Monday, July 29, 2013


Generic conservatism certainly isn't always racist, though you can make a pretty good case that it's always about preserving the ability of one group to oppress another. That admitted, I still don't see how you can get around the huge role slavery and its sequels played and plays for the American right. I guess you could get antiquarian here and recall how the New England Federalists talked about state rights back in the War of 1812, but states rights has mostly been coded language for racial domination ever since. Even today, you hear states rights invoked to defend fresh attempts to reinstate Jim Crow laws of various kinds in order to cut down on the black vote. Maybe people who are defending the right of states to legalize pot will start talking about states rights too; but it just doesn't seem like the same argument and, anyhow, the heads would never get around to firing on Fort Sumter.

I do think that critics of the extreme right wing often get one thing very wrong. Our reactionaries really are populists and actually believe in their own version of democracy—Calhoun also always insisted he was a supporter of democracy. Thing is, the democracy in question is what the poly sci types call Herrenvolk democracy, the inalienable right of the right kind of people to rule, i.e. white or white-acting Judeo-Christians. That's how you can simultaneously dress up in Revolutionary war outfits and yet go ballistic when inner city people attempt to organize politically or even simply vote—recall the enthusiastic support for what was a pure Bill of Attainder against ACORN.

The basis of deciding who is a real American is not always racist. Indeed, Justice Thomas can thank his lucky stars that the right has its own affirmative action program. Often the criterion of belonging to the folk is economic or cultural. Adults who use public transportation are definitely suspect—real Americans have driver’s licenses and this entitles them to vote. I was recently made fun of by a guy named Tex because I flunked another requirement. I had written to him that Denis Prager’s Internet University counts as a university in the same sense that my apartment counts as a dukedom. He woofed at me for being an adult who lives in an apartment, which seemed mean since I hadn’t make fun of him for living in a trailer. You can also be read out of the nation for liking the wrong kind of lettuce. On the other hand, if you don’t like arugula, live in your own house, drive a car, and are white or own 162 pizza restaurants, you belong to the People and own the land and everything in it.  

In the Year 2525

The signs held up at the ball game always read John 3:16, but the cheerleaders of violent revolution prefer Revelation 22:20*. It doesn’t matter if it’s our nuts or theirs. Both Christian and Muslim devotees of apocalypse await the second coming of Christ, though the Islamic version doesn’t feature a resurrected God—their Jesus as more like the slumbering King Arthur. An antichrist features in both renditions, though; and both kinds of apocalypticism feature the same characteristic incoherence and bizarre imagery. Even by the low standards with which we judge the rationality of theological ideas, they don’t make much sense. There’s a reason that movies like the Omen and Constantine have plotting problems.  

The Boston bombers were apparently influenced by apocalyptic ideas involving a vengeful army of believers advancing from Central Asia under the black banners of Khorasan. There's a huge irony in that. Islam, like other religions, has always had end-of-time fantasies; but there is no Book of Revelation in the Koran. The current prevalence of talk of Antichrist and Armageddon in the Middle East seems to have been partly inspired by the remarkable increase in interest in such things in the West since World War II. Our crazies call out to theirs. There are now Islamic best sellers that are counterparts to Left Behind and the Late Great Planet Earth. There’s surely also an element of convergent evolution involved here—Muslim and Christian fundamentalism share in the world-wide protest that Jeffrey Herf calls reactionary modernism—but the idea is definitely contagious.

Of course, just as not all Christian Zionists dream of war, not all Muslims awaiting the second coming of Christ are calling for violence. Still, the apocalyptic strain in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam appeals to the dark side of human nature and can inspire destructive acting out.

* For those who flunked Sunday school: “He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”