Sunday, December 12, 2004

Beyond Hitler

The question of whether liberals should invoke Hitler in discussing the Bush administration is a pretty easy one to answer, intellectually speaking: we shouldn't do it. Emotionally, though, things are a bit more difficult, given how many of us see Bush as a profoundly evil and dangerous man.

Personally, I'm sometimes tempted to compare Bush to Hitler not because Bush is a mass murderer or a sociopath (though I think one can make a good case that he's both), but because of the similar structure and tactics of their respective mass movements: the means by which "palingenetic ultra-nationalism" works to achieve its ends.

The mechanisms by which the media has propped Bush up, and by means of which Karl Rove operates, are apparent to anyone who's given the matter any honest thought. Comparing Bush to Hitler aids and abets these mechanisms, not least because it provides an excuse for automatic dismissal; it marginalizes the accuser rather than the accused.

But if Hitler had never been born, the things happening in our country today would be just as grave and just as dangerous. Therefore, beyond noting the fundamental characteristics of fascism, as I tried to do in this post, I'm less interested in drawing comparisons between Bush and Hitler than in judging Bush's actions against basic standards of morality (the Golden Rule, for instance) and good governance.

Assuming, as I do, that Bush can't profitably be compared to Hitler, is the word "fascism" at least salvageable? There are a number of different beliefs about what constitutes fascism, but no matter which one you look at, the Bush administration meets most or all of the criteria. This is simply a fact. However, it's also what logicians call "trivially true"; the fact that we are similar to Nazi Germany in certain respects says nothing about how it happened, what should be done about it, or what will happen next. The things that happened in the last four years went far beyond what Roger Griffin calls the "fascist minimum," and a large percentage of the country either didn't notice, didn't care, or liked it. Of course, it's helpful for people who oppose Bush to understand the mechanisms of fascism, but to call American fascists what they are seems to be, in our current culture, irrelevant at best and counterproductive at worst.

One reason, as I suggested here, is the typical fascists' belief that they've made a clean break with history. Thus, to speak to Bush-fanciers of "historical precedent" is to invite ridicule; they believe that the United States which rose from the ashes on 9/11 is something new under the sun, something without precedent, to which the old rules no longer apply. That's what they do, by definition; fascism always devalues thought, history, analysis, received wisdom, and caution. It's proudly impulsive, unreflective, and irrational. That being the case, we have to realize that the most ironclad proof imaginable of BushCo's fascism is useless within the context of the information war we're fighting, and may even be counterproductive. If the old rules no longer apply, neither do the old comparisons.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The knee-jerk response to Hitler is one of the reasons I keep floating the Maoist Cultural Revolution as a parallel.

I don't think that Patriotboy's Cult of Personality photochop received the backlash that Orcinus' Rise of Fascism series did. There are a lot of similarities in the two mechanisms for "faith-based" and "Movement based" action to consolidate power and eliminate opposition.