The Second Version

21/04/09

The Return of Fascisms

Dennis the Peasant once wrote:
The bottom line is simple: Fascism never has been, and never was intended to be, a coherent political doctrine. Fascism has never been more than a resolute and unprincipled will to power. That Goldberg would not understand this - or choose to ignore this - puts his level of discourse and intellectualism about on par of that of Bill Maher's or George Carlin's. There is no such thing as "liberal fascism" - anymore than there is such a thing as "conservative fascism" - and there never has been, and Jonah Goldberg should know that.
On the other hand, until not long ago on LGF it was fashionable to say that Nazis were in reality socialists if not leftists, considering their stance on economics and environment etc. Then Charles changed his mind, and decided that right-wing extremists are Public Enemy Number One, so that position has suddenly become wrong, and moronic historical revisionism.

Both stances listed above are partly wrong, partly right. Despite what Dennis thinks, Fascism proper was a coherent political doctrine. As I pointed out already, there is a difference between Fascism as practiced by Mussolini's movement and what much of what is called fascism these days.

A good description of the characteristics of Fascism can be found in this article, I think*.

Despite what used to be common wisdom on LGF, fascists and nazis are not left-wingers either - in part by definition, because the "right-wing" label stuck, right or wrong.
Moreover, they share some foundations with the socialists - the primacy of the common good over individual freedom, and the cult of the leader's personality - but are also deeply different: ideologies of the fascist family are generally racist and nationalist, while those of the socialist family are more inclusive and transnational.

What is generally called the "extreme right-wing" in America is an extremely heterogeneous set made of Christian extremists, Nazis, anarco-capitalists and probably some other weirder group - in other words, "extreme right-wing" is little more than a label with no descriptive qualities.

The division between left and right was born at a specific point of the French revolution and it merely referred to the seating arrangement in some assembly, where the fervent revolutionaries sat on the left side and the royalists on the right. Trying to apply this scheme to other places and times results in failure.

In fact, one single axis is not sufficient to represent the entire political landscape and ends in paradox, such as fascist and socialist** militants campaigning for very similar economic policies but beating each other senseless when they come into contact on the streets (a not pretty but common sight in Italy).

Jerry Pournelle thinks that two axes are sufficient:

Some years ago I set out to replace the old model with one that made more sense. I studied a number of political philosophies and tried to see what underlying concepts separated them from their political enemies. Eventually I came up with two variables. I didn't then and don't now suggest these two are all there is to political theory. I'm certain there are other important ones. But my two have this property: they map every major political philosophy and movement onto one unique place.

The two I chose are "Attitude toward the State," and "Attitude toward planned social progress".

The first is easy to understand: what think you of government? Is it an object of idolatry, a positive good, necessary evil, or unmitigated evil? Obviously that forms a spectrum, with various anarchists at the left end and reactionary monarchists at the right. The American political parties tend to fall toward the middle.

Note also that both Communists and Fascists are out at the right-hand end of the line; while American Conservatism and US Welfare Liberalism are in about the same place, somewhere to the right of center, definitely "statists." (One should not let modern anti-bureaucratic rhetoric fool you into thinking the US Conservative has really become anti-statist; he may want to dismantle a good part of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, but he would strengthen the police and army.) The ideological libertarian is of course left of center, some all the way over to the left with the anarchists.

That variable works; but it doesn't pull all the political theories each into a unique place. They overlap. Which means we need another variable.

"Attitude toward planned social progress" can be translated "rationalism"; it is the belief that society has "problems," and these can be "solved"; we can take arms against a sea of troubles.

Once again we can order the major political philosophies. Fascism is irrationalist; it says so in its theoretical treatises. It appeals to "the greatness of the nation" or to the volk, and also to the fuhrer-prinzip, i.e., hero worship.

Call that end (irrationalism) the "bottom" of the spectrum and place the continuum at right angles to the previous "statism" variable. Call the "top" the attitude that all social problems have findable solutions. Obviously Communism belongs there. Not far below it you find a number of American Welfare Liberals: the sort of people who say that crime is caused by poverty, and thus when we end poverty we'll end crime. Now note that the top end of the scale, extreme rationalism, may not mark a very rational position: "knowing" that all human problems can be "solved" by rational actions is an act of faith akin to the anarchist's belief that if we can just chop away the government, man truly free will no longer have problems. Obviously I think both top and bottom positions are whacky; but then one mark of Conservatism has always been distrust of highly rationalist schemes. Burke advocated that we draw "from the general bank of the ages, because he suspected that any particular person or generation has a rather small stock of reason; thus where the radical argues "we don't understand the purpose of this social custom; let's dismantle it," the conservative says "since we don't understand it, we'd better leave it alone."

Venerable Steven instead thinks a multi-dimensional space is required, and he lists at least five political axes:
Michael (Totten, ed.) continues to make various deductions from what he thinks of as his basic insight, and the mistakes cascade. He says, In other pieces I’ve noted an annoying equivalence between the far-left and far-right. And he lists several. But when you look at it from the point of view of multiple political dimensions, what you discover is that the people he refers to as "far-left" and "far-right" actually land on the same point on a lot of these scales, as I described above for Falwell and Chomsky.


* That website has some quite moonbattish/black-helicopters sections, but the article cited makes sense in light of the available evidence.

** The distinction between Socialism and Communism, pretty much as the one between Fascism and Nazism, is more one of degree than of kind.

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