News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Fear, Control, and the New Fascism

Monday, May 29, 2006

Fear, Control, and the New Fascism

We face a historical watershed for the moment when the US is about to stray from democracy and become a fascist state. Perhaps the greatest assumption that underlies this watershed is that which assumes that America has a right to act as and be an empire. In the name of what morality or sense of justice known from our inherited Judeo-Christian heritage would lead you or me not to believe that the US' recent foreign adventures do not reflect that heritage but betray its very source? ...

I'll paraphrase Judith Shklar, a much underrated political philosopher. Shklar came to her views based on her experiences in Nazi Germany and the Nazi persecution and murder of Jews. For Shklar, the basis of any government is the use of fear. What a populace does in electing representatives is to give them the right to use deadly force in the name of the "people." As such, government is only able to maintain the people's trust when it shows that it does not misuse that weapon of fear and terror in unjust and inhumane ways.

Shklar is a skeptical liberal. This means that she is open to and cognizant of the many ways that humans use fear and terror for less than noble and humane reasons. Her model in this regard is Montesqieu, whose skeptical essays explore the diverse ways that people find to inflict pain and misery on their fellow human beings--whether it be by religious or political framework.

There is no denying that greater equality of power would enhance the conditions for justice, but many of the plans offered for its achievement are flawed. The single most serious objection to them is not that they are radical but that they are often so paternalistic as to arouse a sense of injustice. Though they aim at a more perfect democracy, plans for the reform of existing institutions often require remaking the citizenry as well. And who exactly is competent to do so? (quoted in FEAR AND THINKING, by Peter Berkowitz)


Indeed, who can change or remake "the citizenry"? Following Shklar, I suggest, and will continue to say, that the only way for any political system to work is to support an environment in which fear is at a minimum. The campaign launched by Bush in retaliation for 911 was over-reactive and unnecessary. It bred as much terror and fear as it hoped to stem. The US response was not proportional in relationship to the threat. The outcome, of course, is that the objects of that state-sponsored terrorism gain the rightly felt identification of their co-religionists.

Indeed, Shklar's words have most recently been echoed by Iranian human rights activist and Nobel Peace-prize winner, Shirin Ebadi:
Though democracy is inevitable universally, Ebadi argues that nations must be left alone to experience social crises, work through them and autonomously reach their historical imperative of free and democratic societies.Foreign interventions in the name of democracy, like the US occupation of Iraq, only delay the natural, inevitable disintegration of despotism, strengthen forces opposed to freedom and inspire hatred of external others, argues Ebadi.
The effects on the home front are just as disastrous. To carry out such a comprehensive foreign anti-terror program, the Bush administration has effectively brought on a constitutional crisis, threatened civil liberties, and bred a domestic environment of fear and distrust that undermines any legitimacy that the foreign intervention could have hoped to achieve. Instead of remaining the land of the free, America now stands on the verge of becoming the land of the fearful and paranoid.

One can only add to this laundry list of side-effects from the so-called “war on terror.” Perhaps the most disastrous effect has been the promulgation of hate-filled stereotypes and biases toward members of one of the world’s largest religions. Not only are these stereotypes untrue, they also effectively bolster the animosity on a basis that belies the religious tolerance which the US is noted for.

The stereotypes are untrue, for however much a significant minority of Moslems might say they support the Osama bin-Laden types, only a fraction of them actually think that terrorism is a viable tool for attaining their ends. Hamas and the Islamic Brotherhood are just two instances of a democratic trend that will gain momentum. Contrary to the caricature image of traditionalist Islam gaining the upper hand through the electoral process, the results in Iran—as well as countries as diverse as Pakistan, Morocco, Turkey, and so on--show that everyday Moslems want a moderate, mostly modern tolerance toward religious and political differences.

In such a context, then, what are the responsibilities of a world power? For Shklar, the ultimate criterion for any state is reducing the level of fear and terror in the world. Any country must do all it can to reduce the level of paranoia that only increases the deep-seated, mostly personal, animosities that individuals and ethnic groups have toward each other. Only a largely secularized and liberalized social framework can bring this about. But, again, such a framework must be built from the inside out, not from the outside in.

Summarizing Shklar’s views, Berkowitz writes (see URL above):

Shklar's liberalism offers no greatest good, but [b]it insists that cruelty, and the fear that cruelty inspires, is the greatest evil[/b]. It regards government and its agents as the greatest perpetrators of cruelty, and [b]it pays special attention to the poor and the weak since they are the most likely to suffer[/b]. It requires not weak government but limited government, government that is strong enough to devise and to execute "public policies and decisions made in conformity to requirements of publicity, deliberation and fair procedures." It recognizes that citizens must exercise virtues such as self-restraint, respect for the claims of others, self-reliance, and moral courage, but it declares that "it is not the task of liberal politics to foster them simply as models of human perfection." It rejects the idea of rights as natural or fundamental, but it employs them "as just those licenses and empowerments that citizens must have in order to preserve their freedom and to protect themselves against abuse." It is wedded to representative democracy, the ideal of political equality, the institution of an independent judiciary, and a pluralism of political groups and interests.
[my emphases]

I suggest that the Bush admin, along with its neocon theoreticians, betrayed exactly those principles that Shklar discusses: government going beyond its bounds and bringing democracy to a world that instead must find these institutions for themselves.

Strangely enough, however, Shklar is silent about the social and personal impact of economic systems such as capitalism. It is perhaps here more than anywhere else that real change can and must occur. For economics make possible certain forms of life (most specifically along the lines of resentment and envy); and it is economic interests in liberalized societies whose control is often beyond both the citizen’s and the politician’s grasp and therefore must receive special attention.

Until the architectonics of capitalism are addressed and modified, the types of fear and terror that Shklar puts down to personal moral and character lapses will continue to foster an environment in which fear and terror are the dominant modes of control and political machinations.

For a picture of what foreign interventions create, consider the following description of Iraq from reporter Nir Rosen:
Under the reign of Saddam Hussein, dissidents called Iraq "the republic of fear" and hoped it would end when Hussein was toppled. But the war, it turns out, has spread the fear democratically. Now the terror is not merely from the regime, or from U.S. troops, but from everybody, everywhere.

1 comment:

R. Gatres said...

Great post...too bad most the consumer sheep of America are more concerned about the latest sale at Walmart than about the loss of their liberty through the Corporate Fascist control of Washington.

Do you hear their bleeting...it is so painful to those who love freedom!