The idea that today’s conservatives are in any way defenders of individual liberty, the free market, and what Russell Kirk called “the permanent things,” i.e., the sacred traditions that have accumulated over time to constitute the core of our Judeo-Christian culture, is no longer a defensible proposition. Instead, what used to be called the conservative movement has morphed, almost overnight, into a coterie of moral monsters, whose political program is one of unmitigated evil.
My good friend Lew Rockwell has recently come to this conclusion:
“Year’s end is the time for big thoughts, so here are mine. The most significant socio-political shift in our time has gone almost completely unremarked, and even unnoticed. It is the dramatic shift of the red-state bourgeoisie from leave-us-alone libertarianism, manifested in the Congressional elections of 1994, to almost totalitarian statist nationalism. Whereas the conservative middle class once cheered the circumscribing of the federal government, it now celebrates power and adores the central state, particularly its military wing. What this implies for libertarians is a crying need to draw a clear separation between what we believe and what conservatives believe. It also requires that we face the reality of the current threat forthrightly by extending more rhetorical tolerance leftward and less rightward.”
Various libertarian scholars and writers see here, here, and here seem to be drawing the same broad conclusions. I might add, for the record, that I reached a similar conclusion a couple of years ago, except that, far from abandoning my efforts to reach out to authentic (i.e., old-style) right-wingers, this merely accelerated my efforts to split off the authentic Remnant from the neoconized conservative movement.
In any case, by this time the evidence for the malevolent transformation of the American Right is all around us in the ravings of Fox News “commentators,” in the sheer existence of Ann Coulter, in the usurpation of a formerly respectable political tendency by the greasy evasions of the “neo”-conservatives. This change is most starkly dramatized in three disturbing trends: (1) Widespread support on the Right for internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, touting Michelle Malkin’s shoddy-to-nonexistent scholarship, with the implication that we should be contemplating the same treatment for Americans of Arab descent, (2) the justification of torture when utilized by the American military in the name of the “war on terrorism” by “conservative” legal theorists, and (3) advocacy of a ruthlessly aggressive foreign policy of military expansionism, supposedly in order to spread “democracy” around the world.
Rather than point to instances in which these three stances are taken by separate individuals who might be described as conservatives, and discussing each in turn a method that would be called for in writing a book on the subject it is instructive, if not conclusive, to take one very extreme example and show how it is becoming much more than a fringe element on an otherwise sane and well-adjusted Right. And what better example of fringe nuttiness made “respectable” and even mainstream by the neoconservative ascendancy exists than self-described “Trotsky-con” Stephen Schwartz?
The author of The Two Faces of Islam, formerly known as “Comrade Sandalio” to his Trotskyist compadres, who converted from New Age-y secularism to Sufi cultism and now calls himself a “Muslim,” is hardly representative of American conservatism in the present but the point is that he may very well represent the future of the American Right, if present trends continue.
Take, for example, the Schwartzian position on the internment controversy: writing in the Weekly Standard, Schwartz does Michelle Malkin one better by citing the internment, arrest, and evacuation of Germans and Italian-Americans during World War II as “the right way to lock up aliens.” Schwartz cites the activities of the serio-comic German-American Bund, and goes on to write:
“The Italian stalwarts of Mussolini in this country had a longer and even more vicious history. They mounted a strident public defense of the dictator from the beginning of his regime, terrorizing antifascists in the Italian-American community and even murdering enemies on American soil. The dictator’s line was purveyed to Italian Americans through newspapers like the infamous Il Progresso Italo-Americano, a daily printed in New York by Generoso Pope, who would go on to publish the National Enquirer. The propaganda worked, as it often does: In 1935, when Mussolini’s armies invaded Ethiopia, committing widespread atrocities, 10,000 Italian-American housewives in California donated their wedding rings to the Italian war effort, and San Francisco garbage collectors of Sicilian origin amassed scrap iron for the same cause.”
All by way of justifying the massive round-up: but the historical reality is quite different from Schwartz’s imaginative fulminations, which bear a close resemblance to the editorial banshee screams of the Daily Worker at the time. If Il Progresso had a few good words to say about Mussolini, at least in the beginning, then so did Herbert Croly writing in The New Republic, George Bernard Shaw, and Winston Churchill. (By the way, Schwartz, with his usual disdain for facts, is wrong about Generoso Pope founding the National Enquirer: that was his son, Generoso Pope, Jr. But, hey, details, details .)
Aside from the praises of Il Duce from prominent liberals of the time, however, Schwartz is here just regurgitating the old Communist Party-Popular Front wartime calumnies against a nonexistent Italian “fifth column,” and recycling them for his own sinister purposes. Most of the Italian internees were San Francisco members of the Ex-Combattenti (Federation of Italian War Veterans in America), who were veterans of World War I a war, one hastens to remind Schwartz, in which Italy and the U.S. were allies. That didn’t stop the FBI from putting the Italian vets on the list of “dangerous” organizations for the “crime” of collecting funds to help out war widows and orphans in Italy. The government’s decision to begin clandestine surveillance was based on a determination that the Italian war veterans had violated the rarely enforced Neutrality Act although, oddly, “Bundles for Britain” hardly provoked the same sort of response.
As Sarah Goodyear points out in a piece in the Village Voice on the persecution of her grandfather, Metropolitian Opera basso Ezio Pinza, the “evidence” the FBI used to arrest and detain Americans of Italian descent was dubious in the extreme:
“Informants, whom my grandmother believes to have been jealous fellow singers eager to see his career derailed, stepped up once again. They told tales of his enthusiasm for the Italian war in Ethiopia, his support for the Italian Red Cross, his participation in the collection of gold rings for the Italian war effort in the ’30s. According to the FBI files, several who spoke against him were women with whom he had been involved years earlier, when he had quite a reputation as a ladies’ man. His case was reopened. Unbeknownst to him and my grandmother, the FBI was making plans for his arrest several weeks before they ever walked through the door into my family’s home.”
What Schwartz considers “the right way to lock up aliens” is exemplified by this cache of documents compiled by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover at the time: a slimier bit of police-state snitching could hardly be imagined.
But snitching is what Schwartz specializes in: as a “former” Commie (of the Trotskyist variety), he has made it his business to “expose” the methods of his former comrades. As a militant member of the Sufi “Naqshbandi” cult, he has carved out a niche for himself as a schismatic critic of mainstream Muslim beliefs. And as the most visible and vocal champion and defender of the atrocious regime of Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov, Schwartz holds up a system based on an extensive secret police network of spies as a model for the “war on terrorism.”
Could a more unappetizing and telling combination of ideological poisons be imagined, except by some Dostoevskyian psychological study of political psychoses?
Lest there be any doubt as to the political uses to which Schwartz wants to use the historical example of the persecution of Italian-Americans, here he is putting it into the most explicit terms:
“Interning such individuals is safer, more effective, and saves more lives than waiting for them to commit their crimes. The argument for waiting until they commit the crimes on the argument that ‘we have laws to deal with people who commit such acts’ may make some people happy, but it doesn’t do much for the victims. Preventing them from committing the acts in question seems more than fair, just, and noble.”
Interning people because of their political beliefs real, or imagined on the basis of a system of snitches, i.e., Stephen Schwartzes, put into place nationwide: that isn’t just rough justice, it’s “noble”!
Yeah, in Bizarro World, that is.
The Right hailed Michelle Malkin’s widely discredited cut-and-paste “history” of the Japanese internment, and the evil Daniel Pipes has drawn a lesson from the Malkin screed and applied it to our own Muslim “problem.” Schwartz is not alone in his ideologically-driven insanity: the totalitarian sickness is gnawing away at the very vitals of the American conservative movement. This cancer germinated as a result of the Right’s lockstep support for the worldwide “war on terrorism,” which they take to mean not just the ongoing conflict in Iraq, but a perpetual war for perpetual “peace.”
The real kicker is that Schwartz, the former “Comrade Sandalio” and self-professed “Trotsky-con” is becoming quite well-known as a professional apologist for one of the ugliest, most grotesquely repressive regimes on God’s green earth: the government of U.S. ally Islam Karimov, “president” and absolute ruler of Uzbekistan.
In the Karimov regime, what we are talking about is a government that boils its political opponents alive. What else do we need to know about Karimov’s “anti-terrorist” utopia, except it is where Schwartz’s brand of Muslim “Sufi” mysticism receives state support as a supposed antidote to Islamist radicalism? Writing in a piece posted on Tech Central Station a site that apparently serves as a public relations agency and lobbying front for big drug companies and other corporate sponsors Schwartz hails the recent Uzbek “elections” as models of “democracy,” neocon-style:
“Two and a half millennia have passed since the Greek armies of Alexander the Great penetrated Central Asia, and the wave of democratic reforms visible in the post-Soviet and Muslim countries is now reaching Uzbekistan. On December 26, the same day Ukraine held the second round of its highly-contested vote, citizens of this Muslim-majority former Soviet republic went to the polls to elect a bicameral parliament.”
The results of an election in which all “opposition” parties were founded and vetted by the government, freedom of speech and assembly are severely restricted, and that was little more than a Potemkin Village erected to satisfy the “democratic” pretensions of dictator Karimov’s American sponsors, were, for some reason, deemed “controversial” by European watchdogs. But never mind them, avers Schwartz, because “ordinary Uzbeks lined up enthusiastically to cast their votes on a multipage paper ballot” perhaps because, in a totalitarian society, not lining up and showing the proper enthusiasm could wind one up at the bottom of a boiling kettle.
Oh, but these are mere details, according to our nut-job Naqshbandi, who writes:
“One might compare Uzbekistan favorably with Russia, a former superpower but also with Saudi Arabia, which has ambitions to supreme leadership of the Muslim world. While Russia moves further away from democracy, Uzbekistan has taken steps that, however flawed, represent forward movement. In Uzbekistan, at least, voting takes place, with women included on the voters’ registers, and 30 percent of the candidates are female. By contrast, Saudi Arabia has promised limited municipal elections for February 10, but women will be barred from participation. Meanwhile, Saudi clerics, as preachers of Wahhabism, the state religion in the kingdom, continue to incite jihadists to wreak terror in Iraq, in what we must hope is a futile attempt to disrupt that country’s new electoral process.”
But why not compare Uzbekistan’s elections to those held much closer, geographically and culturally, namely those held in Iran which, notwithstanding the repressive hardline faction of Tehran’s mullahs, are much freer than any election ever held by Karimov? Or what about Turkey, which permits a diverse range of political parties to openly compete for power and even allows for a real change in government now and then, albeit under the watchful eyes of the Turkish generals? Compared to Uzbekistan, Turkey is a paragon of democratic liberalism.
According to Schwartz, Russian President Vladimir Putin is “liquidating the democratic process” although he doesn’t get too specific as to how. It is relatively easy to register a political party in Putin’s Russia, and actually get on the ballot, in spite of a recent tightening of the rules unlike in Karimov’s Uzbekistan, where membership in a proscribed political movement is bound to get you thrown into jail and horribly tortured.
Widespread torture, fixed elections in the Stalinist tradition, and professed admiration for Uzbekistan’s police state, which routinely engages in “preventive detention” of political “criminals” this is the Schwartzian brand of “conservatism” that has infected the American Right like a plague and called forth all sorts of demons Daniel Pipes, Michelle Malkin, Richard Perle, and David Frum (writing in An End to Evil, the neocon manifesto) to rally ’round its banner.
It is the banner of a thoroughly degenerated and corrupt “conservatism” that is, in effect, fascism a blueprint for totalitarianism erected in the name of fighting “terrorism.” Schwartz may be an extreme example of this horrific phenomenon horrific, that is, to old-style conservatives and libertarians such as myself, who once saw themselves as on the “Right” but he is far from alone. The “Trotsky-cons” otherwise known as the neoconservatives may have started out on the Left, but they have come full circle in their final incarnation, embracing the very worst (i.e., anti-libertarian) aspects of both the Left and the Right. In their celebration of war, the pagan ethos, and the joys of “Big Government conservatism,” Schwartz and his fellow neocons are the very antithesis of what the American Right used to stand for: Professor Claes Ryn has rightly nailed them as “neo-Jacobins,” and the danger from them is far worse than any threat once posed by their fascist intellectual ancestors.
Mussolini never got his thick mitts on nuclear weapons, and for that we ought to be grateful: but today’s neocons do have access to nukes, via their sock puppet in the White House, and thus represent an imminent threat. They are not only waging an immoral and destructive war in Iraq a war destructive of U.S. interests as well as Iraqi lives but they are moving on new fronts, from Syria to Russia and the Caucasus, to start new conflicts. This is the main justification and motivating factor behind their political agenda: tyranny on the home front and blood-lust abroad.
Like peanut butter and jelly and Abbott and Costello, war and repression go hand-in-hand: it’s hard to have one without the other. Schwartz and his fellow neocons fully realize this, of course, which is why they’re pushing for both simultaneously. So let’s start calling these people what they are: fascists, pure and simple.
Casting aside all that Frankfurt School Marxist nonsense about fascism as the “enraged bourgeoisie,” and rejecting the terminological prissiness of those who insist on fascism as a very specific mode of economic organization, I would build on the definition of Communism proffered by the late Susan Sontag, who famously called the Soviet system “fascism with a human face.”
Surely “fascism with a ‘democratic’ face” sums up the Bushian “global democratic revolution” just as accurately and succinctly, although admittedly this fails to capture the full horror of what the “liberation” of Iraq actually entails. Perhaps “fascism with a democratic face and bloodstained hands” is more precise.