Thursday, June 17, 2010

Am I missing something?

There's an article scaring readers about Christian right "fascists" that's been making it's way around the Internet for the last two weeks. Some of my liberal friends have linked to it, but I honestly don't see why any of them take it seriously.

Here's a typical excerpt:

"This movement, veering closer and closer to traditional fascism, seeks to force a recalcitrant world to submit before an imperial America. It champions the eradication of social deviants, beginning with homosexuals, and moving on to immigrants, secular humanists, feminists, Jews, Muslims and those they dismiss as “nominal Christians”—meaning Christians who do not embrace their perverted and heretical interpretation of the Bible. Those who defy the mass movement are condemned as posing a threat to the health and hygiene of the country and the family. All will be purged."
Author Chris Hedges, introduced as "a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter" and a senior fellow at the lefty Nation Institute, makes a lot of bold proclamations, but he doesn't back it up with evidence. The entire spawling piece reads like something an 8th grade Livejournal user would pound out in the computer lab between biology and geography class. It wanders from topic to topic, making grand claims of visible horrors and offers no compromises. The only thing missing is a broken Caps Lock key.

Hedges uses the word "fascism" as a cudgel, striking out and disfiguring anything that comes along, yet he never demonstrates any understanding of the word beyond a mere insult.

But fascism does have a meaning - it is a nationalistic, totalitarian, corporatist form of socialism.

It's elementary to paint patriotic opponents as vile nationalists - any fool can do that. It's quite another thing to claim that free market economics is corporatist or socialist - it opposes both of them very strongly.

As for totalitarian - I really don't see it. Those enthusiastic tea party protesters that everyone loves to look down upon have one common message, and that is less government. It is their opposition that believes in solving problems with the government - and that means more governmental powers. Neither side is in favor of totalitarianism, but it's the right that seems to understand why.

In addition, why would they seem to undermine our republic and the concept of voting when the party in power is the Democrats? Wouldn't that just seal their opposition into office?

So after reading this drivel, I wonder why so many smart people could enjoy it. It's not that they're stupid - some of them are quite astute. It could be the relevance of expertise - maybe that just don't know what a persuasive argument should look like, or politics isn't something they deeply understand. But I don't find these answers satisfactory.

I think what's going on is bias. People who like the premise - essentially that the Christian right is an evil marauding horde - are willing to forgive scant evidence or wild claims because they "know in their hearts" that Hedges is on the right track.

In addition, it's hard for someone like me who rolls his eyes every two lines to see this article as holding any value.

I hope I would reject a right wing version of this piece, but I can't know for sure. I don't quote Michael Savage, Ann Coulter or Sarah Palin because I don't like their presentations. But I do like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck. True, I don't always agree with them and they aren't my top influences, but I do think there's a lot to learn from them.

Bias cuts two ways here. I'm rather certain that this article is lousy, and it's clear to me that lefties are giving it too much credit. But what is impossible for me to see is how much my own bias is sapping away any credit it deserves.


  1. I was introduced to Hedges at university, reading his book "War is a Force that gives us Meaning" which would upset pacifists and militants alike. It's the reason for his well deserved Pulitzer. Chris Hedges has seen more war than most of the most battle-hardened generals and his insight into the human condition as it's pulled into the grips of systemic violence is profound. I HIGHLY recommend the book. But when reading his articles that step outside of the realm of "war philosophy" I think he starts to lose his grip. As you say, his expertise is not (less) relevant. But I wouldn't condemn him as thoroughly as you have.

    While I'm not nearly as afraid of Tea-Party members as Hedges is, I think it's important to at least heed his warnings.

    You're right that the nationalist part is obvious. But I think they're closer to totalitarian and corporatist than you describe.

    They are corporatist in the way that they denounce any and all attempt by government to intervene on behalf of the environment or populace when corporate power is abused. The same way liberal-socialists denounce corporations and ignore abuses by government. Even Adam Smith believed government served a role in educating the public and acting as a check and balance to excessive private power. Government power is needed to ensure that markets are kept free - free from monopolizing private power. So they in effect support corporatism by failing to condemn unchecked private power, and continuing to condemn our democratically elected government - the only social construct that can counter it.

  2. They are totalitarian in that while they preach less-government (an admirable goal) when it comes to matters of trade, they don't extend that principle when it comes to social matters. I won't go as far as many liberals and claim that the Tea Party is founded on racism, homophobia or hate - but most members of the Tea-Party (or more accurately the Christian-Right Hedges talks about) are social-conservatives (or literally "social-liberals" if you get into semantics.) Most would vote to prohibit gay marriage or other behaviors they disagree with. A smaller government wouldn't play any role in facilitating marriage (straight or gay) at all. A smaller government wouldn't care if you smoked weed (unless maybe you did it and drove.) A smaller government wouldn't make sure creationism is taught in biology class. A smaller government wouldn't prevent a mosque at 9/11 ground zero. THAT is big government extending its power over people's lives and contrary to their so-called libertarian values.

    I like Hedges, because I do a lot of research on war and nonviolence, but he does get pretty extreme in his analysis of everything else and has a very pessimistic view point. Yet... someone in his position would.

    He's seen multiple governments and societies collapse from Central America to the Balkans. It's always been preluded by nationalist and religious fervor. Lest we forget that history is a record of strong societies warring and collapsing. I don't think we're as near to collapse as Hedges illustrates, but to assume we're immune from it and ignoring the warnings is very dangerous.

    I'm not that old. My entire adult life has experienced this nationalism and the mini-nationalisms behind the Democratic and Republican party. I can't exactly trust my memories from childhood - but I still don't remember the language being this extreme. From what I've heard from others this hysteria and partisan jingoism is a recent occurrence.

    It's too far to say the world (or country) is going to end and the Tea Party is "bad." But it's also too far to say that the Tea Party is harmless or "good" and everything's going to be fine.

    (It's also too far to make a chauvinistic jibe like: "Neither side is in favor of totalitarianism, but it's the right that seems to understand why." Stupid doesn't discriminate.)


  3. Jeremy, I think you did a good job of reminding me that not everyone who takes the same side of an issue as me has the same reasons I do. As Hayek wrote, the right has always been burdened by people who automatically reject change and progress. The tea party movement has no system to weed out the knee-jerk conservatives from people like me who oppose central planning and favor emergent solutions.

    It's simple for me to defend the tea party from any attack, as they share my conclusions. I know some of them also share my reasoning, and some of them clearly do not. For the life of me, I have no idea how to tell how much each the movement contains.

    You may be right when you say Hedges understands what a regressive movement looks like, but he's called this one wrong.

    Of course, you and I see very different warning signs. You see a return to religious teachings and a return to older ways of doing things as a warning, while I see grand Utopian promises and the strengthening of politicians.

  4. I don't discount the "Utopian promises and the strengthening of politicians." I just haven't mentioned it because you do it so well without me.

    I have this habit of playing devils advocate a lot.

    On another note - I'm actually surprised that you refer to yourself as conservative and associate (at least a little) with the Tea Party movement. I always pictured you as a Libertarian.

    I don't want to derail the conversation, but do you find yourself on the same side when it comes to social matters like gay marriage. Certainly not creationism (or even omitting evolution) in science classes?

    Are you also content with or indifferent about our level of militarization as so many other Conservatives/Republicans/Tea-Partiers?

  5. You can call me a tea party sympathizer. I went to the tax day 2009 one in Augusta to see it for myself because I knew no matter what happened there, the left would make it out to be something sinister. I feel vindicated - the tea party members are unfairly demonized and painted as if the extremists are the norm.

    I am not a social conservative (I said allowing the state to prevent gay marriages is a big government solution ) and despite the title, I shy away from calling myself a conservative or a Republican. I went into it before you became a reader:

    As for the militarization - I really don't know enough about the foreign policy angle and the merits of occupation, so I don't write much about the subject or hold strong opinions. However, I do know that our military is awful with taxpayer money and I would love to see the budget cut.