Sullivan: Conservatives are Fascists
Andrew Sullivan quotes, approvingly, from a reader email:
What American ‘conservatism’ has become fits closely within the definition of fascism: an intensely nationalist movement intent on defining membership in the ‘nation’ on linguistic, religious, and (increasingly) ethnic/racial criteria, accompanied by an unquestioning loyalty to (male) authority, enshrined in family leaders, business leaders, religious leaders, and especially, the leader of the nation, who is seen as embodying the Nation. Loyalty to the Party or Movement and its ideology is of great importance. Violence is the preferred means of accomplishing goals. Diplomacy, compromise, negotiation, are all identified with (feminine) weakness. The rule of law is also despised, because it lacks the immediacy of (violent) action, and its emphasis on balance and its concern with proper procedure is also seen as a sign of (feminine) weakness.
While I share some of Sullivan’s frustrations with the direction the Republican Party and the American conservative movement are heading, this is, quite simply, absurd. He’s both too smart and too knowledgeable about history and political philosophy to believe this nonsense.
Taking the above in order:
. . . intensely nationalist movement intent on defining membership in the ‘nation’ on linguistic, religious, and (increasingly) ethnic/racial criteria . . .
First, by definition, membership in a nation is exclusionary. Matt Rosenberg‘s short description of nations as “culturally homogeneous groups of people, larger than a single tribe or community, which share a common language, institutions, religion, and historical experience” is pithy and consistent with most established uses. Certainly, in the United States, we have expanded the definition to include belief in certain core values and have removed the racial component given our multi-ethic heritage.
The idea that we’re moving in the opposite direction is not supportable by the facts. President Bush, the presumed object of Sullivan’s vitriol*, has gone out of his way to promote the idea that Islam is a Religion of Peace and to mention all the great religions whenever he mentions Christianity in major speeches. His immigration policy is incredibly permissive and race-neutral.
. . . accompanied by an unquestioning loyalty to (male) authority, enshrined in family leaders, business leaders, religious leaders, and especially, the leader of the nation, who is seen as embodying the Nation.
Huh? All presidents, going back to George Washington, have taken on the mantle of Head of State and serve as the symbolic leader of the Nation. That comes with the territory.
Yes, this president, his advisers and water carriers are too prone to play the Wartime Leader card and act under the assumption that the Commander-in-Chief hat applies outside the narrow scope of directing the military. Bush isn’t the first president to do that, though; indeed, every wartime president that I can think of did much the same.
But get real here. We’re talking about the natural “invitation to struggle” for political power within the very narrow boundaries of a checks and balances system with rather strict separation of powers that has been institutionalized for 118 years. This isn’t the totalitarian fealty demanded by Mussolini, Hitler, Franco, and Hussein. To paraphrase a great philosopher, it ain’t the same ballpark, it ain’t the same league, it ain’t even the same sport.
Loyalty to the Party or Movement and its ideology is of great importance.
Well, of course it is. We live in an era of polarized political discourse and that creates a sense of partisanship as a team sport. That’s true on the Left as well. Have you ever read DailyKos? Or watched the Democratic primary in Connecticut last cycle?
But, again, comparisons with Fascism cheapens the oppression suffered by people who lived under its tyranny. Aside from political appointees, who have always been chosen on partisan basis, government employees are hired without regard to partisan loyalties. Indeed, it is illegal to even ask about their political beliefs. Outside the government sector and jobs within think tanks and partisan/ideological organizations, there is no Party ID one must show to get a good job.
Come to think of it, there’s not even such a thing as a Party ID card in this country. Howard Dean and Mel Martinez would be hard pressed to prove they were members of the parties they chair.
Violence is the preferred means of accomplishing goals.
Oh, please. Yes, we’re at war and we’re using military power in an attempt to protect ourselves from fanatical terrorism. But Fascism uses violence as the preferred means of accomplishing domestic goals. That’s a rather significant distinction.
Whether the war in Iraq, or a militarized approach to counter-terrorism more generally, is a prudent policy is debatable. And debated it is, with zero interference from the government, by the way, unless one counts name calling by minor apparatchiks.
Diplomacy, compromise, negotiation, are all identified with (feminine) weakness.
When has that not been the case? Those most passionate about politics have always thought anything less than 100 percent success amounted to failure. Nonetheless, elected leaders have merrily gone on negotiating, exercising diplomacy, and making compromises because that’s what the reality of our political system demands.
The rule of law is also despised, because it lacks the immediacy of (violent) action, and its emphasis on balance and its concern with proper procedure is also seen as a sign of (feminine) weakness.
Like wartime presidents before him, including Lincoln, Wilson, FDR, and LBJ, Bush has pushed the envelope on his power in the name of national security. I don’t like it and don’t think the urgency or political necessity existed to do so in most cases.
Again, though, it’s bizarre to suggest that this is tantamount to “(violent) action” or that there was even a move toward “(violent) action” to achieving domestic political aims. It didn’t happen and isn’t about to happen. Aside from some fringe groups, which have always existed, there is simply no appetite for that. Our political culture resolves conflicts through peaceful protests, lobbying, lawsuits, campaigning, and a lot of bitching and moaning.
Sullivan and I are among thousands of Americans who freely go online and criticize the administration’s policies for any comers to see and sign our name to it without the thought crossing our mind that we’ll be dragged from our beds in the middle of the night and silenced. Until that changes, we should dispense with the “Fascism” silliness.
UPDATE: Sullivan posts a response, agreeing that the email’s cry of fascism “pushed the envelope” but that “the Bush administration’s doctrine of executive power, its disregard for the rule of law, its politicization of the Justice Department, its indefinite abridgment of habeas corpus, its deployment of torture against detainees, including an American citizen, are cause for serious concern.” I largely agree; our few differences are of degree rather than kind.
*Given that the “reader email” is Sullivan’s version of William Raspberry’s taxi driver, I’ll dispense with treating the quote as something other than Sullivan’s idea.