An old axiom is that the first casualty of war is truth. The facts of the matter stop being important, so both sides feel free to say what they like about the other and the issue at the center of their dispute. Similarly, truth is an early victim of partisanship, as the partisan is only interested in the interests of his group. By extension, one can say that truth is always an early victim of politics. The sides have their interests, which are tied to the people whose interests are being served.
Of course, what we think of as truth is tangled up in the language. In communist countries, the full expression of partisanship in their political struggles meant the language was often humorously dishonest. More than a few men were condemned to death for the crime of being “a bourgeois traitor to the proletariat.” In war time, enemies are described in the most absurd and grotesque terms. often, those epithets stick with the losers as we see with the last European war.
This connection between language and truth is useful, if we can step out of our own partisan sensibilities, in assessing the rationality of a society. North Korea is a good example of this. The gap between official truth and actual truth is so broad in many cases, it lurches into caricature. Iran is another example. Her leaders make claims that strike most people as deliberately ridiculous. This wild language is the result of a great gap between official truth and the actual truth.
Of course, this is turning up in our own society. We live in an increasingly unreasonable age, so the claims of partisans become increasingly unreasonable. The absurdity of calling Trump a dictator, for example, could be excused as fashionable exaggeration, but the people doing it are not exaggerating. Similarly, they are deadly serious when they claim he and his supported are racist, who want to bring back slavery. Their absurd language, reflects absurd beliefs by absurd people.
There is an argument that healthy politics will necessarily have a high degree of exaggeration, as the participants seek to persuade. Since persuasion is the key to democratic governance, the people coming up with these outlandish arguments are, in a fashion, displaying support for the system. They still believe in the fifty percent plus one model, so they pull out all the stops to convince others. Their over-the-top language is, in effect, a signal of their support for democracy.
Maybe there is some truth to it, but we have lots of examples outside the narrow realm of retail politics to suggest otherwise. Look at the great conflagrations on the streets of our cities this summer. Much of it has been organized by people who claim to be opposed to fascism. That’s their reason to exist. Like the communist of old, they oppose fascists and defend democracy. The fact that there are no actual fascists in America does not seem to matter much to them.
The closest thing we have to genuine fascist in modern America are the people claiming to be anti-fascists. The old commies considered capitalists and the middle-class as enemies to their cause. Modern communists have corporate sponsors, are loaded down with consumer goods and come from the middle-class. It’s as if they are on some weird vacation where they get to pretend to be left-wing radicals from a century ago, while not giving up their Wi-Fi access and vegan lunches.
Those corporate and political sponsors of the ant-fascists are defending a political-economy that would be very familiar to the old fascists. Our modern ruling order is a combination of political and corporate interests, with the welfare of the people being the stated objective of both. Large swaths of political power have been handed to corporate giants, in exchange for defense of their corporate interests by the state. It’s why every corporate ad tells us how much the care about us.
America is a fascist country now. It may lack the snappy uniforms and martial order one tends to associate with fascism, but the political-economy of the country is much closer to fascism than Marxism, Capitalism or Republicanism. It is feminine, bourgeois and passive-aggressive, but fascist nonetheless. It will not be long before the official creed of our liberal democracy is, “Everything for the community, nothing outside the community, nothing against the community.”
Now, it should be noted that there are people who occasionally hoist the banner of fascism, but their claims are just as disconnected from reality. Usually, they begin and end with antisemitism, as if that is the only characteristic of fascism. If their politics advance much beyond that, it looks much closer to a crude form of Bolshevism than anything one could classify as fascism. The fascists of a century ago would have viewed them as just another enemy on the street.
For example, one camp of the former alt-right that still goes in for the fascist language and aesthetic wants a centrally planned economy. They want one government bank to provide all banking services, like the post office. They have even flirted at times with the term National Bolshevism. Putting aside the historical partisanship, no fascist, when fascism was a real thing, would have embraced this type of economics. In fact, they would have rejected it as anti-fascist.
Then there is another camp that embraces the ethno-state. Richard Spencer gets the credit for popularizing the idea, but it was not his invention. The idea has been around in Europe since at least the 19th century. The Bolsheviks, of course, would have completely agreed with the notion of a unified people. They would have limited it to the proletariat, but they supported the end of the nation-state. The fascists, in contrast, completely rejected the elimination of the nation state.
Those are just the easiest examples. When you look around, our language is now disconnected from our political reality. The labels used to describe the various sides in political fights historically meaningless. Those saying they are defending democracy are in fact trying to eliminate it. Those who supposedly want authoritarianism really want something closer to a bourgeois civic utopia. Conservatives fight anyone actually trying to conserve anything and liberals oppose actual liberalism.
The madhouse nature of our political language has a lot to do with the rise of mediocrity to positions of power. Maybe nature has withdrawn her favor and we are an increasingly stupid species. Maybe our system rewards the ignorant. Maybe there is some other reason for the dominance of simpletons in our politics. Stupid people communicate in basic language, so they have borrowed the crude juxtapositions of the last century and repurposed them into new partisan labels.
This is what makes this age so maddening to the sober minded. Even accounting for the fact that objectivity must yield to partisanship, there should be some truth content to the partisan rhetoric. Their partisanship should actually be in furtherance of their interests or the interests of the group they claim represent. The lies and misrepresentations should have some purpose. What’s the purpose of “Anti-fascism brought to you by Amazon World Services”?
Another possible explanation for all this is Fukuyama was right in a sense that we have reached the end of liberal democracy. There’s no way forward, so people rummage around in the past for the outfits of the ancestors and then go out on the public stage and reenact old fights. Politics is now a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
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