American Fascists — The Christian Right and the War on America [Buy Now]

By Chris Hedges

Free Press

254 pages, $25

“Fascist” is one of those loaded words that gets flung around much too loosely. We hear terms like “food fascist” and “film fascist” used to describe people with strongly held opinions (and perhaps obnoxious personalities). We are inclined to roll our eyes at the hyperbole, but we do not challenge it.

Among political scientists and historians, the word “fascist” has a fairly precise meaning. It refers to a world view based upon a cult of masculinity and tradition, a rejection of rational analysis of the world or the self, intolerance of diversity and dissent, sexual repression manifesting itself in an obsession with weapons and violence, and a sense of loss and humiliation, which must be redeemed through violence and vengeance.

So it is not carelessly that Chris Hedges uses the word “fascist” in the title of his new book about the Christian Right. And he grounds his choice in the definitions of such scholars as Umberto Eco and Robert O. Paxton.

American Fascists is a genuinely alarming analysis of the way the Christian Right has subverted America’s democratic institutions and infiltrated its political structure. The White House is already occupied by a radical Christian who denies evolution, seeks to limit women’s reproductive rights, and has undermined constitutional protections on fronts too numerous to mention here.

Writing before last November’s election, Hedges said, “The movement has seized control of the Republican Party. Christian fundamentalists now control a majority of seats in 36 percent of all Republican Party state committees … Forty-five senators and 186 members of the House of Representatives earned approval ratings of 80 to 100 percent from the three most influential Christian Right advocacy groups: the Christian Coalition, Eagle Forum, and Family Resource Council.”

The Christian Right, like all fascist movements, is built on personal and economic despair, Hedges writes. The economic despair rises from the shell of America’s collapsed industrial economy. But Hedges adds, “This despair does not always rise out of severe want … but rather is the product of the disconnectedness and loss of direction that comes in living in vast, soulless landscapes filled with strip malls and highways, where centers of existence and meaning have been obliterated.”

What makes the Christian Right more dangerous than just a bunch of utopian dreamers is the strange synergy it has created with America’s corporate culture. A religious ideology that denies evolution fits nicely with a corporate culture that denies global warming. A corporate philosophy which has no interest in providing health care, education, or a clean environment reinforces a religious movement that believes all you need is Jesus. Not surprisingly, corporations such as Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods, and Perdue Farms have become major contributors to Christian Right organizations.

The ultimate goal of the Christian Right — or dominionists, as they call themselves — is a Christian America dominating a worldwide Christian empire.

The vision of nuclear holocaust, which restrains rational people and brought the Cold War to a peaceful resolution, only inspires the Christian Right. “These visions of holy war at once terrify and delight followers,” Hedges writes. “True Christians will rise to heaven and be saved, and all lesser faiths and nonbelievers will be viciously destroyed by an angry God in an orgy of horrific, apocalyptic violence. The yearning for this final violence runs through the movement like an electric current. Christian Right firebrands employ the language of war … and paint graphic and chilling scenes of the violence and mayhem that will envelop the earth. War is the final aesthetic of the movement.”

Hedges comes to his subject as the son of a Presbyterian minister, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and a New York Times foreign correspondent on three continents. As an observer of the Balkan conflict of the 1990s, he knows first-hand the savagery of religious war.

This is an important book for all rational Americans. Unfortunately, the people who most need to read it are the ones least inclined to.