Thursday, March 27, 2008

Book review: American Fascists

Recently, I read Chris Hedges' book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, first published in 2006.

The work is a depiction of the Christian Right, its methods, its motives, and the dangers it poses to the United States. Hedges opens the book with an essay written by Italian writer Umberto Eco, entitled "Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt."

The essay outlines 14 points that describe the features of fascism (such as a "cult of tradition," "rejection of modernism," "action for action's sake," et cetera). Hedges then goes on to illustrate the similarities between the fascism that Eco describes in his essay and the modern Christian Right movement that has grown ever more dominant in the American political landscape.

Hedges interviews many "believers" and leaders in the movement and explains how it preys on the despair of people that have been left behind in this apparent age of economic prosperity. He explains that the leaders of this movement play their victims (because, really, there is no other term to use for the desperate, hopeless people that come under their sway) by giving them hope for a mythological future. This future will come when Jesus returns to Earth to save the righteous and damn the wicked. And it is easy to become one of the "saved" according to these leaders. One need only submit: wives submit to their husbands, husbands to the church.

Hedges shows how Christian Right leaders use time-tested fascist tactics to attract followers. Basically, recruits are offered the promise of eternal life and salvation at the price of complete, unquestioning submission to the church. These leaders also put forth enemies upon which their followers can focus their rage: homosexuals, liberals, "secular humanists," Muslims... even Christians that do not proscribe to the right-wing particulars. Hatred and intolerance toward these others, the economically-disadvantaged, war victims, refugees, and others is not only acceptable, but justified: they are being punished because they are not right with God.

Perhaps most alarming is the eager expectation that many followers of this Christo-fascist movement have for a coming Apocalypse, where they will be lifted up to heaven while everyone else remains on Earth to suffer the horrors of war and death. Hedges points specifically to the success of the "Left Behind" novels that depict a post-Rapture world where newly-converted Christians (those who were not believers before the Rapture) engage in violent battles with the forces of darkness. There is a longing, a frenzy, for the lusty release of violence on all non-believers, on all those who have wronged the faithful.

American Fascists is a frightening read. Hedges exposes the hypocrisy of the authoritarian bigots leading this ugly movement, but is not callous or scornful toward those poor unfortunates who, through despair and emotional vulnerability, have fallen victim to its siren song.

In my own experience, I've known quite a few of these ultra-right Christians. I've worked with them, debated them, and sometimes even befriended them. I've always privately (well, maybe not-so-privately) scorned their views. But their movement is real and growing. One need look no further for evidence than the 2004 national election, when an obvious liar and physical coward was put forth as a patriot and hero and received the votes of millions at the urging of right-wing pastors to see how high their tide has risen.

Hedges' exhorts his readers to stand up against this movement openly, ending the book with this passage:

"All Americans- not only those of faith- who care about our open society must learn to speak about this movement with a new vocabulary, to give up passivity, to challenge aggressively this movement's deluded appropriation of Christianity and to do everything possible to defend tolerance. The attacks by this movement on the rights and beliefs of Muslims, Jews, immigrants, gays, lesbians, women, scholars, scientists, those they dismiss as 'nominal Christians,' and those they brand with the curse of 'secular humanist' are an attack on all of us, on our values, our freedoms and ultimately our democracy. Tolerance is a virtue, but tolerance coupled with passivity is a vice."--Chris Hedges

1 comment:

Dan Binmore said...

Hey Dade,

did the author address whether those manipulating their "Victims" believe in what they were selling themselves? I think the most dangerous thing about such ideological movements is that those doing the manipulating truly believe in it themselves.

Dan Binmore