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The trouble with Jon Wiener’s review of American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, is that he doesn’t contend with the book’s thesis at all. He’s adept at the hack part — a quick synopsis and a cv of the author so we know that the book he’s about to try to undermine is a credible foe.

But then he sets up a whole string of straw men, and doesn’t even manage to knock those down, let alone the points he should have been going after.

I think the significant thing about this book, by reporter Chris Hedges, is that it’s one of several high-profile books out now (Dawkins, et al, preceded it by a little bit) that calls onto the carpet a group of relatively radical religious figures in this country and holds them to account for behavior that looks suspiciously un-American in the sense that it runs counter to Constitutional ideals.

The fact that so much of right-wing America resembles right-wing anywhere-else is not surprising (nor is it a great premise for a book, which is where I might have taken my own review…). You may feel free to pick the right-wing movement of your choice from any point in history to compare with our own right-wing groups — there will be similarities.

According to Wiener’s review, Hedges compares the rise of Christian Fundamentalism in the U.S. to the rise of Nazism and Fascism in Europe in the last century. The analogy is frightening, as it intends to be. We should be cynical and assume that Hedges has a point, but that he’s sexed it up a little for sales reasons. That’s his prerogative, and we should assume that much.

According to Wiener, however, Hedges is off to a bad start because: “the differences between today’s Christian right and the movements led by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini are greater than the similarities.”

He goes on to show that the methods employed by the Italian fascists were different than those employed by right-wing religous fundamentalists here. And the fact that Hitler was was “more pagan than Christian” is all he needs to deal with that guy.

The problem is, this reading of Hedges’ book implies that the only thing that made Hitler or Mussolini bad was their methods. If only they’d had better methods, it seems to imply, their reigns would have been so much better.

It’s a weak argument. Their methods were bloody, and John Ashcroft’s methods were, at least to the casual observer, less so. But the ideologies behind both the Nazis and the religious fundamentalists from Alabama to Afghanistan are basically dangerous for the same reasons, and in the same ways. It’s not a question of means, but intent.

And what’s really important about Hedges book is that, by luck, mainly, it’s been published in a welcome moment of freedom to debate the issue, rather than the tenor of a few years ago, when a relgious fanatic sat at the top of the Justice Department, and the lines in this country were as blurred as they ever should be.


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