for the record, i believe it’s kind of useless to use terms like “socialist” and “fascist” these days, since 95% of the people throwing them around couldn’t define them if asked. but given all the hubbub on the right over Obama’s “socialist” policies, i’m finding the recent spat between Obama and Cheney to be kind of amusing. from Cheney’s speech earlier today:
If fine speech-making, appeals to reason, or pleas for compassion had the power to move them, the terrorists would long ago have abandoned the field. And when they see the American government caught up in arguments about interrogations, or whether foreign terrorists have constitutional rights, they don’t stand back in awe of our legal system and wonder whether they had misjudged us all along. Instead the terrorists see just what they were hoping for – our unity gone, our resolve shaken, our leaders distracted. In short, they see weakness and opportunity.
the whole speech is very par for the course for Dr.Doom, implicitly arguing, as he usually does, that the only way to beat the terrorists is to sink to their level. why hold ourselves to higher standards if those guys just won’t play fair?
more to the point, though, this excerpt, along with pretty much everything Cheney has ever said, strikes me as perilously close to fascist thinking. one of the best books i’ve ever read is Robert O. Paxton’s The Anatomy of Fascism (2004), an interesting look at the ideologies, actions, movements, and regimes behind a frequently misunderstood (and misused) word. and in the past few years, as i’ve become more politically aware, i keep harkening back to the book. particularly on days like today, when Cheney’s speech puts me in mind of some particularly relevant passages from Paxton (p. 41):
… fascism is more plausibly linked to a set of “mobilizing passions” that shape fascist action than to a consistent and fully articulated philosophy. At bottom is a passionate nationalism. Allied to it is a conspiratorial and Manichean view of history as a battle between the good and evil camps, between the pure and the corrupt, in which one’s own community or nation has been the victim. In this Darwinian narrative, the chosen people have been weakened by political parties, social classes, inassimilable minorities, spoiled rentiers, and rationalist thinkers who lack the necessary sense of community. These “mobilizing passions,” mostly taken for granted and not always overtly argued as intellectual propositions, form the emotional lava that set fascism’s foundations:
- a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solutions;
- the primacy of the group, toward which one has duties superior to every right, whether individual or universal, and the subordination of the individual to it;
- the belief that one’s group is a victim, a sentiment that justifies any action, without legal or moral limits, against its enemies, both internal and external; 60
- dread of the group’s decline under the corrosive effects of individualistic liberalism, class conflict, and alien influences;
- the need for closer integration of a purer community, by consent if possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary;
- the need for authority by natural leaders (always male), culminating in a national chief who alone is capable of incarnating the group’s destiny;
- the superiority of the leader’s instincts over abstract and universal reason;
- the beauty of violence and the efficacy of will, when they are devoted to the group’s success;
- the right of the chosen people to dominate others without restraint from any kind of human or divine law, right being decided by the sole criterion of the group’s prowess within a Darwinian struggle.