Against The F-Word

During a debate over neoconservatism, Damon Linker insists that the ideology isn't fascistic:

I agree that the strong second-generation neocon emphasis on nationalism and warmaking as a means to overcoming domestic nihilism does lean in the direction of fascist political ideas. But I would still counsel against using the term because the similarities are mainly formal. Political analysis must go beyond noting formal likeness to examine the content of ideas. A political program that advocates war as a means of spreading democracy and overthrowing dictators (like the homicidal maniac who’s run Libya for the past 40-something years) is very different from a political program that advocates war as a means of territorial aggrandizement and/or racial and ethnic oppression, domination, and genocide. That means that however much William Kristol’s foreign policy views resemble fascism on one level, they diverge from fascism pretty fundamentally on another. That complication, combined with the polemical overuse of the term in our political discourse, makes its invocation exceedingly ill-advised, in my view.

Agreed (but one needs to recall Leo Strauss's early love affair with Mussolini and his contempt for what he saw as decadent liberal democracy). But the neocons might be better defined as aggressive democracy-promoters who actually don't like real democracy and constitutional checks at home. They believe - and have long believed - that Western systems cannot truly compete with 417px-LeoStrauss dictatorships. One response to this has been the unleashing of the executive, what Harvey Mansfield calls the "untamed prince" to take action - alone - in the interests of the state in alliance with a vast apparatus of military-industrial power. Besides, if the neocons truly wanted democracy over power, they would have no qualms with other powers, like France or Britain, taking the lead. But what they are really about is the increase of American global power under the guise of democracy. (For a fuller account of Strauss and the neoconservative ideal, check out C Bradley Thompson's new book, "Neoconservatism: Obituary For An Idea".)

That's one reason neocons were utterly unconcerned with a presidency that gave itself unlimited powers in an unlimited war: the power to seize citizens and non-citizens at will without due process under emergency laws, the power to torture victims to procure rationales for future warfare and retroactive casus belli, and the power to ransack anyone's private property (John Yoo found the Fourth Amendment as "quaint" as the Geneva Conventions). Every time you hear Bill Kristol blithely say that someone does not need to be granted due process in order to be jailed or executed, the veil slips a little.

The contempt for the masses, the esoteric agenda of small elites, the loathing of the judicial branch, the use of an executive to trash constitutional norms in the name of security, and the necessity for constant warfare as a way to instill traditional virtues in the citizenry: these are not specifically fascist. But they have fascistic undertones. This used to be speculation. When you remember their instincts under Bush-Cheney, it's more like an observation.

(Photo: Leo Strauss.)