Date: Sat, 24 Feb 1996 03:18:28 GMT
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Subject: Scapegoating & Reactionary Populism
Written 8:09 PM Feb 20, 1996 by cberlet in
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The Buchanan campaign incorporates themes of right Wing Populism, Scapegoating, Reactionary Politics and Fascism

By Chip Berlet. 24 February, 1996

The Buchanan campaign incorporates themes of right wing populism, scapegoating, reactionary politics, and Fascism.

Scapegoating and demagoguery are powerful tools for reactionary backlash movements, and have been used effectively to promote a form of right-wing populism, which channels legitimate anger over declining economic prospects or uncertain social status towards scapegoats that are easy to blame due to the existing currents of racism, sexism, homophobia, and antisemitism flowing through the US social system.

Many people presume that all populist movements are naturally progressive and want to move society to the left, but history teaches us otherwise. In his book "The Populist Persuasion," Michael Kazin explains how populism is a style of organizing. Populism can move to the left or right. It can be tolerant or intolerant. In her book "Populism," Margaret Canovan defined two main branches of populism: agrarian and political.

Agrarian populism worldwide has three categories: movements of commodity farmers, movements of subsistence peasants, and movements of intellectuals who wistfully romanticize the hard-working farmers and peasants. Political populism includes not only populist democracy, championed by progressives from the LaFollettes of Wisconsin to Jesse Jackson, but also politicians' populism, reactionary populism, and populist dictatorship. The latter three antidemocratic forms of populism characterize the movements of Ross Perot, Pat Robertson, and Pat Buchanan, three straight White Christian men trying to ride the same horse.

Peter Fritzsche in "Rehearsals for Fascism: Populism and Political Mobilization in Weimar Germany" shows that middle-class populists in Weimar launched bitter attacks against both the government and big business. This populist surge was later harvested by the fascist Nazi movement which parasitized the forms and themes of the reactionary populists and moved their constituencies far to the right through demagoguery and scapegoating.

Fascism as a Form of Right Wing Populism

The European fascist movements in the 1930's flourished in a period of economic collapse, political turmoil, and social crisis.

"Fascism, which was not afraid to call itself reactionary. . .does not hesitate to call itself illiberal and anti-liberal."
--Benito Mussolini

"If fascism came to America, it would be on a program of Americanism."

--Huey P. Long

"Fascism is reaction," said Mussolini, but reaction to what? The reactionary movement following World War I was based on a rejection of the social theories that formed the basis of the 1789 French Revolution, and whose early formulations in this country had a major influence on our Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights.

It was Rousseau who is best known for crystallizing these modern social theories in . The progeny of these theories are sometimes called Modernism or Modernity because they challenged social theories generally accepted since the days of Machiavelli. The response to the French Revolution and Rousseau, by Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche and others, poured into an intellectual stew which served up Marxism, socialism, national socialism, fascism, modern liberalism, modern conservatism, communism, and a variety of forms of capitalist participatory democracy.

Fascists particularly loathed the social theories of the French Revolution and its slogan: "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity."

This is what fascism as an ideology was reacting against--and its support came primarily from desperate people anxious and angry over their perception that their social and economic position was sinking and frustrated with the constant risk of chaos, uncertainty and inefficiency implicit in a modern democracy based on these principles. Fascism is the antithesis of democracy. We fought a war against it not half a century ago; millions perished as victims of fascism and champions of liberty.

Fascism was forged in the crucible of post-World War I nationalism in Europe. The national aspirations of many European peoples--nations without states, peoples arbitrarily assigned to political entities with little regard for custom or culture--had been crushed after World War I. The humiliation imposed by the victors in the Great War, coupled with the hardship of the economic Depression, created bitterness and anger. That anger frequently found its outlet in an ideology that asserted not just the importance of the nation, but its unquestionable primacy and central predestined role in history.

In identifying "goodness" and "superiority" with "us," there was a tendency to identify "evil" with "them." This process involves scapegoating and dehumanization. It was then an easy step to blame all societal problems on "them," and presuppose a conspiracy of these evildoers which had emasculated and humiliated the idealized core group of the nation. To solve society's problems one need only unmask the conspirators and eliminate them.

One element shared by all fascist movements, racialist or not, is the apparent lack of consistent political principle behind the ideology--political opportunism in the most basic sense. One virtually unique aspect of fascism is its ruthless drive to attain and hold state power. On that road to power, fascists are willing to abandon any principle to adopt an issue more in vogue and more likely to gain converts.

Fascists have historically used radical- sounding or populist appeals and adopted themes opportunistically from conservatism, socialism and the labor movement, and then mixed those themes with theories of nationalism and racial pride. Nazi, after all, is an abbreviated acronym of the National Socialist German Workers Party.

As Matthew N. Lyons writes in his chapter in "Eyes Right! Challenging the Right Wing Backlash:" "Fascism's approach to politics is both populist--in that it seeks to activate "the people" as a whole against perceived oppressors or enemies--and elitist--in that it treats the people's will as embodied in a select group, or often one supreme leader, from whom authority proceeds downward. Fascism seeks to organize a cadre-led mass movement in a drive to seize state power. It seeks to forcibly subordinate all spheres of society to its ideological vision of organic community, usually through a totalitarian state. Both as a movement and a regime, fascism uses mass organizations as a system of integration and control, and uses organized violence to suppress opposition, although the scale of violence varies widely."

"Fascism is hostile to Marxism, liberalism, and conservatism, yet it borrows concepts and practices from all three. Fascism rejects the principles of class struggle and workers' internationalism as threats to national or racial unity, yet it often exploits real grievances against capitalists and landowners through ethnic scapegoating or radical-sounding conspiracy theories. Fascism rejects the liberal doctrines of individual autonomy and rights, political pluralism, and representative government, yet it advocates broad popular participation in politics and may use parliamentary channels in its drive to power. Its vision of a "new order" clashes with the conservative attachment to tradition-based institutions and hierarchies, yet fascism often romanticizes the past as inspiration for national rebirth."

"Fascism has a complex relationship with established elites and the non-fascist right. It is never a mere puppet of the ruling class, but an autonomous movement with its own social base. In practice, fascism defends capitalism against instability and the left, but also pursues an agenda that sometimes clashes with capitalist interests in significant ways. There has been much cooperation, competition, and interaction between fascism and other sections of the right, producing various hybrid movements and regimes."

The underlying theories of racialist nationalism, fascism, and national socialism are not widely known in the United States. If they were, it is unlikely that anyone would be seduced by the right's idea of an alliance to smash the powerful corrupt center, based on an agenda critical of government policies. This concept has an unsavory historical track record.

Adapted from Too Close for Comfort: Right Wing Populism, Scapegoating, and Fascist Potentials in US Politics, by Chip Berlet & Matthew N. Lyons. (Forthcoming). Boston: South End Press, 1996. Portions from Berlet's preface to Old Nazis, The New Right, and the Republican Party, by Russ Bellant. Boston: South End Press, 1991.

For Further Reference:

Margaret Canovan,
"Populism." New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981.
Michael Kazin,
"The Populist Persuasion: An American History." New York: Basic Books, 1995.
Peter Fritzsche,
"Rehearsals for Fascism: Populism and Political Mobilization in Weimar Germany." New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.
"Eyes Right! Challenging the Right Wing Backlash," (Anthology),
Chip Berlet, ed. Boston: South End Press, 1995.

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