Superbia, Ur Fascism and Britannia
Earlier this week a US commentator, Steve Schmidt, described President Trump’s exploitation of the migrant ‘Caravan’ issue as ‘Trump’s Reichstag fire’ and declared that ‘40% of the country have opted into an alternative reality’. Estimates for Britain are not currently available, but can’t be far off.
With the brutal revelations about Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, the rise of the far-right in Europe, the Trump movement in America and the rise of Bolsonaro in Brazil, Erdoğan in Turkey, Putin in Russia, Assad in Syria, and Duterte in the Philippines, we are seeing a reactionary surge as elite rule fails and systems falter.
Anti-semitism and overt racism are on the rise. This week eleven people were shot in a Synagogue in Pittsburgh. This week the Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini started deporting 2,700 illegal migrants. The American writer Sarah Kenzidor remind us that: “(Steve) Bannon is a white supremacist who wanted to segregate his children from Jewish kids”. It’s in this context that the invitation to Bannon to come to Edinburgh by BBC News and BBC Scotland can be seen as the normalisation of fascism, and its at this moment we should pause to try and trace how we got here.
How did the politics of the far-right and in some cases actual fascism become acceptable in western democracies?
Political commentator Chris Hedges argues that: “Lower-class whites are embracing an American fascism. These Americans want a kind of freedom—a freedom to hate…. they want the freedom to revel in hypermasculinity, racism, sexism and white patriarchy. These are the core sentiments of fascism. These sentiments are engendered by the collapse of the liberal state.”
Evidence of actual fascism – as opposed to “right-wing populism” (the distinction is blurry) can be gleaned from mapping them against Umberto Eco’s Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism – in which he identifies fourteen features of fascist ideology which are constant across time. Here’s three that jump out:
“To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country. This is the origin of nationalism. Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies. Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged.”
“Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology, insofar as it is fundamentally aristocratic, and aristocratic and militaristic elitism cruelly implies contempt for the weak.”
“Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters. This is the origin of machismo (which implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality). Since even sex is a difficult game to play, the Ur-Fascist hero tends to play with weapons—doing so becomes an ersatz phallic exercise.”
The arguments for Trump – and his followers – being an expression of a neo-fascism is given weight if we map his speech against the key fascist tenets as laid out by Eco: “a cult of action, as celebration of aggressive masculinity, an intolerance of criticism, a fear of difference and outsiders, intense nationalism and resentment of national humiliation.”
A CULT OF ACTION
“I get things done better than anybody”
INTOLERANCE OF CRITICISM
“I’m fed up with the guys back there, the media, they’re the worst”.
“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody. and I wouldn’t lose any voters”.
FEAR OF OUTSIDERS
“A total and complete shutdown of muslims entering the country”
“We’re going to make America great again”
RESENTMENT OF NATIONAL HUMILIATION
“We’re losing everything. I will make that stop.”
But it’s not just fascist, it’s exposing a deeper set of broken relationships and processes.
Ecological breakdown, gender wars and extreme precarity are part of the culture of fascism which exudes and thrives on. A hyper-narcissism is present too in the cult of leader, whether it be Tommy Robinson, Donald Trump, Oswald Moseley or other lesser figures who attract obedient cult followings.
For some Trump is a neo-liberal super-ego “enjoining us to go right to the end”, according to Slavoj Žižek.
It’s important not to just project this onto America, most of the strands and language are apparent here, now.
Hyper-nationalism, hyper-machismo, overt racism, a language of, and deification of violence, and a hatred of the weak whilst masquerading as populism, all are present and correct in Brexit Britain.
The extra element that Trump holds is what some have called “jouissance” – a pleasure from perpetual stimulation.
Whether it be sending US troops to guard against a mythical caravan almost a thousand miles away (they may need very long-range rifles to shoot the children), the spectre of Marxism on campus perpetuated by the Lobster-expert and beef-eater Jordan Peterson, or the anti-semtisim coded through George Soros paranoia, the whole pantomime is a fecund circuit of constant and overwhelming outrage.
This paranoid tradition has a long history in America and is now pump-primed by social media and Alex Jones style ‘journalism’ all with the figurehead of Trump boosting morale amongst the base. As the writer Olivier Jutel has pointed out: “the enemy often assumes an occultist quality as with the “Pizzagate” conspiracy, believed by over half of Trump voters, in which the Democratic Party is said to be part of an elaborate child-sex ring.”
Before we think too smugly of ‘stoopid ‘Muricans’, it’s worth noting that “Make America Great Again” isn’t a stones-through away from “Take Back Control” and all of the impulses and threats and paranoia of Trumpism are present and correct in Brexitland and the triumphalist contempt of Britannia Unleashed.
This neo-fascism has an anti-ecological impulse at its core. The election of Bolsonaro in Brazil may be the most obvious expression of this but it can be seen elsewhere. Doing nothing in the face of omnicide is the most oblique form of responses which shelters of safety in “business as usual” whilst an extinction process is under way.
Author Jay Griffiths points us to this phenomena of fascism and anti-ecology: “Such detestation of the natural world, amounting to biophobia, is one of the hallmarks of libertarians and alt-Right alike.”
She explains: “Climate-change denialism is the signature deceit of alt-Right and libertarian rhetoric, top trumps in their pack of ‘alternative facts’. But the alt-Right has a host of alt-facts at its fingertips. Politics has always been riddled with propaganda, spin and cover-ups, the difference is that the libertarian mindset relishes its dishonesty; part-trick, part-game, part-combat. Over and over, all members of the far-Right use the notion of ‘free speech’ to vindicate offensiveness and outright lies.”
And here we are with dupes and liberals defending Steve Bannon’s entry to Edinburgh under a rallying cry of “free speech”.
There’s a final and obvious element to this, the role of patriarchal fundamentalism and a resurgent misogyny, as identified by Eco and as witnessed by us all, daily.
As the writer Suzanne Moore observed (“Patriarchy is the sea in which Trump and his sharks gather”):
“Patriarchy is not some men-only affair. Many women play a role in sustaining it. The far right, by the way, is not afraid of using this word. It claims it as the basis for all that is good in western civilisation. The elevation of Trump is absolutely patriarchal fundamentalism. He has swept up a lot of the Christian vote because of it. The adulation of Putin is the worship of another white power based on patriarchal rule: unapologetically anti-women, anti-gay, anti-black and anti-Muslim. It is obsessed with displays of masculinity to the point of fascist camp. The right promises the restoration of a time when men were men and women were sanctified mothers or whores. Such authoritarianism may be delivered by both men and women. As the American author and feminist bell hooks says, patriarchy has no gender. It is not situated only within the individual – which is why screaming “Sexist!” at someone only gets you so far. Were the women who voted for Trump furthering patriarchy? Yes, obviously. They may believe it can protect them. The dismantling of this power cannot possibly come from those who won’t name it and spend the entire time shoring it up, largely reaping its benefits: that is, much of the liberal establishment. By assuming the culture war had been won, the myths of impartiality and neutrality have allowed far–right voices to go unchallenged. Patriarchal power asserts itself through cultural as well as economic resentment. And that is everywhere. The oft-repeated sentiment that feminism is itself an extreme movement is evidence of how liberalism bows down to authoritarianism.”
What can be done about this?
We can be the antithesis of fascism.
We can counter fear and hate. We can live in solidarity respect and love. Sometimes we will need to fight fascism in the streets to physically prevent them operating, having presence.
We can create democratic structures in our minds and in our society.
We can fight for a better democracy where we live and we can stand up against fascism and oppose the politics of Steve Bannon being normalised by our public broadcaster.
As Griffiths writes: “The character traits applauded by today’s far-Right – ambition, superbia, speed, drive, spin, success and spikiness – are the qualities the Futurists valued. There is fire here but never warmth; appetite but never food.”
Responding to this then, hospitality warmth and nourishment – given and shared this winter – is a form of anti-fascism.