Great article. A conversation that needs to spread. We can’t pretend this is not happening, and we can’t pretend it hasn’t happened before.
The guts of fascism, or whatever you want to call it — lately I’m calling it barbarism, trying to acknowledge a human impulse that transcends the 20th or 21st centuries, transcends any particular culture. The impulse is to revert to rule by violence rather than rule by law. To revert to warlordism, gangsterism, bullyism, the warrior culture, the absolute rule of violent men. The rule of kings, of emperors, of mafia bosses and patriarchs and every man who feels he has some kind of a right to command obedience from women and children, and to hit them and hurt them if they don’t comply. The rule of slave-owners, of Pharaoh, of the KGB, of all elites who need not fear accountability.
It goes with the mania for binaries. It goes with the mania for borders and turf, and the rabid defence of both. It goes with the neurotic obsession with Taint (racial, sexual), and the bizarre fantasy of Purity, and the bizarre and neurotic insistence on “cleansing” the body politic — same kind of crazy intensity that scrubs already-clean hands until they bleed. And the mania for hierarchy, for hierarchical taxonomies, for words like quadroon and octoroon… for “criminal phrenology,” for eugenics, for measuring the noses of suspected Jews… It goes with the OCD attachment to rules, and the grandiose perception of self as the divinely-appointed enforcer of rules on lesser others, fierce policing of endless boundaries. It goes with a fascination and deep attachment to fetishes: symbols, flags, “colours,” regalia, medals, uniforms. It goes with a deep panicky fear of all that is complex, ambiguous, unpredictable, variable, fractal; and insists on simplicity, clean hard boundaries, control.
It goes with the blunting and denial of empathy, with a contempt for vulnerability and an anxious phobia of “failure” (however defined). It goes with the blaming of victims and cheering for overdogs, the barefaced worship of barefaced force majeure, that nasty thing in human beings that likes to attend a hanging or a lynching or the Circus Maximus. It surfaces in the novels of Ayn Rand (and in her less publicised enthusiasm for a sociopathic child-murderer). It isn’t always attached to race. It isn’t always attached to class. Sometimes it’s all about dogma: about slaughtering people for observing the “wrong” religious ritual. It’s almost always about gender: about hero-worshiping the Alpha Male Warrior Ape. And although women also participate in it, it seems to hit men harder and with more dangerous results.
Being a civilised modern person, I don’t get to take the easy out and call it demonic possession :-) Nor, being semi-widely-read, can I pretend it’s specific to “those Germans” or “those KKK loonies” or “those Hutus” or those anybody. I can’t pin it to one culture, or one century, or one anything: the lynching impulse, the gang-rape impulse, the stoning impulse, it’s something about primates, not tied to one language or religion or culture. Chimps form gangs and make war on each other. Dominant male gorillas kill the children of other males.
Being a post-enlightenment modern person who doesn’t want to live like a chimp or a gorilla, I really want to call this revanchism to protohuman values a personality disorder, some kind of combination of OCD, paranoia, grandiosity, sociopathy, neurosis; but to be honest I don’t really know what to call it except barbarism… still I feel it connects deeply with mental and emotional states and patterns we currently recognise as varieties of madness, and history tells us that it can be contagious, can spiral into a lethal madness on the scale of an entire society, if not checked and balanced by democratic and humane law and civil institutions, a conscious defence of empathy and kindness and “sissy” virtues like those.