January 15, 2007

Christian Fascism

I've posted before about how much I hate the term Islamo-Fascism- to repeat the thesis Islamist thinking has nothing ideologically in common with fascism save for the fact that it isn't liberal, but being not liberal does not make you fascist. Consequently it won't come as a surprise that I reacted badly this morning when I saw this article by Theo Hobson who labelled Christian rightwingers, soft fascists, nor will it come as a surprise that I dissent from the thesis of Chris Hedges's latest book which argues that right wing Christians in the United States are fascist.

The problem with all these critiques is that they fail to notice what fascism was- fascist regimes were established across Europe in the mid-twentieth century. The only overtly fascist regime was Mussolini's in Italy but conventionally the term has been extended to Hitler's Germany, Salazar's Portugal and Franco's Spain. The last two cases are more doubtful- Franco's Falange was fascist but many of his supporters were traditionalist Catholics. Fascism was seen by many on the right at the time as a kind of alternative way of whipping up the populace to communism- in a Europe fearful of Communist revolution, the Fascists constituted a way out of that fear, a way that the working class could be enthused with nationalism and reverence for a leader instead of with class warfare. Fascism was about the leader- the Fuhrer principle in Germany- Fascist regimes utilised all the methods of mass communication to exalt the leader- the playing of lights at the Nuremberg rally, the production of films. It drew in that sense upon ideas from theorists like Freiderich Neitsche. It also has been used to denote the anti-rational character of these regimes, their counter enlightenment exaltation of the geist or of Kultur over rationality and individualism. They saw the world as organically divided between races. All sorts of ideas contributed to this mix.

As you can see this doesn't really adequately describe what we face with either (for want of a better word) fundamentalism. Neither Patrick Robertson nor Osama Bin Laden would be fascists- they might be theocrats but not fascists (I don't think Robertson is really a theocrat either but that's another day's post). There is a sense in which both of them have absorbed the counter enlightenment but instead of lauding the nation or the man, Bin Laden and Robertson and their allies turn that adulation towards a God they understand rationally. What I mean by that is that both of them treat the bible as a kind of corpus of writings on which they can rely and rationally argue about, and they suggest that the counter enlightenment theorists were right to dismiss the rational arguments about equality but wrong in what they actually sought to errect. Like Vico or De Maistre, these modern figures are not to be found within fascism but within some that resisted and some that collaborated, within say the Catholic Church of the early twentieth century or with say some of the Protestants who resisted Hitler.

I'm not making a very substantive point here- all the points above are suggestions more than they are finished arguments- but can we please stop using the word fascist to describe things that are not fascist. Fascism means something particular, it means a particular set of ideas, no matter how incohate (and historians will disagree with my above definition- its got a lot wrong with it) but it doesn't mean religious traditionalist who seeks to impose religion by law- that is something quite different, it might be good, it might be bad but it ain't fascist.

Or rather the only way it can be fascist is to diminish that word of its meaning and just make it shorthand for 'thing I do not like' something I beleive lets real fascists off the hook and confuses those who oppose both sets of ideas by implying a commonality that isn't there- you won't neccessarily beat Bin Laden like we beat Hitler.


MattUK said...

I agree that Fascism is a term that has specific historical and political connotations but which is thrown around far to much (though it can be quite satisfying in calling some a fascist!).
When I read article what sprang to mind, and which links many of the ideologies you stated is 'Authoritarian Personality types'.
I hate linking to wiki, but this gives a good overview.


It is less about the ideology and more about the way in which an ideology can be used and abused to gain power and support. While the original research focused on Nazism, the basic concepts can be seen in a wide range of religious and non-religous ideologies,

If we want to address fundamentalism in all its forms, it is necessary to understand how it comes about, instead of just saying 'they are evil doers' or Islamo-fascists.

james higham said...

It's very upsetting, Tiberius, when one has explained, over and over and then it's just ignored. These in the US are not Christians because by definition, Christians can't be fascists. Have you actually read the Sermon on the Mount? I also posted on dualism, which is what these people are and dualists come from the other side, clothed in Christian symbols. The reason the atheist so readily accepts the label Christian Fascist is because he refuses to read the material and become informed in his label.

These are pseudo-Christian Dualist Fascists.

CityUnslicker said...

Hmm...but I like the term islamo-fascism!

However, this analysis shows how wrong I am to follow this logic. I had not thought it through at all.

What I like about it as a term is the historical referral to existential threat which we face from these religous maniacs.

From your reasoning we should perhaps regard them as the Papcy circa 1400?

james higham said...

'Religious maniacs' is indeed a better term for it and don't forget I live with Muslims over here. They say the same thing about their fanatics as I have done about ours. Except for one thing. The primary source - the gospels - is anathema to fascistic violence. It's like saying Brits are child killers because Ian Brady was a Brit.

dreadnought said...

Fundamental followers of any religion are termed fascists because they steadfastly refuse to accept the rights and beliefs of none-believers. This has been proved yet again on the Channel 4 Dispatches program concerning radicalisation in Britain’s mosques and the program some months ago when Dawkins was threatened with physical assault when he challenged an American, fundamentalist Christian pastor.

I think you need to be very careful when mentioning Friedrich Nietzsche alongside the Nazis. Elisabeth Nietzsche (sister), who was herself a vehement anti-Semite and then the Nazis, like so much else they did, deliberately twisted and misinterpreted Nietzsche’s philosophies.

By the way, I have also had the misfortune of living for many years in an islamic state. The money was good though.....

Gracchi said...

I'm going to take these one at a time-

Mattuk authoritarian personality type does sound attractive but I'm unsure about it partly because of the lack of a psychological literature- it sounds like something the political scientists have come up with- but I'll take a look. Fascism is such a stupid term though.

James precisely I'm trying to get at the fact that these guys aren't fascists by any definition of that word. Personally I don't think they are duallists- I think they are Christians they beleive in the saving grace of Jesus Christ- they beleive that there is one God and they beleive in both Testaments of the Bible, many of them are members of churches which follow the Nicene Creed- I don't know how else to define a Christian. I don't mean to get into condemning or praising them but its just stupid to use the word fascist.

CUS the papacy circa 1400 I'm afraid is a different thing again- most of the Christian right in the US beleive in a civil government- not a government by clerics. They don't beleive in iure divino clerical authority I like religious maniacs but we need a better term than that- these guys are often very clever and furthermore we should be very precise in what we mean by a religious maniac- it can't just be someone that is religious that defines homosexuality as sin for example.

James again I like your definition of religious maniac- the gospels are very pacifistic- quite anarchist in their way. The Koran I know much less well so am not going to comment. But the gospels do have their anarchistic trends which are very interesting.

Dreadnought- fundamentalist is another word I run away from- teh way Karen Armstrong uses it makes me blanche- basically I agree with you a state which doesn't respect the rights of those that don't follow the majority religion is in trouble ethically. The problem of course is the boundary of those rights- and that's a matter for another day. Fascist though isn't the right word for that- fascism was somethign very specific to a particular time and is quite a distinct ideology- I wouldn't for example see Savanarola as a Fascist yet he fits your criteria. As to Neitsche I didn't say I hope that he was a Nazi at all btu that in the mix of Nazism were some Neitschean ideas- I think that's a different statement- I was writing at speed and probably the German idealist movement would have been better to cite.

Ok I think that's done. See ya kids I'm off to bed- oh and thanks for commenting- all of those were great comments.

Gracchi said...

Mattuk sorry I should ahve treated that about authoritarian personalities with a bit more respect I'll get back to it in the morning bit tired and need sleep so not at best for responding right now.

edmund said...

good post on dreadnaught you are aware that something resembling religous toleration was first practised in Rhodes Island - under baptists who I'm sure you'd consider "baptist" what makes you think the religous are less religiously tolerant than atheists

Good post not sure about the definition of facism but I think ti's clear that modern Christian Democrats/ Conservatives and even Islamists are clearly not. I would say facism's distinctive quality was the belief in the totalizing power of the state to uphold the power and glory of the nation/race but it's a difficult question

I really think their counter-englightenemnt and anti rational character has been exaggerated. wher'es hte evidnce the naizi's were anti rationalism or the enlightenment (as opposed to individualism!)

Gracchi said...

Have to say that the definition of fascism was done at incredible speed and motivated by fury with these writers rather than historical accuracy- the perils of blogging I'd say.

As to its anti-rationalism- the book burnings in Nazi Germany, the sense of a race, the denial of the equality of human beings, the denial of Jewish science all could be used.

I agree with you visa vis that fact that many people with hardline relgiious views can end up being very tolerant- we should remember that toleration doesn't mean the same thing for the Rhode Island protestants and Oliver Cromwell than it does today- but the broad point stands that whatever they did beleive it was not analogous to fascism.

edmund said...

good reply

On rationalism we may be using different definitoins but in any case here goes your differnt point

the book burnings in Nazi Germany,

They burnt books they didnt' like- that no more makes them anti-ratialitic than were the communists who opposed similiar if not greater levels of censorship

the sense of a race,

I'm not quite sure what you mean Race in many ways is an idea of the enlightnement (massivley strenghted by Darwinism) so it's odd to use it as an example of anti-rationalistic thinking ( it may well be irratioal obviosly I'm not saying the Nazi's are right only they're recongisably part of the enlightmen not the pre or even counter-englightenment)

the denial of the equality of human beings,

I ceritlay fail to see how that's a rejection of ratialism or in the borader sense of an enlightenment world view- I doubt very much Voltaire belived in it! Most people who support abortion thereby deny the equality of human beings -does that make them anti-enlightenment!

the denial of Jewish science

What do you mean by this? I would say that hte Soviet union-very clearly an englithm state indeed a super enlightmen state was just as intolerant of politicaly inconveneint lines of thought-eg their persecution of gentics and big bang theory because they saw them as contradicin natual humanequaity of talent and atheism.

I agree early Rhode Island is not precisely the same form of toelnce as exists today ( though I would also say it's a lot closer than anything else one can see at the time) thoug hin some ways I would say that was because they more tolernat-because early modern government was so much smaller that once censor and relig8ous restion were eiiminated or minimized there was very little intervention in religou freedom in a way that is not true today.

YellowDuck said...

...all of which is why I find the distinction that Andrew Sullivan draws between fundamentalism (whether secular or religious) and conservativism in his 'The Conservative Soul' rather useful.

There is a large swathe of people (if not the majority) that has a prediliction to dogmatic - if not ultra-dogmatic thought - in contrast to pragmatism. I am still grappling with why that could be so this discussion here has helped that thought process. Thanks.

Still. Wish that everybody were a pragmatic liberal, but that appears to be just too uncool nowadays...

Gracchi said...

Yeah I know what you mean about Sullivan's description- it definitely has its attractions- it also has its problems. Fundamentalism is one of those terms I really struggle with- its something I ponder endlessly and never quite get. Especially when it extends to secular fundamentalism about it- I'm no fan of Richard Dawkins when he says that all religious people are x but I don't think fundamentalist is the right word- I prefer to separate out the phenomena- and get exactly what it is that I disagree about what they say. What I dislike about it is that all the words fundamentalist or fascist say is that I disagree with x- whereas I feel its more productive and more interesting to get at precisely what we say and what we disagree about.

YellowDuck said...

Thanks for clarifiying that for me, Gracchi, that has given me some more stuff to think about :)