Calling Things Fascist Doesn't Make Them Fascist
Shocking if true
On our podcast Fucking Cancelled, Clementine and I criticize cancel culture and liberal identitarianism. As a result, of course, one of the accusations that gets thrown around at us a lot is that we’re fascists, fascist sympathizers, secret fascists, fascist abuse enablers, members of far-right sects, and so on. I say ‘of course’ because in general in the Western world ‘fascist’ is pretty synonymous with ‘evildoer’, and on the left fascists are the major bogeyman (with good reason) and a handy ad hominem. It’s also the case that people on the right, including the far right, have decried the sometimes illiberal behaviour of liberals in regard to freedom of speech and have often made use of the term cancel culture to describe this, so people with very little imagination understand criticisms of cancel culture to be basically a right-wing phenomenon. Further, I think it's just easy to make stuff sound fascist (watch: “Cancel culture apologists believe that justice should consist of vigilante actions carried out by morally pure people against a class of sinister manipulators who spread evil among the populace and hide in the shadows scheming. There is no need for checks and balances, due process or the rule of law, as the morally pure people have an innate sense of what is right and wrong, and the sinister manipulators are always guilty anyway”). Finally there’s the fact that a lot of people who see themselves as being on the left imagine that any socialist-sounding ideas that aren’t dripping in liberal identitarian language about privilege and intersectionality and holding space and so on must in fact be fascist ideas, because they have the idea that fascism is kind of like socialism but more evil and for white men.
I’d like to propose here, though, that calling things fascist doesn’t actually make them fascist. You have to do a little work to show that an accusation like that has any merit, especially when you’re talking about people who, like Clementine and I, and virtually all of our listeners and readers, consider ourselves to be left-wing socialists completely opposed to fascism in all its forms.
Fascism is hard to define in some ways, but luckily for us I have a master’s degree focusing on far-right studies, and I know that it does have a number of characteristics that political scientists generally agree on. And while many strains of fascism have, like the left, a critique of liberal capitalism, it’s a completely different critique with a completely different solution. Fascism isn’t simply a variety of non-idpol socialism or a socially conservative socialism. It’s a separate political ideology altogether, one which you can go learn about in detail if you like.
Fascism isn’t just parochial, it’s hyper-nationalist. Fascism isn’t just bigoted, it’s obsessed with racial purity*. Fascism isn’t just authoritarian, it worships hierarchy. Fascism isn’t just undemocratic, it’s fundamentally opposed to democracy. Fascism isn’t just conservative, it is exceptionally reactionary, often hoping to bring back social forms which last dominated a century ago or more. Fascism therefore is modern but it isn’t modernist. Fascism is virtually always strongly (and openly) attached to extremely patriarchal and homophobic visions of sex and sexuality. And so on.
So, if someone is internationalist, opposed to racism, supports egalitarian and democratic policies, and is progressive, modernist, feminist and queer-positive, as we are and as is pretty much everyone on the left who criticizes cancel culture, by what criteria could they be said to be fascists? The only way that would make sense is if you believe that the simple fact of not paying lip service to American-style identitarianism and the dysfunctional practice of cancellation is enough to negate all of the characteristics I just listed. And I think that is exactly what is going on. These people believe on some level that simply disagreeing with them on these topics is itself evidence of not being on the left any longer.
But these people don’t get to decide who is on the left based purely on whether others agree with their specific ideas. Indeed this logical sleight of hand of theirs only really works because their specific ideas are imbued with a consciously nurtured sense of unspecificity, of universality. What I mean by that is that people in the cult don’t know or admit that they are in the cult. To them they are just in the right, no pun intended. The ideas they have are not identitarian ideas, they are just the right ideas. The ways they treat people are not cancel culture, they are just the right ways to treat people. And since the right way to do things is in their minds synonymous with being on the left, they don’t have to do the work of actually explaining why someone who disagrees with their ideas isn’t on the left. They can just say: Wrong ideas = not on the left; and if you still sound like you’re on the left because you criticize capitalism, but you’re not on the left because you have the Wrong ideas – well, you must be a fascist, because fascists are the people not on the left who also sometimes have a critique of capitalism.
To say this is lazy is an understatement and actually isn’t even really accurate. It’s not lazy: it’s a product of indoctrination. People who carry out this logical butchery are mostly doing so because they’ve been trained to do so by a million vapid instagram listicles and the constant threat of losing their entire communities if they don’t do what they’re expected to do and think what they’re expected to think. Many of them are not even capable of reading ideas that conflict with their ideology. I mean that literally, because I remember being deep in it, years ago, and simply being too overwhelmed by the flood of anxiety, when I encountered conflicting ideas, to be able to read with anything but the most cursory attention to the actual arguments involved. So I have some sympathy for what that feels like.
But the fact remains that being obsessed with identity and permanently wedded to cancel culture is not ‘the left’. It’s the ideological position of a weird, fucked up, historically and geographically specific subculture which, thanks to the influence of its youngish and highly-educated adherents in fields such as media and education, and thanks to the pretty successful destruction of all class-based political organizing in North America, is now strangely hegemonic across pockets of the broader culture and across the online left. But it has never gone unquestioned. It has never even proven its case. Its power doesn’t come from the strength of its arguments, its power comes from the way in which it really successfully welded together its central tenets and its extremely nasty method of bludgeoning everyone until they pretend to agree – cancel culture.
This weird cult, which on the podcast we call the Nexus because we have to call it something, has nothing to say to normal socialists. It can barely acknowledge that we exist because we fly in the face of its internal logic. The only method it has for dealing with us is cancelling us over made-up nonsense or hysterically dismissing our ideas as fascist. But we have something to say about the Nexus. We have a detailed and accurate analysis of its ideas and its tenets and its tendencies and its ideological context. And we know who we are. For all that we are slandered constantly by the people caught up in this unfortunate cult, we have absolutely nothing in common with fascism, and we never will.
* I wrote that fascism is obsessed with racism. In the North Amerian context this is almost universally true but in the interest of accuracy it is worth noting that there have historically existed fascist movements in various parts of the world which considered themselves non-racist.
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