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Saturday, May 28, 2005

On Fascism

Posted by: Hammer / 3:33 PM

Fascism and Nazi analogies came up in comments on one of Jambo's posts this week. A similar question popped up on Kevin Drum's blog and at Dadahead.

As I've mentioned, I used to be quite keen on tossing the fascist label at right wingers. I was like a kid with a bag of little red rings on a midway.

Let me take one more step back: I kept my political views to myself, mostly, until the 2000 election. I'd talk politics with friends, but mostly like-minded friends. I needled my federalist society friends from law school and they needled right back.

During the weeks after the 2000 election, I started reading Bartcop and the Daily Howler. I learned from both. From the Howler I learned that most everything I knew about Al Gore was wrong. From Bartcop I learned that it was about damn time I stood up for what I believed in.

I was back in Madison playing cards with my federalist society friends and their friends. Now, I respect Pagel and Wood. We discuss politics, but we never argue. There's just no point: no one's mind is going to change (unless I have a botched lobotomy or one of them starts taking smart pills (respect only goes so far).) But they had a friend there who started talking about how he had realized his boyhood dream of buying his parents' farm. My internal dialogue wasn't to the second "e" of "that's sweet" before he finished his dream: he was razing the farm and subdividing it into a Parade of Homes style development.

That's fine, too. If he wants to plat up his childhood dreams into irregular lots, good for him. Then, though, the guy says how happy he is that Bush had finally been declared the winner.

"Yeah," I said, "Eight years of peace and prosperity was long enough."

"After the biggest tax cut in history," he says.

Now, (a) that's a non-sequitur. Who cares if you're tax rate goes up if your income is going up even faster? Everyone prospered during the Clinton economic miracle. Plus, (b) it's flat not true. In constant dollars, the largest tax hike in history came under Reagan. And was followed up by several more tax hikes, which still didn't get the country out of the flood of red ink.

From that night forward, I decided not to be shy around know-nothing right-wingers who repeat whatever they hear from Rush or Hannity or Hugh Hewitt. I wasn't shy, until a holiday party at my brother in law's house.

My wife's brother's wife's friend's husband was at the party. Along with my wife, her brother, his wife, and her friend. This guy started going on about the need to round up all the Muslims in the country and put them in camps until the war on terror was over.

That's right -- never mind that all 19 of the hijackers were in the country illegally. Never mind that it would strip citizens of every fundamental right. Never mind that we had done the same thing once before and came to regret it. What concerned me was this: though I don't know how the first discussions of Hitler's "final solution" started, but it probably was a lot like this. Put yellow stars on them; don't let them own property; put them in camps, for their own safety, just until the war is over. We all know how it ends.

What else can could by wife's brother's wife's friend's husband be called? He's a fascist. He might be ignorant rather than evil, but if your solution to the heinous crimes of 19 immigrants is to lock away every citizen of the same faith indefinitely, you're a fascist.

So I steer away from that adjective now. I've seen the face of fascism. I know what it looks like. It's fun invective, but I decline to use it as invective now. I intend to use it coolly, rationally, and appropriately. To stand calmly in the middle of those grey rooms and reject such betrayal of America and her citizens with the only term that fits: Fascist.


There are rare events in history at which the human race without argument acts in evil ways. There are numerous examples throughout history of varying degrees of evil.

I'm a student of history, somewhat, and an observer of human nature. I cannot think of anything that was more evil, more out of line with the general progression of humanity towards greater good, or a blacker period of history than the Holocaust. There has been nothing in our lifetime which can compare to it.

Saying that people who want to lock up Muslims are comparable to those who started the Nazi party still diminishes that and improperly elevates stupidity to evil. Nazism did not start as a result of people being unduly afraid during a period of comfort, as most Americans are today. Knee-jerk reactions from improperly-educated people are not akin to fascism.

Shorthand labels and simplistic arguments will never serve to teach people the error of their ways, anyway. You did way better at the party with the developer -- who did nothing wrong, really, but that's beside the point -- than if you called your relative a fascist, which I doubt he is.

You should have pointed out that the camps would not have helped avoid 9/11, and mentioned the sheer number of people who are in this country legally and are Muslim and who disapprove of those actions. You could have told him that despite the number of people who died on 9/11 it is highly unlikely that he was ever personally at risk and he is overreacting. And when he continued to protest that Muslims were uniformly to blame, you could have asked him if we should have interned all conservative, pro-military white guys after Oklahoma City.

But comparing him to a fascist is easier and more emotionally satisfying, I guess.

By Blogger The Trouble With Roy, at 10:45 AM  

"Never mind." Two words, alt-rock boy.

I forgot. You just wrote an entire essay about how you've matured intellectually.

Try this: Learn to spell.

By Blogger SlobJones, at 1:15 PM  

Spelling mistakes fixed, thanks SlobJones.

By Blogger Hammer, at 1:58 PM  

Trouble with Roy:

I disagree, though your point is well taken.

First, the Holocaust, while horrible, is sadly not beyond comparison. The Wikipedia tolls it up for us: 2,000,000 dead in Sudan; 1,000,000 dead in Rwanda; 1,700,000 in Cambodia. The Holocaust differs in scale to these atrocities, but not in kind. I don't have an accurate accounting of Stalin's victims, but the numbers there would be enormous, as well.

There are some policies that should be beyond the pale. If someone earnestly advocated the Swiftian solution to hunger, I doubt you would suggest that I calmly explain the policy disadvantages of eating children.

I think it's great that you have faith in redemption, if that's the right word. The idea that you can show someone he's wrong and change his mind. I don't think that's always the case. To the contrary, I think most of the time people stick to their conclusions much more than they stick to their facts or reasoning.

Maybe we could have had a productive conversation and maybe I missed the opportunity. I don't think there was an opportunity for a productive discussion, but you are certainly right that I didn't even try.

Finally, locking people up because of their beliefs is fundamentally fascist. Certainly no mainstream conservative would've agreed that putting all Muslims in camps was a central tenet of conservatism. It might be a fringe belief in the outer realm of conservatism. But if the belief starts there, it certainly extends into fascism.

Again, thanks for your thoughts.

By Blogger Hammer, at 3:04 PM  

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

By Blogger SlobJones, at 5:40 PM  

Kurt Cobain is dead, but grammar lives on.


By Blogger SlobJones, at 5:47 PM  

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By Blogger Drunk Girl, at 4:45 PM  

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