MY PILGRIMAGE THROUGH LIFE, ACCOMPANIED BY AN UNWELCOME COMPANION: FASCISM

 

I was born in 1923, eight months after Benito Mussolini first came to power in Italy as the Prime Minister of Italy under King Umberto.  From the first moment that I became aware of the worldwide tensions that were building up to the Second World War in which I would have to fight, the attention of the world was focused on the rise of the Fascist movement in Italy and its close relationship with National Socialism in Germany which had been established by Adolph Hitler.

As a child I was fascinated by the use of the fasces as the emblem of the Fascist Party in Italy.  The fasces has a long and interesting history.

Image result for image of the fascist symbol

The fasces originated as a bundle of birch rods surrounding a battle ax all bound together by red ribbons as a symbol of power, absolute power.  I probably originated in the eastern Mediterranean region.  It was adopted by the rulers of the Etruscan tribes and was passed on by them to Imperial Rome.  The fasces were carried in procession in front of a high dignitary as a symbol of his authority over all of the people over whom he held power.

As you read in the Wikipedia article I posted in the post preceding this post, the faces have been used by all western nations, including our own in their heraldry.

I soon realized that any government that has the power to inflict corporal punishment and impose death on a subject shares some aspects of fascism, more or less.   Over the years I also came to realize that the word fascist when use pejoratively is truly meaningless since it can mean whatever the person using the word wants it to mean.

The fasces originated as a bundle of birch rods surrounding a battle ax all bound together by red ribbons as a symbol of power, absolute power.  I probably originated in the eastern Mediterranean region.  It was adopted by the rulers of the Etruscan tribes and was passed on by them to Imperial Rome.  The fasces were carried in procession in front of a high dignitary as a symbol of his authority over all of the people over whom he held power.

As you read in the Wikipedia article I posted in the post preceding this post, the faces have been used by all western nations, including our own in their heraldry.

I soon realized that any government that has the power to inflict corporal punishment and impose death on a subject shares some aspects of fascism, more or less.   Over the years I also came to realize that the word fascist when used pejoratively is truly meaningless since it can mean whatever the person using the word wants it to mean.

It is customary among adherents of left/progressive politics to accuse conservatives of fascism.  But the reality is that ultimately there is only superficial difference between extremists of both end of the political spectrum.  Ultimately there is no practical difference between Socialism/Communism and Laisssez Faire Capitalism when power is concentrated in the hands of an elite or oligarchy.

I cannot see the difference between Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini, Fidel Castro, Pol Pot, Daniel Ortega, Evo Morales, Mao Zedong.  Right or left, they were all the same in the long run.  They suppressed and are suppressing every natural and positive freedom.

Who are the fascists in America today?  The leading candidates for that designation are the progressives and leftists in main-stream media, government and academia.  Freedom of religion survived Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini;  it is having a hard time surviving in America’s schools at every level, from kindergarten to Yale, Harvard, Duke et al.  Freedom of speech had a hard time existing in Germany and Italy, and it is having a hard time existing in America’s colleges and universities today because of fascists power in the faculty and administration of those citadels of intellectual freedom.

Who are the fascists in America today?  Do not look to your right, look to your left !!!

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HATE SPEECH AND THE POLITICS OF GRIEVANCE:

Yesterday, MSNBC host Chris Hayes went off on the idea that American conservatives are paying an outsized degree of attention to academia and speech issues on campus because conservatism is based on a politics of victimhood and grievance. I am not exaggerating. http://vlt.tc/2tgt   “If you haven’t been paying attention to right wing media recently, it’s *amazing* how much attention current campus controversies have gotten. The reason, I think, is that the right now controls most state houses and all three branches of federal gov’t. They have *tons of power*. But modern conservatism’s emotional fuel is grievance and persecution, so they need to focus on Berkeley campus. You’d think liberals arts undergrads had the nuclear codes.”

First of all, paying attention to what happens on campus hasn’t been a new item of conservative priority since God and Man at Yale. Conservatives recognize that college campuses and their frames of reality have an outsized impact on the culture, training the next generation of leaders. There are countless books about the academy and the problematic impact it has had on American life, and there were particularly a good deal of things written during the 1960s and 1970s about the changing nature of the academy. This strikes many conservative writers as a similar moment, a flashpoint when something dramatic is changing about our institutions of higher education. Additionally, as a practical matter, conservatives tend to be older and middle class – they are more likely to have college-aged children and to be confronting the challenge of finding an institution that will educate rather than indoctrinate their sons and daughters, and for a hefty fee.

Second, the idea that conservatism’s emotional fuel is grievance and persecution as a political and legal matter strikes me as a very new idea – as in, post-Obergefell. Prior to that, conservatives had few examples of actual legal prosecution for the way they live according to their beliefs (with the exception of, say, home schooling or gun ownership). Hayes is indeed correct that Republicans (not conservatives) have won at every level of government and do indeed hold political power. The left, on the other hand, is overwhelmingly dominant in two places: the academy and mass media. So that is where the fights happen.

It is no accident that the place that lends itself to creating conflicts between the dominant order of thought and people who want to speak their minds freely is the college campus, where conservatives feel outnumbered and crushed by a system of higher education that believes in academic freedom for me, not for thee. On the campus, administrators have nigh unchecked power to negatively impact the lives of the students on campus, and along with faculty, they are often easily brought to heel by the heckling mobs of the moment – see most recently at Middlebury, where a professor apologized to the recent rioters for the offense of even inviting Charles Murray to speak. http://vlt.tc/2tff  This is, of course, a mistake on the part of the rioters – if they did not protest, heckle, and attempt to shut down speech they treat as a violent assault on their minds, no one would remark on a lecture to a handful of quiet well-behaved students. But instead they give Murray, and Ann Coulter, and Milo, and all the rest the oxygen that turns these sparks into forest fires.

The power of the closed bubble of academia makes for more conflict. Mass media, on the other hand, is essentially powerless other than an ability to lecture you about your wrongthink. They are easier to ignore, and to mock in return. Conservatives have gotten used to being yelled at just about everywhere and by just about everyone for years – by cable news and NPR and SNL and Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and John Oliver and Seth Meyers and Samantha Bee and Trevor Noah and so on, but also by sportscasters and entertainment reporters, by dramatic television and sitcoms, and by any movie or TV show in need of conveniently depicting Americans who read Bibles or own guns as hicks and bigots undeserving of respect.

When I was much younger, my siblings and I would routinely tune in to watch Bill Nye the Science Guy on PBS. He was a fascinating instructor bent on helping kids achieve a basic understanding of science. When he engaged in politics, it was only very briefly if at all. He has recently returned to Netflix to, as so many of their products attempt, play on the nostalgia of older Millennials. Sadly, he spends most of his new Netflix show yelling at the audience. http://vlt.tc/2tfl   He also collaborated with Rachel Bloom on this bizarre video on transgenderism which has nothing to do with science, and is as cringeworthy a thing as you will see all year. http://vlt.tc/2tfp  The whole thing manages to be unfunny, tone-deaf, and hectoring – it mangles the real issues involved and disrespects the audience at the same time.

This isn’t about persecution – it’s disrespect. And the fundamental basis of healthy politics is respect. Real persecution is only a small part of what conservatives object to about the current state of the campus or the public square – the occasional group that is shut down, the florist or cake baker whose livelihood is threatened, the religious group that is berated into breaking their faith – these are the exceptions. The overall issue is a disrespect that now views words as weapons, fueled by an academic culture which has transferred the language of PTSD to simple day-to-day existence. We want an educational system that produces citizens, not victims – one that produces thinking people who respect the views of those with whom they disagree, who can grapple with those views as they come, not one that will curl up into a ball of rage at the first sign of wrongthink, or turn into an aggrieved party whose pain must be acknowledged.

We must not fall into the trap of thinking speech that offends is speech that must be forbidden. A healthy culture demands that much of us, to equip the next generation of Americans with the knowledge and reason they will need to confront an uncertain future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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One Response to MY PILGRIMAGE THROUGH LIFE, ACCOMPANIED BY AN UNWELCOME COMPANION: FASCISM

  1. The concept of the bundle of twigs/rods was actually, I believe, a very positive idea. It implied that when people are close together they cannot be broken. It is a symbol of unity and the strength derived from unity. Now the free market is not fascist. But Nazism is not really the extreme right either: National Sozialism was its name and it was certainly a socialism with a strong nationalistic ideology but socialism still as its second name was the Worker’s party.

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