Wednesday, January 10, 2007

AMERICAN FASCISM

This is the title of Chris Hedges’ new book, due out this week. Over on Salon.com he was interviewed by Michelle Goldberg and it’s on their site today (“The Holy Blitz Rolls On”, www.salon.com/books/features/2007/01/08/fascism/print.html) I’ve already reserved a copy from the first shipment that my bookstore gets in.

I had riffed on an article he had written last week. I had been following my own thoughts, which ran to the question of whether the Administration and its Unitary Executiverer were fruitfully comparable to a German Unitary Executive of the period 1933-1945 or to other Unitors such as the Italian and Japanese versions. That was me.

In his interview – which now has me eagerly awaiting the book – Hedges reveals that his focus is not so much the government as the many Fundamentalist folk and their preachers. The primary preachers – probably personally unfamiliar to the rest of us, but instantly recognizable as a type – are exposed as the calculating and very talented and accomplished manipulators they really are. Well and good. Atheists and secularist privatizers of religion are given a tremendous leg up in our culture by simply pointing to the smarmily predictable antics but vicious and violent content of their preachments. And we desperately need both seriousness (I’d like to say ‘gravitas’ but the word’s been co-opted and pre-empted by so many types who want to wear the hat but don’t want to walk the walk) and an effective, usable Grounding in the Beyond.

But Hedges brings us to a much darker place, yet also a powerfully human one. And one that demands our attention as The People. He talks about the folks who actually embrace this Fundamentalist ‘vision’ (emphasis mine). More on that after I’ve read the book, but in the interview he talks about how achingly desperate they are, left behind by a culture that prizes many of the things of this world that they don’t have and may not ever have. And that lurches toward dangerous habits of mind and heart and action (they deeply believe) – a not entirely inaccurate assessment of our modern American reality.

It gives him cause for great concern that these folks are desperate. And in their desperation, they might embrace not only violent belief violently held, but also extremist programmes that would promise to ease their fear by forcing the country to hew more closely to their beliefs and their vision.

Such a vision would not be compatible with a republic, and certainly not The Republic that has been handed down to us and through us is to be gifted to the generations yet to come. The Republic was designed by its Framers simply as the roof over the head of a People, and the exterior walls that separate and define and to some extent shape. A Fundamentalism that seeks to create some version of a theocracy is not compatible with the American Republic as envisioned by the Framers. The government would be drawn into a centralized position, a sort of ‘Christian’ authoritarianism, or worse.

And of course, the great beneficiary here would be the government power, which would engorge immensely. The Fundamentalists in the long run would be used as cats-paws , would be co-opted, in the government-power’s sleepless quest to engorge.

Very much like the Victim movement – in all of its manifestations in each of the Identities – has been co-opted. Just a couple of days ago, for just the most recent example, the Attorney-General claimed that the government needed Internet Service Providers to maintain permanent records of all the sites their customers visit … in order to combat child pornography. Naturally, nobody – in our modern American reality – would want to be object and thus immediately be accused of ‘supporting’ child pornography. But it is fatuous to think that if it had all those records, the government would primly restrain itself and confine itself only to the occasional investigation into child-porn (for which it already has the power to investigate a suspect’s internet activity).

This dynamic – the government co-opting assorted Advocacies for the purposes of its own engorgement – has already been discussed at length elsewhere on this site. As has the fact that in getting the public used to such engorgement in the wars against drugs and sex-offenses, the run-up to the Iraq War and the on-going sallies by the government to spin and re-spin its (failing) actions on the basis of Emergency and Outrage; to question such a Good Cause is not done by ‘good’ Americans.

But Hedges – and on the basis of this alone his book must be heeded – points out “ just how fragile open societies are”. Our remarkable gift – this open society enabled by the Constitutional Republic … we have taken it for granted, as we have the post-1945 American predominance in the world, economically even more than militarily. It has been (again see elsewhere on this site) under huge pressure – not to say attack – from both Left and Right for 40 years now, and from the Left before the Right, and all in basically Good Causes. But a ‘Good Cause’ is not enough reason to start whacking away at ‘old’ walls, ‘old’ because they were considered essential by the Framers and have lasted because they were essential carrying-walls of this remarkable Experiment that is the American Republic. And unintended as the consequences may be, they are here and they are real and they are getting worse and We must deal with them as The People.

And this raises a last (for this particular Post) point: is The People still able to address the problem? Hedges imagines the hardly impossible: another major terrorist incident in this country creates an economic crisis for our already hardly-robust economic position. Conditions akin to the Depression of the 1930’s take hold. Will We be able to handle that? Or will we in our terror yield to the same temptations that have lured the Fundamentalist rank-and-file to embrace the profoundly un-American strong-state option fronted by their shrewd but ultimately feckless preachers who will, in the fullness of time, be brushed aside, and the government power reveals itself as impregnably entrenched?

The German people faced not only the great defeat of World War 1, but then the soul-crushing inflation of the early-1920s, and then – after a remarkable recovery assisted by U.S. aid – a second whammy from the effects of the Great Depression of 1929 that lasted into the 1930s. Only at the end of that 14-year period did Hitler succeed, and even then only because he was invited in by professional interests who thought they could ‘hire’ him and still control him; voters rejected him at every opportunity until there were no more opportunities; Hitler was a legal dictator, but he was never elected. But once in authority through a back-room deal, he instantly laid hands on the police power of the State and coerced first the legislature and then the voters, through a combination of patriotic-emergency declamations and direct, physical violence – which by then had been declared ‘legal’ in light of the Emergency.

‘Emergency-ism’ and the role that Advocacies have played in expanding its influence among us has been discussed elsewhere on this site. But what I think about after reading Hedges’ interview is whether a citizenry so flooded with emotionalism, sensationalism, immediate gratification, spectator-ship, and a dependence on government to see to its rights … whether a citizenry so Oprahfied and Diana-fied can at this point function effectively as a People.

This, I think, is the great and pressing Question of our Time. And time is running out.

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