Serious conservatives, men such as Scott McConnell
of The American Conservative and
economist Paul Craig Roberts,
along with such eminent libertarians as Justin
Raimondo of Antiwar.com and Lew Rockwell,
are raising a surprising question: do the war in Iraq and the Bush administration's
desperate attempts to shore up support for that war have a whiff of fascism
about them? In the Feb. 14 issue of TAC, McConnell quotes his old history
professor at Columbia, Fritz Stern, writing
in The New York Times:
"Now the word 'freedom' has become a newly invoked justification for the
occupation of a country that did not attack us, whose people have not greeted
our soldiers as liberators.
"The world knows that all manner of traditional rights associated with freedom
are threatened in our own country. The essential element of a democratic society
trust has been weakened, as secrecy, mendacity, and intimidation have become
the hallmarks of this administration.
"Now freedom is being emptied of meaning and reduced to a slogan."
To these wise words, Scott McConnell adds his own:
"I don't think there are yet real fascists in the administration, but there
is certainly now a constituency for them hungry to bomb foreigners and smash
those Americans who might object. And when there are constituencies, leaders
may not be far behind. They could be propelled into power by a populace ever
more frustrated that the imperialist war it has supported generally for the
most banal of patriotic reasons cannot possibly end in victory."
voices, which should be heard thoughtfully, are pointing to a real danger. Yet
I do not think that danger can rightly be labeled fascism. Beyond the facts
that W as dictator suggests not so much Hitler or Mussolini as Charlie Chaplin
and that the greatest threat to freedom in America is the left's ideology of
cultural Marxism, there is a larger problem: the intellectual core of fascism
Fascism is not merely dictatorship. The core idea of fascism is will as the
highest virtue. Fascism sought to drop the whole Judeo-Christian content of
Western culture and return to the values of the classical world, where power
was the greatest good. (What astonished Greeks and Romans about Christianity
was not that it had a Savior who died and rose from the dead; many Eastern mystery
cults claimed the same. What astonished them was that these Christians' God
said, "I came not to be served, but to serve.") To fascists, the exercise of
power, will, was the supreme moral act.
This was a serious error, because it turned an instrumental value, will, into
a substantive value. In reality, will is good or evil depending upon what is
willed. By attempting to turn will into a substantive value, fascism destroyed
itself: will led to Mussolini's entry into World War II (had he remained neutral,
like Franco, he would probably have survived Hitler's defeat), to Hitler's offhand
declaration of war on America (even after Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt would have
had trouble getting an offensive declaration of war on Germany through Congress)
and, ultimately, to the Holocaust: when the Nazis' original aim of expelling
the Jews from Europe became impossible because there was no place to send them,
will demanded a Final Solution.
Thankfully, America has a long way to go before triumph of the will could become
the American creed. The Christians who make up George W. Bush's political base
would gag well before reaching that point; they know their Bible better than
I would suggest that, instead of fascism, the danger now facing America is
one of the many ills released from that Pandora's box, the French Revolution:
abstract nationalism. As Burke pointed out, conservative patriotism is very
different from the abstract nationalism of la Patrie. It is a concrete attachment
to our own places: our own valleys or towns, our farms, hills, or plains.
Abstract nationalism, what Martin van Creveld calls the "state as an ideal"
in his book The
Rise and Decline of the State, has spread widely in America. As conservatives,
we need to do a better job of explaining to our fellow citizens why that kind
of nationalism is radical, not conservative. But van Creveld's book also points
to the likely fate of such a nationalism: it will crumble after it fails in
In Europe, the state as an ideal died in World War I, in the mud at places
like the Somme and Verdun. I suspect that the same thing is going to happen
here after the American people have to confront the reality of America's defeat
in Iraq. Bush's wild Wilsonianism is out of time; it is a ghost from an era
long past, an illusion that is now sustained only by the public's trust that
somehow our troops unquestionable valor in Iraq will bring victory. When it
becomes clear to that public that valor alone is not enough, that a failed strategy
brings defeat no matter how courageously soldiers and Marines may fight, the
grand illusion will be followed by a profound bitterness and a turning inward.
That turning inward could be a good thing for conservatives, if we can lead
it toward a restoration of the American republic as a curative for the follies
There is one not unlikely event that could bring, if not fascism, then a nationalist
statism that would destroy American liberty: a terrorist event that caused mass
casualties, not the 3,000 dead of 9/11, but 30,000 dead or 300,000 dead. We
will devote some thought to that possibility in a future column.