Sunday, January 6, 2008

Reflections: Let Me Count the Ways

When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross. - Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here

I have been pleasantly surprised to find that when one assiduously seeks information and knowledge, in the service of wisdom, knowledge and information will often meet one half-way. This kind of convergence of knowledge and mind, which I take to be a form of synchronicity, occurred for me just the other day.

I had been in the stacks of the university library, looking for a book that turned out not to be on the shelf. As I made my way through the maze of shelves toward the elevator bank, empty-handed, the book American Fascists by Chris Hedges, practically leapt off the shelf, into my hand.

This event partook of the kind of synchronicity I mentioned above, because it promised to provide some answers to a challenge thrown down by skeptical reader, William R. Barker, in the comments section of my post of December 30, 2007. In response to my conjectures concerning a cabal of right-wingers, determined to subvert the freedoms guaranteed by the constitution, in order to take power in America, Mr. Barker wrote: “I wait with baited (sic) breath for you to unmask the conspirators!”

This is easier said than done. As Hedges shows in his book, the conspirators are veritable “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” subverting the national thought patterns in ways which are both subtle and seemingly harmless, if not positive, at the surface level. In expounding upon this theme, Hedges quotes Hitler’s propaganda chief: “As Joseph Goebbels wrote: “The best propaganda is that which, as it were, works invisibly, penetrates the whole of life without the public having any knowledge of the propagandistic initiative.” (American Fascists, p.17)

Hedges prefaces his book with an excerpt from the writer and essayist, Umberto Eco, entitled Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt. In this piece, Eco examines 14 items, some of which, in various combinations, will be fundamental to every fascist movement. I have reconfigured Eco’s list slightly in order to include it here:

Common Elements of Eternal Fascism:

1. The cult of tradition
2. The rejection of modernism
3. The cult of action for action’s sake
4. Making distinctions is a sign of modernism; disagreement is treason
5. Disagreement is a sign of diversity, diversity is evil (racism)
6. Fascism derives from individual or social frustration
7. The only privilege is that of being born in the same country
8. Humiliation at the power and material privileges of their enemies
9. Life is lived for struggle
10. Elitist contempt for the weak
11. Everybody is educated to become a hero
12. Transference of the will to power to sexual matters (patriarchal machismo)
13. Selective populism
14. Fascism speaks Newspeak

Eco’s original piece, which expands upon these items, can be read here. Eco’s title is a play on the title of a famous poem by Wallace Stevens, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. Another interesting example of convergence is that sometime between 1991 and 1994, I used the title and format of the same Stevens poem as the basis of a poem of my own entitled Thirteen Ways of Looking at an Oligarch, the content of which can be seen as a bridge between Stevens and Eco.

Hedges’ book focuses on a fundamentalist, evangelical, right-wing religious movement called Dominionism. In Hedges’ words:

Dominionism, born out of a theology known as Christian reconstructionism, seeks to politicize faith. It has, like all fascist movements, a belief in magic along with leadership adoration and a strident call for moral and physical supremacy of a master race, in this case American Christians. (Ibid., p.11)

In general terms:

Dominionists and their wealthy, right-wing sponsors speak in terms and phrases that are familiar and comforting to most Americans, but they no longer use words to mean what they meant in the past. (Ibid., p.14)

Among those comforting words whose meaning Hedges shows being subverted in this way are: Truth, wisdom, death, liberty, life, love

Some of these “wealthy, right-wing sponsors” include:

Corporations such as Tyson Foods—which has placed 128 part-time chaplains, nearly all evangelicals or fundamentalists, in 78 plants across the country—along with Purdue, Wal-Mart, and Sam’s Wholesale, to name a few, are huge financial backers of the movement. (Ibid., p.22)

So, there you have it, Mr. Barker. This should provide you with enough of a road-map to find some answers to your own challenge, if you want to take the time to do a little digging of your own. To close, I might suggest that you spend some time lurking here, in order to observe the prediction of Sinclair Lewis at work in real-time today.