17 February 2014

Postmodern Fascists? (1/2)

In this two part series I'm addressing some arguments that are being made which try and posit that Fascism was somehow a result of Leftist thinking and Individualistic philosophy.

These same arguments try and suggest the Emergent Church and particularly the Environmental movement are somehow philosophical heirs of Nazism, or at the very least flow from the same source.

While these movements are certainly worthy of critique, these arguments made by some well known figures in Conservative political and ecclesiastical circles are simply false and reveal either a real ignorance of the issues and history or worse, a deliberate attempt to mislead.

We don't need to twist history to advance our causes. Tell the truth.

But unfortunately when the Gospel is politicized, reflection and nuance are not effective tools. The goal isn't knowledge and understanding.

The goal is to win. And if that means crafting a somewhat dubious historical narrative, then there are many who are more than happy to do it.

I'm not sure if it's a deliberate counter-tactic or the result of genuine intellectual investigation but I've noticed a trend in Conservative Christian circles that seeks to link certain Liberal trends with the Fascism of Nazi Germany.

This may be due to the fact that some on the Left have marked certain emphases in American Right-Wing ideology as sharing some basic characteristics with Fascism. Is this a case of the Right trying to deflect the argument, of striking back?

Basically they try and reach back to some of the philosophical foundations and influences of Nazism and then tie them in with certain popular intellectual trends of today.

For example, they will point to modern Relativism in our society, the rejection of absolute truth and argue this same current was at work in the philosophical thought of thinkers like Kant and Hegel. They had some influence on the Nazis, therefore they see a connection.

It is universally acknowledged that German Idealism and some aspects of the Romantic Movement influenced what would later become Fascism. This is not to say that Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer or Nietzsche were Fascists. Rather this acknowledgement suggests that their ideas influenced and merged with other trends that would become the ideology of the Nazi Party.

To amalgamate all these movements and find them collectively guilty of the Third Reich's sins is to put it simply, a falsehood.

Recently I encountered another piece that seemed to reason that since Romanticism influenced German Fascism and also (in some sense) was the philosophical precursor of our modern Green movements... then we had better watch out, because the Environmentalists of today will in fact become Totalitarians like the Nazis. This is usually followed by some pretty incredible leaps of logic regarding elder euthanasia and the gas chambers.

These arguments are flawed on many levels but for those unfamiliar with the subject matter they may seem plausible or even probable. If you add in confirmation bias which has become both dominant and morally justified in Christian circles, then many will be stirred and affected by these appeals to history.

To put it simply, these arguments are confusing some basic ideas and are guilty of over-generalization. Often they're just dishonest and I must wonder if some who are promulgating them actually know this?

For example, was Hegel actually advocating moral relativism? He was, but the nature of what we might call Hegelian relativism is markedly different from the relativism that's running rampant in our culture.

Hegel believed that truth was arrived at through a historical process. He expanded Kant's ideas and believed this was a collective enterprise. Societies and people groups arrived at the truth and perfect moral models through the dialectic process. His relativism viewed the truth as being tied to historical progress.

Morality was rooted in the collective, in the people and it was a process of enlightenment and growth. This is not to say progressive as in liberal, but progressive in the sense that collective humanity was discovering the truth through history, moving toward a universal reality that would open the mind of humanity etc...

There are perhaps hints of this in our popular dialogue when we hear people speak of 'being on the wrong side of history'. It's this idea that certain ideas are being left behind. Although to be honest when that phrase is being used I doubt they have Hegel in mind. Basically they're saying that we crossed certain bridges, slavery or Civil Rights and that to go back is to cross over a bridge that was already burned.

Romanticism sought to find meaning in the cold calculating world of Enlightenment industrial society and wanted a return to primal impulses, old ideas, deep feelings and connections with nature that had been lost and destroyed by modern society. They (thanks to Mary Shelley) viewed modern society as a Frankenstein monster. Were they environmentalists? Perhaps in a primitive sense. Their ideas approached what we might call Environmentalism but their road in getting there is totally different.

They weren't approaching this scientifically as our modern Environmental movement does. For them this was a deep visceral spiritual exercise. This was rejecting the structures of modern life. They embraced concepts like the sublime which are not really present in modern Environmental thinking. They viewed the Middle Ages as containing a beauty and wonder that had been lost.

There are some similarities but only on a surface level.

Modern environmentalism is concerned with science, it views the world in a Materialist and often Utilitarian framework. This is actually the opposite of what the Romantics were about. The Romantics were closer to Pantheism and mysticism.

Some will say isn't all the Gaia worship essentially Pantheist? It is for some, but most environmentalists aren't approaching it that way at all. Mainstream Environmentalism and Green political movements are avowedly secular and scientific in their worldviews.

With regard to ethical Relativism, our modern society is probably more influenced by individualistic Existentialism than the currents of German Idealism that helped influence Nazi ideas about the Volk.

Sure the Nazis built on Hegel's ideas, capitalized on some of the Romantic currents about the land and the nation. Romanticism in a political context often led to Nationalism, but love of nation can also spring from other sources.

The Romantic era was a period of re-capturing the past, creating national costumes, erecting monuments, and revivals in architecture and music. Artistically it was a rich period and one of my favourites in terms of music and art, but within it were seeds that if put to evil use could bring about violence.


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