(Please welcome author Chris Hedges, who is here to discuss his new book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. As always with guests here at FDL, please be polite and stay on topic in comments and questions. Any off-topic comments should be taken to another thread. Please join me in giving Chris a big FDL welcome. JFT)
Books about the scarier aspects of the religious right are something of a preferred genre in our house. What's uniquely insightful about Hedges' book is the connection he makes between the ongoing destruction of the American middle class and the rise of the megachurch political machine. People who have been disposessed from their livelihoods and communities are prime candidates for recruitment by preachers and politicians who offer easy answers, convenient scapegoats, and both earthly and heavenly salvation. Just vote for me and give me your credit card number, and everything will be fine.
Despite his in-your-face title, Hedges doesn't toss the F-word around casually. He prefaces the book with Umberto Eco's essay on Eternal Fascism. Eco lists fourteen features of what he calls Ur-Fascism, which may be summarized like this:
- A cult of tradition.
- A rejection of modernism.
- A cult of action
- A rejection of distinctions.
- A fear of difference and disagreement.
- A grounding in social frustration.
- An obsession with plots.
- A sense of humiliation by one's enemies.
- A view of life as eternal struggle.
- An elitist contempt for the weak.
- A hero cult.
- A cult of masculinity.
- A selective populism.
- A use of Newspeak.
Hedges takes his readers on a tour through the wacky world of dominionist Christianity in support of this thesis:
Dominionism seeks to redefine traditional democratic and Christian terms and concepts to fit an ideology that calls on the radical church to take political power. It shares many prominent features with classical fascist movements . . . .
He makes a convincing case that the dominionist movement is congruent to the features of fascism that Eco describes. This is, of course, not precisely the same thing as saying that religious fundamentalists are fascists. The parallels, though, are truly disturbing.
Three points from the book were especially interesting, and are not to be found (or are not so well expressed) in other books about the Christian right. The first was about the destruction of the manufacturing class:
The loss of manufacturing jobs has dealt a body blow to the American middle class. Manufacturing jobs accounted for 53 percent of the economy in 1965; by 1988 they accounted for 39 percent. By 2004 they accounted for 9 percent.
I live in the rust belt of Ohio, so these figures shouldn't come as a surprise to me. But like so many other bloggers, I haven't worked in an auto plant or a mill and haven't seen the pink slips firsthand. These numbers are stunning; how are all the people who used to work in manufacturing coping? Hedges thinks he knows: they are succumbing to the phony hope peddled by televangelists, megachurches and politicoreligious leaders such as Dobson, Kennedy and Robertson.
The second point concerns architecture and suburban design. Hedges points to the blight of hideous commercial buildings that cluster in every city and town in America. He describes our inherently isolating suburban landscape that disconnects each house from its neighbors and its community. These, he claims, are partially responsible for the despair that drives people into the arms of the religious right. I've frequently thought that there must be a direct relationship between the amount of space–both literal and figurative–between people's houses and the propensity of the residents to reject liberalism's view of society as a web of interdependencies. Hedges shows how the yearning for connection impels people toward fundamentalist Christianity; I still think that these same yearnings could be harnessed by the the right kind of progressive movement.
Finally, Hedges is properly contemptuous of liberals who raise tolerance to such privileged status that they are willing to tolerate anything–even intolerance. Referring to this as "the paradox of tolerance," he calls upon liberals to grow a pair:
Anger, when directed against movements that would abuse the weak, preach bigotry and injustice, trample the poor, crush dissent and impose a religious tyranny, is a blessing. . . . Liberal institutions, seeing tolerance as the highest virtue, tolerate the intolerant. They swallow the hate talk that calls for the destruction of nonbelievers. Mainstream believers have often come to the comfortable conclusion that any form of announced religiosity is acceptable . . . . Most liberals, the movement has figured out, will stand complacently to be sheared like sheep, attempting to open dialogues and reaching out to those who spit venom in their faces.
I realized a long time ago that ignoring homophobia, racism and irrationality made me miserable and emboldened the people who espoused those attitudes. By showing us the boundaries of this trap that so many well-meaning progressives fall into, Hedges has done those of us who call ourselves liberals a tremendous favor.