Friday, December 11, 2009

The problem of fascism versus earlier forms of ultra-conservatism

There is a difference. I've been chewing on this one for a while. Others have put it like this: previous ultra-conservatism was opposed to revolution, was not revolutionary, while fascism is. I didn't accept that for a long time, in part because I view revolution as a very positive thing and not something that could easily be tainted by its association with something like fascism. But I've come around. What I think one of the primary differences is is that conservatism and ultra-conservatism are concerned with restoration while fascism offers revolutionary change in the service of ultra-conservative values. Restoration implies just a return to either a real or imagined state of affairs that used to exist and that now doesn't, while revolution doesn't require what's being pursued to have existed before whatsoever.

By severing the direct link with the past and essentially going all out to try to put together an ideal state of affairs fascist ultra-conservatism strikes an especially dangerous note. Usually conservatism implies some sort of restraint, including especially a restraint on revolutionary change and in how far social change should go. But if ultra-conservative values are just adopted by people who don't care about imposing them wholesale on a population by force, then that thread of potential saving grace is gone and there's nothing but force left, especially if the people in question are skeptical of democracy and of there being some need for a democratic or popular basis for social change.

Similar things can be potentially said of any revolutionary movement, but socialism in general builds on the liberal tradition instead of holding it in contempt, Stalinist policies exempted from this, and even if it hasn't always exhibited perfect respect for liberal norms of treatment it has at least held them as goals, if only in official doctrine. Fascism on the other hand does what the Bush administration has done with regards to torture, war, and the invasion of the civil liberties of citizens, that is to say justifying them outright without even bothering to give an excuse as to why these things should go on. The human rights records of regimes in South America that completely and  unapologetically abandoned all liberal norms in order to pursue ultra-conservative goals are further testimony to what happens when there isn't even debate on whether or not they should be regarded as good things.

To shift gears for a second, our country is actually probably more likely to get into a fascist movement for its conservatism than others, with the Tea Party people being a potential candidate for that. The reason is the a-historical bent of much U.S. conservatism. There's a great myth that folks in the U.S of A. have this great regard for Edmund Burke's belief in a kind of evolutionary halfway strategy that combines moderate liberalism with traditional values and a slow but limited belief in social change. The truth of the matter is that this sort of belief has only really been held by the upper classes, namely people with the ability to know who Edmund Burke is and to have read him. In reality, the conservatism of large parts of America is almost medievalistic in its apparent lack of any sort of historical consciousness whatsoever. Values in most of American conservatism aren't regarded as being part of some sort of Tradition but are instead viewed as absolutes handed down from God on high that are unalterable. The creationist museum in Tennessee is a great example of this. Here you can see modern science negated in its entirety by biblical reinterpretation of natural history. These people aren't aware enough to realize what subtle historical traditions are. When these folks are galvanized by a revolutionary movement, such as one that draws on the motif of the American Revolution for legitimacy, their beliefs and actions are likely to be indistinguishable from fascism.

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