Hunger for Dictatorship
The last weeks of 2004 saw several explicit warnings from the antiwar Right about the coming of an American fascism. Paul Craig Roberts in these pages wrote of the “brownshirting” of American conservatism—a word that might not have surprised had it come from Michael Moore or Michael Lerner. But from a Hoover Institution senior fellow, former assistant secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration, and one-time Wall Street Journal editor, it was striking.
Several weeks later, Justin Raimondo, editor of the popular Antiwar.com website, wrote a column headlined, “Today’s Conservatives are Fascists.” Pointing to the justification of torture by conservative legal theorists, widespread support for a militaristic foreign policy, and a retrospective backing of Japanese internment during World War II, Raimondo raised the prospect of “fascism with a democratic face.” His fellow libertarian, Mises Institute president Lew Rockwell, wrote a year-end piece called “The Reality of Red State Fascism,” which claimed that “the most significant socio-political shift in our time has gone almost completely unremarked, and even unnoticed. It is the dramatic shift of the red-state bourgeoisie from leave-us-alone libertarianism, manifested in the Congressional elections of 1994, to almost totalitarian statist nationalism. Whereas the conservative middle class once cheered the circumscribing of the federal government, it now celebrates power and adores the central state, particularly its military wing.”
But Rockwell (and Roberts and Raimondo) is correct in drawing attention to a mood among some conservatives that is at least latently fascist. Rockwell describes a populist Right website that originally rallied for the impeachment of Bill Clinton as “hate-filled ... advocating nuclear holocaust and mass bloodshed for more than a year now.” One of the biggest right-wing talk-radio hosts regularly calls for the mass destruction of Arab cities. Letters that come to this magazine from the pro-war Right leave no doubt that their writers would welcome the jailing of dissidents. And of course it’s not just us. When USA Today founder Al Neuharth wrote a column suggesting that American troops be brought home sooner rather than later, he was blown away by letters comparing him to Tokyo Rose and demanding that he be tried as a traitor. That mood, Rockwell notes, dwarfs anything that existed during the Cold War. “It celebrates the shedding of blood, and exhibits a maniacal love of the state. The new ideology of the red-state bourgeoisie seems to actually believe that the US is God marching on earth—not just godlike, but really serving as a proxy for God himself.”
It is impossible to overstate my pleasure at being on the same side of the barricades with him today. That side is, of course, that of the antiwar movement; the side of a conservatism (or liberalism) that finds Bush’s policies reckless and absurd and the neoconservatives who inspire and implement them deluded and dangerous.
(“Now the word ‘freedom’ has become a newly invoked justification for the occupation of a country that did not attack us, whose people have not greeted our soldiers as liberators. … The world knows that all manner of traditional rights associated with freedom are threatened in our own country. ... The essential element of a democratic society—trust—has been weakened, as secrecy, mendacity and intimidation have become the hallmarks of this administration. ... Now ‘freedom’ is being emptied of meaning and reduced to a slogan. But one doesn’t demean the concept without injuring the substance.”)
...And yet the very fact that the f-word can be seriously raised in an American context is evidence enough that we have moved into a new period. The invasion of Iraq has put the possibility of the end to American democracy on the table and has empowered groups on the Right that would acquiesce to and in some cases welcome the suppression of core American freedoms. That would be the titanic irony of course, the mother of them all—that a war initiated under the pretense of spreading democracy would lead to its destruction in one of its very birthplaces. But as historians know, history is full of ironies.