Friday, 31 October 2014

Discussing fascism in Bucharest with the imagologists

Today is the horrible commercial festival of Hallowe'en and an opportunity for fun and parties and to scare ourselves with bogeymen. Or bogey persons. But we do this all the year round and the chief bogeyman is fascism.

Fascism is no danger in Europe for the next twenty years - but fear of fascism is a danger and is to blame for very many bad things. I discovered that it is incredibly prevalent among academics. I was with thirty of them at a conference in Bucharest on Imagological Stereotypes at the weekend. A wonderful occasion, by the way, to meet clever academics and throw around ideas, but they all seem to be sniffy about 'stereotypes', whatever they are exactly, and to disapprove strongly of national stereotypes.

One distinguished professor of Imagology, who had delivered a good talk on 'nationalist discourse', Joep, was saying he has been thinking for years about this and slowly realised that we think dictatorships begin with a putsch but they can come slowly and unnoticed. I warmly agreed and mentioned loss of freedom of speech. He looked at me sharply and asked for examples. 

I gave two from the UK, though I could have given very many: the putative new law to make sexual harassment online an offence punishable with two years in gaol and the story of the man who went to prison for two months for saying on Twitter that he hoped a footballer who was in a coma would die. Joep was in favour of these laws. 

He brought up the subject of Geert Wilders who, Joep said, asked a crowd if they wanted fewer Moroccans in Holland and was prosecuted for racism. When I said that  in a democratic society any political programme should be allowed, 'We have judges who decide these things' Joep said with great severity. He is very pleased about the prosecution. I felt very much that I would not like to be a defendant coming up before Joep as a judge.

What becomes clearer as I think about this is that it is Joep who, from the best of intentions, is becoming a fascist.

Unfortunately, he speaks for most academics in humanities who see nationalism as a purely negative thing. What is sad is that these people really do believe in a grave threat from the anti immigration right (why?) and are generals fighting the last war. They don't realise that evil morphs and the lessons they learn from Nazism are the wrong ones anyway. For example the lesson we have drawn from the Nazis is that ethnically mixed societies are ipso facto good things rather than ipso facto volatile things.

When I was growing up in the cold war fascism was hated for many reasons but principally as an enemy of freedom and democracy, together with communism, but nowadays it is the racial aspects of Nazism which are what drives anti-fascism. This is fine - but concerns about freedom and democracy take a somewhat distant second place and this is worrying. In fact freedom is deeply unfashionable these days, despite or because of anti-fascism. Freedom's mortal foe, equality, was never more in fashion.

I noticed for the first time that Joep's hair was slightly longer than is normal and brushed over his ears. in the 1970s it had been much longer and he is old enough to remember the revolutionary year of 1968. I used to think that the 1968-ers had lost when communism collapsed and free market economics became generally accepted. In fact, these two things were a liberation for the left which is more powerful than ever before in history. As Geert Wilders is discovering.

No comments:

Post a Comment