshire, for example, who routinely show that they can engage in actual debate without resorting to lazy name-calling and guilt by association; they have some ideas of their own, and they can defend and explain them through something called “argument.” 

It is possible that Goldberg’s forthcoming book will demonstrate that there is more to Goldberg today than someone who engages in little more than posturing and rather heavy-handed attacks in which he tars his enemies with what he would consider to be particularly nasty associations and labels.  His obnoxious slaps at Ross and Reihan, who are probably on his side on many issues, are par for the course–he doesn’t know how to respond to or critique any idea, regardless of what it is, without resorting to these methods, because he doesn’t seem to know how to handle ideas except as ciphers of movement loyalty or disloyalty.  I suppose every political movement will have these people, but these people will not normally be taken as people with something interesting to say.  The problem with the movement today is that Goldbergian shtick, which is basically the striking of the politically appropriate pose and the uttering of the politically appropriate word, is widespread and a surprisingly large number of conservative pundits engage in it in the mistaken belief that this is the same as making demonstrative arguments.  Most of modern conservatism operates in two rhetorical modes: panegyric (hurray for Romney [or whomever we are praising this week]!) and invective (down with the evil-cons!).  Everyone else uses these modes as well (I am a big fan of invective myself), but at least some are also capable of demonstrative reasoning. 

If paleocons and leftists find themselves to be in agreement about certain things, especially about the debating tactics of Jonah Goldberg, this is because he uses the same tactics against both and both groups find these tactics to be cheap, weak and unpersuasive.  Of course, he isn’t trying to persuade, but to reinforce collapsing ideological structures–that tends to confirm the picture of intellectual weakness that Alterman and I and others have been describing. 

What I found especially unconvincing about Koz’s critique was this bit:

This last [about swimming in the mainstream of American culture] is a paleocon trope that I wish more of them could see for themselves, since the paleocons often have very useful cultural commentary, but no accountability for any of it. Being a paleo means never having to say you’re sorry. If they had been in charge, the problem (whatever problem it is) would have never happened in the first place. This is good as far as it goes, but it means that we have to retreat into our own personal little Barbie and Ken dollhouse where we have total fiat over our environment.

I don’t really know what this last line even means, but I assume it is another form of the usual criticism of supposed paleo “quietism” or withdrawal from the arena.  It is surely the only time “Barbie and Ken dollhouse” has been used in the same paragraph with paleoconservatism.  It also isn’t really about whether we paleos are in charge of anything.  We are certainly capable of mistakes and faulty judgements, but where I think we differ from other conservative “factions” and other Americans, to the extent that you can generalise about a group as genuinely diverse in perspectives as paleos actually are, is that we retain more strongly a recognition of the limits, needs and purpose of human nature, we seem to remember history more keenly, we instinctively refuse to trust governments regardless of which people run them, and we are less inclined to justify moral abominations when they are committed by our government or by people in our society (perhaps because we are not in positions of influence or power and do not feel compelled to justify the unjustifiable to retain those positions).  If speaking out against what the critic believes to be rank immorality or injustice is disqualified because the critic is somehow “unaccountable” because he is so marginalised or otherwise uninfluential that he has virtually nothing to lose when he is mistaken in his criticism, then I suppose I plead guilty to being “unaccountable” in this way.  If it means that we are not somehow  just as obliged to pay respect to truth and acknowledge when we have been wrong, I reject this categorically.  What would it be like to have “accountable” cultural critics?  How are they currently not being held to account?  When those cultural critics say something like, “The family is the central institution of society and must be strengthened by actively discouraging divorce and encouraging traditional Christianity,” are they being “unaccountable”?  

Koz says that “being paleo means never having to say you’re sorry,” which I might be inclined to spin as a compliment meaning that paleos never have anything for which they should be sorry.  But obviously that is not his meaning.  It means that paleos should feel bad that they keep more or less accurately pointing out the grievous dangers to this country long before these evils become obvious to everyone else, while no one pays any attention to the paleos and instead listens to the impressive frauds who continue to bungle everything and fail their country on a regular basis.  Perhaps it means that we should feel contrite that we opposed the war before it was trendy to do so. 

On the contrary, it is not being paleo that allows you to go along without ever admitting being wrong.  It might be the case that no one would notice even if we did get things horribly wrong, but I would like to think that paleos would have the integrity to acknowledge those errors, not least because they are well aware of the terrible evils that come from pride and vanity, which are the two passions that usually prevent men from facing up to their mistakes.  Politicians and many professional pundits seem to enjoy this luxury of never having to say that they’re sorry, because they for the most part are unaccountable for their errors, even though the policies carried out partly because of their errors usually have many more disastrous consequences for the commonwealth and the world. 


So the 15 British sailors and marines held by Iran will apparently be released.  This strikes me as the least expected outcome, since I assumed that the Iranians who were foolish enough to detain these people would also want to maximise the propaganda value of their captivity for as long as possible.  Sad to say, that is what Mr. Bush would do and has done with our own detainees.  However, the overwrought display of clemency by Ahmadinejad (not one generally associated with clemency) is a very nicely calculcated move, as if to say, “We have so much leverage over you that we will be magnanimous and give you a little gift.”  The only way that Tehran could have humiliated the British more than by holding the detainees was by releasing them as a goodwill gesture, managing at once to defuse the ‘crisis’ and deflate to some degree the anti-Iranian rhetoric that these people are all soulless monsters.  All of the people hyperventilating about the uselessness of NATO, the EU, the UN and the British Government all now appear to be fairly silly, insofar as the ‘crisis’ to which they failed to respond “effectively” (i.e., by massively counterproductive sanctions and/or military action) was resolved quickly and without recourse to the usual hamfisted attempts to intimidate and bludgeon this or that country.  The jingoes have lost their latest pretext for a war with Iran, which will not by any means diminish their enthusiasm to find another one. 

All this said, the gullibility of some people in the antiwar movement that Faye Tunney’s letters were genuine or “eloquent” (!) has been as stunning as the particularly pathetic de rigueur outrage that the Iranians are holding a woman captive.  As for those letters and her interview, the big giveaway for me (besides the obviously staged nature of her “confession” as Tunney stares at what must have been her cue card or script) was the frequent use of the word “compassionate,” as if the Iranian propagandists were trying to find the English word that most epitomises the opposite of what most Westerners associate with the Tehran government.  As for the other phenomenon, we are supposed to simultaneously think the Iranians brutes for capturing the woman sailor, while deploring a mother’s lack of willingness to fight to the death for (allegedly) the sake of Iraqi territorial integrity, while actively pretending that there is nothing at all strange about sending a mother on patrol in potentially dangerous waters. 

Ahmadinejad’s “family values” line works so well rhetorically because so many people in the West know just how crazy it is to have women on patrol and in potential combat zones, but you wouldn’t have heard a single pundit, particularly none on the right, say peep about this.  Virtually every conservative pundit has learned to mechanically utter the set phrase, “our servicemen and women,” and they all know that right-thinking people no longer make a great fuss about having women in what could potentially be combat situations.  Why, that’s the sort of thing Jim Webb used to do (as George Allen so lamely tried to argue in ‘06), and if there’s one thing that unites conventional conservative pundits it is reflexive opposition to whatever Jim Webb believed or believes.  Naturally, Sullivan still distinguishes himself with the most asinine comment about the entire affair:

The only downside for Ahmadinejad was his ugly, stupid statement about women servicemembers. But it may go down well with the D’Souzaite masses in the Middle East.

D’Souzaite masses?  The masses in the Middle East are probably not likely to identify with a secular Westernised intellectual with a Portugese last name–just guessing! 

The remark wasn’t ugly or stupid, except to a utopian egalitarian who thinks that mothers should be sent to the front lines (apparently because they have nothing better to do, such as, say, raise their children).  It was a valid observation made for completely cynical, self-serving purposes by a demagogue who cares no more about “family values” necessarily than he actually cares about destroying Israel; these are useful things for him to say to play to the sentiments of the crowd and embarrass the foreigners (which also works as a crowd-pleaser in pretty much every country), but Ahmadinejad must fundamentally be a survivor and a smart manipulator if he has lasted as long as he has and climbed to the position where he is. 

Had the Iranians taken an extreme opposite route and executed the fifteen as spies or for whatever other made-up charge they could think of, that woman’s child would grow up to tell people, “My mother died to keep the Shatt al-Arab under the control of the Iraqi ‘government’ controlled by Iranian influence.”  And there are actually a lot of people, at least over here, who think that would be a worthwhile sacrifice, and they would say as much, right before they decry the breakdown of the family.

Note on the use of language: many people have referred to the detainees as hostages, which doesn’t have much difference in the way of real meaning historically from detainee, but it carries with it strong emotional and moral connotations.  To detain someone sounds vaguely legal or appropriate (thus when pro-administration flacks speak of the torture of prisoners, they always speak of “treatment of detainees” rather than, say, ”abuse of hostages”), while to take a hostage sounds aggressive and vicious, because we have become accustomed to thinking of hostage-taking as relating to terrorists or bank robbers taking civilians hostage during their attacks (or as the main target of their attacks).  However, applying this sense of hostage to captured soldiers or sailors is perverse and ridiculous, much as it was idiotic how every media report referred to the “kidnapping” of Israeli soldiers in the summer of last year, as if the captured soldiers had been picked up after school by a strange man offering them candy. 

Tradition is another name for contingency. ~Andrew Sullivan

While I really don’t want to be too pedantic, this is ridiculous conceptual confusion.  Nothing new about that in Sullivan’s writing, I know, but this is a particularly bad example of dismissing an important concept (tradition) by completely misunderstanding what it is.  Tradition is contingent, historically, culturally, even to some extent geographically, but that does not mean tradition = contingency.  That would be like saying that history = contingency. 

This would also be like saying, “Sunlight is just another name for warmth.”  You couldn’t get away with saying something that silly, except perhaps in a poem, but I wonder whether everyone would be equally aware of just how silly this statement is.  You cannot take an attribute, make it into a substantive and then say that this substantive is identical with the thing that it modified when it was an attribute.   

This is to take a quality of a thing, even one of its major qualities, and confuse it for the thing itself.  This is to make an attribute the equal of its substance, which is a fundamental confusion of categories.  It is neo-Barlaamism, and we all know why Barlaam was wrong, don’t we?  Well, Sullivan probably doesn’t.

This was a political show trial, and partisans of Joe Wilson will use the guilty verdict to declare vindication. ~James Taranto

Needless to say, perhaps, Fox’s Alan Colmes did a pathetic job of challenging Coulter’s flimsy defense. The whole segment was a show trial in reverse. ~Michael Crowley

I don’t know whether this represents some sort of trend in atrocious uses of language, but it is interesting that both of these ridiculous statements appeared on the same day.  The first refers, of course, to the Libby conviction, and the other to an appearance by Ann Coulter on Hannity & Colmes

You can believe that Fitzgerald’s prosecution was driven by political or personal vendetta, as some would like to believe, and you can believe that this case should never have been brought to trial.  I disagree fundamentally with both of these views, since I think that obstructing justice and perjury are wrong regardless of why someone does it (lots of Republicans used to believe the same thing) and that such crimes should be prosecuted if the charges can be proven, but it is possible to hold these other views without becoming a squawking buffoon.  James Taranto, as usual, bounds across that line and never looks back when he calls this a “political show trial,” demonstrating either his tremendous ignorance or his utter corruption of mind.   

A political show trial has a very definite meaning.  These were trials conducted during the Purges of the 1930s whose outcomes were predetermined by the Party and Stalin and therefore whose entire procedure was purely for “show.”  Hence the name.  (Incidentally, Republicans were very eager to talk about ”purges” during the Connecticut Senate primary last year, invoking a word chiefly associated with Bolshevik terror in the context of a domestic election, once again showing themselves to be unfit to comment on anything.)  These trials had no logic or purpose, except to provide a certain veneer of public legitimacy for the deposition of prominent Party men (including top figures such as Zinoviev and Kamenev) that paved the way for their exile, execution and elimination from the historical record.  Unless I have misunderstood the sentences for violations of federal perjury and obstruction of justice statutes, Libby does not stand in much danger of summary execution by NKVD operatives or their equivalent.  He has not been fraudulently charged with crimes he didn’t commit as a way of covering up a purely political prosecution.  The court will not “request” his suicide, nor will his picture be artificially scrubbed out from all official records.  Indeed, we all know that he is going to go scot-free with a pardon, because we are not ruled by laws but by particularly venal and self-serving men, so please spare me the whinging about how Libby is the victim of neo-Stalinist jurisprudence.  This is not only an insult to the millions of victims of Stalinism, but is an insult to the intelligence of the audience.  It is also particularly rich to read complaints about politicised justice coming from the pages of the right’s Pravda, which never thinks that anything the administration does in matters of national security or other policy is as heavily politicised as it obviously is. 

Now to the other example.  While I might theoretically enjoy comparisons of Hannity & Colmes to Stalinist purges, if only to show the relatively greater intellectual integrity of the latter, when someone is silly enough to refer to a cable talk show as a show trial, whether it is in “reverse” or not, it becomes immediately clear how wrong this use of language is.  Most of us do not, I think, make pithy comparisons between certain things we happen to dislike and, say, concentration camps, gas chambers or mass graves.  You don’t usually hear someone say, “Boy, this week’s Meet The Press was a sort of journalistic Kristallnacht–only in reverse!”  I leave it to my readers to puzzle out what “show trial in reverse” even means, but I think it prompts the promulgation of Larison’s First Law of Political Commentary (not to be confused with the Laws of Foreign Policy Commentary): unless you are referring specifically to a contemporary case of politically motivated kangaroo courts that serve as a pretext for the exile and/or execution of political enemies, you never get to compare anything in present-day domestic politics to a show trial; first-time violators should be prohibited from speaking about domestic politics for a period of not less than ten years; repeat offenders are banned for life.

Tough is fine. Even some of Ann’s over-the-top jokes can be written off as just that– jokes. But you can’t write off every hateful, politically damaging crack as a-O.K. simply because that Ann’s a jokester. I, for one, am proud that there are Middle Easterners, gay men and women, and other minorities for whom conservatism is an ideology that empowers. Don’t they get enough crap from our lefty colleagues for “leaving the plantation?” Why should they be subjected to more from one of their supposed allies?

Ours is not the ideology of identity politics and knee-jerk, manufactured outrage that serve political ends, not people [bold mine-DL].  But it is an ideology that should seek to serve everyone, regardless of color or sexual orientation. ~Mary Katharine Ham

There are Middle Easterners “for whom conservatism is an ideology that empowers”?  Perhaps she means that there are Arab Christians and Muslims in this country who subscribe to certain conservative ideas?  I don’t know, because the statement is horribly unclear.  But that isn’t the main thing that’s wrong with this statement.  You already know what I’m going to object to: this dreary, careless use of the word ideology. 

Conservatism is not an ideology, or rather it should be said that the conservative mind rebels and casts out every ideology.  There is undoubtedly some sort of ideology masquerading as conservative thought in this country, and Townhall’s bloggers routinely give it expression.  Anyone who wants to know why the rising new generation is fleeing the right as if they were fleeing the plague needs only peruse the ramblings of Hewitt and Co. to understand why so many Americans are running away from the proponents of the cult of the Presidency and reflexive endorsement of military action.  More than that, any sane person would be right to flee from any group of people that speaks quite openly about their “ideology,” since there is no surer sign of dangerously mindless politics than a politics governed by an inflexible ideology.  Nothing could be more alien to the conservative tradition, yet such is the low state of conservatism that many of the prominent outlets for supposedly conservative opinion will have no difficulty speaking of “conservative ideology” as if it were the most natural thing.  In the end, it is that habit of mind, which Coulter shares, that is far, far more damaging to conservatism and to the reputation of the political right in this country than any crude joke that Coulter could tell.  Predictably, in spite of the movement’s far more egregious problems of groupthink and often shocking automatic deference to President, the blog right has bestirred itself to declare that it is horrified by Coulter’s latest bomb. 

The people who wanted to go to the wall for Danish free speech, because it poked a finger in the eye of Muslims who presumed to dictate to other people what they could and couldn’t say and draw about Muhammad, are the same people who now feign or, worse, genuinely feel ashamed by Coulter’s joke.  This is pathetic.  I would be absolutely in favour of nothing but polite political discourse in which no one ever used ad hominem attacks and slurs (which would mean that many  columnists would suffer drastic reductions in output), but since we have nothing like that discourse this precious cherry-picking of this particular use of a slur is simply ridiculous.    

In rushing about denouncing Coulter these Republican bloggers legitimise every attempt to control and regulate speech through stigma and ostracism, even when the entire edifice of modern speech taboos exists solely to declare certain quite traditionally conservative convictions automatically unacceptable.  You don’t get to talk about states’ rights except in highly qualified ways, because otherwise you might be a racist.  Don’t say anything favourable about Germans in any context ever, and don’t question the absolute necessity of entering WWII, because if you did you might be an anti-Semite.  Whatever you do, don’t suggest that the successes of European civilisation had anything to do with the Europeans themselves, or you will have really gone where no one is supposed to go.      

Every conservative is compelled by the force of social stigma to speak about things he regards as morally repugnant, such as homosexuality, while using only the most vague euphemisms.  He feels obligated to qualify every statement of opposition to, say, same-sex “marriage” by declaring his lack of “homophobia” (which, literally, means “fear of the same,” which is a nonsense), when it is obvious to everyone in the debate that one of the first reasons why same-sex “marriage” seems so objectionable is that it is an endorsement of a kind of sexual relationship that most conservatives regard as fundamentally disordered and immoral.  That most conservatives can only rarely or meekly say this in public is a sign of how cowed by these speech controls many of them have become, and the more prominent they are the more submissive they become, lest they jeopardise their growing audience with anything so offensive as giving their true opinion of something.  In this respect Coulter is slightly unusual among the national pundits, since much of her appeal is in being deliberately provocative by saying things that she and everyone else knows are now “off limits.”  Who agreed that they should be off limits?  Primarily, people on the left decided that they should be and the right went along with all of them to remain “respectable,” because so many on the right had already bought into the self-loathing view that they really had held disreputable opinions in the past that needed to be excised from the discourse–along with any of their colleagues who made the mistake of making the wrong kind of statement.  Such are the repressions of an “open society” that is open to one, bland, generic consenus view from which you dissent only at your social, political and professional peril.  The conservative feels compelled by these same stigmas to refrain from calling homosexuality an abomination, which is what any honest Christian conservative has to call it, and to never on any account lend any substance to the impression that conservatives object to anything related to homosexuality because it is related to homosexuality, but always for some other reason.  Mitt Romney objects to same-sex “marriage” ”for the children,” where a much more honest statement would make an objection because of the nature of the relationship itself.     

So now there is great moaning and lamenting about Ann Coulter’s joke on the “respectable” right.  Somehow the blog right cannot summon up similar anguish for all the other things about so much modern conservative commentary that are even more off-putting to reasonable people who are just coming to the world of political ideas.  They will continue to write off, shun or exclude any number of their colleagues, whether or not these colleagues are particularly valuable contributors, and wonder how it is that they lost the culture wars in the process.  Of course, the people who define and control language control the debate and thereby control the outcome of the debate.  Each delimiting of what is acceptable and unacceptable is an exercise in power, and each time the right cedes control of that delimiting and definition to its foes the more likely it is that the right will lose more and more of the debates that have already been rigged by all of the things that they will no longer be allowed to say.      

Turning to another questionable claim, let us look again at what Ms. Ham wrote:

Ours is not the ideology of identity politics and knee-jerk, manufactured outrage that serve political ends, not people.

I know it is one of the standard talking points on the right to say that we are against “identity politics.”  Identity politics is what other, bad people do.  Yeah.  Of course, all political mobilisation against this or that statement or event is “manufactured” to some extent and the outrage that this mobilisation produces is always to some degree “artificial,” because any effort to organise politically is something artificial.  It doesn’t just spring out of the ground or come together through some organic process of congealing.  People align themselves with one another, identify with one another and rally around cherished symbols and institutions when they are attacked because they see these things as being part of their identity.  People are political animals, but that does not mean that all political action is a purely spontaneous expression of our nature.  People will form political associations and create political cultures that are more or less in accordance with human nature, and those that are most in harmony with our nature will tend to flourish by encouraging human flourishing, but the work of making a political culture is very much one of artifice and construction.  For at least one good reason and at least one less coherent reason, conservatives have tended to reflexively react very negatively against anything that smacks of postmodernity and deconstruction.  The good reason is that deconstruction and most pomo efforts are aimed at subverting and overthrowing the norms of Western society that conservatives wish to preserve, starting with the meaning of words and moving on from there to criticism and dismantling of entire institutions and habits of thought.  The less coherent reason for objecting to this is the idea that if this or that identity is constructed it is therefore not real or not important and can therefore be dismantled and chucked onto the scrapheap.  It is as if we were to embrace the pomo view that no one before the pomos ever knew that identity and meaning were constructed, as if people for thousands of years could have missed their own constructions of identity, and insist that we must defend full-on essentialism or embrace total critique.  But this is silly.  Once something is constructed, it exists and has significance, and to believe that identity is constructed is to believe that collapsing cultures can be reconstructed and reinvested with meaning.  To engage in identity politics is to attempt to make use of the identity to which you have adhered yourself as part of the ongoing process of construction.    

Everyone practices identity politics.  When Christians, including myself, went after Marcotte for her bigotry (which was bigotry), they were engaged in identity politics.  When Southerners defend the battle flag as a symbol of their heritage and identity as Southerners, they are engaged in identity politics just as surely as black politicians are engaged in identity politics when they demand slavery reparations.  This myth of people who are not engaged in such politics or who are not motivated by their attachments and loyalties simply has nothing to do with real human beings and how they interact with each other.  Some kinds of identity politics are obviously worse and more destructive than others.  Eliminationist nationalisms are clearly evil and premised on finding meaning for themselves only through the annihilation of other peoples, while there can be cultural and constitutive nationalisms that generally provide meaning and solidarity for people who may desperately need it.  However, to ”object” to someone’s position because it is a form of identity politics is like objecting to a writer’s book because he uses words. 

Personally I can’t see what’s wrong with “jihadist.” That’s what these guys are doing: making jihad. As Randall points out, there are just too many differences with fascism. Fascism was atheist; jihadis are devout. Fascism was nationalist; jihadis want the whole world under one rule. Fascism was blood-and-soil racist; Islam is (in theory, at least) oblivious to distinctions of race. As Randall also points out, sticking the word “fascism” on the phenomenon just reinforces the silly idea, which already has too much currency, that nothing much important happened in the world before the 20th century.

If we do go with “Islamo-fascist,” though, then considering that Hugo Chavez, at the U.N. the other day, pretty much lined up with the blighters, we should start referring to him and his pal Castro as “Hispano-fascists.” (No insult intended here to the memory of the late Generalissimo Francisco Franco, who, though he used them when he had to, didn’t much care for fascists. He didn’t much care for anything that had appeared later than about A.D. 1600.) ~John Derbyshire

Via ParaPundit

I’m surprised that I managed to miss Derbyshire’s take on Islamofascism (and his delightful remarks about Franco), since the topic was something of a brief obsession of mine (my readers may disagree with the “brief” part of that description), so I’m grateful to Randall Parker for pointing out this article and for the link to one of my recent anti-Hanson posts.  Mr. Parker’s arguments against the fascism comparisons can be found here.

As angry as we may get at the blasphemies of artists, we absolutely must object to this capitulation on the part of the Germans in the face of Islamofascism (yeah, I used the word: what is fascism as a tactic — as distinct from a political philosophy — if not using the threat of violence to suppress speech you don’t like?). ~Rod Dreher

Now I agree with Rod that giving in to intimidation from outraged Muslims, even over something as obnoxious as Neuenfels’ anti-religious artistic license, is unacceptable.  It is another attempt to dictate what non-Muslims can say about anything pertaining to Islam, but unfortunately this time it has been successful, as the offending performance has been cancelled on account of the threats it provoked.  So on the substance of the matter, Rod and I agree. 

But then there’s that old “Islamofascism” again.  Here I can at least see why someone might choose to call the use of intimidation and threats of violence fascist tactics, but there is nothing particularly fascist about these kinds of tactics.  These are the tactics of most practitioners of “direct action” in the 20th century West (e.g., syndicalists, the New Left), the tactics of the “propaganda of the deed” of 19th and 20th century anarchists and the tactics of fanatics the world over–it is the threat and use of violence to achieve a political objective, in this case the suppression of someone else’s speech, which is, when directed against civilians (as this assuredly was), the very definition of terrorism. 

Fascists used terror, but there is nothing especially fascistic, rather than Jacobin, communist, democratic or anarchist, about terror.  Evidently fascism seems to be the word many people really want to use when talking about these people.  I don’t know whether this is a result of neverending conditioning that fascism was the Worst Thing Ever to which all bad things must hereafter be compared (in this, fascism plays a secular role similar to that of Arianism in medieval heresiology as a kind of archetypal evil, an Urboese I suppose you might call it in German, to which all later evil doctrines must be compared of necessity as each new enemy is simply a recapitulation of the errors of that doctrine) or if we simply lack the vocabulary to describe succinctly the contempt we feel for this particular foe.  But it seems clear that those who want to use fascism to refer to jihadis and Muslim intimidation more generally very much want to convey the magnitude of their hostility by using one of the most , albeit constantly overused, demon-words we have at our disposal.  I understand that desire, but fascism became the universally hated thing that it is both through what fascists did and through the effective thoroughgoing demonisation of anything associated with it by the fascists’ enemies.  In the same way, jihadis and jihadism, and perhaps Islam itself, could acquire the same reputation and their name will become a curse to those who speak it because of what they have done, but this will never happen if we continually fall back on our references to fascism and implausibly identify the jihadis as the Islamic branch of that ideology or as people inclined to use “fascist tactics.” 

The longer we keep talking about and thinking of these people as fascists, we give them something of a free pass by not using the names proper to them and instead rely on old names from another time.  Had their enemies treated fascists in this way, applying old terms to them rather than demonising their own name, there would likely have been a great deal of propaganda about the fascists as some new form of absolutism and absurd neologisms would have had to be created to talk about the threat of the Germanoabsolutists. 

If there were a need, as in the old heresiology, to use these labels as a way of understanding something new and foreign–interpreting Bogomils as new Messalians or Manichees, for instance–it would be one thing, but jihadis and Islam are hardly a new arrival on the scene and have their own names appropriate to them.  They employ terrorist tactics, which is not something relatively new for jihadis, and are quite outrageous enough in their own right without needing to be compared to any other villains from our history. 

First, the general idea of “fascism” — the creation of a centralized authoritarian state to enforce blanket obedience to a reactionary, all-encompassing ideology — fits well the aims of contemporary Islamism that openly demands implementation of sharia law and the return to a Pan-Islamic and theocratic caliphate.

In addition, Islamists, as is true of all fascists, privilege their own particular creed of true believers by harkening back to a lost, pristine past, in which the devout were once uncorrupted by modernism. ~Victor Davis Hanson, National Review

Back to basics.  Jihadi basics: jihadis (a.k.a., Islamists) are Islamic reactionaries; they are a product of modernity but are anti-modern; they do want to bring back the Caliphate, which makes them as un-fascist as Novalis was for romanticising the medieval papacy.  Fascist basics: fascists are not reactionary in any meaningful sense, since they are above all an ideology dedicated to modernisation, the new, the future, the creation of the “New Order” and the new man; they are modernisers and are not anti-modern; they are a mass movement with no attachments or sympathies with the ancien regime or its partisans; they are not the heirs of Counter-Revolutionary rightist politics, but a mass revolutionary nationalist movement, none of which has anything to do with being “reactionary” in any sense beyond the purely pejorative way in which that term is bandied about by progressives who use it as if it were an insult.  More Fascist basics: fascists did not want to recreate a pristine order taken from the past, though they did want to restore their nations to what they believed had been past glories, but instead wanted to regenerate their nations and see them born anew.  Their emphasis on newness, modernism, futurism puts them starkly at odds with any real reactionaries.  Fascism’s palingenetic urge has next to nothing to do with reviving an old order; Nazis would borrow certain symbols and ideas from the German medieval past, but they had no intention of recreating the Empire of the Hohenstaufens, much less the Holy Roman Empire, which would have offended them in its cosmopolitan and Catholic nature.  In brief, if jihadis are Islamic reactionaries, which they are, they cannot be Islamic fascists.  Pick one or the other, if you must, but for goodness’ sake stop confusing the two–as Hanson always, always does.

Then there is the canard of generic fascist anti-Semitism as proof of the connection:

Because fascism is born out of insecurity and the sense of failure, hatred for Jews is de rigueur [sic].

Of course it is important to note here that Italian Fascism initially had no anti-Semitic impulses (unlike National Socialism, it did not originate out of the charged atmosphere of the struggle between Habsburg liberalism and various nationalisms that frequently focused on Jewish support for liberalism as a way of discrediting it and simultaneously of finding a political reason to despise Jews), and in the 1920s had Jewish supporters, which makes even more sense when you understand that Fascism claimed to be–and was–a revolutionary, modernising movement of the sort to which Jewish intellectuals are frequently drawn.  Judenhass in Islam is as old as Islam itself; it needs no comparing with the obsessions of the Nazis, because it has its own sources and its own very simple, religious reasons.  The similarity here is noteworthy, but ultimately superficial, as Islam and fascism also both view traditional Christianity with contempt, though the former does so rather more than the latter.  The point is simply this: adherents of totalising worldviews naturally regard those who do not belong to their worldviews as enemies.

Then there is Hanson’s historical error:

Second, fascism thrives best in a once proud, recently humbled, but now ascendant, people.

This is misleading and simplistic.  Sociologically, fascism thrives in nations that are late-comers in modernisation (Payne refers to them as second-tier modernising nations, I believe) but which are actually potentially on the verge of becoming major powers.  Their former humiliation is irrelevant–Italy was on the winning side in WWI, for all the good it did them, as was Japan, which had only gone from victory to victory in the international arena since the Meiji Restoration.  Resentment and overconfidence alike can encourage militarism–which is actually a far better term for what Japan represented anyway. 

The jihadi impulse is far more elemental; for them, it is simply the fulfillment of religious obligation to struggle for Islam and bring the world into submission to Islam.  Rain or shine, victory or defeat, no matter what has happened in the recent or distant past, the jihadi will persist in the struggle (and, incidentally, it is because of the nature of the word jihad that Mein Kampf would be called jihadi in some parts of the world).  In fact, there is no question of any Muslim nations being in the “ascendant” where the jihadis find their most willing recruits, as there are no “ascendant” Muslim nations even remotely on par with the modernising nation-states that bred fascist movements–it is typically in the nations that have been on the receiving end of defeats for as long as anyone can remember that the jihadis do best.

So anyone who speaks about “reactionary fascism” or “religious fascism” doesn’t know what he’s talking about, since there are no such things.  You can, of course, despise all reactionaries and despise all fascists, but you must understand that they not the same and have next to nothing in common.  For my part, as a reactionary, I won’t stand for the association, since fascism represents the antithesis of everything I believe.


When he talks about principles these days, of course, Bush is mainly thinking about the War on Terror. He repeatedly says that the war is an ideological struggle, and liberty is our best ideological weapon. He makes as good a brief, informal explanation of the negative and positive aspects — both necessary, in his view — of the War on Terror as you will hear: “The issue and debate is, can liberty work? That’s really the fundamental question in many ways in the long-term strategy. Short-term strategy is to deny: Deny safe haven, deny money, deny weapons, and get them. The long-term strategy is to change the conditions that enable this ideology to flourish, to out-compete it with better ideas. And that’s the fundamental — the fundamental question of my approach.” ~Rich Lowry, National Review

Good grief.  The man talks about ideas out-competing one another as if a marketplace of ideas actually existed, or as if the marketplace of ideas in the Near East wasn’t controlled by the local oligopoly that sets all the “prices” and makes all the “products.”  If have ‘better ideas’, we win.  Oh, okay, why didn’t anyone ever think of that before?

Can liberty work?  Work to do what?  For whom?  To what end?  In other words, what is he talking about?  Is he asking if it can reduce terrorism?  Maybe, if we assume that all the people who have elected governments are somehow cured of the desire to solve political grievances by the use of violence, which is a very difficult habit for people to shake–it is the habit that a large proportion of all people has always had. 

It is entirely conceivable that the successful establishment of free, democratic governments will irk and outrage the dedicated Islamists as much as the repressive dictatorships our government has sponsored in the past–these democratic regimes, if they are not themselves taken over by the Islamists in elections, will probably be regarded as just as repressive–because they will be seen as imposed and alien in origin–as the secular dictators and monarchs the West has backed before them.  Perhaps then we might see that it is not stability vs. freedom, but intervention vs. nonintervention that will really determine whether Islamic terrorism increases or decreases.

There continues to be something genuinely unsettling about this talk of “ideological struggle” and references to liberty as an “ideological weapon.”  The first phrase is certainly Leninist, but the whole concept of liberty as an ideological weapon would not be entirely out of place among the Jacobins.  There is no sense here that liberty is something historical, contingent and related to a particular political tradition, and it is also not simply something universal, but something readily transferrable to new climes and new situations at the drop of a hat that you use as a kind of propaganda.  Indeed, when someone says “ideological weapon,” my first thought is: “They mean propaganda.”  This is not a battle of ideas, but an exchange of slogans.  They say jihad, we say freedom; they say justice, we say democracy; they say liberation, we say liberation; they inaccurately call us crusaders, we inaccurately call them fascists.  No, ideas have nothing to do with any of this.  Ideology is surely the right word for what’s going on–the question is why are conservatives and Americans putting up with this atrocious rhetoric and this appalling kind of thinking? 

When Mr. Bush begins to refer to “kinetic action” in the context of foreign policy when he means to say violence or use of force, the measurement on the Orwellometer is off the charts:

Bush said,“100,000 troops there in Pakistan is not the answer, it’s someone saying ‘Guess what?’ [i.e. `I know here he is’] and then the kinetic action begins.”


He [Bush] emphasized it is an ideological struggle. In the Cold War, he said, the truth won out. “This is a war where over time the truth will win, but there will be moments of kinetic action [i.e. military struggle]. Some you won’t see.” Like KSM. “And some you will see,” like “the Taliban’s attempted resurgence.”

I have heard some ridiculous euphemisms in my day, but calling wartime violence “kinetic action” (which simply means ‘moving action’) is about as creepy a dilution of language as any I have encountered.  Perhaps we can call torture “kinetic pressure” and refer to the bombardment of civilians as “kinetic dropping.” 

Speaking of the ideological struggle and Bush’s romp through Marxism-Leninism, is “kinetic action” what happens when the thesis and antithesis in the historical dialectic clash?  Is the ideological struggle one bing bundle of “kinetic action”?

The newest stupid term to refer to religious people are “fascists” is predictable enough: theofascist.  It takes all that is absurd from the liberal hysteria about creeping theocracy in America and mixes it with most of what is absurd about talk of “Islamofascism,” and gives you a word that means absolutely nothing.  

I will keep stating this for as long as it takes: fascists are not extremely or even moderately religious people (their turn to find meaning in the nation and the state is their remedy for a world that seems deprived of transcendent meaning and if historic fascists were nominally Christians, their Christianity was almost always purely conventional and had essentially nothing to do with their fascism), and extremely and even moderately religious people are not fascists.  Fascism is a political religion, which means that it replaces and subsumes whatever religious loyalties a fascist may have had.  You do not exalt the nation-state into a virtual deity if you still have strong faith in the real Deity; you do not treat political leaders as if they were prophets and saviours unless you have already given up on real prophets and your real Saviour.  There is no such thing as Hanson’s “religious fascism” or this so-called ”theofascism,” either here or anywhere else in the world, because it is a contradiction in terms.  The absurdity of “theofascist” illuminates the absurdity of “Islamofascist,” as they are both absurd and wrong for exactly the same reasons; the former simply happens to reveal just how empty the word fascist is, since here it clearly functions as nothing more than a word used to demonise and distort.  This is one of the things I don’t understand about the recourse to words such as “Islamofascist.”  Aren’t the jihadis‘ crimes and villainies already demonic enough without this talk of fascists?  Must we fall back on this laziest and most inaccurate of labels to work up sufficient contempt for what they represent?    

The phrase “nation of immigrants” is surely one of the strangest phrases, and also one of the most ingenious rhetorical dodges, ever invented.  A nation is, literally from the Latin natio, a tribe or a people, and natio is the same word for birth, which implies that this is a tribe or people bound, as tribes normally are, by kinship.  Now it is possible for someone from outside a tribe to be adopted into it, but it is a contradiction in terms to speak of a “nation of immigrants,” unless one is describing an entire people that picked up and went to another country, since these immigrants have typically been overwhelmingly unrelated by kinship or, in many cases, even by ethnicity to the people that was already here.  To be a ”nation of immigrants,” being an immigrant would have to be the defining feature of everyone in the nation.  Whatever may have been true about great-granddad is not true of you, which means that you and most everyone around you are not part of any “nation of immigrants,” but of an American nation.   The ancient Israelites were perhaps such a “nation of immigrants,” but there are few other obvious examples. 

The phrase is distinctly odd, since no nation today can correctly claim to be such a thing, as every people has been settled in more or less the same country for ages.  There are nations that have had a history of periodic large-scale immigration, and this is usually what is meant by the deceptive phrase “nation of immigrants,” though it has long been the case for most of the history of this country the immigrants were not constituting the nation but instead joined themselves, more or less, to the people that was already here.  If we spoke of a “nation of immigrants,” we might as well also speak of a “tradition of innovations” or a “constitution of amendments.” 

But the reason why it is ingenious is that it forcibly identifies everyone in the debate–or at least everyone who concedes the use of the phrase–with the current immigrants.  If we are a nation of immigrants, this means that we are all immigrants, which ultimately means that we have no more right to this place than the new immigrants do, which is a manifest lie.  We do have more right to it, and will have at least until such time as we have been driven off the land, and perhaps our better claim will not cease even then. 

Most peoples throughout history have created myths of heroic ancestors who first settled in a land and gave their name to it; most peoples will construct elaborate mythologies to establish their timeless claims to a piece of land.  With this preposterous rhetoric of being a “nation of immigrants” (who is responsible for this travesty of language?), Americans are among the few nations in the world who pride themselves on not being from the land that they live in and making no attempt to pretend otherwise.  That may have seemed clever when it allowed Americans to mock the Old World’s decrepitude and the New World’s possibilities, but now this attitude seems like a recipe for the eventual displacement of the nation and its recreation as something all together different.  Oh, granted, our grandchildren probably won’t see the final effects of that displacement, but if current trends continue they will see a large part of it.  It seems to me that no one can really look on with equanimity at the prospect of the gradual displacement of the peoples who fashioned this country–he is either dispirited at the prospect, or enthusiastic and chooses his policy options accordingly.

Once again we are told that the “second in command” of al-Qaida has been captured. The FOX War Channel is ecstatic. How many seconds in command is that, anyway?

Let’s see. Every time the new Number Two (how appropriate a name) is captured, things get much, much worse in Iraq. Therefore, the “obvious” conclusion is that capturing the new Number Two will make things better.  Americans who believe this pure bull and support the regime that dishes it out deserve to have their children drafted and sent to Iraq. ~Thomas DiLorenzo

Here is a classic example where I agree with the substance of Prof. DiLorenzo’s comments but somehow come away thinking that libertarians are capable of two “speeds” of argument: hyperbole and indifference mixed with contempt.  For instance, if there is a nefarious government regulation mandating water-conserving toilets, the outrage will be swift and severe against the maniacal designs of Leviathan’s hold on America’s toilets.  If someone suggests that the massive demographic transformation of entire sections of the country may have untoward and undesirable effects, or may even be disastrous for the country, the response will be: some of my best friends are Mexicans, and they don’t want to destroy America, you fool, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.  Here Prof. DiLorenzo is rightly concerned about the gullibility of the public and their willingness to keep buying into official stories of progress in the war, but somehow manages to put it in such a way that makes him–and his point–seem obnoxious.  I don’t know how someone takes justifiable outrage at public ignorance and government propaganda, then uses language in such a way that says he rather approves of the conscription and possible death of other people’s children and still expects to be taken seriously.   

In a recently released multi-contributor volume including the papers of the 2002 Spring Symposium on Byzantine Studies, Byzantine Orthodoxies, the late Sergei Seregeevich Averintsev discussed one of the central features of the Byzantine mind, namely the drive for akribeia, which is most closely rendered as ‘precision’ or ‘exactitude’.  Of the Byzantines and akribeia he said:

The Byzantine system of theological reflection has a certain keyword, which seems to be quite untranslatable in any other language, including and this gives pause for thought–the languages of the Orthodox world, e.g., the Russian language (the intellectual elite of the Russian Orthodox Church has in fact adopted the Greek lexeme without translating it, an average Russian believer or even clergyman does not use it at all).  This word is ακρίβεια: literally, ‘exactitude’, ‘accuracy’, but also ’scrupulousness’, ‘conscientiousness’, etc.  Now, all these diverging concepts as such are in themselves universally known to the most diverse cultures: first, the exactitude of reasoning; secondly, the formal accuracy of technical or ritual proceedings; thirdly, the scrupulousness of ethical and religious behaviour.

What seems to be specific for the Byzantine akribeia is the fact that it unites all these semantic facets in a quite essential way, so that the correctness of the dogmatic concepts and of the ritual gestures appears somehow identical with the moral conscientiousness of one’s walking before God in truth. (p.217)

While the matters under discussion in most contemporary debates are not so weighty as this and do not always touch on our obligations before God, I think that there is something similar to this sense of an obligation to God and a duty to the truth to show respect for precision in the use of language.  If everything began with a Word, it is significant how we use and understand words.  While for the Byzantines this precision was most important in the most important of all subjects, theology, I believe we can easily understand how the precise use of language possesses an ethical dimension that goes beyond the merely practical responsibility of not using language in a way that attacks decency and public order.  There is an obligation to use language in a manner consistent with our responsibility to the truth and in keeping with the dictates of conscience, and using sloppy language or using rhetoric carelessly betrays deficiency of virtue and a lack of deliberation and wisdom. 

Imprecise definitions also pave the road to broader intellectual confusion and the breakdown of communication; rhetoric ceases to be a matter of persuasion and deliberation, but becomes a blunt instrument used to batter opponents into the ground with tendentious arguments and falsehoods.  In sound rhetoric, proper distinctions are all important; failure to make these distinctions often results in a failure to understand the thing described.  This is why I keep dwelling on the administration and its supporters’ abuses of language and their use of muddled concepts in their public statements about jihadis, and why I keep hammering away on the lack of precision and lack of wisdom in these statements. 

To use the word fascist to describe a jihadi because they are kinda sorta similar if you look at it from one very particular angle is to start to make all definitions lose their integrity and to make words the playthings of the powerful.  Someone resorts to “fascist” rhetoric not to describe or define, but to demonise domestic opponents on the one hand and to make a desperate appeal for support against foreign enemies on the other; once all other arguments fail, the appeal to fascist parallels will not be far behind.  That is why 2006 has become the Year of the Fascist, as every other argument for the war in Iraq and for intervention against Iran’s nuclear program–and it is the war in Iraq and the prospective attack on Iran that are the main policy questions that are really under debate when this term is invoked–has run up against strong principled opposition or significant practical difficulties.  Thus if you want to point out the real nightmare that might result from airstrikes on Iran, you are an appeaser of fascists; if you want to (God forbid) negotiate with Iran directly, you are Chamberlain himself.  All of this is a focused effort to close off policy options for political opponents and critics; it is not a neutral exercise in description or a mere PR attempt to rally support for the present war in Iraq.  It is precisely in its expansive, ill-defined nature that proponents of “Islamic fascism” sees its virtue as a description, as Jim Antle notes here

Interventionism as a foreign policy position is losing ground, so the old enemy has to be dusted off and recycled to make the same argument that interventionists make in every crisis, which has the duelling subtexts of, “American ‘isolationism’ in the ’30s allowed WWII to happen” and, as Rumsfeld might put it, ”Real Americans during WWII would never have given up the way you people are giving up against the fascists of our time.”  The word fascist, infinitely flexible because it has become infinitely meaningless in the hands of generations of Marxist hacks, is the key to keeping the WWII parallels alive even as they become less and less credible to more Americans.  Together with its fellow propaganda names appeaser and isolationist, fascist is an ideal term for bludgeoning domestic opponents and defining foreign enemies, because virtually no one knows much about historic fascists beyond the fact that they seem to be very warlike, like regimentation, dislike parliamentary politics and persecute Jews.  Relying on the public’s hazy awareness of what real fascists were, the latest PR push aims at making sure that the public remains very unclear about who today’s fascists are, the better to make the administration’s “anti-fascist” foreign policy harder to understand and so that much harder to criticise effectively–who the fascists are, the administration will decide, perhaps after the fact if necessary.  Some of those who do know something about fascism also seem to be willing to lend their relative expertise to the propaganda effort for the simple reason that they support the interventionist policies that the word is being used to advance.   

When correct definitions break down, the fetters of the unjust are loosed and tyrants are set free.  On a related note, to yield to imprecise and simply fraudulent definitions is to succumb to the ravages of nominalism, the trap that common agreement alone creates the meaning of words and the notion that their relationship to the real world is fundamentally arbitrary. 

Propagandists, ideologues and men of power thrive on emptying language of stable, intelligible meanings; it is a means of instilling confusion and exercising control.  If we would use rhetoric and language ethically, and if we would avoid the snares of sloganeers and propagandists we would do well to be precise in our own language while intensely scrutinising the language of those in places of power and influence.      

Thus, the Washington Times published 95 articles and columns that featured the words “fascism” or “fascist” and “Iraq” over the past year, twice as many as appeared in the New York Times during the same period. More than half of the Washington Times‘ articles were published in just the past three months – three times as many as appeared in the New York Times.

Similarly, the National Review led all magazines and journals with 66 such references over the past year, followed by 48 in The American Spectator, and 14 by The Weekly Standard. Together, those three publications accounted for more than half of all articles with those words published by the more than three dozen U.S. periodicals catalogued by Nexis since last September.

The results were similar for “appease” or “appeasement” and “Iraq.” Led by the Review, the same three journals accounted for more than half the articles (175) that included those words in some three dozen U.S. Magazines over the past year. As for newspapers, the Washington Times led the list with 46 articles, 50 percent more than the New York Times which also had fewer articles than its crosstown neoconservative rival, the much-smaller New York Sun.

Searching on Nexis for articles and columns that included “Iran” and “fascist” or “fascism,” IPS found that the Sun and the Times topped the newspaper list by a substantial margin, as did the Review, the Spectator, and the Standard among the magazines and journals. Nearly one-third of all such references over the past year were published in August, according to the survey. ~Jim Lobe,

We cannot discount the impact that such persistent use of this language in the neocon and Republican media will have on public sentiments.  While it may be the case, as some have suggested, that the latest round of official speeches using this sort of rhetoric is actually politically ineffective and the product of desperation–and that people can see that it is a product of desperation–it is nonetheless the case that a large segment of the population is being inundated with this rhetorical trash at an amazing rate.  Repeating words and suggesting analogies often enough will lead people to come to think in those terms, whether they want to or not–the fact that all of us are arguing, pro or con, the merits of a fantastically stupid phrase like “Islamic fascist” shows that the propaganda is working pretty well.  People are being exposed to this stuff to such a degree that future foreign policy debates will only become even more shrill than they already are as the respective sides seem set to inhabit entirely different universes. 

In one universe, the mission in Iraq is a “miracle,” there are fascists simply everywhere (have you checked your closet for fascists today?), America is awash in lilly-livered appeasers and defeatists and the Twelfth Imam may soon be returning in the form of an Iranian nuke or some such (did we say August 22? we meant September 22, or possibly October!). In the other universe, Iraq is deteriorating rapidly from low-grade civil war to full-sized civil war, the same old, same old strategy continues to be insufficient (as there are occasional advances in one part of the country only at the expense of another part), and a crazed administration is more interested in spinning its failures as our lack of resolve and talking about the 1930s than taking responsibility and changing course one way or another.  

This whole propaganda campaign in the Republican media and now from the administration is designed for one thing above all: to make the elections about Iraq and nothing but Iraq.  This will backfire on the jingoes, because if the elections are a referendum on the war (which helps the Democrats to nationalise the midterms without their having to do very much at all) the jingoes are going to discover that the people will take their frustrations with the administration’s war management out on the GOP.  That may not necessarily mean that the people “don’t want to win,” or even that they want to leave Iraq without some measure of success, but that Mr. Bush and his loyalists have invited them to pass judgement on the conduct of the war and they will oblige with a rather negative assessment.  What some folks cannot seem to grasp is that when a majority of Americans say that they don’t believe Iraq is connected to the “war on terror,” they are quite serious, so when the administration and its loyalists try to make opposition to the Iraq war into some general abandonment of the “war on terror” the majority will take offense at this insult and deal out some chastisement. 

When one-third of all Americans are planning to vote strictly based on their opposition to the Iraq war (including 12% of Republicans), which shows that this is a particularly powerful and highly charged issue, a wise man who wants to win would not charge head on into making Iraq the single issue of the election.  By making a prominent, public campaign to defend the war in Iraq two months before the midterms, Mr. Bush and his followers have guaranteed that the results in November will be taken as a judgement of his war policy (or lack thereof).  Since the odds have long been in favour of Democratic gains, this cannot work to the President’s advantage, so one suspects that ideological commitment and stubborn attachment to the same rhetoric and roughly the same strategy have simply overwhelmed Rovian cunning. 

Someone will say, perhaps not entirely seriously, “Yes, exactly, Mr. Bush doesn’t heed polls; indeed, there has virtually never been a time when Mr. Bush has heeded the people at all!  Isn’t it great?”  In fact, Mr. Bush has been a practitioner of triangulation for most of his presidency, but he does not seem to be nearly smooth or affable enough to pull it off in the way that Bubba did.  In any case, this lack of calculation will only make Mr. Bush’s supporters more proud to be his supporters.  They will, a la Mario Loyola, wax poetic about the wonder that is Mr. Bush’s stern and principled leadership; one suspects that these people also admire British generalship at the Battle of Balaclava for its resolute commitment to order a charge into withering fire. 

President Bush has toned down his war rhetoric after Muslim-rights groups complained his description of the enemy as “Islamic fascists” unfairly equates Islam with terrorism.

In his speech to the American Legion Thursday, Bush backed away from the term, defining the enemy simply as “fascists” and “totalitarians.”


The White House insider says it’s unlikely Bush will repeat the term “Islamic fascists” out of deference to Muslim groups. ~WorldNetDaily

Which is worse: continuing to use the misleading and inaccurate term fascist to describe jihadis or refusing to attach the word Islamic to the name because CAIR has badgered you?  The ‘Islamic’ part of Islamic fascist was the only part Mr. Bush had been getting right thus far. 

In fact, the WND story is slightly misleading.  In the speech, Mr. Bush described the jihadis as ”successors” of fascists, Nazis, communists “and other totalitarians” (?), and referred to them directly only as totalitarians or extremists.  As I have said before, referring to them as totalitarian makes a certain amount of sense.  Simply calling them fascist will be doubly silly, and it is particularly pathetic that a lobbying group of such dubious reputation as CAIR can change presidential rhetoric so easily.   

“Democracy is synonymous with liberty, and, today, Mexico lives in a true system of liberties,” Fox said in the last Informe of his six-year term. “Today, democracy is the verb and the noun of national life.” ~The Chicago Tribune

No wonder Fox declined to give the speech.  Forget the hostile legislators.  I can’t think why any politician would want to be recorded on television spouting such drivel.  The crazed PRD legislators did Fox a favour by sparing him–and his constituents–of something so painfully filled with vapid slogans.  “Democracy is the verb and the noun of national life”?  Don’t forget–freedom is the adjective, and justice is the conjunction!  I hope for Fox’s sake that this is just a bad translation.

Jihadists are skilled at weaving the “resistance” in Palestine, Lebanon, Kashmir, Chechnya, Iraq and Afghanistan into a single narrative of persecution by the infidel.


To the secular mind, the jihadists’ notion that the faith is everywhere under attack looks absurd. How can conflicts as different as those in Palestine, the Caucasus, Kashmir and the Balkans, even East Timor, be interpreted as parts of a seamless conspiracy against Islam? In Kosovo, for goodness sake, NATO intervened to protect Muslims from Christians, not the other way round. And yet a troubling recent development is the emergence in America of an equal and opposite distortion. This is the idea that it is the West and its values that are everywhere under attack, and everywhere by the same seamless front of what Mr Bush has taken to calling “Islamic fascism”, as if this conflict is akin to the second world war or the cold war against communism. “We are in the early stages of what I would describe as the third world war,” Newt Gingrich, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, said in July.

It is wrong to look at the post-September 11th world this way, as if every local conflict is part of a civilisational clash. Mr Gingrich was speaking about the Lebanon war. But not every Islamist movement is inspired by the ideas that animate al-Qaeda. In Palestine Hamas is a pious (and vicious) version of a national-liberation movement with local goals, not another front in a global fight. Ditto, more or less, Hizbullah, except that it is also a tool of Iran. And Iran itself is better understood as an assertive rising (and dangerous) power that happens to have a theocratic constitution than as an ally of al-Qaeda, whose ideas come from a separate strand of Islam. ~The Economist

It is leaders like these that make me pleased to have renewed my Economist subscription earlier this week.  This is not simply because The Economist happens to agree with part of my objections to the stupid phrase “Islamic fascism” and its even less intelligent cousin, Islamofascism, but because they seem to have recovered some of the basic skepticism and reasonableness that used to make The Economist worth reading when it wasn’t getting carried away with its Serb-bashing or democracy-spreading enthusiasms.  They make a vital connection here that most critics, myself included, have neglected to make. 

So preoccupied with the facile and laughable nature of the phrase ”Islamic fascism,” I have neglected to discuss this other significant problem: imagining a seamless, unified “Islamic fascist” enemy replicates the Al Qaeda jihadis‘ own conception of the war and works to their advantage by fighting the war on their terms.  We are not fighting them where they are, which is what we should do, but fighting them as they would like us to be fighting them (with the added bonus of toppling a dictator whom they hated).  You even see neocons citing statements from Al Qaeda leaders about the fighting in Iraq today as some sort of “proof” that Iraq is vital to our war.  It is vital to someone’s global war, but it isn’t ours–vital to their war, because it gives them exactly the kind of fight they want.  By collapsing every discrete and distinct case of Islamic militancy (or, in the case of Syria and Iran, simply regimes that Washington despises) into the generic and misleadingly named “Islamic fascism,” the administration and its hangers-on daily lend credibility to the jihadis‘ propaganda that this is a generalised war against almost any kind of Muslim nation, be it Sunni or Shi’ite, secular or theocratic, authoritarian or partly democratic.  That works to their advantage, not ours, particularly if it causes us to commit ourselves to more conventional wars and occupations of Muslim nations, thus providing them with new fields for the jihadi harvest.

Hanson’s latest is filled with a few such outlandish statements that I don’t understand why anyone, neoconservative or not, takes him seriously:

First, Islamic fascism is already the creed of the government of an oil-rich and soon to be nuclear Iran.

Well, no, the creed, so to speak, of the Iranian government is Jafari Shi’ism, which is a religious creed and which is the religious source of the government’s theocratic legislation.  There is no meaningful sense in which the label fascist applies to the current Iranian government.  That does not mean that they are not committed to using whatever kind of violence will advance their interests or that they are not committed to jihad

It means that Iranian theocrats committed to jihad are not fascists, just as communists are not, properly speaking, fascists, though they possessed enough similarities with each other to be recognised as sharing many common traits of totalitarianism.  Sometimes observers at the time would call fascists brown communists while calling communists red fascists, trying to emphasise that they were two sides of the same coin, but the differences remained clear and stark nonetheless.  The incidental or tactical convergence between the two inside Germany in the 1930s or in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was surprising not because the two were diametrically opposed, but because they were competing revolutionary ideologies that despised the other as a competitor can despise his rival for pursuing a similar goal by different means. 

The jihadis do not really fit this mould of having similar goals but pursuing them by different means; their vision is of an entirely different kind of order from the one imagined by other totalitarians, and one that is not easily confused with the vision of fascists.  We call them fascists at the risk of completely misunderstanding the nature of that vision and fighting the kind of conventional war focused on toppling regimes that we fought in 1941-45.  The inclusion of Tehran as one of the centers of “Islamic fascism,” which identifies Iran as an enemy in spite of the fact that it has never had anything to do with the Wahhabi or Salafi jihadism that motivated the 9/11 attackers and Al Qaeda, is a perfect example of how our strategy and definition of the main war are being partly dictated by the stupid formulations of propagandists and fascist-obsessed ideologues.   

The entire “Islamic fascism” meme comes from a refusal to make distinctions and a refusal to acknowledge differences between the theocratic government in Tehran, the secular government in Damascus, the Shi’ite militia in Lebanon, the jihadis in Waziristan and the insurgents in Iraq.  If Hizbullah is “fascist,” so are the Badr Brigades in Iraq–but, wait, the Badr Brigades are attached to a party in the Iraqi government, which we support.  Shall we go after them as well in the great anti-fascist crusade?  These various governments and groups are not fighting for the same thing, nor are they on the same “side,” nor do they necessarily have anything to do with each other.  If we conjure up some mythical international alliance of “Islamic fascism,” we might very well succeed in forcing all of these disparate, distinct and unconnected forces to join together out of common cause against their common enemy, but what we will surely not achieve is any sort of success in combating any one of the threats that each one may or does pose.  This is coming from the same kinds of people who thought that we would win gratitude in the Islamic world by helping Muslims and Islamic terrorists in Yugoslavia (no worries about Bin Laden or Iranian sponsorship of jihad when it involved killing a few Serbs, right, Hanson?), and comes from the same kinds of people who still agitate on behalf of Chechen terrorism.  Do they really have any credibility to speak on these questions? 

Regardless, this is the same sort of short-sighted, unperceptive, clumsy thinking that classified Nehru as vaguely pro-communist because he wanted to keep India non-aligned, which later resulted in our allying with India’s enemies and forcing India into the arms of the USSR.  It is the same thinking that labeled Mossadegh as possibly pro-Soviet because he didn’t want to play ball with British imperialism over Iran’s oil resources and led us to depose Mossadegh and embitter an entire generation of Iranians against the United States thanks to our support for the Shah’s misrule.  This in turn prepared the way for the revolution and created the deep hostility between Iran and America that has only gotten worse with time.  Brilliant stuff.  Let’s just keep replicating that kind of success with more conceptual confusion and failures of strategic thinking! 

Indeed, a debate rages over the very use of “Islamic fascism” to describe the creed of terrorist killers — as if those authoritarians who call for a return of the ancient caliphate, who wish to impose 7th-century sharia law, promise death to the Western “crusader” and “Jew,” and long to retreat into a mythical alternate universe of religious purity and harsh discipline, untainted by a “decadent” liberal West, are not fascists. ~Victor Davis Hanson

Yes, why would anyone dispute that?  But making a list of negative or objectionable traits is not proof of fascism. 

Never mind that fascism had to do with returning to primordial purity and strength of a nation and not the purity and strength of a religion, except perhaps for the “religion” of loyalty and devotion to the nation and the state.  But palingenesis alone does not a fascism make.   One major feature of fascism that none of these people seems aware of is the role of what Payne called “political liturgy” as part of the political religion: the mass spectacles at which the Leader appeared and conducted the crowd in a huge rally, the processions, the marches, all of them aimed at glorifying the nation and the Leader.  These are by and large almost nonexistent in the Islamic world among those who are expressly Islamists; they are certainly not defining features of Wahhabism, Salafism or any of the rest.  

Hanson’s own language betrays his confusion and muddled thinking: if Islamists are authoritarian, that does not prove that they are fascists; it proves that they are authoritarian.  Desiring the return of the ancient caliphate makes them, if anything, more like Islamic conservative romantics or arguably some kind of reactionaries–like Faisal out of Lawrence of Arabia dreaming of the glories of Cordoba, but without the geniality.  It is true that the Italian Fascists claimed to want to restore the Roman Empire, but precisely because it was the Roman Empire and was part of their national history and “national greatness.”  (Again, I will refrain from dwelling on the obvious connection with people who harp about “national greatness” in this country.)  Had the same people been desiring the restoration of Christendom and the unifying role of the Church (as did, for example, the Romantic Novalis), they would not have been fascists but something else all together different.  

Of course, “sharia law” didn’t exist in the 7th century, even if the purists and purifiers believe that it did in some sense, but a desire for religious purity and discipline makes them very plainly out to be religious fundamentalists or perhaps fanatics, not “religious fascists”–another phrase so daft that it boggles the mind that an historian of of any stature would use it.  The terror of identifying these people as primarily and basically religious in their motivations and ideals is palpable in every neocon defense of the phrase ”Islamic fascist.” 

It is imperative that they be made into fascists, so that we can easily compare them to our frame of reference, so that we can dismiss their ravings as a discredited ”ideology” that we have already “defeated” and leave it at that.  It saves us the much more troubling work of considering the reality that some religions do disproportionately breed fanatics while others do not, and that this is not some deviation or perversion or departure from the “real” religion but derives directly from the religion’s own authorities and traditions.  For secular people like these prominent neocons, it is horrifying to consider the possibility that some people have motivations that cannot be explained in secular language, because they, lacking in religious imagination of any kind, are at a loss to even begin to really understand what motivates a jihadi.  Even when they acknowledge the supposed goal of Paradise or the religious nature of the duty these people believe themselves to be carrying out, it is always with a certain level of incomprehension, almost as if they cannot really accept that anyone not attached to some intelligible ideology firmly bounded in this world really exists.  Their inability to understand the religious desire for transcendence in some of its most appalling forms stems, I suspect, in no small part from their own depressingly optimistic and immanentist ideology.  Their inability to understand a drive for religious purity and intolerance of other religions as anything other than fascism stems in part from their own reflexive commitments to religious pluralism and a latent or not-so-latent hostility to dogmatic Christianity: everything not on the side of pluralism and “freedom” somehow all gets pushed into a big box called fascism.  

The old neoconservatives were in many ways very good allies in the anticommunist fight, because they (like some of the early conservative figures of the ’50s) were personally familiar with the sort of mentality they were opposing, but the present neocons are possibly worthless allies in fighting jihadis because they have no grasp of this mentality and are forced to push it into the imprecise and misleading terminology of the intra-Western political wars of the last century.  Their inflexibility about using “Islamic fascist” tells us that they cannot work outside of the anachronistic political language of conflicts that are now over 60 years in the past.  Lacking in religious imagination, or imagination of most any kind, they cannot get out of their rut where it is always the 1930s and Freedom is always fighting Fascism.  I submit that people who cannot break out of such stale patterns of thinking cannot tell us much about our current predicament.     

But it is right to use the concept—the traditional language is clerical fascism—about movements like the Romanian one. ~Michael Ledeen

This is one of the more remarkable errors that Michael “Scholar of Fascism” Ledeen makes in his efforts to show his alleged superior understanding of fascism in defense of the abhorrent neologism Islamofascism and the phrase ”Islamic fascist.”  As those familiar with the Legion of the Archangel Michael’s history and the career of Codreanu, the founder of this genuinely very odd Romanian political movement, will know, the Legion was in no sense “clerical,” because it was a predominantly and overwhelmingly lay movement that had no official church support nor did it have widespread clerical involvement because of the Church’s hostility to it. 

It did claim to be an Orthodox Christian political movement, made Orthodoxy an important aspect of the Romanian national identity, and modeled its ideals and rhetoric on extreme asceticism and martyrdom, which included a willingness to die–but not therefore necessarily to kill–for Romania.  Its general lack of violence and hooliganism (which is not to say that its members did not sometimes engage in political violence) marks it out as as more of a peculiar Christian nationalist group that was not very fascistic except for the uniforms the salutes.  Stanley Payne has argued convincingly that of movements typically associated with fascism in interwar Europe it has one of the weakest claims to the name.  Payne certainly never used the name clerical fascism for the Legion, and tends to avoid using that name for any of what he more accurately described as conservative authoritarian regimes.  Before it was associated with the Antonescu government, the Legion was known mostly for how many of its members suffered death at the hands of the Romanian government and others, since Codreanu maintained a very bizarre attitude towards violence for someone conventionally associated with fascism: be killed for Romania, but don’t kill.  You may be able to guess why the movement did not catch on everywhere. 

The reasons why Codreanu has been associated with fascism are because the Legion was a mass “shirt” nationalist movement (I believe green was their preferred colour) that had a peculiar obsession with death for the nation, and even went so far as to say, “You must love Romania more than your own soul.”  Even granting some license for exaggeration, this was a bizarre statement for an expressly Christian movement to make. 

It is noteworthy that in all of this the Romanian Orthodox Church had virtually nothing to do with Codreanu and condemned his movement in support of government repression of the movement.  If there were individual priests who had anything to do with the movement, they did not have the official support of the hierarchy and would have suffered penalties for associating with the movement.  Mircea Eliade, the famous Romanian writer, who fled Romania around the time of the rise of the Antonescu government, came here to Chicago and later wrote how strange he found it that the Church had persecuted the only modern political movement even remotely related to Orthodox Christianity.  Under Antonescu, Legionaries did become willing tools of the collaborationist government and took on a very different character with respect to the general use of violence than they had had when Codreanu was still alive.  But even if in this later period they might be aligned with the Nazis in their collaboration and usually anti-Jewish violence, at no point were they “clerical fascist” in any meaningful sense. 

But being a Christian movement is not the same as being clericalist, much less clerical fascist (a bogus category, in my view, primarily invented to conjure up hatred for Catholic accommodations with Mussolini, the Dollfuss-Schuschnigg Catholic corporatist and anti-Nazi regime in Austria from 1934-38 and for Franco’s regime).  The entire category clerical fascist was one invented by the sorts of people who don’t like conservative authoritarianism or Catholicism, and really don’t like them when they are combined (as they were, to some degree, in Austria and Spain)–in harping on it, Ledeen shows not so much his scholarly accomplishments (which his description of the Legion makes ever more suspect) but his own obsessions in militating against conservative authoritarian and religious regimes. 

Indeed, it is only when clerics are prominent in a political movement that it is really correct to call it clericalist, and then the system they usually hope to set up falls under a much more generic category of theocracy.  It is perfectly reasonable to describe Iran as a theocratic republic; it would be reasonable to call it clericalist, if one so desired.  But fascist? In what sense? 

There are, it is true, authoritarian, revolutionary and republican elements in the Iranian regime, but these seem to be markers not of fascism but of what might broadly be called an Islamic version of conservative authoritarianism.  If there are a few people in the entire Near East who are Muslims and also find themselves in sympathy with fascism, that’s all very interesting, but it tells us nothing about the people whom the adminsitration is labeling Islamic fascist–namely, members of Al Qaeda or Hizbullah or the government in Tehran, which are very clearly not claiming any kind of affinities or sympathies with fascism.  There may be Muslims (probably more secular than religious) who are political fascists, but if a Muslim is an Islamist he is almost by definition not a fascist, and that is what we’re arguing about. 

But we should all agree that the battle for Iraq is now central to the ideological struggle of the 21st century. ~George W. Bush

Without missing a beat, Mr. Bush sets up the main war as the “decisive ideological struggle” of the century, and then turns around and insists that we all agree that Iraq is vital to the “ideological struggle,” a struggle that he has just outlined as being between those who support freedom and those who support tyranny, “terror” and totalitarianism.  It does not take much to see that Mr. Bush has lined up critics of the war in Iraq (you remember–the ones he called ”good, decent people” who are just as patriotic as anybody) as failing to support the “ideological struggle” by failing to support the war in Iraq.  And you know what they do to people who are lacking in sufficient commitment to the “ideological struggle,” don’t you?  If there is any doubt that he has linked the two, he makes it clear later:

And victory in Iraq would be a powerful triumph in the ideological struggle of the 21st century.

Mr. Bush has managed to become even more melodramatic in this new series of speeches than he has in the past.  Before, he was just going to end tyranny on earth and set the world on fire with revolution, but now he is going to save history from itself (even though the outcome is, of course, inevitable, for the course of History is known to all good dialecticians):

We will not allow the terrorists to dictate the future of this century — so we will defeat them in Iraq.  

Take note of the frequency with which he talks about “the century” and how we are doing all of this for sake of ”the century.”  There is actually an undue obsession with the future here, which, as Dienstag would tell us, is one of the flaws of optimistic theories, since they tend to rather overlook what things are actually like right now and tend to impose terrible costs on the present for the sake of an imaginary future.  (I would make some sarcastic reference about how the you-know-who liked Futurism, but I am not going to sink into the mire of flinging those labels at my political enemies as they have done at us.)  Here is Dienstag:

For all of the existential pessimists, then, optimism has functioned to displace attention from the real world of today onto an imaginary future.  Not only does this future denigrate the present, it causes us to lose touch with the present.  When the present, which should be the richest and most vivid thing in our minds, is flattened out in our imagination, it makes our option seems fewer than they are….

This focus on the present does not abjure all concern for the future.  Unamuno’s claim that “the true future is today” indicates not that we are forbidden to think about what is come, but only that we should not make the future into an idol.  If we care about the freedom of later generations, we must respect it–and we respect it best by refusing to script their lives for them.

But Mr. Bush’s Marxist language and rhetoric about saving the future are not the worst.  Worse still is his conviction that history not only has a direction, but a direction that we can discern and, in this case, in some sense direct:

The path to that day will be uphill and uneven, but we can be confident of the outcome, because we know that the direction of history leads toward freedom.

If the ideological struggle is the struggle for “freedom,” then it becomes the unavoidable conclusion of the speech: victory in the ideological struggle–of which Iraq is the most vital part–is inevitable, tovarish, because history is leading on to freedom!

“The war we fight today is more than a military conflict,” Bush told thousands of veterans at the American Legion convention. “It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century.” ~MSNBC

The ideological struggle waged by revolutionary Marxism against revisionism at the end of the nineteenth century is but the prelude to the great revolutionary battles of the proletariat, which is marching forward to the complete victory of its cause despite all the waverings and weaknesses of the petty bourgeoisie. ~V.I. Lenin

And to us the ideological struggle is not a private affair, but the affair of the whole Party, of the whole proletariat. ~V.I. Lenin

The military defeat has been completed. It will be the ideological struggle that will be the most important. ~Janos Kadar

Who talks like this?  “Decisive ideological struggle”?  It sounds very much like the sort of thing a preacher of an “armed doctrine” would say; it sounds very much like something a revolutionary propagandist would say.  It obviously is not a conservative thing to say.  It is the language of Marxists that Mr. Bush is using quite freely.  Of course, those of us who have been familiar with neoconservatism as a revolutionary, basically leftist doctrine with historic roots on the Left will not find it surprising that an adherent of the same doctrine would eventually use the same language and mentality.  But I will say more. 

If we are in the “decisive ideological struggle” of the century, that will probably mean that from time to time there will have to be “corrections” made on the home front as well–no sense winning the ideological struggle elsewhere and letting it slip at home–and casting this as the “decisive ideological struggle” will allow whoever is responsible for defining the content of “our” side in this ideological struggle to write off dissenters against policy as deviationists and thought criminals for opposing the struggle with their dissident views.  There is something deeply, deeply wrong with all this “ideology” talk that seems more than a little totalitarian in its own right and certainly more than a little creepy.  This is part of the reason why I am viscerally and intellectually opposed to the free and ignorant use of the word fascist in connection with any current foreign policy questions, because it seems to partake of the same style of rhetoric and the same eerily leftist views of who the enemy is.  This is the view of the enemy as the eternal fascist, who is everyone and no one, because the propagandists decide who a fascist is and can redefine the term as and when it suits them.

Charles Black, a longtime GOP consultant with close ties to both the first Bush administration and the current White House, said branding Islamic extremists as fascists is apt.

“It helps dramatize what we’re up against. They are not just some ragtag terrorists. They are people with a plan to take over the world and eliminate everybody except them,” Black said. ~AP

But ”members” of Al Qaeda actually are some “ragtag terrorists.”  That they are not the Wehrmacht should not give anyone the impression that they are harmless or that they should be taken lightly.  It is the fact that they are not a monolithic, cohesive fighting force that gives them the advantage in asymmetric warfare.  They can still be villains without being a reincarnation of the SS.  Here is another reason why Islamofascist means nothing.  The word fascism conjures up images of storm troopers or well-organised corps of youth cadres, the fascisti themselves, beating up the odd communist or dissenter.  It does not conjure up images of the irregular mujahideen in the hills of Afghanistan, suicide bombers or religious fanatics.   

Now this world-domination stuff is, frankly, a lot of hot air.  They can plan to dominate the world all they like, just as Muslims have, in theory, hoped to bring the rule of Islam to the entire world, but to say that they want to dominate the world doesn’t make them fascist (nor does it mean that their plan to “dominate the world” has a chance of being realised). 

Communists wanted, in theory, to dominate the world, and they could appeal to people of all nations with a universalist ideology, which lent their plans for worldwide revolution more plausibility than any amount of rhetoric about the restoration of the Caliphate has (if this is the old Umayyad Caliphate of the early years we’re talking about, every Islamic revival movement for the last thousand years has wanted to “restore” this with no success).  But did their desire to dominate the world make them communofascists?  No, and people would call you a fool for saying things like this.  Why is it so hard to call the use of Islamofascist foolish? 

Alexander the Great certainly liked to conquer places, and perhaps if he had lived longer he would have dominated even more of the known world–would he have been a precocious Macedoniofascist?  The Mongols might have been said to have aspirations for something like global domination–was Genghis Khan a Mongolofascist?  Put that way, I would hope that intelligent people would see that this kind of cluttered, idiotic term not only does not define or describe who we are fighting but introduces layer upon layer of obfuscation and confusion. 

Why not use jihadi or jihadist?  If need be, we could expand it to Salafi jihadist, since many of the jihadists we’re really talking about are Salafists.  The Indians have gotten along for decades with the term jihadi, since it expresses very simply and concretely what these people are on about: waging jihad.  That necessarily emphasises their Islamic character, while avoiding all of the extremely stupid concoctions of propagandists.  It is the term that I normally use in my descriptions.  However, I believe describing our war as a war against all jihadis everywhere is a fundamental mistake.  Moreover, the war in Iraq is only marginally and accidentally connected with this in any case.  Our war is plainly not really or necessarily with Hizbullah or the ISF in Algeria or the Muslim Brotherhood, though this does not therefore mean that we should stupidly forge ahead in pressuring governments in the countries where these groups are found to include them in the “democratic” process.  It remains a war primarily and very specifically against Al Qaeda and its offshoots among Salafists and Wahhabis in the Near East and jihadists in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  As a short, simple term, nothing beats jihadi.  Any word of abuse that takes thirteen letters to spell out is probably not a precise term in any case, or it more likely partakes of a fine old heresiological tradition of completely made-up names that may or may not have any relationship to the group being so labeled.  Among my favourites: Sabellioarian and Aphthartodocetist.  In heresiology, these terms become a necessary evil because there are literally no other terms available to describe the groups categorised by the clunky heresy labels.  In modern political discourse when we are talking about jihadis, we are not without alternatives.  Only the intellectually lazy, or propagandists or those inured to leftist habits of labeling all enemies as fascists could be satisfied with a term as clunky, inaccurate, ridiculous and all together misleading as Islamofascist or “Islamic fascist.” 

The questions every conservative should ask the Republican who barks Islamofascist at him are these: “Why fascist?  Why make the comparison with fascism?  Why do you, Republican, have this obsession with the word ‘fascist’ that seems more appropriate to a far-left liberal?  Could it be that you have adopted leftist categories of thinking in your quest to spread “democratic revolution”?  Can it be that all of this prattling about “ideological nations” has knocked a few screws loose and sent you into Soviet propaganda mode?”  Indeed, I have to wonder whether we will soon hear about Islamocounterrevolutionaries (try saying that one five times fast!) and Islamoenemiesofthepeople.  Conservatives should be very worried that this kind of language has become part of their lexicon and should be appalled at the people who have been propagating it, not just because it is inaccurate and sloppy, but because it betrays a strange affinity to old Marxist argumentation that was historically used as a means of distorting the truth about political enemies and Soviet policy.  This sort of rhetoric should not have any part in formulating U.S. foreign policy today.  

The West’s response to militant Islam tends to be alarm and horror. It hardly has categories to describe it, so it falls back on such inadequate terms as terrorism and Islamofascism, which make about as much sense as Islamovegetarianism. In fact, such words don’t get you very far at all. Fascism was a brief and superficial thing compared with the vast and ancient thing that is Islam; it flared out after a few violent years, in a way Islam is most unlikely to do. ~Joseph Sobran

Harris ignited a furor with her Witness interview. She sounded a fervent evangelical tone, saying that God “chooses our rulers,” that voters needed to send Christians to political office and that God did not intend for the United States to be a “nation of secular laws.”

Speaking to Witness editors, Harris said:

“If you are not electing Christians, tried and true, under public scrutiny and pressure, if you’re not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin.”

“If we are the ones not actively involved in electing those godly men and women,” then “we’re going to have a nation of secular laws. That’s not what our founding fathers intended and that’s (sic) certainly isn’t what God intended.”

On Friday, Jews, Muslims, Christians, Democrats and Republicans blasted the comments, saying Harris was suggesting non-Christians were less suited to govern or should be excluded altogether.


Monroe took particular aim at this Harris comment from the Witness interview: “Whenever we legislate sin, and say abortion is permissible and we say gay unions are permissible, then average citizens who are not Christians, because they don’t know better, we are leading them astray and it’s wrong. 


Though Harris directly addressed her remarks about church and state, she was less clear explaining her comments about God not intending for the United States to be “a nation of secular laws.”

Asked if the U.S. should be a secular country, Harris said: “I think that our laws, I mean, I look at how the law originated, even from Moses, the 10 Commandments. And I don’t believe, that uh . . . That’s how all of our laws originated in the United States, period. I think that’s the basis of our rule of law.” ~The Orlando Sentinel (via

The interview, the public outcry and the campaign’s “clarification” are all a mess, as should be the case with anything associated with Ms. Harris’ ongoing disaster of a campaign.  Let me start at the end.  In the “clarification,” the remarkable Ms. Harris went out of her way to bow and scrape before the cult of inclusion, declaring her commitment to “Judeo-Christian” values, her support for Israel (!) and, apparently, even had her campaign manager (who is, incidentally, her fourth campaign manager) use the ultimate rhetorical cudgel, Holocaust memory, to curry favour:

Bryan Rudnick of Boca Raton, Harris’ campaign manager, said in a statement, “I joined this campaign because Congresswoman Harris is a passionate supporter of Israel, the Jewish people and always has the best interests of all Floridians at heart.

“As the grandson of Holocaust survivors,” Rudnick continued, “I know that she encourages people of all faiths to engage in government, so that our country can continue to thrive on the principles set forth by our Founding Fathers, without malice towards anyone.”

Good grief.  I am not sure how using the Holocaust to spin bad press works, but I should think that it would be offensive whenever anyone trots out the travails and suffering of his grandparents as some sort of basis for political credibility–that goes for everybody.  Of course, there are professional Holocaust-users who make this guy look like an amateur, but it is particularly pathetic to try to hide a candidate, who is trying to burnish her evangelical credentials with folks in the Panhandle, behind the impenetrable forcefield of Holocaust rhetoric.  Mr. Rudnick had a nice touch with the Lincolnian flourish.  In fact, I believe he scored the modern rhetorical hat trick: getting right with Israel, invoking the Holocaust and getting right with Lincoln all in the same paragraph.  If only he could have worked in the “war on terror,” he could have gotten some kind of spin award or perhaps a talk show on FoxNews. 

Ms. Harris and her manager should be embarrassed, but we should be more embarrassed that this tactic might actually work in our society, because we should already be embarrassed that Ms. Harris should have to resort to such a tactic to defend herself against the raving hordes of the Tolerance Brigades.  The inquisitio nova rides again.  The only person who can be pleased by this fracas is George Allen, who has suddenly dropped off the radar of the national media as they have found a new sacrificial victim to offer to the gods of anti-prejudice.  Maybe the NRSC told Harris to say something really provocative to try to save Allen’s hide and she, ever loyal partisan, went along.  No, that sounds all together too clever for this outfit.   

But before anyone gets too excited about Ms. Harris and rushes to defend her to the last, let us consider her response.  Her “clarification” suggests one of two things: either she really believes all the things she said to the Witness and does not have the stomach or courage to defend them publicly, which doesn’t say much for her convictions, or she was simply trotting out time-honoured phrases designed to win over evangelical voters come the September primary and the November general election and has no more conviction that Christian truth and revelation are extremely relevant to public life than the people who are now savaging her for her supposed intolerance.  If the latter is true, it makes her just another Republican hack opportunist trying to wheedle believers into supporting the Red Republican menace.  Florida Baptists, take note: she either won’t fight for what she said she believes, or she doesn’t believe it.  For Ms. Harris’ sake, I hope she is sincere but weak-willed.   Read the rest of this entry »

In war we naturally adopt a double standard, with one vocabulary for our side and another for the enemy. Americans still cherish the memory of Axis atrocities in World War II and justify their own, particularly the intensive bombing of German and Japanese cities — things nobody would have predicted, much less advocated, before the war broke out. Even today, we commonly justify the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for “shortening the war” and even saving Japanese lives. ~Joseph Sobran

Our enemies set out their goal with neon clarity. ~Michael Gerson

Neon clarity?  What?  This guy was a speechwriter?