American Fascists? Hardly!


AmericanFascists.jpgI am a denizen of bookstores. One of the first things I did when I moved to my new church was to figure out where Barnes & Noble and Borders were. I go there as often as possible, usually just to browse. (I like to look at the book in a store, then order it online, where it’s much cheaper.)

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed a spike in books about the impending threat of theocracy in America. Many writers loathe–abominate, even–the influence of conservative Christians in American politics, especially the Republican party. I’ve skimmed a few of these books at the bookstore, and from what I’ve read in them, they’re not that convincing. I know many conservative Christians, including a few influential ones, but I don’t know a single one who advocates theocracy. Perhaps they’re out there somewhere, but they’re hardly an impending threat to the American way of life. In my opinion, there’s a greater chance of our government becoming a communist dictatorship than a theocracy, and there’s zero chance of the former happening, so you do the math on the latter.

Anyway, while in the bookstore the other day, I came across Chris Hedges’ new book, ridiculously titled, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. I almost bought the book, but when I started reading it, I found its first chapter so arrogant in tone and overwrought in sentiment, that I put it down and walked away. Anthony Dick read the whole thing, however, and posted a review online here. Here are the concluding paragraphs:

But of course, this is nothing new. All this dire talk about the ascendancy of theocracy and fascism in America is not Hedges’s invention. It’s an echoing old banality that has grown dull and tired with age, but has nonetheless been getting louder lately. Surely there is some explanation for this odd feature of the Left, so mindless and angry and eager to smear religious conservatives as aspirant theocrats.

Part of the obsession can be understood in terms of intellectual reassurance. Either because they legitimately can’t understand how any clear-headed person could disagree with them, or because they hunger to feel more secure about their own political beliefs, many on the left are anxious to dismiss their ideological opponents as irrational fanatics who have been seduced by superstition and power-lust. It has long been standard practice for liberals to say that their politics merely reflect objective rationality, so that only an ideologue could disagree with them.

This is evident in Hedges’s book when, in his typically measured tone, he says that traditional evangelicals are fighting “to crush and silence the reality-based world.” As it turns out, of course, “the reality-based world” is exactly that which conforms to the progressive social and political arrangements that Hedges favors. Because fundamentalist Christians focus so much on the afterlife, he says, their worldly politics are hopelessly irresponsible: “These believers can ignore their own social responsibility for inadequate inner-city schools, for the 18 percent of American children who don’t get enough to eat each day, for the homeless, for the mentally ill. They accept the curtailing of federal assistance programs and turn inward, assisting only within their exclusive Christian community and damning the world outside.”

In the first place, this claim about “damning the world outside” is flatly false. In fact, conservative Christians are among the most generous people in America today: Syracuse University professor Arthur C. Brooks just released a book reporting that conservatives give 30 percent more than liberals to charity, and religious believers are 57 percent more likely than secularists to help the homeless.

Putting that inaccuracy aside, it is revealing that Hedges here characterizes opposition to “federal assistance programs” as being motivated primarily by fundamentalist religious impulses. Indeed, throughout his book, he consistently caricatures conservative ideas as the loopy offshoots of a fanatical religious movement, and thus avoids engaging them seriously. He utterly ignores the fact that there are compelling secular arguments for conservative positions on practically every major political issue today — gay marriage, stem-cell research, abortion, foreign policy, education, Social Security, etc. Rather than deal with these arguments, he chooses to stamp his foot and yell “Fascists!”

Perhaps this is why Hedges misses the obvious truth that no significant part of the conservative movement, much less the Republican party, has any active political interest in establishing a fascist state that would overturn American democracy or curtail basic individual freedoms. Maybe he, like so many other liberals, just does not want to confront the prospect that some people could be intelligent, well-intentioned, rational, and even non-religious, and still fundamentally disagree with progressive political views. The problem of conservatism becomes much less tractable for liberals if they admit that it is not a type of crypto-Nazism, or a disease resulting from some intellectual or emotional deficiency. And so we have these absurd little books being published that tell vicious lies about entire swaths of the American public, and, in the process, make fools of their authors.

Yep.

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