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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Davidson Loehr on fascism.

Davidson Loehr discusses his new book, America, Fascism, and God, with Charles Derber at "The new F-word?" Loehr says:

Fascism, as the marriage of business and government with business giving the orders, combined with an over-the-top nationalism, is the perfect ally to help keep people in an obedient rather than in an uppity mode. And fundamentalism, always an ally of power and greed, is the perfect form of religion. Together, these three—plutocracy, imperialism, and fundamentalism—form a dangerous kind of perfect storm, complementing each other perfectly, especially when you add their nearly complete control of the media.

The unraveling of President Bush's credibility lately makes me think that we're not nearly so far gone. What do you think?

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 25 October 2005 at 8:44 AM

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October 25, 2005 09:26 AM | Permalink for this comment

I think we are getting dangerously close to fascism. Bush is becoming unpopular based on his failures of execution, not his policies.

The conservatives key messages -
1) Creating a system that rewards and strengthens the powerful rather than the weak,

2) Establishing a social hierarchy based on ancient Biblical notions,

3) Justifying war and torture based on an amorphus, faceless, other
- are messages that have largely been accepted by the public at large and scarcely opposed by a coherent, liberal alternative.

In my mind, we are losing the war of ideas. The only technique liberals have used in opposition is smears and ad-hominem attacks. I am desparate to find a voice that puts forth a positive vision for what liberals want for our country and our world!


October 25, 2005 10:34 AM | Permalink for this comment

I don't think that Fascism can be defined simply as a marriage of business and administration with some underlying nationalistic ideology. If that were the case, the USA has been a Fascist country for the whole 20th century.

Fascism is a much more serious and dangerous project that consists of establishing a dictatorship with military support and an uniformizing ideology that promotes a "common national project" which sees individuality as suspect, removes physically any kind of internal opposition, and establishes a systematic discrimination and elimination of sectors of the population who are accused of being traitors to the "noble ideals" that uphold the regime. I do not think that the modern USA can be called a Fascistic country, as long as people are able to state their disagreement with the political power in public (and Rev. Davidson Loehr is a living proof that you Americans can do it).

Bill Baar:

October 25, 2005 12:13 PM | Permalink for this comment

I'm with Peter Tatchell and Labour Friends of Iraq and Queers against Terror and Maryam Namazie.... just deeply ashamed by the great betrayal by the left of fundamental Human rights,

We are witnessing one of the greatest betrayals by the left since so-called left-wingers backed the Hitler-Stalin pact and opposed the war against Nazi fascism. Today, the pseudo-left reveals its shameless hypocrisy and its wholesale abandonment of humanitarian values. While it deplores the 7/7 terrorist attack on London, only last year it welcomed to the UK the Muslim cleric, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who endorses the suicide bombing of innocent civilians. These same right-wing leftists back the so-called 'resistance' in Iraq. This 'resistance' uses terrorism against civilians as its modus operandi - stooping to the massacre of dozens of Iraqi children in order kill a few US soldiers. Terrorism is not socialism; it is the tactic of fascism. But much of the left doesn't care. Never mind what the Iraqi people want, it wants the US and UK out of Iraq at any price, including the abandonment of Iraqi socialists, trade unionists, democrats and feminists. If the fake left gets its way, the ex-Baathists and Islamic fundamentalists could easily seize power, leading to Iranian-style clerical fascism and a bloodbath. I used to be proud to call myself a leftist. Now I feel shame. Much of the left no longer stands for the values of universal human rights and international socialism.


October 25, 2005 01:11 PM | Permalink for this comment

I'm with Juame: we're not a fascist country right now. But there are some disturbing trends that could push us there. So perhaps we're pre-fascist?

Philocrites' idea that Bush's recent totterings might be good news re: fascism has me thinking. But without a real alternative vision---not just liberals' no-saying---there won't be any real progress away from this, just a holding pattern. And I'm afraid that can't happen until we liberals get over our multiple causisms and find a common vision.


October 25, 2005 01:18 PM | Permalink for this comment

Also: Loehr calling it "political fundamentalism" strikes a chord with me. That's how this OKC native has been referring to Tim McVeigh's ideology.


October 25, 2005 01:58 PM | Permalink for this comment

Jesus Politics hosted a Q&A with Loehr earlier this month.

Bill Baar:

October 25, 2005 04:00 PM | Permalink for this comment

Bush is a fundamentalist in the sense his faith puts him on the right site of this chasm within liberalism per Nick Cohen in the Guardian,

...the great intellectual struggle of our time between incompatible versions of liberalism. One follows the fine and necessary principle of tolerance, but ends up having to tolerate the oppression of women, say, or gays in foreign cultures while opposing misogyny and homophobia in its own. (Or 'liberalism for the liberals and cannibalism for the cannibals!' as philosopher Martin Hollis elegantly described the hypocrisy of the manoeuvre.) The alternative is to support universal human rights and believe that if the oppression of women is wrong, it is wrong everywhere.
Bush made a fundamental break in US foreign policy and he's putting US lives and wealth into a Democratic Revolution in the Arab world.

He may not achieve it but he's been the most anti facist, pro Democracy President we've had in years.

Either way he's changed History and when the Democrats are tearing themselves apart in the primary over this, the Republicans will be above it all because Bush has stuck to a struggle for Universal Human Rights and Social Justice.

Kevin McCulloch:

October 25, 2005 05:41 PM | Permalink for this comment

Fascism is not a simple matter of business interests having too much influence over government. It’s the literal merger of business and government in a totalitarian state. Nobody on the American right is calling for this, and in fact the Republican hunger for deregulation is in many ways the exact opposite. Fascists do not go around trying to shrink government to the point where it can be “drowned in a bathtub” as conservative activist Grover Norquist famously put it. Like all totalitarians, they expand government to the point where a deranged and fear-ridden society can be controlled by propaganda and secret police.

Unless a left-wing writer is paranoid enough to believe that this is happening, use of the word “fascist” to describe Republicans is a big mistake. It’s factually incorrect, so it won’t win points with literal-minded pains in the butt like me who paid attention in world history class, and it’s too inflammatory an epithet to be useful with anyone else. If the literal connection between fascism and Republicanism is thin enough that you have to redefine “fascist” to mean something other than “totalitarian” to get the accusation to stick, why use the word except to scare and manipulate people?

Dudley Jones:

October 25, 2005 06:38 PM | Permalink for this comment

We have to deal with hard-to-solve problems in this world, and it is not clear that getting really angry and calling our neighbors ugly names is going to help the poor humans survive. Moral humility will not do liberals any harm. Some moral crusades make the world vastly better (more educational opportunities for women) and some cause oceans of suffering (private property is wicked.) It is not always easy to pick the winners in this game.

Bill Baar:

October 25, 2005 09:20 PM | Permalink for this comment

Be a little optimistic's English translation of a commentary in Die Welt on "Where are those Blood for Oil Banners when you need them" from a land where people new Fasciasm at its worst and a few have blood on their hands with Saddam's oil,

Once upon a time the smart people told us that the Germans and Japanese could not be Democrats. They said the same later of the South Koreans, the Taiwanese and Portuguese. Experts told us that history and culture, tradition, religion and ethnicity would stop democracy in its tracks.

Somehow democracy keeps spreading. Islam per se seems not to be a problem. Of 27 muslim countries outside the Middle East, about a quarter are democratic. And who would have thought: municipal elections in Saudi Arabia, women allowed the vote in Kuwait, opposition candidates for the first time in Egypt, a revolution in Lebanon, and elections and a constitution in Iraq.
When old orders die, the process can be dangerous, chaotic, deadly. Surely we learned this from the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the break-up of Yugloslavia. I hear Syrians now talking about the meltdown of dictatorship in Damascus.
Try telling them that the old system is good enough and incidentally more convenient for us in the West.
The old order is dying. Democracy is spreading. You don't need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.


October 26, 2005 12:31 AM | Permalink for this comment

I wrote a tangential response over here. (Usual WordPress to MovableType trackback problems.)

Responding to Kevin: While it's true that mainstream Republicans are anything but fascist, the Reconstructionists within the Religious Right are certainly theocrats, which probably means fascist too in this day and age. Plus, they have influence that far outweighs their numbers.

Bill Baar:

October 26, 2005 08:34 AM | Permalink for this comment

I knew people who survived concentration camps. I worked in a garment factory in Chicago and in the summer you could see the numbers tattoed on womens arms.

I knew people who were Socialists and Communists in Europe who fled facism.

I know Christian Evangelicals and I've volunteered alongside them in prisons and homeless shelters.

I live near Wheaton Illinois which is sort of their Vatican.

I find linking the two bizarre and unjust really.

...a cheap shot.

You can find anything on the internet but I have friends who believe abortion is murder, sexual ethics matter (e.g. not just homosexual sex is a sin but so is divorce and sex outside of marriage) and all sorts of other conservative view points. In no sense are they fascists and they would welcome all to their churches and in fact some are divorced and gay.

[I suspect there are more Gay Catholics and Evangelicals then there are UUs in total.]

So this whole conversation rubs be the wrong way.

Read some of the MEMRI transcripts of Arab TV and you find Syrian produced shows, produced under a Baathist party which can claim real linage to facism, and you see the same old facist claim that the Jew is the worlds problem.

And you find dupes in mainline protestant churches going along with the same thinking with the anti Isreal boycott and the rot is seeming throughout the left.

It's a sad time. I'm ashamed to call myself a leftist anymore. I find more strength for Liberal principles, for principles behind my Church's covenant; in so called conservative theologians now.

Oraina Fallaci wrote this, "I feel less alone when I read the books of Ratzinger." I had asked Ms. Fallaci whether there was any contemporary leader she admired, and Pope Benedict XVI was evidently a man in whom she reposed some trust. "I am an atheist, and if an atheist and a pope think the same things, there must be something true. It's that simple! There must be some human truth here that is beyond religion."

She got me into reading Ratzinger and it's very true. One feels less alone and returned to some solid fundamentals of human rights and justice; truths that transcend religion.


October 27, 2005 11:07 PM | Permalink for this comment

I didn't find Loehr's "Living Under Fascism" sermon convincing when he first delivered it. I still think his use of "fascism" is anachronistic, just as his use of "fundamentalist" is idiosyncratic. (There are profoundly anti-statist fundamentalists, for one thing.)

Loehr is polemical rather than analytical, although part of his rhetorical pose is that of the careful analyst. (I listened to a recording of one of his General Assembly addresses, and found him entirely engaging as a speaker.) That's not to say that he doesn't sound themes in the interview that resonate for me, but I don't think he's especially convincing overall.

For example, in his earlier essay for UU World, "The Fundamentalist Agenda," Loehr writes:

Just as it's no coincidence that all fundamentalisms have similar agendas, it's also no coincidence that the most successful liberal advances tend to wrap their expanded definitions in what sound like conservative categories.

John F. Kennedy's most famous line sounds like the terrifying dictate of the world's most arrogant fascist: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Imagine that line coming from Hitler, Khomeini, Mullah Omar, or Jerry Falwell. It is a conservative, even a fascist, slogan. Yet Kennedy used it to effect significant liberal transformations in our society. Under that umbrella he created the Peace Corps and vista programs and through them enlisted many young people to extend our hand to those we had not before seen as belonging to our in-group.

Think about that for a minute. It would seem that Loehr's use of "fascism" can describe both the liberal nationalism of JFK and theocratic illiberal national chauvinism. Can this be? Is Loehr, the critic of fascism in American conservatism, pining for fascist-lite liberalism? Or would he criticize Kennedy, too? I don't get it. Unless he uses "fascism" simply for its shock value: the F-word of politics, a way of shocking nice people out of their pleasant sensibilities to the crude facts of life.

What I wonder about Loehr -- and many other self-consciously "prophetic" preachers -- is whether polemical sermons actually accomplish something important while tarring their enemies with exaggerated or inadequately supported charges.

It is possible, I suppose, that a liberal church -- trying to reach a receptive audience they think they'll find among secular progressives -- would want to find ways to draw the attention of people predisposed to think religion is reactionary at worst and boring no matter what. Holy shit! someone says on hearing Loehr's sermon, I never thought I'd hear a preacher say something like that! I imagine it's possible that Loehr uses rhetorical extremes to build an audience for his religious message. After all, the alt-weekly in Austin recently named him the city's "Best Minister/Spiritual Teacher" (scroll down). Maybe it really does work that way.

I have my doubts about this approach, even though I see some version of it or another playing out across the country in UU congregations. The "blue state church" in many "red state" locations, UU churches often feel like safe havens for embattled liberals -- and so they play to that feeling. But I think most people head back to church, or tentatively go for the first time, not because they're embattled partisans in a culture war or ideological activists but because they've discovered a strange spiritual stirring. Their religious minds are not made up; they're exploring; why do we assume that their political minds must already be made up?

I don't actually have a better proposal, although I admit that I'm dissatisfied with what passes for prophetic thinking in UU circles intellectually, morally, and spiritually.

For the record, although I oppose many things about our Republican-dominated federal government, I don't think we live under fascism. I'm glad Loehr is willing to be provocative; I wish he were convincing, too.

Scott Wells:

October 28, 2005 01:15 AM | Permalink for this comment

Yup, Philo, I've had a similar thought about Loehr (and others) -- you are more articulate. In shorthand, I look at his best efforts and think, "how tedious . . . "

Liberals need to do better than be Fox News's evil (or good) twin.


October 30, 2005 10:53 AM | Permalink for this comment

Something's fishy when Lewis Lapham and Jonah Goldberg both use the F-word on their political enemies, says CJR Daily's Paul McLeary.

Bill Baar:

October 31, 2005 02:16 PM | Permalink for this comment

You don't have to look hard for today's facists. Here's Al Jeezera on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's call to wipe Israel off the map.

Ahmadinejad's not joking.

Jeanette Carol:

November 4, 2005 03:08 PM | Permalink for this comment

I just "found" this book and was blown away by the truths about our current administration. I was equally stunned when I read the comments on this site by people who object to the word "fascism" being used to describe the direction the U.S is headed. Pages 78-81 where the 14 "identifying characteristics of fascism" is listed is so close to headlines in today's papers. Perhaps you should not let your personal baggage about this word skew your perception as you read this book. Call it what you will but look at the American way of life that is being altered by the powers that run this country now. Look at history and learn about this path we are on now, and be afraid.

Robin Edgar:

November 5, 2005 05:16 PM | Permalink for this comment

Could you possibly post those 14 "identifying characteristics of fascism" here?


November 7, 2005 09:26 PM | Permalink for this comment

Links to the source of Loehr's list and a competing analysis by David Niewert are at my follow-up post.


March 11, 2006 10:45 PM | Permalink for this comment

Davidson Loehr gets himself in trouble embracing conspiracy theories, according to the Austin newspaper: He apparently claimed that the Bush administration had orchestrated the 9/11 attacks. The February 12 sermon that led members of his congregation to walk out is on the church website, but Loehr has truncated it — acknowledging that it was "sloppy and slapdash" — and links to a longer essay that takes up his political argument: "The New World Order Story."

("Pulpit politics divide Unitarian church," Eileen E. Flynn, Austin American-Statesman 3.11.06)

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