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.