Sunday, October 16, 2016

Ethnic fundamentalism in the United States

From The Nazi Conscience by Claudia Koonz, pages 273-274.
Nazism offered all ethnic Germans, whether or not they joined the party, a comprehensive system of meaning that was transmitted through powerful symbols and renewed in communal celebrations. It told them how to differentiate between friend and enemy, true believer and heretic, non-Jew and Jew. In offering the faithful a vision of sanctified life in the Volk, it resembled a religion. Its condemnation of egoism and celebration of self-denial had much in common with ethical postulates elsewhere. But in contrast to the optimistic language of international covenants guaranteeing universal rights to all people, Nazi public culture was constructed on the mantra: "Not every being with a human face is human." 
Until late in the twentieth century, Nazism appeared to have been a retrograde political faith that lacked the potential to outlive its founder. While the idiosyncratic racial fantasies of Nazism seem as outdated as the goose-step, the ideology that drove it was the first example of a new and ominous kind of doctrine that based the civil right of citizens, including the right to live, on ethnic identity as determined by the state. Hitler founded a consensual dictatorship that was "neither right nor left" on the political spectrum but occupied an entirely different political terrain. Like other fundamentalisms, it began with a powerful leader and drew on populist rage against corrupt elites who had betrayed the "common man."
 On the basis of a shabby doctrine of racial struggle, Nazi functionaries and academics innovated a political strategy that did not perish with the Führer. In the second half of the twentieth century, the outbreak of ethnic strife and the emergence of populist regionalism during the breakup of colonial empires and the collapse of Soviet power made it clear that Nazism had not been a final atavistic outcropping of tribalism but a harbinger of ethnic fundamentalism, a creed that gathers force when modernizing societies are convulsed by dislocations which threaten conventional systems of meaning. The potential for racial hatred lurks whenever political leaders appeal to the exalted virtue of their own ethnic community. Against a growing commitment to universal human rights, ethnic fundamentalists broadcast alarms about ethnic danger. Evil presents itself as unalloyed ethnic good. Reforging bonds that may be religious, cultural, racial, or linguistic, ethnic fundamentalism merges politics and religion within a crusade to defend values and authentic traditions that appear to be endangered.
Donald Trump, it seems to me, is an example of the powerful leader appealing to populist rage, which he is exploiting to try to become president. His movement, if it can be called a movement, is a kind of ethnic fundamentalism, where the ethnos or Volk is identified by him as white people who don't belong to urban elites, people who are not black or Hispanic, Asian, or Jewish. There have certainly been white supremacist political movements in the past in the US, but I think that what we have today in the US is something new. It has definite fascist and antisemitic features: the accusation that Clinton is conspiring with international bankers against Trump, for example and attacks upon the lying media, which again can be an antisemitic trope. At the moment it appears that Trump is on his way to losing the election, but I don't think that the fascist tendencies he has introduced into American politics will go away, including the introduction of political antisemitism into the public discourse,

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