February 06, 2007
In the Museum of Discarded Notions and Laughable Nostrums, surely the concept of “national greatness” deserves a special place. It was all the rage in neoconservative circles circa 1997, when David Brooks, then an editorialist for the Weekly Standard, penned his ode to the sense of “grandeur” and America’s imperial greatness as embodied, he thought, in the Library of Congress building. With its golden curlicues, and overly ornate projection of self-importance, and ideological symbolism, this structure represented, for Brooks, the spirit of an American past that had, by the 1990s, been nearly exhausted:
“The designers of the Library of Congress, like so many of their countrymen, thought America was on the verge of its own golden age. At the dawn of the 20th century, America was to take its turn at global supremacy. It was America’s task to take the grandeur of past civilizations, modernize it, and democratize it. This common destiny would unify diverse Americans and give them a great national purpose.”
With the end of the cold war, and the absence of any overwhelming threat to American national security, this great national purpose had shrunk to something no more impressive than, as Francis Fukuyama, the neocons’ former philosopher-in-residence, put it, “economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands.”
We had reached, said Fukuyama, “the end of history,” which, he averred, “will be a very sad time” because “the struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one’s life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism” will be replaced by such mundane matters as earning a living, recycling old wine bottles, and the eternal problem of keeping both wife and mistress happy. The age of heroism is past, and from now on our task will merely be the “endless care-taking of the museum of human history” and “centuries of boredom.”
Without any wars to fight, you see, or any causes requiring the spilling of copious amounts of blood, your archetypal neocon is bored—not that these typically soft, physically incapable, often dwarfish and invariably pear-shaped policy wonks would ever consider personally fighting for any of these noble causes, mind you: Their role is to instigate the wars, it is for others to fight them. War, for the neocon, is strictly a spectator sport, rather than a hands-on business. However, the very idea of a world without any really serious conflicts struck them as the ultimate in ennui, although at the end of his “end of history” essay, Fukuyama was hope that “perhaps this very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history started once again.”
He was right about history getting started again, albeit not in the manner he or anyone else anticipated: the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon put the neocons back in business again, opening up, as it did, a new world fresh with possibilities of conflict.
The end of the Soviet empire had made their cachet as ex-Commies—which imbued them with an aura of expertise, and gained them easy entry to the then-booming field of Kremlinology—obsolescent, and deprived the world of its Manichean gloss. Post-9/11, what Fukuyama termed “the worldwide ideological struggle” was revived, albeit with an Islamic-Arabic adversary rather than a Slavic one. Once again, the cry went up: “To the barricades!” And its echoes were heard from Washington to Tel Aviv.
Instead of building monuments to our global supremacy, and devoting ourselves to the endless caretaking of the museum of human history, we could once again get back to the noblest cause of them all—war. And not any ordinary war, but a “War on Terrorism” —a war without end. Oh, for joy! History was back —with a vengeance.
The neocon response to this was to develop a new ideology; or, rather, to distill and perfect their old ideology—warmed over Social Democratic nostrums combined with a merciless devotion to the cult of Ares —that has morphed, in its later stages, into what might be categorized, without a whole lot of Procrustean maneuvering, as a variant of fascism. The contempt for the “bourgeois” virtues, as given expression by Senor Fukuyama, the longing for the heroic, the valorization of death for the sake of an abstraction —these “aristocratic” virtues, as Fukuyama characterized them, are back in vogue, along with the cult of militarism, the idea of Big Government, and the revival of genuinely authoritarian impulses in the West.
That these impulses were manifesting themselves among rightist intellectuals, rather than nesting exclusively on the left, as in the past, was merely a function of the neoconservative mindset, which is as much a history as it is an ideology. Many of the leading neocons, after all, had been leftists, usually of the Trotskyist variety, and retained the universalist-totalitarian frame of reference long after abandoning left-sectarian politics. Neoconservatism, in an important sense, is merely Trotskyism turned inside out. Instead of exporting the “world socialist revolution,” they are intent on spreading what George W. Bush described as the “global democratic revolution.” And they do it with the same revolutionary fervor that they —or their intellectual ancestors —once hailed the Red Army and its founder.
On domestic matters, historically, the neocons have been all over the map: their one true and abiding belief is in the liberating power of American military might. With the implosion of the Leninist project, and the apparent “end of history,” the neocons were essentially put out of business — until the worst terrorist attack in American history revived their fervor, and their fortunes. And this marked yet another milestone in their long odyssey from Marxism to a new kind of authoritarianism on the right.
I hesitate to use the far too often abused term “fascism,” which has been used to describe everyone to any opponent of the New Left during the 1960s to anyone who opposed U.S. entry into World War II. The Communists, during the “third period” of the 1930s, routinely describe the Social Democrats as “social fascists,” and this has been a favorite term of abuse employed by the neocons to smear anyone who crosses their path. Yes, even I, a libertarian, i.e., one who believes that the best government is no government, have been so described, by no less an authority than David Horowitz’s Frontpage.
Yet there is such an ideology as fascism, historically speaking, and its main themes are being revived in contemporary neoconservative ideology to a chilling degree. Aside from the fin-de-siecle romanticism of Fukuyama’s pining for a rebirth of history, the neocons have replicated most if not all of the classic symptoms of the fascist mindset, if not quite yet generated all the characteristics of fascism in power. No, we don’t have a single-party state, which is the central organizational principle of fascist ideology. But that’s only because the neocons have yet to seize total power, and sweep away the last vestiges of constitutional democracy. However, they lack none of the telltale symptoms of fascists out of power, that is, of aspiring authoritarians..
The essence of neoconservatism is war and the valorization of conflict, and, as such, seems tailor made for the post-9/11 era. To the early fascist theoreticians, and the first successful fascist politician, Mussolini, war was the noblest cause of them all, not merely a necessity but a sacred obligation. Acts of war were, for the fascists, acts of worship: Ares replaced Zeus in the fascist Olympus. The one true abiding faith of the fascists was in the efficacy of military force as a means to shape society, and this militarism dominated every aspect of fascist society, which was built around war and preparations for war. Mussolini sought to recreate the Roman Empire —an ambition shared by neoconservative columnist and military maven Max Boot, whose “The Case for An American Empire” lays out the American claim to the imperial purple.
The faith of the neocons in the ability of the American military to “transform” the Middle East, and create Jeffersonian republics where before there had been nothing but tyranny and grinding poverty, is surely a mystical phenomenon, just as surely and frankly religious as faith-healing or Christian Science. Whereas the foreign policy of a constitutional republic is necessarily limited to the defense of the nation and its interests, a nation that declared its foreign policy goal to be “benevolent global hegemony”—as Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan put it in their 1996 foreign policy manifesto — is a creature of a different type. It is surely not a republic, in any meaningful sense of the term, but an empire: perhaps even an evil empire, for all its “benevolent” pretensions. Not since the fascist and national socialist movements of the 1930s had any mass political movement put forward a program of world conquest as a political goal.
The ideal fascist model was Sparta —a warrior nation geared for conquest, in a permanent state of mobilization for war. For the fascist, life is war, nations are necessarily always in conflict, and this inevitable clash of interests must always in end war —and in the victory of one over the other. This worldview is mirrored in the endless “war on terrorism,” which our rulers promise us will last at least a generation. Perpetual war, as far as the eye can see —this is the core doctrine of neoconservatism, and the animating spirit of classical fascist movements, as well as German national socialism.
War abroad means an atmosphere of conformity and hostility to dissent on the home front, and this has translated, in contemporary neoconservative thought, to the equation of antiwar sentiment with treason. In his infamous smear attack on paleoconservative and libertarian critics of the Iraq invasion, David Frum, the neocon Vyshinsky, attacked yours truly, as well as an entire platoon of antiwar right-wingers, as “unpatriotic conservatives.” On a lower level, where neocon ideology meets talk radio and Fox News, we have Sean Hannity howling “Enemy of the State” at war critics and dissenters from the neocon party line. Like classic fascist movements of the past, neoconservatism today values and promotes uniformity of thought, and seeks to enforce intellectual homogeneity with strictures equating dissent with treason. Andrew Sullivan, a leading warmonger and neocon shill, infamously accused a “fifth column” on “both coasts” with not so secretly sympathizing with Osama bin Laden and other enemies of America. On a cruder level, we have the rantings of David Horowitz, who routinely accuses his political opponents of being in league with the terrorists, either consciously or “objectively,” as the Marxists used to say.
Conservatism used to mean anti-statism. Today, under the rubric of neoconservatism, this has been stood on its head. It is a Bizarro World conservatism, where the individualism of Barry Goldwater and Frank S. Meyer has given way to the militarized groupthink of David Frum and the Dittohead demagoguery of Rush Limbaugh. From The Conscience of a Conservative [.pdf] (or, perhaps, A Choice, Not an Echo) to An End to Evil is a long way to travel: it has been a long way downward, but it seems today’s ostensible “conservatives,” committed as they are to what is rapidly becoming an openly fascist movement, are finally scraping rock bottom.
Racism is not necessarily related to fascism, yet the example of German national socialism makes the connection inevitable. And here, too, there are ominous parallels. Neoconservatism, like Nazism, has its “Other,” it’s equivalent of the Eternal Jew, and that is the Eternal Arab. A great deal of how the neocons see the Arab and Muslim worlds is rooted in a brazenly racist mindset, exemplified in the writings of Raphael Patai, whose book, The Arab Mind, reportedly had a large influence in official Bush administration circles, as well as among neoconservatives outside the government. As Seymour Hersh pointed out in his investigation into the horrors of Abu Ghraib:
“The notion that Arabs are particularly vulnerable to sexual humiliation became a talking point among pro-war Washington conservatives in the months before the March, 2003, invasion of Iraq. One book that was frequently cited was The Arab Mind, a study of Arab culture and psychology, first published in 1973, by Raphael Patai, a cultural anthropologist who taught at, among other universities, Columbia and Princeton, and who died in 1996. The book includes a twenty-five-page chapter on Arabs and sex, depicting sex as a taboo vested with shame and repression. ‘The segregation of the sexes, the veiling of the women . . . and all the other minute rules that govern and restrict contact between men and women, have the effect of making sex a prime mental preoccupation in the Arab world,’ Patai wrote. Homosexual activity, ‘or any indication of homosexual leanings, as with all other expressions of sexuality, is never given any publicity. These are private affairs and remain in private.’ The Patai book, an academic told me, was ‘the bible of the neocons on Arab behavior.’ In their discussions, he said, two themes emerged —‘one, that Arabs only understand force and, two, that the biggest weakness of Arabs is shame and humiliation.’"
Torture as a political act, the central theme of a propaganda campaign, is something we must surely associate with fascist movements. Furthermore, to single out persons of a particular ethnicity or religion —in this case, Arabs and Muslims —is so evocative of the National Socialist German Workers Party that one has to wonder if it’s intentional. That the neoconservatives are now carrying the pro-torture banner is a major milestone is their journey to a peculiarly Americanized form of fascism.
In terms of ideology and policy, as well as in style and spirit, the post-9/11 neoconservative movement exhibits all the classic characteristics of a genuinely fascist phenomenon: militarism, leader worship, intellectual authoritarianism, delusions of “national greatness,” hatred of the Other, the romanticization of violence, and a program of permanent war. All that is lacking is a one-party state —and we are, perhaps, a major terrorist attack away from that.
Justin Raimondo is Editorial Director of Antiwar.com.