How to Fight Fascism Intelligently

by Benjamin Studebaker

President Trump was inaugurated Friday, and a lot of people are understandably upset. Many want to do something about this. This is a good and noble impulse, but I fear in our efforts to fight right nationalism we will instead end up its handmaidens. Let me show you what I mean.

During a TV interview, Richard Spencer was punched in the face:

Many on the left have been happy to cheer this. One of my Facebook friends posted the video with this accompanying caption:

Generally speaking I do not support violence as a form of protest, but in this case I say “well done sir.” This nazi, racist POS should be treated this way each and every day he shows his face in public.

But the right isn’t intimidated. It quickly turned this to its advantage. The Facebook page “God Emperor Trump” immediately shared the video with the accompanying caption:

What happened to #LoveTrumpsHate?

Punching Richard Spencer makes the left look hypocritical and it makes Spencer into a sympathetic martyr, a brave crusader for a set of unpopular views. He is nothing of the sort, but that doesn’t matter–the damage is done.

This problem scales up. In the Netherlands, there’s a right nationalist party called the “Party for Freedom” (PVV) led by Geert Wilders. Throughout last summer, PVV looked likely to win a clear plurality of seats in the Dutch parliament in the upcoming March election. In the fall the Dutch began to tire of PVV, and its seat projection numbers fell. But in the last two months a curious thing has happened–PVV is back:

dutch-pvv-projection

This really matters–if PVV can be kept out of the 30s, it should be possible for the Dutch parties to form a grand coalition to keep it out of the government. Why is PVV back in the 30s? Well, on November 17, Dutch courts decided to fine Wilders €5,000 for hate speech, and on December 9 they convicted him of “inciting discrimination”. Wilders immediately claimed martyr status on Twitter:

All the while, he boasted about all the free attention the trial generated for him and his party:

In trying to fight Wilders, the Dutch government aided and abetted him–this may well cause PVV to become the leading party in a governing coalition, spreading the right nationalist revolution to yet another country.

Attempts to confront right nationalism through force strengthen it because they feed into its fundamental narrative. Right nationalists believe that they are victims of expropriation by liberal governments which redistribute their wealth and opportunity to immigrants, foreigners, and minority groups. When liberals respond to these accusations with force and bullying, we lend credence to the false view that white people and white culture are expropriated and victimized by the liberal state. They claim the liberal state is implicitly aggressive toward white people, and in making the liberal state and liberal civil society explicitly aggressive toward them we appear to confirm this.

When I confront people with these arguments, I often hear a reply along these lines:

But Benjamin, we can’t do nothing! These people and their views pose an existential threat to marginalized groups. Don’t you care?

And obviously, I do care. But it is because this problem is so serious that we must be very careful to ensure that our response is constructive. The impulse to do something, anything, is what often gets us into trouble as a society. After the 9/11 terrorist attack, a lot of people wanted to do something, anything, to stop terrorism. Many of the things they came up with–the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Patriot Act, the TSA–were at best unhelpful and arguably wasted tremendous resources and worsened the political instability and economic deprivation which give rise to terrorism in the first place. Many of these people had good intentions, but good intentions weren’t enough.

To successfully deal with right nationalism, we have to know how it operates. There are really two core ideas at work:

  1. The Anti-Diversity Premise–the increase in the share of people in Europe and North America who are immigrants or from minority ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds is believed to be bad for white Europeans and Americans because it threatens their economic and physical welfare and security.
  2. The Core Fascist Premise–peoples are always entitled to redefine themselves to exclude groups which they feel are a threat to them or their way of life, and to expel or destroy those out-groups.

When those two ideas are put together, they legitimize political movements which want to restrict immigration, deport people, surveille minority groups, and reject legitimate discrimination claims. It’s possible to disrupt right nationalism by breaking the interaction of these two ideas. Even if people accept the core fascist premise, that won’t translate into right nationalist politics if we can get them to reject the anti-diversity premise, and vice versa.

Arguing against the core fascist premise is very difficult, because the people who have acquired it have a strong intuition that it is correct which we fundamentally do not share. It is for this reason that we often see people on the left claim that “fascism is not to be debated, it is to be smashed”–the core fascist premise seems so absurd to us that we often cannot even imagine how someone might believe it, much less what we could say to dissuade them.

The good news is that most people do not begin with a strong commitment to the core fascist premise–they start with the anti-diversity premise, and this leads them into embracing the core fascist premise. The anti-diversity premise is more vulnerable, because it is hard to believe the anti-diversity premise if your own life and material circumstances are improving even as diversity is increasing. And this is the answer–we must ensure that our governments and political movements always demonstrate concern for poor and working class whites and work to substantively improve their living standards, so that they are never tempted to think that diversity is bad for them or that we are out to get them. If we make the anti-diversity premise seem ridiculous, many people will never embrace the core fascist premise, and some of the people who embrace that premise will remain difficult for right nationalist movements to activate because they will not feel that it’s necessary to define immigrants and minorities as out-groups, much less seek to expel or destroy them.

With all that mind, here are my tips for fighting fascism effectively:

  1. Conspicuous Respect: Always treat white people, especially poor and working class white men, with respect. Show concern for their interests, and never verbally bully them or employ physical violence against them. It’s important not only that we treat white people with respect, but that white people recognize us to be treating them with respect. This means that slogans like “Black Lives Matter”, which are not intended as disrespectful to whites but which are nonetheless often interpreted that way, have to go. The same goes for “The Future is Female”.
  2. Parties For Poor and Working People: Never support political parties, movements, and politicians which allow themselves to be seen to ignore the interests of white people, especially poor and working class white men. Even if it’s not true that these parties and movements ignore white people, if they are seen to ignore white people they will inevitably aid and abet right nationalism. It is ultimately the Democratic Party’s perceived indifference to these folks which brought us to this pass–it made them feel “forgotten”.
  3. Policies That Benefit Everyone: When we talk policy, we should always emphasize policies that help all of our poor and working people. If a white working class guy argues that the policies we’re recommending don’t benefit him, we must not tell him to check his privilege–we need to show him how he will personally benefit, and if we get a chance to implement the policy we must deliver on that benefit and be seen to do so. And if we can’t think of a way that he’ll benefit? Maybe we need to change the policy so he does feel included.

These strategies aren’t cathartic. It’s not fun to listen to horrible rhetoric and handle it with conspicuous compassion. It’s not fun to think about how people who are not already part of our political movements will feel about what we say, and tailor our messages for them. It’s much more fun to talk to each other, for each other, to yell and condemn, to virtue-signal. But if our political causes are about more than our own self-satisfaction, it needs to matter to us whether the way we’re handling centrists and right wing people is helping them see our side or hardening their hearts.

We will not win elections or shape policy by telling the majority group in the country that they are privileged and don’t deserve their current standard of living. These white working class people have seen their incomes stagnate for decades. They should be our natural supporters–we should be ripping right wing economic paradigms to shreds. It hasn’t happened because we’ve allowed the right to tell these people that it’s all the fault of immigrants and minorities. Conservatives would rather breed fascists than concede any economic ground, and every time we self-indulge in the call outs and the bullying we invite more fascism. Fascism is not a game, and our feelings are not more important than the tremendous damage we will inflict if we keep closing our eyes, ears, and hearts to these people.