So, Herr Drumpf is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, and the concern about fascism coming to America has itself taken on yet another layer of poignancy. Concerns are being raised by individuals as diverse as neo-con and Iraq war cheerleader Robert Kagan, and leading expert on the structural characteristics of fascist movements, Robert O. Paxton. It is Paxton’s work on the subject that most interests me here. While this post can be viewed as a follow up to my earlier one (hence the recycled picture), this post can also be viewed as the first of a two part series on aspects of those structural characteristic Paxton so carefully analyzed, and how they are visibly playing themselves out this election cycle. My argument here will be a fairly informal one – I’ll not be providing detailed endnotes or extensive quotations (although, such quotes as do appear will have their location in the Kindle text provided). This is because the details I’ll be offering from Paxton’s work are entirely uncontroversial readings of his arguments. Besides which, Paxton’s book is readily available, eminently readable, and an essential book for any citizen caught up in contemporary events.
My concern here is to remind folks not only of some of the essential characteristics that go into making a fascist movement – and fascism is always a movement, a populist one at that, and not a party or a collection of policies – and consider some of the ways the Trump phenomenon differs from other post WWII forms of conservative extremism, ways that actually push it closer to fascism. The movements I’ll be describing will be European ones, and most of what I’ll have to say about these European forms of conservative extremism will be based on chapter 7 of The Anatomy of Fascism. First, however, it will be useful to remind ourselves about the nature of fascism itself. Continue reading →
Getting to this place where I can write what is obvious.
It is not an accident that within a matter of a couple of days, this “Supreme” court has viciously curtailed human rights while indefensibly expanding gun rights. But take a look at the picture below. Look at it carefully. This is not a person.
But if you are a woman, if you are non-binary, LGBTQIA+, it basically has more rights before this court than you do. In other words, before this court, you are not a person. Add BIPOC to the previous list, because unless you are white and male, if you go parading around with an assault weapon you are unlikely to be allowed to survive, never mind pass unharrassed, by our massively militarized Law Enforcement.
A recent interaction on social media reminded me of the widespread – and commonly enough, absolutely willful – ignorance of basic political distinctions that are rampant among so many people in the U.S. In particular, I was rather aggressively informed by an individual whose education ended somewhere in the 4th grade (regardless of how much time they actually spent in school) that communism and fascism were identical. Now, one need not be an especially enlightened thinker to recognize what galactically infantile nonsense on stilts such a clownish identification obviously is, but I thought I would use the moment to challenge myself to generate shoestring characterizations of both that, while undoubtedly insufficient by an expert’s criteria, might still serve as a useful thumbnail sketch for those of us who are not experts.
First, let me state what is implicit in the above: I am not an expert. Social/political philosophy is not any of my areas of scholarly expertise. However, I do have a Ph.D. in philosophy, so I am at once a fairly educated and articulate human being, and I’ve had a better than average exposure to such ideas. So scratching out such rough and ready comparative characterizations is nominally well within my reach. The trick that makes it entertaining for me (and possibly useful for others) is creating such formulations in a short and handy way that provides an adequate indication of each position.
Second, a word of caution: as Aristotle pointed out over 2300 years ago, requiring scientific precision of non-scientific topics is manifestly foolish. The shorter form of this caveat can be summarized as, “definitions are dumb.” Unless you are working in one of the mathematical disciplines (in which group I also include such things as computer programming, theoretical physics, formal logic, and such) then anything presented as a definition is never more than a guiding heuristic, not a rigidly absolute rule. Many people seem not to understand this (or deliberately ignore it in the hope of scoring “points), especially when dealing with matters of politics. Hence, any person demanding rigorous definition of, say, either communism or fascism is either guilty of ignorance, disingenuousness, or both. Hence my insistence that what follows are “guidelines,” “characterizations,” “sketches,” and the like. So let us begin.
Like many people who have worn the uniform, that phrase makes me uncomfortable.
Uncomfortable, mind you; not angry or upset as it does for many Vietnam (and these days, I suspect, Afghanistan) veterans. Just uncomfortable.
Because, you see, I did not swear the oath, I did not don the pickle suit, for you. I thought I was doing it for “me,” though 45+ years after the fact I recognize I scarcely understood at the time what that meant. I strongly suspect that even those adorable naifs who are certain they are acting purely out of love for God and Country (who nominally ARE doing it for you) were and are every bit as clueless about what they were saying as I was; even those remarkable few who, after how ever many years, are even more certain now than they were then that they were/are acting for God and Country. Because whatever the character of their certainty then, it is most certainly not the conviction they live by now.
Regardless what they might believe at the time, nobody really understands what they are committing to when they take that oath. And it feels really awkward for being congratulate for having put on a blindfold and then running off a cliff, when you don’t even know IF there is a bottom, much less where the bottom might be to that cliff.
Two things you should understand here. The first is a matter of objective fact. And that is the difference between Veterans day and Memorial day.i It is a really easy difference to understand, which is why it is so sad that so many people do not understand it.
Veterans day is for those who came home.
Memorial day is for those who did not.
Which is part of the awkwardness (for me) of when people say, “thank you for your service.” It is a little like saying, “thank you for not taking up space in Arlington.” Because I didn’t do it for you. I did it for me. But I didn’t know at the time what that meant.
I was in the US Army from 1975 until 1978. For context, Saigon fell in April of 1975, and I went active (into Basic training) in June. From ‘76 until I rotated out in June of ‘78 I was stationed on what was, at the time, the East German border, assigned to an IHAWK anti-aircraft missile battery. The closest I ever came to combat was cocking snooks at the Russians, some 12 or so klicks to the east. But for all of that, I did take my duties seriously. Because – and I didn’t really understand this at the time (I’m saying nobody ever does) – swearing the oath changed me. In particular, I came to understand that some 35 years or so after I raised my right hand, I realize I still consider myself bound by that oath. In particular, the part where I swore
That’s some powerful shit right there. In particular, it means that Fascist animals like Donald Trump are persons I am oath bound to oppose. Because for these people, the Constitution is nothing more than toilet paper to wipe their butts on. But even as my entire body shifted at the time of the saying of those words, I am still learning what they mean for me. For me, mind you, not you. And I’m still learning what that means
For example, I have, for some years past (though hardly forever), taken up carrying a copy of the Constitution on my person at all times. This habit was triggered by the TV show The West Wing, where they consistently referred to it as, “the Owners’ manual.” But the reason that show allowed me to realize that doing so was important was precisely because it reminded me that my oath was to the Constitution and not, for example, to the flag. Don’t every let anyone fool you on this point: the flag is a rag. Nobody ever died “defending the flag,” except for sorry-assed buffoons who were too illiterate to pay any attention to the oath that they actually swore. Refulgent in mythological imagery – yet devoid of any cognitive content – the flag is something rightwing fascists go into apoplectic histrionics over. It is not an accident that they only mention the Constitution as though it were itself nothing more than another flag to wave.
So this evening I had a very nice meal at O’Charley’s, which has a very generous offer of a free entree (and the local one included the first beer) for veterans on this Veterans’ day. I find being surrounded by people in a moderate state of noisiness, who are otherwise uninterested in bothering me, to be an excellent context for reflection. Having an external world to tune out makes it easier to concentrate on my thoughts within. (I basically wrote my dissertation with Metallica on a loop, so … yeah.) I frankly thought it was more appropriate to tell the wait staff and cooks, “thank you for your service,” than for anyone to say as much to me. But it was an opportunity to spend some time in my own thoughts, with my body quieted by an environment that included a good meal and non-intrusive environs (non-intrusive in their presence rather than their frantically demanding absence).
And so I’m going to leave this somewhat less than ideally connected stream of consciousness with this one final observation.
When I was in the Army, we never even observed (much less “celebrated”) either Memorial or Veterans’ day. Maybe that has changed since I was in uniform. But back then we never did, and it was only today, 45+ years later that I made that connection.
And it seems right.
To “celebrate” Memorial day, for someone in uniform, is to make a mockery of those who have given “their last full measure.” And to “celebrate” Veterans’ day is like dancing up and down shouting “Yay me!”
The wrongness just doesn’t get any wronger than that. And maybe that’s why having people say, “thank you for your service,” just feels uncomfortable. I didn’t do it for you, even if I came to discover that I did it for my country and my Constitution.
So I’m not going to get angry, I’m not going to be confrontational, I’m not going to be upset.
But at the same time, I wouldn’t mind if y’all just stopped doing that.
Writing has been brutally difficult these last few weeks. I started on this blog some while back, and after 1,200+ words just threw the whole thing away as irreparable twaddle. What I have here is still something of a hot mess. I am so little qualified to speak on the events of the last few weeks that I came to acknowledge that words were simply failing me. I am tired, I am angry, I am frustrated by my own impotence and cowardice, and trying speak of such matters only seems to make them worse. It is as if we’ve learned nothing since Ferguson, and the casual, ‘business as usual’ dehumanization of Michael Brown and so many other, unarmed persons of color. Privileged proto–fascists cry out with self-righteous savagery for more violence from the police against those who would dare object to the indefensible violence of the police. Militarized thugs – literally wearing blackshirts! – abandon any pretense of professionalism or commitment to the people and communities they are nominally sworn to serve and protect, instead viciously attacking peaceful protesters exercising their legitimate Constitutional rights, and doing so with absolute abandon. Utterly secure in their surety that their brutality will be given a free pass by the other fascists whom they gleefully serve, these paid bullies prove they care nothing for law, only for enforcement. (And when that surety is challenged by facts, responding with a temper tantrum. No wonder they voted for Trump – they have so much in common.)
Meanwhile, the Butthurt Baby in Chief wants to distract people from the real issues by spewing infantile nonsense about declaring “Antifa” to be a “domestic terrorist organization.” Quite aside from the fact that President Tinyhands cannot make such a designation, there is no such thing as an “organization” called “Antifa.” “Antifa” is a label that people can adopt or reject, individually or collectively, in any manner that they choose. As someone on Twitter (I’ve forgotten who) recently commented, “Antifa is an ‘organization’ in the same way that ‘people who hate the Dave Matthews band’ is an organization.” (Besides, does anyone really hate the Dave Matthews Band?)
I left Facebook – permanently – on Wednesday, May 6th, 2020, around 12:00 PM Central US time. What an absolutely peculiar thing to do during a period of extreme social isolation, especially for someone who is already at the extreme end of social isolation. Perhaps the only peculiarity is that it required a plague year to drive me to it. This will be a personal blog entry, with no special appeal to higher philosophical principles than those that naturally leak through me on account of who I am. Besides, it’s my blog and I’ll b!tch if I want to.
Before I go further, let me state that I am in favor of social media establishing and enforcing meaningful community standards of what is appropriate and acceptable. Fascists, terrorists, psychopaths, racists, and their ilk are persons who would exploit nominal tolerance for the purpose of annihilating it. Karl Popper spoke and wrote on this subject at various times under the heading of “the paradox of tolerance.” But there’s nothing even marginally paradoxical here. “Tolerance” is toleration for other ideas and for rational disagreement. But there’s nothing even remotely paradoxical about a refusal to be patient of one’s own extirpation. Tolerance can only go as far as those who are equally willing to be tolerant. Those who would destroy “the other” – really, all others – for the purpose of hegemonic, monocultural domination, own no space under, and have no claim upon, the umbrella of tolerance. There is nothing paradoxical about this. Continue reading →
The COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be a field day for the cognitively challenged; and the more galactically egregious the “challenge,” the more indefensibly extreme has been the response. Infantile stupidity in this instance seems to break out roughly into two major groups that roughly correspond to the origins of the novel coronavirus (these, in turn, seem overwhelmingly to take the form of conspiracy theories of one kind or another), the other major class being purported “cures” that vary from the semi-serious to the dangerously crackpot. The semi-serious versions have, at this time, almost all been shown to be dangerously crackpot when actually employed on any scale, so the difference is entirely a matter of degree rather than kind.
Quite aside from the general disregard for trivially simple facts relating to the pandemic itself, these “source” and “cure” stupidities (one might even call them “before” and “after”) actively add additional layers of danger and risk to people’s lives. The “before” group, dominated as it is by conspiracy theories, is more than capable of singling out some one or few individuals as “the reason” for the disease. Such people can then have their lives torn apart by invasive internet searches and statements, inspiring acts of stochastic terrorism against purely innocent persons. Recall, for example, the self-appointed “hero” from North Carolina who traveled to DC with firearms to put an end to the non-existent child-trafficking ring Hillary Clinton was supposedly operating, the “basement” of a pizza parlor that had no basement. Nothing more than the bare, abstract possibility (never mind actual fact) of intelligence would have sufficed to see through the infantile nonsense of the whole “pizzagate” fabrication. But intelligence is never as sexy or exciting as the vicious lies that prop up conspiracy theories. Continue reading →
One of the fundamental units in logical analysis is that function/operatori lovingly known as “the quantifier.” Most logic texts content themselves with just two: “all” and “some,” formally symbolized as “” and “” respectively. Thus, to say that, “All X is p,” one is asserting that every (or any) instance of X is also an instance of p, or is characterized by p, etc. Similarly, when someone says only that, “Some X is p,” the claim is made that, if one looks hard enough, one will find at least one instance where X is p. There are ways of precisifying (one of those $5.00 words philosophers love to use) the above statements, but there is hardly any need to do so here. It suffices to have a general idea. Two points I’ll mention in passing. First, in most formal contexts (substructural logics are an example of an exception), “all” and “some” are defined as being interchangeable using “not”: thus, “not-All X is not-p” is taken to mean “Some X is p,” and conversely. Secondly, these are not the only quantifiers possible: “many” and “most” are also examples. But these last two are difficult to formalize (to say the least) and by a polite convention among logicians they are generally ignored wholesale.
As the title of this post states, I wish to talk about what I am calling the implicit “all”; uses of the “all” quantifier in which that quantifier is functioning but not explicitly stated. This happens quite often, in point of fact, and is not problematical in itself. Where problems do arise is when that usage is not merely implicit, but actively denied as a means of evading the consequences of what someone has actively stated or written. When this happens, we are faced not merely with a logical error, but an overt act of dishonesty. The dishonesty becomes not merely overt but blatant when, even after the implicit “all” is pointed out, the individual continues to deny it. Continue reading →
A great many persons who manifest what Altemeyer has called the “right wing authoritarian” type of mindset will also, often enough, display some rather strikingly childish, if not downright infantile, traits with respect to basic cognition. In particular, among this group one will find many persons who will insist that the contemporary GOP retains its status as “the party of Lincoln,” or that the Nazis were “really socialists” because the word “sozialismus” appears in their name. In both instances there is nothing more than a name in common between the one thing (Lincoln did belong to what was then called the Republican party) and the other (today’s GOP is absolutely tarred by Trump and his blatantfascism.) The laughable rubes who make this association – often enough loudly and in public, with utter self-assurance not to be impinged upon by any shred of logic, principles, evidence, or facts – might otherwise be dismissed as merely uneducable and pathetic, were it not at least one aspect of their behavior that is worthy of note: their use of names, as exemplified above, is magical. And not “magical” in the benevolent sense of “charming,” “truly special,” or “delightful,” but magical in the primitive and pernicious sense of actual magic – specifically, “name magic.”
There is a connection between magical thinking and fascism, one that has been recognized for some time now. Ernst Cassirer addressed this connection in his important work, The Myth of the State.i Published at the end of WWII (and shortly after Cassirer himself died), Cassirer applied his enormous insights regarding symbolism and modes of thought (his three volume The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms remains an unparalleled intellectual achievement) to the forms of mythological thinking that were such a driving force behind nationalism and fascism. (Cassirer was Jewish and an eye witness to the rise of Nazism in Germany. Seeing the writing on the wall, he was able to escape with wife, going first to Sweden, then England, and finally the United States, where he wrote Myth of the State while working at Columbia University.) As such, it is also a valuable source of insight into our own Trumpistas, and their unflagging devotion to “Dear Leader.” Continue reading →
The question came up on social media, What is populism? I had my own little St. Augustine moment, where I realized that, as long as no one asked me, I knew exactly what I meant by the term, but as soon as someone asked I had no idea. (In fairness to Augustine, his moment was around the significantly more subtle notion of “what is time?”) I could run off to the dictionary and waste people’s time by quoting that, but I won’t. For one thing, the dictionary (like Wikipedia itself) is not the answer to a question (other than “how do I spell this word?”), it is the starting point for asking questions. Further, dictionary answers aren’t always that well considered. Thus, the dictionary will tell you that an ad hominem fallacy occurs any time you say something bad about a person, ignoring the fact that, in order to be an actual fallacy, it must be either irrelevant or untrue (or both). Finally I’ve enough acquaintance with the word “populism” via use – both my own and other peoples – that the dictionary will either tell me nothing new or, like ad hominem, tell me something wrong.
After I make of quick gloss of the sorts of things that populism is at an absolute minimum, I’ll go on to suggest two different developments of the idea. One development leaves populism as a relatively “morally neutral” political method or technique, while the other will put it squarely in the negatives as a substantially fascist instrument. Neither one of these approaches represents the “truth” about populism, or the “real definition”; they are simply different ways in which the word can be used, ways that should never be conflated. I’ll finish with some thoughts from Whitehead and Dewey about the philosophical underpinnings of the kinds of popular relationalism that strengthen genuine democracy. Continue reading →