In her new book, Being Numerous, published by Verso, Natasha Lennard offers “Essays on Non-Fascist Life.” It’s currently only $9.98. Here is the publisher description:
Being Numerous shatters the mainstream consensus on politics and personhood, offering in its place a bracing analysis of a perilous world and how we should live in it. Beginning with an interrogation of what it means to fight fascism, Natasha Lennard explores the limits of individual rights, the criminalization of political dissent, the myths of radical sex, and the ghosts in our lives. At once politically committed and philosophically capacious, Being Numerous is a revaluation of the idea that the personal is political, and situates as the central question of our time—How can we live a non-fascist life?
In this post I just want to focus on one essay and one paragraph in that essay. In the book’s opening piece, “We, Anti-Fascists” (which I think is very strong and is an essay you might share with all your friends and relations), Lennard details her personal experiences “in the field” of protest (in the streets) as well as reflects on the historical response to fascism via a conversation with her grandfather about it. The instigation of reflection is the viral meme of White Nationalist Richard Spencer getting punched in the face during an interview by a masked person. The essay details why Lennard is firmly on the side of punching Nazis.
What I want to highlight is this paragraph because it strikes at something relevant in Bloomington, Indiana. It’s not the recent Farmers’ Market troubles we’ve had – though that too is illustrative – which was actually written about in the New York Times. Rather it’s that the economic and cultural engine of this backwater town in a backwater state, Indiana University, supports a kind of intellectual fascist milieu. (We might always ask, are institutions that support authoritarian hierarchies of inequality inherently fascist? That “inherent” does a lot of work there.)
Where does one draw the line concerning which groups or speakers deserve anti-fascist exposure and confrontation? We might agree when it comes to openly white nationalist activists–the Richard Spencers or Nathan Damigos of the world–but what about someone like racist pseudoscientist Charles Murray, or members of the so-called “alt-lite” who purport to not be racist, but who run in the same circles? There’s no Antifa committee or council that draws rules to serve as rails about who counts as fascist enough to fight; each community that takes anti-fascist action must decide for itself on appropriate targets and tactics. This constitutes an ethical practice, not a moral code. And it’s worth noting that this is largely a hypothetical concern: it has not posed a problem that Antifa activists have gone after “regular” Trump supporters. Perhaps some college Republicans had their “Make American Great Again” hats unceremoniously knocked off at Berkeley, but they were organizing and supporting a Milo [Yiannopolous] talk. And this is the Antifa point: to make consequences felt for organizing with or alongside white supremacists and hatemongers. Slippery slope arguments are distractions at a time when there are so many outright-fascist organizations at which to aim our anti-fascism.
Lennard leaves us the task of answering the question in our communities as to what versions of fascism we will tolerate. Indiana University has supported the speech of Charles Murray. What distinguishes Murray from other speakers who are AEI-sponsored (American Enterprise Institute). Which is to ask what is the ethical practice of those who support Charles Murray?
An academic on campus is fond of quoting J.S. Mill at anyone who disagrees with him about “free speech” (and the fact that nearly every academic or pundit on either side of our so-called politics will quote Mill at you ought to set off warning lights about how Mill is put to use): Mill tells us we should always listen to bad ideas so that we can discover they are bad ideas. That is an extremely simplified version of Mill’s argument. But fascism is not a bad idea to so many people, not just white supremacists or white nationalists.
[As an aside, perhaps one might also suggest, by way of extending this investigation of targets for anti-fascism, that Mill is lauded by that bastion of right-wing freedom lovers The Liberty Fund (founded and based in Indianapolis). This is not to say that Mill is not the greatest debater in the history of “reason” – but for me, it just seems that his availability to the intellectuals who support hate negates his value as an arbiter of “liberty”.]
It may seem odd to you, but fascism was once deemed acceptable as a way to fight communism and anti-capitalism. Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek thought so and their ideas are promulgated by those great capitalists who fund right-wing think tanks and support “money” as speech. This tells us something about capitalism, doesn’t it?
Compounding all this is the simple fact that middle class, middling-educated, municipal-minded, business-class people support “speech” as an essential “good.” Of course, they are not the ones threatened by fascists. And it’s these folks who “run” our communities. They might be called “moderates.” They might be called “liberals.” The problem of liberalism is that it never takes a stand on any value system or ethical practice. Well that’s not quite true. Liberalism stands for money as an arbiter of an aggregate “good.” That’s it I think. Feel free to argue.
Lennard tasks us with agreeing on ethical practices in our community. Do we agree that we should allow fascist speech and fascist actions in our community? Are we able to even be clear on what is “fascist”? This might be impossible in America as capitalism and fascism are so near to each other in practice. Think about that for a while.