The mutability of mobilizing passions

David Neiwert is serious about defining fascism. (And he doesn't set much stock in dictionary definitions.) Instead, he offers a multi-pronged definition of fascism as involving "palingenetic ultranationalist populism" and certain "traits that remain constant in fascism through all the stages of its development." Nine traits (or "mobilizing passions") are listed:

1. -- a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solutions;

2. -- the primacy of the group, toward which one has duties superior to every right, whether universal or individual, and the subordination of the individual to it;

3. -- the belief that one's group is a victim, a sentiment which justifies any action, without legal or moral limits, against the group's enemies, both internal and external;

4. -- dread of the group's decline under the corrosive effect of individualistic liberalism, class conflict, and alien influences;

5. -- the need for closer integration of a purer community, by consent if possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary;

6. -- the need for authority by natural leaders (always male), culminating in a national chief who alone is capable of incarnating the group's destiny;

7. -- the superiority of the leader's instincts over abstract and universal reason;

8. -- the beauty of violence and the efficacy of will, when they are devoted to the group's success;

9. -- 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 in a Darwinian struggle.

The problem with the above list is that it's a list of beliefs, feelings, thoughts, motivations, passions. Thoughts and beliefs do not equal fascism, any more than the desire for a "Better World" equals Communism. I don't care whether someone -- or some group of people -- feel that they need authority, or feel they need more money; what I care about is what they're actually doing.

Take a group of nuts like the Ku Klux Klan. They've got the overwhelming crisis, the primacy of the group, the belief that they're victims, dread of the group's decline, the need for to purify the community, need for (male) authority, superiority of the leader, and the right to dominate others. So what? They're a small group of fringe nuts without any hope of getting power. The same could be said about the Nation of Islam. While groups like that may be said to be fascist, they are in absolutely no position (domestically, at least) to impose fascism. (Islamic fascists -- particularly violent adherents to such things as the Caliphate movement, are far more worthy of taking seriously.)

So what's the point of Mr. Neiwert's essay? Aside from being a portion of a much longer series of essays (most likely written for a book), it seems clear to me that there are two goals: to link -- as closely as possible -- Republicans to fascism via guilt through association, and to render it socially and politically respectable to call them fascists. Republicans (and the "conservative movement") are said to be, if not fully developed as fascists, then at least approaching fascism, because they (or at least some of their supporters) share many of the above mobilizing passions. Mr. Neiwert goes to great lengths to discuss specific examples of each. Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter ("transmitters" of fascism) are said to be engaged in "eliminationist rhetoric" because they've advocated a world of no more liberals. Ann Coulter's statement that Timothy McVeigh should have targeted the New York Times building is taken literally. Does the following colloquy sound genuinely serious?

John Hawkins: You've caught a lot of heat for a couple of quotes you made. In your column three days after 9/11, you said, "We know who the homicidal maniacs are.They are the ones cheering and dancing right now. We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." You also said in an interview with the New York Observer, "My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building." Do you stand by those quotes or do you think that perhaps you should have phrased them differently?

Ann Coulter: Ozzy Osbourne has his bats, and I have that darn "convert them to Christianity" quote. (Thank you for giving the full quote. I have the touch, don't I?) Some may not like what I said, but I'm still waiting to hear a better suggestion.
RE: McVeigh quote. Of course I regret it. I should have added, "after everyone had left the building except the editors and reporters."

Now, I haven't the faintest idea whether Ms. Coulter seriously believes McVeigh should have targeted the New York Times building. I'm not one of her readers, but I assumed the remark was an irresponsible form of humor, because if it's serious, then she's not only an extremist, but she's crazy as a loon. My common sense tells me she's not crazy, but I could be wrong. But because she's in the same tent with the Republicans, David Neiwert thinks the Republicans are moving closer and closer to fascism. Similarly, Rush Limbaugh said something like "Kill all liberals!" Does that mean the Republicans want to actually do that? I think both statements are hyperbole. Offensive hyperbole, but not reality.

Many times in the San Francisco Bay Area I have seen people wearing T-shirts emblazoned with slogans such as "EAT THE RICH!" and "DIE YUPPIE SCUM!" I never for a moment thought the wearers seriously wanted to kill or cannibalize people for crimes such as "gentrification." (Nor, until now, did I worry that this "eliminationist rhetoric" was now moving the nation towards fascism. But I'll bet they'd have screamed "fascism" had someone worn "DIE HIPPIE SCUM!" t-shirts!) For the sake of comparison let's look at the "mobilizing passions" of the practitioners of anti-Yuppie Eliminationist Rhetoric. There's certainly an overwhelming crisis, desire for primacy of the group, belief that they're victims, dread their decline, the need to purify the community, the right to dominate others, and a sense that their leaders are superior to the rich yuppie scum leaders. What's lacking, I guess, is the need for authority (whether male or female). Hmmmmm.....

Maybe if they got power......

With all due respect to Mr. Neiwert, I think that focusing on "mobilizing passions" doesn't withstand analysis.

Presidential candidate George Wallace will serve as an example of how fascist-sounding hyperbole plays out in practice. In reference to hippie protesters, he used to say that "The next hippie who gets in front of my car will be the last hippie."

While I can't find a link to the article (this was a long time ago, folks), it just so happened that Wallace had to eat his words, because a hippie protester did in fact get in front of Governor Wallace's limo. Wallace's driver jokingly offered to oblige and asked whether he should run him over, and this terrified Wallace, who grabbed the driver and yelled "GOD NO!" As to his plans for an American fascist state (if that was in fact what Wallace wanted), history showed that the American people weren't even close to considering him as their Fuhrer.

I vividly remember that Nixon was called a fascist bent on establishing an American dictatorship. He was going to cancel the elections, suspend the Bill of Rights, all the rest of it. What happened? Instead of seizing power and abolishing the Supreme Court, when the chips were down he went out with a whimper. He resigned rather than be impeached. And "for the good of the country." Some fascist he turned out to be.

Likewise, "fascist" Bush utterly failed to cancel the coming election (as had been predicted by anti-fascist Ted Rall). And I'll go so far as to predict that he will either lose the coming election and leave office in January, or else he'll be elected and serve four more years.

Pretty lame form of "fascism."

In the battle to redefine fascism so that it becomes a legitimate political label to define Republicans and conservatives, Mr. Neiwert has a real uphill struggle. While he has made an argument that certain "mobilizing passions" are shared by certain Republicans and by historical fascists, at most this amounts to guilt by association. Smoke equals fire. For the sake of argument, assume that some genuine fascists listen to Rush Limbaugh, read Ann Coulter, go to gun shows, and are angry. In logic, that does not make angry Limbaugh/Coulter fans who go to gun shows fascists. (Of course, the "mutative" definition of fascism advocated by Mr. Neiwert is so amorphous that almost anyone could be called fascist. But far from defining fascism, it actually renders the definition increasingly problematic -- and increasingly meaningless.)

I can't help notice that Mr. Neiwert's focus on "palingenetic ultranationalist populism" (and on fascism's "mutability") largely ignores what I consider the worst features of fascism: suppression of free speech, brutal mistreatment of dissenters, violation of due process rights, and draconian gun control (features also shared by Communism).

The palingenetic ultranationalist populists (whether on the right or the left) can spout their nonsense all they want, and I won't stop them. It's still a free country. They're crackpots, and I doubt the American people will ever buy what they're selling -- their various "mobilizing passions" notwthstanding.

(If they made a move to go after my freedom, my right to free speech, or my guns, that would be a different matter. Might even mobilize my passions.)

UPDATE: David Neiwert says I have confused his thoughts with those of historian Robert Paxton:

Now, in somewhat better faith (and certainly more honest, not to mention competent) have been the critiques from Eric at Classical Values, especially his most recent entry. But it's hard to take this commentary seriously when it's clear he can't even distinguish between my ideas and those of Robert O. Paxton, or even acknowledge that the entirety of the ideas I'm basing my analysis upon is drawn from serious scholars of fascism. As anyone who's actually taken the time to read my work knows, I'm not drawing these ideas out of thin air. Moreover, he simply dismisses the heart of Paxton's thesis (that fascism is better understood as a set of "mobilizing passions" than as an "ism") without explanation. There's simply no substance to Eric's critique to address.

Well, as I said, I did expect to inspire a reaction from the right based on a simple failure of reading comprehension, or a lack of reading altogether. That's easy to predict, considering that the right has a well-established track record of distortion based on misrepresentation and non-comprehension. And my personal experience has been that they decline to read or comprehend simply because they don't want to.

That's fair enough. I don't like having the ideas or thoughts of others attributed to me. However, if I quoted and then agreed with and analyzed ideas of another, then a third party would be justified in taking issue with me. I agree with the Roman motto, "Si vis pacem, para bellum." I don't mind if someone says I think that -- whether idea was articulated by Vegetus, Cicero, or later endorsed by Clausewitz and countless others -- because the point is the same, and the idea is either right or wrong.

(I admit that I'm more interested in whether an idea is right or wrong than in who had the idea originally.)

Anyway, I stand corrected to the extent I attributed Robert Paxton's thoughts to David Neiwert. Still, I don't think I have to read the Paxton book in its entirety to disagree with Mr. Neiwert's analysis, which more than speaks for itself. My objection is with the definition of fascism becoming so broad as to include the passions which may or may not lead to actual fascism. One could look at the passions which lead people to Communism too -- but passions are not the same thing as Communism.

posted by Eric on 10.27.04 at 09:09 AM


"Fascist!" is a cuss-word of the dying liberal oligarchy. The more it is used inappropriately, the more it loses its well-deserved sting.

Infidel   ·  October 27, 2004 10:03 AM

Extremely interesting. That cluster of ideas or values he listed does correspond to the historical definition of fascism, both in practice and in the theoretical writings of fascists. I don't know that the leader has to be male, though political leaders in most forms of government throughout history have been men. That's just how it is. If Ann Coulter was dictator and shot all the liberals, would that not be fascism?

I think the most salient element of those he listed is the subordination of the individual to the group, i.e., collectivism, which is also the most salient feature of Communism. The suppressions of freedom you named (gun control, censorship, etc.) stem from that premise.

My own glorification of myth, passion, and will, along with my elitism, would, I suppose, make me a fascist, even though I exalt the primacy of the individual over any group.

Speaking of all that, a campus newspaper once reported that Ayn Rand was accused of being "a Nazi sympathizer because of her neo-Nietzschean philosophy of extreme individualism".

1) The Nazis were _not_ individualists in any degree, but, rather, were the most extreme collectivists.

2) Friedrich Nietzsche was _not_ a Nazi in any way. He hated anti-Semitism, racism, collectivism, and statism. He would have loathed Hitler.

3) Ayn Rand was not only not a Nazi in any way, she was Jewish.

And Ayn Rand replied: "What they said about me was inspired either by Communists or by namby-pamby compromisers."

The _style_ of that!

I am proud to be an anti-Communist, uncompromising, neo-Nietzschean extreme individualist like Ayn Rand, Oswald Spengler, and Camille Paglia. If that makes me a fascist, then so be it.

The important thing to remember about loons like Lyndon LaRouche, Dave Niewert, or the Freemason conspirators is that they cannot be reasoned with.

Dean Esmay   ·  October 29, 2004 12:28 AM

I've said it before and say it again: "Classical Values" is the stupidest of the ill-informed neo-con weblogs. The faux intellectualism is so thin and threadbare that even a blind lizard can detect the broken weave caused by the lack of erudition. "Dictionary definitions" of fascism should certainly satisfy a halfwit, but for those interested in the analysis of political movements and thought, "beliefs, feelings," and such are the things we examine, as well as actions. (Neither feelings nor actions make Bush supporters appear very democratic or non-neofascist.) The desire to categorize for one's own comfort, in order to avoid a challenge, is a weakness of intellect and certainly an indicator of intellectual cowardice. It is the sort of thing that no classical philosopher (most certainly not Aristotle or Plato) would respect. A neurotic fear of opposition results in such straw-man arguments. "Classical Values" is good for one thing, however: a hearty laugh.

cal godot   ·  October 29, 2004 3:13 PM

"A blind lizard can detect the broken weave caused by the lack of erudition?"

Gee thanks! Maybe I'll quote you -- especially if you're the famous film director.

While I think your comment might be a bit heavy on assertions and ad hominem attacks, I'm honored to have such a distinguished visitor, so I'll be nice. (Not that I'm neurotically fearful of arguments, but I don't think you've provided me with much. Nice to hear that Aristotle and Plato are on your side, though.)

But alas! I still prefer the dictionary definition of fascism. (Halfwit that I am, I think it's rather silly to define fascism by feelings. Or "mobilizing passions.")

Eric Scheie   ·  October 29, 2004 4:10 PM

He's famous?

J. Case   ·  October 29, 2004 8:35 PM

Justin, I wish you wouldn't display your ignorance publicly. Isn't it humiliating enough to know that we're running the "stupidest of the ill-informed neo-con weblogs?"

We need to clean up our act around here!

Eric Scheie   ·  October 30, 2004 6:41 PM

Why are so many posts that calmly and rationally disagree with the sentiments of this blog being deleted?

antifascist   ·  November 2, 2004 12:40 AM

Might you be referring to your own comments on the following post?

They're still there; I only delete commercial SPAM. If something else has been deleted, let me know because the anti-SPAM software may have done it unwittingly. Otherwise, worry not!


Eric Scheie   ·  November 2, 2004 6:34 AM

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