You might find it strange that the American right is content to decry what it considers censorship on domestic campuses while also working to ban books in local schools. Don’t be.
While the two actions may appear to be dissonant, they are not. Instead, they share a core goal of anti-intellectualism.
That impulse does not stem from a vacuum. The banning of books and the attacks on purported excesses at the university level are each part of the same urge to diminish the value of education to further a political goal.
In his excellent work How Fascism Works,
Jason Stanley details how fascist politicians “justify their ideas,” one method of which is to “rewrite the population’s sense of history in creating a mythic past to support their vision for the present.” How is this accomplished? Fascists “rewrite the population’s shared understanding of reality by twisting the language of ideals through propaganda and promoting anti-intellectualism, attacking universities and educational systems that might challenge their ideas,” he continues.
The goal of that work, Stanley argues, is to allow fascist politicians to create a “state of unreality, in which conspiracy theories and fake news replace reasoned debate.”
This should all sound awfully familiar.
Focusing our attention to just the anti-intellectualism point for a moment, the perspective of standard fascist argument helps explain certain news items from the United States.
In Texas, state legislator Matt Krause wants to ban a huge number of books. Here’s a sampling, collected by NPR
. See if you can notice a trend:
Books on Krause’s list include titles such as The Great American Whatever
, a young adult novel by Tim Federle
, and “Pink is a Girl Color” … and other silly things people say
, a children’s picture book by Stacy and Erik Drageset.
Nonfiction books are also on the list, from How Prevalent Is Racism in Society?, by Peggy J. Parks, to the Amnesty International title We Are All Born Free: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures.
Cancel culture run amok? Censorship of free speech? Erasure of American history? Not this time.
The usual right-wing slogans are silent. Those complaints from the American right are reserved purely for the things that they either want to preserve (racist statues), or want to decry (bigotry not being welcome in certain halls of power, including universities). I’d call it rank hypocrisy if it didn’t lack a common theme and goal; instead, it’s realpolitik in the defense of a patriarchal, racist national setup that the fascists uphold as ideal.
Banning books at the early-education level, and demanding change from higher-educational institutions, are not ways to strengthen American education, or engender a curious citizenry. Instead, they are methods of control – not only of learning, but of messaging as well.
Through the lens of proto-, or crypto-fascism, the actions of the American right are simple to understand. They are part and parcel of the increasingly deep roots of fascism in the American political system.
We will have to not only combat its rising, twisting thorns, but deal with its larger ethos, that a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual democracy is a risk to the white male hegemony that we have lived under for so long, and thus must be torn down.
It is not a coincidence that we’re seeing rising fascist themes in the American right from the perspectives of propaganda, myth-building, and anti-intellectualism at the same that that the very foundations of our democratic system under attack
The American right is not as popular as it needs to be to hold onto power in many states, so reactionary forces have bent rules
to allow them outsized representation from a shrinking political base. They are taking control of local and state-level election operations
. They are setting the stage for a soft-coup that will allow them to foist a leader onto the country that it did not choose, but because they
And it will be a him. We know that. We even know their preferred candidate.
Much of the current American political drama is simpler to understand when we consider the state of play as a set of fascist apologists and enthusiasts pitted against a center-left party still beholden to corporate interests. You can see why, constantly, one side appears more effective than the other.
The American right is not fighting for a series of additive compromises, charting a path forward towards a more equitable, and functional future. Instead, these American reactionaries are demanding that we halt, and turn back. It’s simpler to extol past conditions as ldyll than it is to do the messy work of building up.
If I sound angry, I am. If I sound slightly hysteric, good. These are problems. We are in danger of more than mere rot in our national core; we’re under attack by a host of well-funded, well-viewed, political and corporate actors bent on consecrating their own genitalia and skin-tone as better, and more, than the rest.
I, for one, am not here for it.
All this reminds me of a little riff from journalist Christopher Hitchens. Before he became known in America for his views on religion and perspective that going to war to oust dictators didn’t quite count as imperialism, he was a simply a British Socialist, and opponent of race-based nationalism.
In a salon
regarding the period of 1945 and the impact of that year on the next 50, he said the following:
We used to, in our movement, in our pages, give the title “anti-fascist” to the older comrades, to those who had suffered and been through it. We never thought, I think, many of us, how soon we’d have to earn this great title of honor for ourselves.
That’s my take. We’re not just seeing a singular American president try to hold onto power through crook, hook, and tortured read of the law books. We’re seeing a consistent drumbeat of anti-democratic, anti-pluralistic, and culturally revanchist fascist thought deepen its hold on half the American political structure.
American fascism. Just as odious as fascism in other locations, but our responsibility as it is growing not in our backyard, but in our damn House.