liberal facism

Been on vacation a good long while. Felt good. I’m starting my sabbatical, so I need to get my brain turning again. So here I am.

I read the Salon interview with Jonah Goldberg about his book Liberal Fascism. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment on it. Maybe it is the partisan hatchet job people on the left seem to suggest it is. It does seem that we have gone well past the point where any serious political dialog can be had in this country. Maybe that’s the clearest signal of fascism one could ever need…

Anyway, I am quite familiar with the idea of liberal fascism. Not surprisingly, my notions of fascism are heavily informed by Deleuze and Guattari, but a good succinct definition comes from Benjamin in his observation that fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into politics, as in life becomes lifestyle becomes lifestyle politics. Having spent my adult life on college campuses, having lived in Ithaca NY and spent time in New Age enclaves in the Southwest, I am quite familiar with lefty lifestyle politics and its micropolitical fascism. However, having grown up in suburban NJ and lived most of my life surrounded by churches, malls, and box stores, I am as familiar as most of us with the micropolitical fascism of the everyday American religious right.

By this definition of fascism, we are all inescapably fascist. In fact, we would look at WWII as the defeat of a nationalistic, eugenic, socialist form of fascism by a globalizing, technological, capitalistic form of fascism.

What fascism ultimately comes down to (and here you can see my D/G colors) is the replication of the same. Think of the Nazist desire for racial purity. When Tom Friedman remarks on the flattening of the world, he is observing the spread of fascism. The spread of capitalistic logic, the making-fungible of every aspect of life (as per Fredric Jameson), is the spread of fascism. The IT transformation of the world into binary logic is the spread of fascism (as in Arthur Kroker’s will to virtuality). All of these are matters of becoming-the-same. The will to become the same is ultimately suicidal as that will must finally come to terms with our integral otherness: we are always other than our image of our own pure self.

So what to do? I’ve been thinking about the contemporary, lefty utopian community: tolerant/open; diverse; green; progressive/alternative in terms of education, health, and other social services; economy based on sustainable industries and emerging "creative" economy (a la Richard Florida); equitable in its trade practices with international partners; and so on. Even though one might express conservative views and practice conservative values with such a community, I’m sure such a person would find it uncomfortable, just as I’m permanently an outsider where I live. Imagine a world where it was as difficult to buy an SUV or shop at Wal-Mart or eat at McDonald’s as it is to buy locally-grown, organic food here in Syracuse.

From what I can glean from the Salon interview, Goldberg associates fascism and totalitarianism with the idea of a state ideology that seeks to organize and manage every aspect of people’s lives. This is Deleuze’s control society: the micropolitical production and management of desire. Goldberg perhaps fails to recognize Foucault’s repressive hypothesis. He perhaps imagines that fascism only occurs as the imposition of a will against individual desires.

So yes, I could see how that lefty community could fascistic, just as fascistic as the community I live in today. The resistance to fascism, as I can best understand it, comes from an insistence on difference, on the particular, on the material, on the "whatever" as Agamben suggests.

I’ll have to think about this more in terms of teaching. Of course the drive of assessment for common learning objectives is  patently fascistic in these terms–an obvious attempt at the replication of the same. Indeed, if you imagine that every student in a particular major should graduate with the same knowledge and skills then you would likely be engaged in a fascistic brand of pedagogy… at least by these terms.

BTW, if you think all this overly dilutes the notion of fascism, then I’m likely to agree with you. Maybe we should just leave the term fascist strictly for referring to people who want to go around practicing the wholesale slaughter of humans. We can come up with another term for these other folks. It might be fun and likely more productive than the passing of judgments.

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5 thoughts on “liberal facism

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  1. Just to say, where I live I have organic food everywhere I turn and wouldn’t be able to find a Walmart anywhere if I looked. But, if I hear you right, even the lefty utopian group can’t help but participate in this control. It’s built into our highways, and even where I live, in an urban pedestrian friendly environment, it’s another kind of infrastructural control. But yeah, there’s no head to the thing, some kind of acephalous amalgam, part of being part of any system.
    But I wonder concerning LO, if there can be a same with a difference. Wholesale LOs that everyone meets and adheres to usually suggests that how those LOs are implemented also have a similar origen. But what if the LOs are met in radically different ways? One one hand, the student is doing X, but 20 teachers have very different ways, in very different genres and contexts to get her to achieve an LO that can be broadly defined. For instance, if one says “that students should use research in imaginative ways”, and that research takes place from interviewing homeless people to counting customers in the mall to reading a novel to playing a video game to going to a strip club . . . . I wonder if learning objectives are fascistic or if we resent them because we have to record them and we see that chore as a tendency towards control. What happens if we accept that we are part of a socially and digitally networked community that needs to function. Would we begin to take control of those objectives and manipulate them rhetorically in the ways that make the best sense for our teaching?

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  2. I agree Robert with your point about repetition with a difference. Learning objectives are never replicated in quite the same way from class to class. I wonder if we are taking different paths to try to reach the same point or if we are actually traveling to different destinations. What if we didn’t have a predetermined destination? Is it possible for pedagogy to not be cybernetic? to not steer the course toward a specific destination?

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