Flirting With Fascism

Flirting With Fascism

America has undergone a dramatic cultural shift in the short space of a half-century. The 1960s celebrated freedom from the restraint of traditional morals and mores and celebrated open-mindedness and diversity. Among the guiding principles of that time were “Truth is relative—everyone creates her own” and “No one should be able to impose his beliefs on others.” Today those principles are largely ignored by the very people who embraced them in their youth. The change is significant because those people now occupy influential positions in education, government, journalism, and the broadcast media. In short, they are in charge of American culture. And they are imposing their ideas on others without regard for other’s arguments and convictions and even, in some cases, without regard to legal tradition. This change is what I mean by flirting with fascism. In some cases, the flirtation has progressed to passionate embrace, as evidenced in these examples:

  • Certain words are banned from discourse on campuses, public forums, government documents, and classrooms. The New York City Department of Education some time ago banned “wealth,” “poverty,” “divorce,” “dancing,” “slavery,” “Halloween,” and over forty other words.
  • News agencies require reporters to use politically correct terminology. For instance, “illegal alien” becomes “undocumented worker.”
  • References to God are forbidden in graduation speeches and in athletic contests.
  • Distinguished individuals are either been shouted down while delivering speeches or pressured to withdraw from speaking engagements. The list includes former New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
  • People whose religion opposes birth control are made to pay for other people’s birth control devices.
  • Clergymen who oppose gay marriage are pressured into marrying gay couples.
  • Scientists who challenge the current “Climate Change” orthodoxy are denied forums in which to present their research and arguments.
  • Science teachers are forbidden to discuss “Intelligent Design” as an alternative view to Darwinism, even though many respected scientists hold that view.
  • Legislators ban the sale of soft drinks, the use of trans-fats and salt in restaurants, and the purchase of incandescent light bulbs.
  • The federal government is controlling people’s choice of doctors and hospitals. And government panels are empowered to decide who will be covered for certain medical procedures and who will not.
  • Many schools are offering, without parental permission, sexual instruction that many parents believe is inappropriate for the particular grade level.

The situation has become serious enough that even some who have themselves flirted with fascism have issued warnings. A notable example is former New York Mayor (and implacable food policeman) Michael Bloomberg’s 2014 Harvard graduation address reminding his audience that the role of a university is to promote debate rather than suppress it. What could possibly have made the cultural ruling class shift so dramatically from libertarianism and relativism to the kind of authoritarianism and absolutism at the heart of fascism? The answer lies in a profound error that became embedded in American culture in the 1960s—the error of rejecting insights derived from common human experience and articulated by the wisest individuals in history:

That truth is objective rather than subjective and is not affected by wishful thinking

That people are inclined to be egotistical, selfish, and inordinately proud, and these tendencies are overcome only by honest introspection and conscious effort

That self-esteem is valid only when deserved

That feelings can be noble or ignoble, helpful or harmful, and need to be tested by reason rather than blindly followed

That thinking, too, is imperfect and the ideas it produces should remain open to analysis and criticism in light of available evidence

The 1960s reversed all these ideas. The lessons to young people in schools, homes, and (most sadly) many churches were: People create their own truth. People are born wise and wonderful and deserving of self-esteem and the esteem of others. Feelings and impulses (as opposed to reasoning) are the best guide to action and should be trusted implicitly. Criticism of people’s ideas or actions undermines their self-esteem and wounds their psyches and should therefore be resisted. Not surprisingly, many people came to believe what they were taught. However, given the dominance of the human ego, they perceived the lessons to be first and foremost about themselves. (Not surprisingly, they came to be known as the “Me” generation.) Accordingly, they believed:

I am wise and wonderful and deserving of boundless self-esteem and the esteem of others. I should trust and follow my feelings and impulses rather than reasoning and logic. And to preserve my self-esteem, I must consider any criticism of my ideas and actions—including self-criticism—a danger to my psyche.

This is the perspective of many of the most influential people in contemporary education, government, journalism, and the broadcast media. Of course, they may not be aware they hold this perspective. Indeed, many of them still claim to believe that truth is personal and “diversity,” “choice,” “individual rights” and “tolerance” are sacrosanct. But in practice, which after all is the only meaningful test of a belief, they respect only those who agree with them. Those who disagree they demonize.

This perspective makes influential people arrogant and contemptuous of others and leads them to impose their ideas and values on others regardless of the people’s desires, needs, or even their rights! Such attitudes and impositions are characteristic of fascism. The fact that they are present not just among politicians but also among such shapers of culture as educators, journalists, and people in the broadcast media, does not augur well for the future of this country.

Copyright © 2014 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved

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Vincent Ryan Ruggiero