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Scott McConnell: Hunger for Dictatorship

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    War to export democracy may wreck our own. Hunger for Dictatorship by Scott McConnell The American Conservative http://www.amconmag.com/2005_02_14/article.html
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 13, 2005
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      War to export democracy may wreck our own.


      Hunger for Dictatorship
      by Scott McConnell
      The American Conservative
      http://www.amconmag.com/2005_02_14/article.html


      Students of history inevitably think in terms of periods: the New
      Deal, McCarthyism, "the Sixties" (1964-1973), the NEP, the purge
      trials—all have their dates. Weimar, whose cultural excesses made
      effective propaganda for the Nazis, now seems like the antechamber
      to
      Nazism, though surely no Weimar figures perceived their time that
      way
      as they were living it. We may pretend to know what lies ahead,
      feigning certainty to score polemical points, but we never do.

      Nonetheless, there are foreshadowings well worth noting. 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."

      I would argue that Rockwell—who makes the most systematic argument
      of
      the three—overstates the libertarian component of the 1994
      Republican
      victory, which could just as readily be credited to heartland
      rejection of the '60s cultural liberalism that came into office with
      the Clintons. And it is difficult to imagine any scenario, after
      9/11, that would not lead to some expansion of federal power. The
      United States was suddenly at war, mobilizing to strike at a Taliban
      government on the other side of the world. The emergence of
      terrorism
      as the central security issue had to lead, at the very least, to
      increased domestic surveillance—of Muslim immigrants especially. War
      is the health of the state, as the libertarians helpfully remind us,
      but it doesn't mean that war leads to fascism.

      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."

      The warnings from these three writers would have been significant
      even if they had not been complemented by what for me was the most
      striking straw in the wind. Earlier this month the New York Times
      published a profile of Fritz Stern, the now retired but still very
      active professor of history at Columbia University and one of my
      first and most significant mentors. I met Stern as an undergraduate
      in the spring of 1974. His lecture course on 20th-century Europe
      combined intellectual lucidity and passion in a way I had never
      imagined possible. It led me to graduate school, and if I later
      became diverted from academia into journalism, it was no fault of
      his. In grad school, I took his seminars and he sat on my orals and
      dissertation committee. As was likely the case for many of Stern's
      students, I read sections of his books The Politics of Cultural
      Despair and The Failure of Illiberalism again and again in my early
      twenties, their phraseology becoming imbedded in my own
      consciousness.

      Stern had emigrated from Germany as a child in 1938 and spent a
      career exploring how what may have been Europe's most civilized
      country could have turned to barbarism. Central to his work was the
      notion that the readiness to abandon democracy has deep cultural
      roots in German soil and that many Europeans, not only Germans,
      yearned for the safeties and certainties of something like fascism
      well before the emergence of fascist parties. One could not come
      away
      from his classes without a sense of the fragility of democratic
      systems, a deep gratitude for their success in the Anglo-American
      world, and a wary belief that even here human nature and political
      circumstance could bring something else to the fore.

      He is not a man of the Left. He would have been on the Right side of
      the spectrum of the Ivy League professoriat—seriously anticommunist,
      and an open and courageous opponent of university concessions to
      the "revolutionary students" of 1968. He might have described
      himself
      as a conservative social democrat, of the sort that might plausibly
      gravitate toward neoconservatism. An essay of his in Commentary in
      the mid-1970s drew my attention to the magazine for the first time.

      But he did not go further in that direction, perhaps understanding
      something about the neocons that I missed at the time. One afternoon
      in the early 1980s, during a period when I was reading Commentary
      regularly and was beginning to write for it, he told me, clearly
      enjoying the pun, that my views had apparently "Kristolized."

      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. In the past
      year, I had seen Stern's letters to the editor in the Times ("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.") In the profile of him
      in the Times, he sounds an alarm of the very phenomenon Roberts,
      Raimondo, and Rockwell are speaking about openly.

      To an audience at the Leo Baeck Institute, on the occasion of
      receiving a prize from Germany's foreign minister, Stern noted that
      Hitler had seen himself as "the instrument of providence" and fused
      his "racial dogma with Germanic Christianity." This "pseudo–
      religious
      transfiguration of politics … largely ensured his success." The
      Times' Chris Hedges asked Stern about the parallels between Germany
      then and America now. He spoke of national mood—drawing on a
      lifetime
      of scholarship that saw fascism coming from below as much as imposed
      by elites above. "There was a longing in Europe for fascism before
      the name was ever invented... for a new authoritarianism with some
      kind of religious orientation and above all a greater communal
      belongingness. There are some similarities in the mood then and the
      mood now, although significant differences."

      This is characteristic Stern—measured and precise—but signals to me
      that the warning from the libertarians ought not be simply dismissed
      as rhetorical excess. I don't think there are yet real fascists in
      the administration, but there is certainly now a constituency for
      them —hungry to bomb foreigners and smash those Americans who might
      object. And when there are constituencies, leaders may not be far
      behind. They could be propelled into power by a populace ever more
      frustrated that the imperialist war it has supported—generally for
      the most banal of patriotic reasons—cannot possibly end in victory.
      And so scapegoats are sought, and if we can't bomb Arabs into
      submission, or the French, domestic critics of Bush will serve.

      Stern points to the religious (and more explicitly Protestant)
      component in the rise of Nazism—but I don't think the proto-fascist
      mood is strongest among the so-called Christian Right. The critical
      letters this magazine receives from self-identified evangelical
      Christians are almost always civil in tone; those from Christian
      Zionists may quote Scripture about the Israeli-Palestinian dispute
      in
      ways that are maddeningly nonrational and indisputably pre-
      Enlightenment—but these are not the letters foaming with a hatred
      for
      those with the presumption to oppose George W. Bush's wars for
      freedom and democracy. The genuinely devout are perhaps less
      inclined
      to see the United States as "God marching on earth."

      Secondly, it is necessary to distinguish between a sudden
      proliferation of fascist tendencies and an imminent danger. There
      may
      be, among some neocons and some more populist right-wingers,
      unmistakable antidemocratic tendencies. But America hasn't yet
      experienced organized street violence against dissenters or a state
      that is willing—in an unambiguous fashion—to jail its critics. The
      administration certainly has its far Right ideologues—the Washington
      Post's recent profile of Alberto Gonzales, whose memos are literally
      written for him by Cheney aide David Addington, provides striking
      evidence. But the Bush administration still seems more embarrassed
      than proud of its most authoritarian aspects. Gonzales takes some
      pains to present himself as an opponent of torture; hypocrisy in
      this
      realm is perhaps preferable to open contempt for international law
      and the Bill of Rights.

      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.

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