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Saturday, August 22nd, 2020
Instructive bad reading, Part II: Dissecting fascism with the help of “Might is Right”
Editor’s Note: This is part four of a four-part series on the white supremacist text Might Is Right and the history of American fascism. This series looks at how ideas stated outright in that late nineteenth century text have continued to have influence into the present day, from Satanists and Christian fundamentalists to paleoconservatives and right-wing terrorists.
Jump to Part One | Two | Three | Four
In Might Is Right, the author asserts that those who have things deserve them; those without deserve nothing. In the previous installment of this series, I said that Anton LaVey only hinted at the justification for egoism and mistreatment of others in his adaption for The Satanic Bible; in the original, the explicit reason others deserve nothing is that they are subhuman.
In fact, whole classes of people are found fundamentally wanting; the book is quite transparent about this. Some are this way from birth such as all women, all Black, East Asian, South Asian, and Jewish people.
People can be degraded further, such as women getting divorced, but the taint can claim even Anglo-Saxon white men if they believe in encouraging equality or empathy in politics or religion; or they become overly learned; or they seek solutions on a basis other than naked force.
With the possible exception of white teenage boys and their equivalents of emotional intelligence, a modern person will immediately notice the absolute disdain the author has for anyone who is not a rich, white, non-Jewish man.
“Are all men really brethren? — Negro and Indian, Blackfellow, Kalmuck, and Coolie?” asks the author of Might Is Right. This is ultimately more honest than what we got out of the Declaration of Independence or out of the philosophy that is foundational to the Enlightenment but elided now.
In writing, “He who is without wealth amidst unlimited quantities of it, is either a coward, a born slave or a lunatic,” the author provides direct justification for settler colonialism as well as contemporary capitalism. “If you have seized it and no one can seize it back, it is yours.” The rich certainly believe it’s their virtue that justifies their hoard, and they finance an unbelievable amount of media to convince us to ignore our lying eyes, rotting teeth, and depression.
“A woman is two-thirds womb. The other third is a network of nerves and sentimentality,” the author declares elsewhere.
Contemporary “gender essentialism” and opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment are fully summarized with concision in those two sentences.
In Might Is Right, our author has a clear audience; his “you” only applies to white male readers, just as his use of “man” and male pronouns are not artifacts of an older grammar but mean exactly what they say.
The book probably is not written for people who actually are wealthy but certainly for people who imagine they one day might be and whose class interests align according to their future fantasies rather than their present circumstances.
Now, because liberals and leftists share a deep desire to be correct, because we have a deep need to be intellectually coherent often at the expense of more useful material results, we therefore can be distracted into thinking this is an effective line of attack against conservatives, Republicans, and the right.
It is not.
In part this is because they’re valuing natural instinct and sense; that is, “gut players” in the George W. Bush mold. Or “Let established sophisms be dethroned, rooted out, burnt and destroyed, for they are a standing menace to all true nobility of thought and action,” as the author of Might Is Right says.
“A cult of action for action’s sake,” as Umberto Eco would diagnose.
But mainly it’s because people with right wing politics aren’t really practicing any hypocrisy; you can take them at their word once you decode their meaning by getting away from the euphemisms back to the roots.
Their worldview is wholly coherent so long as you realize only some of us count as people. The rest are subhuman.
At first glance, this can sound overly harsh as if this is an explanation unfairly demonizing a group of people you sincerely disagree with on some fundamental issues but have other areas of agreement, too.
“My conservative friend just has a different view on foreign policy than I do”; “my libertarian coworker has a different idea on fiscal responsibility”; “my evangelical neighbor has a good heart, we just can’t see eye-to-eye on religious issues.”
And to be clear, not every person on the right is a fascist.
But when you talk to such people and probe for the contradictions in their rhetoric, often stemming from their use of euphemism, what you’ll find is that at some point, they set aside whole groups of people as not counting fully as people.
You will be confused about why armed, maskless white men and women screaming at cops over haircuts was okay, but that people choked to death on the street, or shot in the head with maiming rounds protesting people being choked to death on the street, had it coming.
You will find it curious Ruby Ridge and Waco are bywords for government overreach among so-called patriots but not the assassination of Fred Hampton by Chicago police and MOVE bombing in Philadelphia.
It is not hypocrisy; they are just counting people and injuries done to them differently from those they don’t consider people.
This is why Patrick Henry, a slaver who trafficked children in chains, felt no shame in saying, “Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?” Those children did not count as people.
Henry was aware of them, supposedly agonized over them in private moments, but they did not count in the equation of liberty.
They were, however, a reminder of what the Founding slavers feared the most.
Though not from the United States, the author of Might Is Right is obsessed with slavery; he blends the poetic hyperbole into the literal antebellum experience so often it’s not clear if that distinction actually holds any meaning for him.
He is obsessed with hierarchy. The world exists to him only in terms of people who can abuse others without consequences and those who are helpless to stop abuse, so in a very sincere way, if you ain’t first, you’re last.
In the video essay, “There’s Always A Bigger Fish” from Ian Danskin’s Alt-Right Playbook series, Danskin lands on the core distinguishing issue of the right that makes otherwise centrist conservatives so willing to hold their nose and work with fascists over even anodyne Social Democrats.
When you view society as a pyramid, improvements for those at the bottom is terrifying because you can only see it happening by another group — yours —replacing them there. As the title of Danskin’s essay alludes, their fundamental belief is that no improvement in inequality is possible, just a replacement of who is the bigger fish and benefits more.
“Whatever the Marxists, the Socialists, the Black Lives Matter activists, or Democrats say when they talk about greater equality, they mean they will be masters and you the slave.” This is how people on the right hear such messages.
It’s the same reason why the United States was able to work with Franco’s Spain and South Korea’s Japanese collaborators after the Second World War, or push Pinochet to remove Salvador Allende from elected office in a coup.
And this why seeing a Black president deeply frightened so many white Americans, and why most could support Trump in 2016.
The author of Might Is Right says:
Anything that mixes up the, as they see it, inherent, natural hierarchy of people is anathema. For a fascist, force is paramount but simultaneously ideas have the potential to upset the natural order and must be stamped out.
Note that word “mongrel”: the most dangerous challenge is around breeding, purity of stock, sanctity of blood.
White fragility isn’t just about individuals responding to problems, it’s also the concept of whiteness, which in Louisiana at the time Might Is Right was published, all the way until 1983, defined a person as Black if their ancestry was 1/32nd so. Homer Plessy of the famous 1896 Supreme Court segregation case had only one non-white great-grandparent. Yet this was enough.
The author reduces womanhood to breeding potential, and the danger of letting a person who can become pregnant choose their own partner is that they might choose wrong and give birth to offspring with bad, non-white genes.
The Nazis picked up their eugenics program from extant ones in the United States, particularly California. We forcibly sterilized those who were institutionalized and otherwise “undesirable”, which in the United States meant targeting nonwhite people who could become pregnant.
Today, white supremacists have a fourteen-word slogan based entirely around this obsession with breeding and purity, and for that, those they view as women have a central role. Usually, it’s dressed up in kinder language of distinct but equal spheres of influence and the like.
Might Is Right does not even attempt such pleasantries at any moment.
It has such simple views on gender that suggest the author had few conversations with women that involved him listening to them. But his writing demonstrates how patriarchy is inextricably wound around white supremacy, even as subordinate white women are integral to supporting white supremacy.
The author specifically references French women in 1871 throwing themselves at what he describes clearly physically superior, less culturally effete specimens of conquering Germans. This is indistinguishable from similar rants today by Canadian Neo-Nazi Felix Lace claiming that French women in the Second World War threw themselves at conquering Germans.
So the ideology will simultaneously argue that women are drawn toward the naturally superior traits of strong white men but also the purity of blood is in constantly in danger from too much race-mixing. Ideologies of “free love” and reproductive autonomy for women endanger the future security of the white race.
This mixing up of hierarchy is as much an anxiety in Might Is Right as with Lace.
However, more respectable white supremacists like Stefan Molyneaux or more distant fascist-launderers like Jordan Peterson will make the same arguments about “enforced monogamy” so that liberal institutions like The New York Times will hear them out.
The basis of the incel (“involuntarily celibate”) reactionary culture and its resulting terroristic violence is not that these men are upset they cannot have sex.
It’s not even that they’re upset they’re unable to have sex with the women who meet their standard of attractiveness.
They will in fact go out of their way to sabotage sex workers who could provide that for them. They do this because they are not frustrated by their own lack of sexual gratification; they’re frustrated by the self-mastery of women.
More than a century before, Might Is Right expressed the exact same impulse but more pretentiously:
Incels are upset that women are not forced to have sex with them because, for them, that is what the natural hierarchy is supposed to be. The contradiction between what their ideology tells them they should expect and what the world actually is can only be resolved by violence and destruction, not introspection.
In the next installment of this series, which will be published tomorrow, we’ll look at why conspiracy, specifically antisemitic conspiracy, is the cornerstone of fascism’s belief system to avoid that introspection.
Jump to Part One | Two | Three | Four
# Written by David A Johnson :: 8:15 PM
Categories: Media & Culture, Series & Special Reports
Tags: Instructive Bad Reading, Lessons from History
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