Entry from April 16, 2010

Generally speaking, I’m a stickler for historical accuracy in political nomenclature. That’s why I am against the use, common among my fellow conservatives, of the term “Islamo-fascist” to describe Islamicist terrorism. Revolting as this terrorism may be in all kinds of ways, it is not “fascism” — a word which has a real historical meaning. You could look it up. Real fascism, like communism, was a heresy of the Enlightenment. It was associated with the cult of youth and violence and modernism of all kinds, with uniforms and sexual liberation and the smashing of tradition and traditional loyalties in an attempt to return to a more primitive mode of being which it regarded as more authentic. It was often hostile to religion and owed a lot to Rousseau’s idea of the General Will, as well as to Nietzsche’s Will to Power. None of these things is true of the Islamic jihadis even though some, like the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, were influenced by fascism.

The word also has a unique history of abuse as a useful political term. Communists long ago self-consciously adopted the bad habit, one of their many, of referring to anyone to their right as “fascists,” so that to this day, small-government conservatives and traditional liberals — the farthest things imaginable from actual, historical fascists — may be labeled as fascists in the heat of political debate. Conservatives should not emulate this bad habit of the left, so often used against themselves, by treating “fascist” as an all-purpose term of abuse.

For the same reason I am doubtful about those who want to call President Obama and the left-wing faction of the Democratic party that he is associated with and that is now in the ascendent “socialists.” Socialism also has a particular historical meaning associated with state ownership of the means of production and distribution. In spite of the Obama administration’s health insurance “reform,” its takeover of GM and Chrysler and its massive bailout — begun under its predecessor in office — of large banks and insurance companies, you couldn’t exactly say that these things constitute socialism within the generally accepted meaning of the term. Insofar as they represent the government’s bullying of private capital, they are closer to fascism.

Yet it is also true that the administration and its many apologists in the press do have certain things in common with socialists and even with communists. One of them is historicism. Karl Marx, who invented the historical dialectic by which socialism was supposed to be inevitable, was the pioneer here, and Marxist-Leninist parties the world over have clung to his idea ever since. It would be quite wrong, of course, to treat American “progressives” like Mr Obama as Marxist-Leninists, but the metaphor of “progressivism” itself does carry with it more than a hint of this same historical inevitability. It’s the assumption that lies behind Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas? and Senator Harry Reid’s speaking of those who supported the Democrats’ health care proposals as being “on the right side of history.” Fashionable lefties, whether they are aware of it or not, make the same, Marxist assumption — as when Sean Penn, warned those who opposed gay marriage that their grandchildren would be ashamed of them, or Chris Rock, said the same thing about those who opposed Obamacare.

Another point of contact between Obamaism and socialism is contempt for those whom the latter used to identify as “the bourgeoisie.” Partly as a result of their historicism, they regarded those who were industrious and thrifty, who had saved up some capital or started businesses and industries that made money, as a doomed class destined for historical oblivion by the onward march of the proletariat. The most militant of the socialist persuasion in Russia and China and Cuba and Cambodia and other places were not inclined to wait for history to do its work but themselves arranged on its behalf for the destruction of the bourgeoisie. To the communist, the very idea of the bourgeoisie’s having anything to say about their own expropriation by the “workers” is an outrage.

I hear a similar outrage in the attitude of some of our left-wing friends for the tea-party movement, as when Peter Beinart in The Daily Beast writes that “they’re the second coming of what Robert Kuttner called ‘the revolt of the haves,’”and that they “aren’t standing up for the little guy; they’re standing up to the little guy.” Wrong! They’re standing up to the little guy’s phony champion, the mega-state, which pretends to be historically inevitable and decrees that that makes it OK to take whatever it wants from them in the name of the little guy. Mr Beinart may be no more a socialist than Mr Obama, but both appear to share the socialist assumption that the bourgeoisie, or what Mr Beinart calls “grumpy, older, well-off Americans who think white people are oppressed — in other words, Republicans” — possess whatever wealth they may have only at the pleasure of the state.

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