January 08, 2007

Don't think the religious right is on the skids ...

... just because the Democrats won control of Congress.

According to journalist Chris Hedges, the religious right's agenda is about far more than elections. What they want is total political control, and to replace US democracy with a 'totalitarian system' — a system that Hedges compares to 20th-century fascist states in Italy and Germany. As a reporter who covered right-wing takeovers in Central America and the former Yugoslavia, he has some idea what he's talking about.

In today's Salon, Michelle Goldberg interviews Hedges about his latest book, American Fascists. It's a very disturbing interview.

A lot of liberals who write about the right see echoes of fascism in its rhetoric and organizing, but we tiptoe around it, because we don't want people to think that we're comparing James Dobson to Hitler or America to Weimar Germany. You, though, decided to be very bold in your comparisons to fascism.

You're right, "fascism" or "fascist" is a terribly loaded word, and it evokes a historical period, primarily that of the Nazis, and to a lesser extent Mussolini. But fascism as an ideology has generic qualities.... I think there are enough generic qualities that the group within the religious right, known as Christian Reconstructionists or dominionists, warrants the word. Does this mean that this is Nazi Germany? No. Does this mean that this is Mussolini's Italy? No. Does this mean that this is a deeply anti-democratic movement that would like to impose a totalitarian system? Yes.

You know, I come out of the church. I not only grew up in the church but graduated from seminary, and I look at this as a mass movement. I give it very little religious legitimacy, especially the extreme wing of it.

You say they would like to impose a totalitarian system. How much of a conscious goal do you think that is at the upper levels of organizing ...?

I think they're completely conscious of it. The level of manipulation is quite sophisticated. These people understand the medium of television, they understand the despair and brokenness of the people they appeal to, and how to manipulate them both for personal and financial gain. I look at these figures, and I would certainly throw James Dobson in there, or Pat Robertson, as really dark figures.

I think the vast majority of followers have no idea.... Unfortunately, they're being manipulated and herded into a movement that's extremely dangerous. If these extreme elements actually manage to achieve power, they will horrify [their followers] in many ways. But that's true with all revolutionary movements.

The core of this movement is tiny, but you only need a tiny, disciplined, well-funded and well-organized group, and then you count on the sympathy of 80 million to 100 million evangelicals. And that's enough. Especially if you don't have countervailing forces, which we don't.

If there's a historical period that's analogous to the situation we have now, it would come close to being the 1930s in the United States. Obviously we're not in a depression, but the situation for the working class is very bleak, and the middle class is under assault.... And if we enter a period of political and social instability, this gives this movement the opportunity it's been waiting for. But it needs a crisis....

How likely do you think a crisis is?

Very likely. The economy is not in healthy shape. I covered al-Qaida for a year for the New York Times. Every intelligence official I ever interviewed never talked about if, they only talked about when. They spoke about another catastrophic attack as an inevitability. The possibility of entering a period of instability is great, and then these movements become very frightening.

The difference between the 1930s and now is that we had powerful progressive forces through the labor unions, through an independent and vigorous press. I forget the figure but something like 80 percent of the media is controlled by seven corporations, something horrible like that. Television is just bankrupt. I worry that we don't have the organized forces within American society to protect our democracy in the way that we did in the 1930s.

Since the midterm election, many have suggested that the Christian right has peaked, and the movement has in fact suffered quite a few severe blows since both of our books came out.

It's suffered severe blows in the past too. It depends on how you view the engine of the movement. For me, the engine of the movement is deep economic and personal despair. A terrible distortion and deformation of American society, where tens of millions of people in this country feel completely disenfranchised, where their physical communities have been obliterated, whether that's in the Rust Belt in Ohio or these monstrous exurbs like Orange County, where there is no community.... You can't deform your society to that extent, and you can't shunt people aside and rip away any kind of safety net, any kind of program that gives them hope, and not expect political consequences.

Democracies function because the vast majority live relatively stable lives with a degree of hope, and, if not economic prosperity, at least enough of an income to free them from severe want or instability. Whatever the Democrats say now about the war, they're not addressing the fundamental issues that have given rise to this movement...

Even this long excerpt from the interview only scratches the surface of what Hedges has to say about the religious right. I highly recommend reading the full interview here, and then buying the book (or putting on hold at your local library, just like I did now).

Posted by Magpie at January 8, 2007 09:52 AM | US Politics | Technorati links |

For Long View perspective, I highly recommend the Appendix chapter of Up From Slavery by Frederick Douglass penned in 1845.

It is a hauntingly accurate description of a satanic christianity he experienced as a slave and it has changed only slightly in the years since.

Posted by: Chris Rich at January 9, 2007 11:05 AM

I was on this giving an analysis of the totalitarian nature of the right in the summer of 2004....

Posted by: Summerisle at January 9, 2007 10:50 PM