Loads of Learned Lumber

Monday, June 2, 2008

Chris Hedges, _American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America_

HEDGES'S THESIS is right in his title, conveniently enough: the contemporary U. S. religious right -- D. James Kennedy, James Dobson, the Trinity Broadcasting Network, the people trying to wrestle intelligent design into public school curricula, the people keeping the Left Behind series on the bestseller list, "dominionists" --  is disturbingly similar in its rhetoric, its emphases, and its psychological structure to the fascist movements that took control of Italy and Germany in the 20s and 30s of the last century.

Each of Hedges's chapters begins with an epigraph from one or another analyst of fascism (Stern, Arendt, Thewelheit, Bonhoeffer), and the book begins with Umberto Eco's "Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt."  Most of the explicit support of the thesis is in the first and last chapters, with the body chapters focusing on topics such as the religious right's quarrel with reason and science, its hyperventilating about masculinity, its sense of persecution, its desire to stifle disagreement, and so on... all of which do strikingly resemble various episodes in the history of fascism, especially in its gathering-popular-strength phases.

So -- Hedges makes a valuable and even necessary case here.  There should be no laughing off of these folks.  They mean it, and they perhaps can even make it happen if our national situation worsens.

I did find myself disliking Hedges's own righteous tone at times, though.  Making the point that for Christian fundamentalists "evolution is terrifying," Hedges states: "The miracles they insist they see performed around them, the presence of the guiding, comforting hand in their lives, the notion that there is a divine destiny specially preordained for them, crumbles into dust under the cold glare of evolution" (114).  Evolution has a glare?  The glare, moreover, has a temperature?  This low-temperature glare can reduce intangible entities to dust?  Good grief.  The agreement error (since the subject of "crumbles" must be "miracles" + "presence" +"notion," it ought to be "crumble") tips us off that Hedges is not really paying attention to what he is saying here.  He's too carried away with the vision of the pathetic needs of these pathetic people being zapped by the death-ray-vision of  The Origin of Species.

Or this on 147,  about the foot-soldiers of the movement: "The emotion-filled religious spectacles and spiritual bromides compensate for the emptiness of their lives."  How does he know these people's lives are empty -- or any emptier than yours or mine or his?  Don't we all like a little spectacle?  Aren't we all susceptible to some bromide or other?  Why the condescension?

Michelle Goldberg's Kingdom Coming wasn't necessarily a better book than this, but she did at least spend enough time with some members of the rank-&-file of the Christian Right to be able to see them and present them as individuals rather than as mesmerised hordes.

I wish more people read Georges Bataille's essay "The Psychological Structure of Fascism."  He's more acute on what made fascism work than a lot of people, I think, and he would be useful at this moment when, as Hedges is all too correct in pointing out, we face a similar crisis.

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