Monday, 3 August 2009

Political name-calling

Some of my fellow-libertarians have a habit that annoys me. Not many, but a few. They tend to be American rather than British, and I suspect that most of them are very young. What is this annoying trait? It is the use of the words ‘fascist’ to describe those of non-libertarian outlook, and to talk about they way their country is moving toward ‘fascism’. I suspect that Aaron Russo’s film “America: Freedom to Fascism” has something to do with it.

In 1944 George Orwell wrote: “It will be seen that, as used, the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless” and added that it was almost “impossible to define fascism satisfactorily”. As the Ugley Vicar writes, “the use of the word 'Fascist' is (still) an excuse for not thinking, not defining and not engaging.”

However, ‘fascist’ is not the only word that is used in this way. In America the word ‘communist’ was thrown around in the middle years of the 20th century, and applied to people like Martin Luther King and anyone else one didn’t happen to like much, especially if they were not politically conservative.

Now I am not saying that all these uses of the words in question are equally careless or unthinking. But all of them fall into a pattern of seeking to apply derogatory labels to people. Daniel Hannan recently described how several people (Denis Macshane, Timothy Garton-Ash; and James Macintyre) are determined to pin the ‘anti-semitic’ label on Michal Kaminski. (Edward McMillan-Scott is another person who has recently sought to label Mr Kaminski in this way.) And to the ‘fascist’, ‘communist’, and ‘anti-semitic’, we could add ‘racist’ and ‘homophobic’ and a few more.

I find this kind of political name-calling incredibly tedious. It is basically about trying to stick a label on someone that will scare people. Some people do it with great sophistication and erudition, some are more crude. But it turns me off. Messers Macshane, Garton-Ash, Macintyre and McMillan-Scott may well not be knaves and scoundrels. But if they want me to accept them as men of integrity, they’ll need to change the way that they argue.


Gandhi said...

Some people call people fascist as a dumb insult, yes, but others of us use it quite accurately to describe, for example, Neues Arbeit (New Labour). They are a fascist party in just about every sense. They are all about the merging of government and corporate power, that's the key factor, but they have now even adopted some of the more circumstantial elements of fascism, such as nationalism.

Fascism - of economics - was simple the "Third Way" of its time:
Wikipedia :: Fascism

Young Mr. Brown said...

Hello, Mr Gandhi!

Good of you to drop by. But I think you overstate your case when you say that New Labour "are a fascist party in just about every sense."

The Wikipedia article you cite says:

"Fascists believe that nations and/or races are in perpetual conflict".
I don't think that this is true of New Labour. (Except in the sense that it looks to me as if nations are in perpetual conflict.)

"Fascism opposes class conflict"
I'm not convinced that this is true of New Labour, though they are certainly less enthusiastic about it than old Labour.

"Fascist governments forbid and suppress criticism and opposition to the government."
I don't really think that this is true of New Labour, either. Suppress, maybe, but they don't forbid it.

"Fascists advocate the creation of a single-party state."
I don't even think that this is true of New Labour. Of course, I may be wrong.

"Third Way" economic policy? OK. I'll grant you that one.

Gandhi said...

I have a penchant for overstatement, but the general point is that fascism is the direction of travel, and they (under Blair anyway) were totally open about it. With the [corporatists] on both sides now, the BNP have been forced to the left and other lefty authoritarian parties have started popping up in their place. Basically in my mind in popular politics there are fascists and marxists and positions in-between, but never all that far away from either and pulling in that direction; that is there aren't really any liberals anymore. :(

I suppose the difference with fascism is that they can't openly call themselves fascists; but Alistair Darling is/was a communist/marxist - why do people think that is that OK? If it wasn't for Hitler they would be called fascists and they'd be proud of it, I think that's the point.