The alt-right recently held Unite the Right rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia and Washington, DC. Naturally the press turned out in droves, far outnumbering the twenty racists and other assorted nutters they were sent to cover. Why would the press bother covering a culturally and numerically irrelevant fringe group?
In school, we learned that political philosophy/ideology can be thought of as Left (progressives) or Right (conservatives), and that going too far to the left yields communism, while going too far to the right leads to fascism. But does this make any sense? For the purposes of this article I will continue to use the terms left and right, but it’s more accurate to think about it as less and more; big government versus smaller, limited government. The extreme of conservatism is not fascism. It’s anarchy. Extremes of the left yield both fascism and communism, which require a big, all-powerful government.
American conservatives believe in the principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Foremost is the “self-evident truth” that we are born with our rights. Government can’t give you the rights you already have at birth, but it can take them away. If you believe your rights come from God or nature, you’ve failed Fascist 101, because fascists don’t believe people have any rights that government doesn’t give them.
The Declaration says government must be answerable to the people, and exists to protect our individual rights: “To secure these rights Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Fascists force people to bow to the government. Conservatives strongly support people’s right to own property. For fascists, property ownership is a privilege granted at the whim of government. Conservatives favor government closer to the people, because people know and have access to government officials and can therefore influence policy. Fascists believe in an all-powerful central government. What if government fails to secure our rights? The Declaration says, “That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends (our rights), it is the Right of the people to alter it or to abolish it.” This ultimate power is ours. For conservatives this is an article of faith; for fascists, a mortal sin. The contrast could not be clearer.
The philosophical roots of conservatism begin with John Locke, the Enlightenment and the concept of Natural Law, which formed the basis of the Declaration and our Constitution. According to Natural Law, we’re all born free and equal with inherent rights, and we are able to understand things through reason. Georges Sorel, one of the foundational philosophers of fascism (as well as socialism and communism), believed in myth over reason and violence as a means of change. Contrast this with Jefferson’s appeal to reason in the Declaration: “To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world” and “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes.”
The cultural project to convince Americans that a tiny nudge is all it takes to turn conservatives into goose-stepping Brownshirts began in the early 1920’s. Progressives of the day invested considerable hope in Woodrow Wilson, America’s 28th President. By the end of Wilson’s second term, optimism gave way to bitter disappointment because Wilson was unpopular, having left the country exhausted from war and mired in a deep depression. In the early 1920’s intellectual elites (academics, writers, and artists) did what elites always do: they blamed average Americans for Wilson’s unpopularity, especially people from small towns, who were called ill-educated, unsophisticated, dumb and therefore vulnerable to the siren song of fascism. The modern version of this is Hillary’s description of Trump supporters as deplorable and irredeemable.
Consider also the aspect of personality. Conservatives are seen as conventional, conformist and respectful of authority, traits that some ascribe to fascists. The idea that inside every Rotarian lurks a potential fascist is deeply rooted in the progressive psyche. Sinclair Lewis’s “It Can’t Happen Here,” written in 1935, is about the fascist takeover of our government. It is reissued every time a Republican is in the White House. The New York Times re-reviewed It Can’t Happen Here in January of 2017 (the timing was not coincidental) with the headline, “the novel that predicted Trump.”
The idea that every conservative is a potential Hitler frightens progressives to death. As crazy as it sounds, they believe it. That’s one reason why they have no qualms in smearing us with the vile epithet of “fascist.”
Which side is closer to fascism, left or right? Hitler was a socialist. The name Nazi stands for National Socialist German Workers Party. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was named after leftist Mexican President Benito Juarez. Mussolini was a socialist who said “Everything within the state, nothing against the state, nothing outside the state.” Now consider what the patron saint of progressivism, FDR, proposed in his 1944 State of the Union Address. “Necessitous men are not free men,” FDR said, and went on to propose a second bill of rights that guaranteed not only health care as a right but “good health,” “a decent home” and a good-paying job, all provided by the government. Obama echoed this in 2001 when he said that the Constitution says what the government can’t do to you, but does not say what the government must do on your behalf (everything? Whatever Obama thinks government should do?) This has been an ongoing project of the left since FDR’s second bill of rights speech. If something is a right, then government must provide it. The government produces nothing, of course, and so it must seize it by force, and then proceed to regulate it, run it, and redistribute it. FDR and Obama echo Mussolini, “everything inside the state.” The party platforms of both the Italian and German fascists are a lot closer to FDR and Obama than to anything ever proposed by a conservative.
Back to the original question. Why did a host of reporters turn out to cover a handful of crazies in Charlottesville? Most reporters are progressives who believe the left-right model. They share the utterly irrational fear that every conservative is just itching to channel his inner Hitler, and just needs the right leader to come along (Trump anyone?). To be associated with fascism is to be branded as a hate-filled kook, and guarantees a big headline.
And once you’ve implied that conservatives are a part of the fascist family tree, you never have to consider or, heaven forbid, debate a conservative idea.
Michael A. Morrongiello, Ph. D.