David Neiwert: The Eliminationists
Neiwert, David. The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right (Sausalito, CA: PoliPoint, 2009)
The recent epidemic of right-wing gun violence has made David Neiwert's The Eliminationists so relevant that it jumped over several other books on my to-be-read stack. Neiwert's 2007 series "The Politics of the Personal" (introduction and parts one, two, three, four, and five) became the opening argument of The Eliminationists. The subtitle has been changed from Newspeak and the Rise of the Pseudo-Fascist Right in America to How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right, and "pseudo-fascism" has become "para-fascism" throughout, but Neiwert's observations continue to gain in timeliness and importance. In April, SusanG wrote at DailyKos that:
Rarely has a book been released at a time when it's been more relevant than David Neiwert's The Eliminationists. [...] ...an understanding of the right-wing extremists now deeply embedded in the modern conservative movement is more important than ever.
Last month brought comments from Elbert Ventura at American Prospect that "Neiwert's commentary is depressingly timely" and his book "arrives in stores as if conjured up by the zeitgeist:"
Neiwert's book should serve as a wake-up call not just for progressives and moderates but also for conservatives who still seek to participate in the American pluralist experiment. Some may want to brush off the Adkissons and Poplawskis as deranged aberrations, but that would be a dangerous temptation. As The Eliminationists persuasively argues, they are less anomalies than inevitabilities: the terrifying end products of a conservative movement that has nothing left to offer but the conspiratorial murmur and the rabble-rousing howl.
Sadly, June is no different--the Roeders and von Brunns of the world are still trying to eliminate those with whom they disagree and terrorize like-minded liberals. Neiwert defines eliminationism as "a politics and a culture that shuns dialogue and the democratic exchange of ideas in favor of the pursuit of outright elimination of the other side, either through suppression, exile, and ejection, or extermination" (p. 11, Introduction) and notes that:
Eliminationism has become an endemic feature of modern movement conservatism (which, as we shall see shortly, is something wholly distinct from traditional conservatism). It shows itself as an unwillingness to argue the facts or merits of issues and to demand outright the suppression or violent oppression (and ultimately the purgation) of elements deemed harmful to American society. (p. 18, Introduction)
This differentiation between para-fasicst movement conservatism and garden-variety conservatism is an important one, and the sort of distinction that is far too seldom made by the subjects of Neiwert's book. As he has done previously, Neiwert takes issue with Jonah Goldberg's up-is-down/left-is-right theory of "liberal fascism," preferring the historical accuracy of the term as used by Robert Paxton and Roger Griffin. Regarding the "para-fascism" denotation, Neiwert writes that "Para-fascists are distinct form proto-fascists in that they lack certain traits of genuine fascists:" (pp. 27-8)
Unlike the genuine article (or even its nascent form, proto-fascism) it presents itself under a normative, rather than a revolutionary, guise; and rather than openly exult in violence, it pays lip service to law and order. Moreover, even in the areas where it resembles real fascism, the similarities are more often familial than exact. It is, in essence, less virulent and less violent, and thus more likely to gain broad acceptance within a longtime stable democratic system like that of the United States. (pp. 100-101)
He identifies three particular transmitters of eliminationism, from the fascist fringe into the mainstream: Rush Limbaugh, Fox News ("The cable-news behemoth touts itself as 'fair and balanced,' but no one has ever really figured out just who they think they're kidding," p. 73), and The Wall Street Journal ("the paper's editorial page has become one of the real scandals of print journalism, particularly its unethical predilection for publishing provably false and thinly disguised smears of various liberals..." p. 79). Neiwert explains how their rhetoric of demonization becomes dangerous:
The history of eliminationism in America, and elsewhere, shows that rhetoric plays a significant role in the travesties that follow. It creates permission for people to act out in ways they might not otherwise. It allows them to abrogate their own humanity of people deemed undesirable or a cultural contaminant. (p. 200)
America's history of largely racism-inspired eliminationism, from the Native American exterminations through the slavery of African-Americans and the World War II internment of Japanese-Americans, leads to the targeting of Jews, communists, and immigrants--as well as hate crimes against gays and lesbians, which Neiwert notes are "probably the chief manifestation of the eliminationist impulse in America today." (p. 214)
He is optimistic about the resistance of our body politic to the eliminationist impulse,
American democracy has not yet reached the stage of genuine crisis required for full-blown fascism to take root. (p. 123)
but cautiously so:
...the GOP has become host to a totalitarian movement that exhibits so many of the traits of fascism that the resemblance is now unmistakable. (p. 238)
We needn't tar all conservatives as para-fascists in order to treat these dangerous traits with the seriousness they deserve. Right-wing eliminationism may not yet be killing liberals en masse, but that's only because the fringe's virulence hasn't overcome Americans' antipathy toward violent lawlessness. As long as the hate talk continues, though, we must not let down our guard.