C.S. Lewis remarked:
Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. Those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
Tagging political movements or individual politicians as tyrannical can be controversial especially when done by Christians. There are some within my own persuasion (Protestant, evangelical, fiscally and socially conservative) who usually take 1 of 2 extremes – they refuse to comment for a variety of reasons and/or call everyone who disagrees with their own perspective tyrants. I think the truth lies somewhere between those 2 views.
Let me begin by saying that human civilization has witnessed a fair number of tyrannical governments in the 20th century alone (Lenin, Mao, Hitler, the Muslim Ayatollah’s, etc.) that establishes a clear baseline of sorts as to what is meant by government tyranny. In my mind most of the activities associated with fascism lend themselves to defining a government, political movement, or an individual politician a tyrant.
The use of the word fascism today has become for some the ultimate insult. This is especially true in the political realm. By way of definition, fascism refers in the purest sense to any form of government that is centralized and organizes itself so that it regulates all affairs within the nation, be they industrial, financial, informational, or ethical. Understood in this sense then, modern political and religious liberals, identity politics adherents such as environmentalists and liberationists, would all be fascists since they advocate for a government that regulates nearly all affairs of the United States.
Several authors have examined the history and relationship between deconstruction, postmodernism, and fascism within a social and religious context; among them are Richard Wolin, Robert Bork, Gene Edward Veith, Peter Berger, John Neuhaus, George L. Mosse, and Robert Casillo. Wolin says of the history of fascism that: “Postmodernism has been nourished by the doctrines of Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Blanchot, and Paul de Man – all of whom either prefigured or succumbed to the proverbial “intellectual fascination with fascism.” Mosse argues forcefully that the fascism of Europe was exclusively a movement of the avant garde, intelligentsia of Europe’s academicians. Veith’s research supports these claims. He writes, “No one should doubt the intellectual sophistication of the National Socialists . . . contrary to popular myth that the Nazis were uneducated brutes, most of the killers of the death squads had college degrees, including some with Ph.D.s in philosophy, literature, and even theology.”
Philosophically speaking fascism was a reaction to Enlightenment romanticism and the alienation that resulted from the subsequent industrial revolution of the 19th century. The logic and rationalism that characterized Western civilization heightened the sense of mankind’s estrangement from the natural world and order of things. The reaction was predictable – a rejection of objective knowledge in favor of subjective experience. Unleashed from the cold rationality of logic mankind was once again free to unleash emotions and live within the subjective world of feelings and self-expression.
This philosophical movement is defined by three major tenets: immanence, organicism, and irrationalism. Within fascism, immanence is juxtaposed with transcendence. Thus Nolte says that fascism is, “the practical and violent resistance to transcendence.” This violent reaction to Judeo-Christian transcendence is responsible in the minds of many scholars of the period for the Nazi pogrom against the Jews. The Germans, through Higher Criticism, through the music of Wagner, and the philosophy of Nietzsche, discarded transcendence in favor of immanence as the vehicle for restoring ancient nationalistic myths and primitive ethics associated with what Grunberger described as an, “Aryan saviour Jesus, transfigured physically into a Nordic and psychologically into a bearer of the sword rather than the crown of thorns. The new heathenism dethroned him (Christ) entirely and substituted either Woten-worship or a cult of nature centered on the sun.” The thinking among early fascists was that transcendence was a vile doctrine that separated mankind from nature and subsequently mankind from his ability to live free based on natural impulses. In short, transcendent morality could not be located within the individual and therefore it was viewed as the enemy of an authentic life, or what is now termed existentialism.
Organicism, sometimes called corporatism, is the idea that the state is a living organism. Whereas classical liberalism locates within the state the power to protect its citizenry and their rights, fascism sees the state as the possessor of all rights and the individual as nothing apart from the state. In this sense rights are only rights when the state determines they exist. Of course when the state is the supreme organism it will determine who will receive what rights and when if at all. This leads irresistibly to totalitarianism.
Individual worth, value, and identity are rejected by fascists because those are views inherent within a transcendent theology/philosophy. Of course Judeo-Christian theology insists on the individual worth of each human being based on the imago dei. When immanence replaces transcendence however, individual worth disappears and all individuals become cogs of the state or to use a modern analogy, merely a number within the state bureaucracy. This in turn aids in the rise of a culture narrative and its development as the national identity.
The third and final tenant of the fascist system is irrationalism. This is the only possible human result of rejecting transcendence. Eco explains: “The Enlightenment, the Age of reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-fascism can be defined as irrationalism . . . Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action’s sake. Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.”
What becomes clear about fascism is that it denies with vigor the ability of mankind to establish truth build on logic. When rationality and transcendence are rejected you are left with subjective emotion. This leads inevitably to existentialism and despair. Western civilization is constructed upon the availability of objective knowledge. Mankind is able to understand the universe in a satisfactory degree through apprehension of particulars and universals. Without transcendence and rationality the universe, indeed all of life becomes unlivable as objective morality vanishes. Evil loves a void and into the void created by postmodernists rush the mystical, cosmic energy forces as god, and of course chaos as the old order is replaced by the new.
This rather brief survey has equipped the reader to understand the philsophical underpinning responsible for much of what we see in American politics today. Much more can be said of course but that would not only lie beyond the scope of this present effort but also detract from the necessary examination of the current fascist manifestation within American politics. In my next post I will examine the fascist expressions emanating from Mr. Obama and his policies.
C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 292.
Schaeffer warned of this natural outcome. See Trilogy, 228.
Crouse, Fascism, 7.
Ernest Nolte, Three Faces of Fascism (New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1965), 439.
See for example Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York, NY: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1973), 3-120.
See Richard Grunberger, The 12 – Year Reich (New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1971), 482.
Many resources exist that present concise histories of fascism. See particularly Richard Wolin, The Seduction of Unreason (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004); Robert Bork, Slouching Toward Gomorrah (New York, NY: Regan Books, 1996); Gene Edward Veith, Jr., Modern Fascism (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1993); Peter Berger and John Neuhaus, Movement and Revolution (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970); George L. Mosse, The Fascist Revolution ( New York, NY: Howard Fertig, 1999); Robert Casillo, The Genealogy of Demons: Anti-Semitism, Fascism, and the Myths of Ezra Pound (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1988).
Wolin, Seduction, xii.
Veith, Modern Fascism, 78.
Raschke insists that evangelicals must embrace postmodernism because it appeals to the experiential over the rational. He tries to make his argument based on faith being “a total surrender of one’s heart” (pp.168, 210). “A rational ‘faith’ is not really faith at all. Faith does not require any kind of unimpeachable demonstration. It is a passion for God amid the contingencies of experience and the messiness of life in general” (p. 168). “The Bible is not a system of arguable and debatable propositions. A genuine systematic theology forged from the Bible is impossible” (p. 210). See Carl Raschke, The Next Reformation: Why Evangelicals Must Embrace Postmodernity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004). Gene Edward Veith argues against Raschke’s thesis in Postmodern Times (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994).