Fascism. The word alone is enough to muster up vociferous sentiment from those who adhere to the principles of their politics. Many unabashedly devout a determinate will to fight political groups that espouse unpopular beliefs, tagging the label of fascism on these political groups as a means of exposing their vile nature. Hate groups have a long history of existing on the fringes of American democracy, endeavoring most Americans to use their democratic leverage and use reasoned judgment to refute unpopular beliefs, especially those based on race, categorizing them as untenable for a healthy society and using the law to define hate speech/groups where granted.
Does something seem amiss here? Does the American system work like this anymore? Whose fascism am I talking about anyway? Attempting to answer those questions will ruffle a few feathers.
The violent aftermath of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia has exposed America to the surging undercurrents of white nationalism as gaining popularity, tempering its message into the mainstream and backed by organizers empowered by an American society seeped in political dysfunction. But how powerful are white nationalist and alt- right groups? Can they win in a democratic election? That is quite unlikely. One problem with white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups boldly parading around town is that most Americans who oppose the Trump Presidency also believe that he is a dog whisperer for these groups. The open display of neo-Nazi slogans and symbols disenchanted the American psyche to a grave level of lowliness, sparking doubt on whether President Trump is capable (or willing) to use the moral and political capital of the presidency to quell the popularity of ethno-centrist political dogma from taking shape in the body of the Right-wing.
In the aftermath of Charlottesville, it seems as though President Trump has used the bully pulpit not to deter and desist the worst characters of the alt-right, but to shine an embattled light on the most controversial element of his political opposition.
Antifa (political name for anti-fascism) is a Left-wing political movement that uses confrontational tactics in an attempt to drown out the organizing power of far-right groups. Although it is relatively new in the United States, Antifa was formed in mid-20th century Europe to battle the rising tide of far-right militias in Italy and Germany. Both Mussolini and Hitler used organized militias to intimidate and later imprison their political enemies. Antifa defines itself as opposed to fascism and far-right ideologies, often employing tactical violence to stand guard against right-wing movements from gaining power through organized mass movements.
It was Antifa on the front lines against the alt-right and neo-Nazi demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia. And it was Antifa that President Trump categorized as the equal counter of neo-Nazi ideologues. Dissecting the politics of this is messy but important. The president inflamed a lot of people by equating both sides as equally bad. Organized resistance against racist hate groups should never be classified as the ideological sibling of the dangerous doctrine they are trying to fight against. But what happens when the violence of Antifa’s tactics outmodes the appeal of fighting against fascism “by any means necessary?”
As undignified as President Trump’s response was to the Charlottesville fiasco, it was a crude political move that places his political opposition between a rock and a hard place. Organizing resistance protests against far-right wing ethno-nationalist groups is a democratic right and a fair fight in order to push such groups back to the fringe. But if the tactics employed are more akin to gangs of New York street battles, we must start thinking about the political liability of the violence. Violence emanating from both the Right and Left does not beget moderation within society or government. It typically opens the door for more enduring street battles, eventually giving the government the proclivity to grow a totalitarian police force that can be used to dismantle any organized protest that has the propensity not only to produce violent battles but those that are controversial in their character.
As social order in America fades, political extremes will rise to the occasion of fighting not to maintain balance, but to impose anarchy on the existing order in order to reshape it outside of democratic conventions.
Antifa’s motif (not necessarily their ideology) is “become ungovernable”. Are they proposing anarchy? Whom and what model do they want to see govern order? Do they have a set of objectives and for what end? Coming from a Marxist tradition, Antifa borrows from the revolutionary tradition of the Bolsheviks. One of the aims of Antifa is to model society based on humanistic ideals that steer people away from a divisive class-consciousness berated with the inequities produced by winner-takes-all capitalism. Revolutionary Marxists seek to upend the current social order by employing violent tactics to overthrow the reigning governing authority that subjugates the people.
The end may be equality, but the means are contrary to humanist ideals. Can violent means ever be justified? And when does it cross the line into fascist grandeur of fulfillment of power? Antifa may have respect for the heritage of the Enlightenment and an ensuing liberal order, but the underpinning of its doctrine obscures the more anarchist themes governing its affect on society as a whole. Recordings of Antifa physically beating down rallying members of its political opposition (the right-wing fascists) imparts a sense of irreconcilable politics, one in which the middle has no say as opposing forces imperil themselves for the sake of their own version of ungovernable political models.
The black bloc strategy employed by some Antifa members has led to confrontation with police during the 2016 presidential inauguration and cancellation of a speech at Berkely by the alt-right’s Milo Yiannopoulos. The activists claim that they fill a void left by the ineptitude of police and local governments to stand up for the rights of the underprivileged. They view resistance as a way to expedite a stateless and fascism-free society, one where traditionally marginalized people confront injustice by the standard ethics of a community- based protection model. They distrust current institutions of law and government to provide restitution for those aggrieved by the inequality of the current class-based society and view violence as vigilance against a system that imparts punishment instead of peace. They view the alt-right as organized and nationally cohesive, propelling a desire for Antifa to meet the Right-wing with intimidating force in order to dispel the Right’s influence.
On the other side, the alt-right white nationalists seek a society based on the ethos of race, a nationalism based on the hierarchy of a racially defined social order. For them violence is a means and an end simultaneously.
Are the alt-right and Antifa competing for the turf of ultra-nationalism? If politics goes beyond elections does democracy cease to be a legitimating force in coalescing differing viewpoints into a framework for a pluralist society? Reactionaries on both the Right and Left may not upend constitutional order but will force the public to contend with operating modes of anarchy that seek to change society by more radical measures. If this becomes a consistent behavior of our politics, it is unlikely that any group’s version of justice will win. Fascism growing from the grassroots might seek to decentralize the social order, but in turn it might empower the vestiges of the state, the very institution anarchy seeks to destroy and then enshrine as its own, driving the state to create a more exclusivist governing model where order is forced from the top back down to the grassroots.
The old time battle of the individual vs. the state is playing out again. It has become the central theme of American political life and one that will challenge the American public to question the relativity of the government’s power over our lives. Both the radical Left and Right seek redefine the legitimacy of centralized political governance but differ in their definitions of the “public interest” and the proper role of the state in relation to economic welfare. In the words of Ayn Rand, “There is no such thing as ‘the public interest’ except as the sum of the interests of individual men. And the basic, common interest of all men – all rational men – is freedom.”
The radical Left, where anarchism is a political movement, wants to go beyond hierarchy and the state. The alt-right seeks to limit government powers, but would rather utilize the function of the state in order to fulfill its ideological endeavors.
Anarchy can be used as a means to uphold individual rights but has not shown success as a governing model for large societies. At one point, the individual always ends up administering to the body of the collective, mostly one that assumes the form of a state. It is the fight over the definition of the collective that becomes the most imperious. If the collective succeeds in diminishing or outright abolishing the role of the state, where does the collective derive its legitimacy? Freedom may be the end pursuit but on its own cannot extol the value of social order. Since the state has traditionally played the role of governing social order, the battle for control over freedom (the anti-control) by radical elements of the Left and Right may engender the very fascism they seek to eradicate.
Have we abused civil society to a point of democratic cacophony? Is the current political dystopia of the pro- vs. anti-Trump crowd leading to a drowning out of how American democracy has been traditionally practiced?
Both crowds are dabbling in revolutionary nationalism as each seeks to inherit different definitions of freedom. Where the Right seeks power for power’s sake in order to install their preferred hierarchy, the Left wants to disperse power for the sake of equality. There are elements from each side willing to wield tactics that have typically been used to propel violent overthrow of either social or government order. This doesn’t bode well if there are dueling historical/national narratives from the Left and Right. If the struggle over ideology transforms the current understructure of cultural consensus on what constitutes political authority, it may act as a precondition to the breakdown of civil society. Thus, if mass culture is challenged enough, existing political institutions will begin to lose relative power. This may be the goal for many on the revolutionary Left and Right but unfortunately the road to a ‘just society’ is usually paved with societal chaos. Law and order has become both the crux and crucible of the validity of democracy in relation to the state.
Despite how one seeks to redefine his identity in relation to the effects of globalization, rapid globalization will remain the dominant force in molding the reality of human life. As we witness the fight of radical elements on the political spectrum it is important to understand that ideology alone does not and cannot change the kind of society we live in. The most it can do is break us down into sub-cultural communes that struggle with the contentiousness of power in its relation to authority. It is clear that our current institutions are in crisis and unrepresentative of people’s demands for economic justice. But the crisis of today is one of identity as many people in the West struggle with defining Man 2.0 in the ongoing cultural disorder of post-industrialism.