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Fourth World Eye Blog

Political Illiteracy

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In his December 1990 report Right Woos Left, Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates examined neo-fascist overtures to antiwar activists, and the need to confront rightist ideologies and bigotry by discussing the dilemmas posed by the transfusion of right-wing theories and research into progressive circles. Based on these discussions, Mr. Berlet wrote the book Right-Wing Populism in America, which focuses on the roots of scapegoating conspiracism in the U.S. and how it is used to mobilize social and political movements. In November of 1993, he developed an analysis of the relationship between various forms of populism and fascism and the relevance of these movements to the candidacies of Buchanan, Perot & Le Pen.

A decade later, these same problems resurfaced in American antiwar circles whose academic discussions had been penetrated by poisonous ideas promulgated by LaRouchians and other anti-Jewish groups. More recently, organizations like Sierra Club went through soul-searching shakedowns as a result of White Christian Nationalist infiltration attempting to subvert their board into supporting anti-immigrant legislation. All of which points up the need for greater academic rigor and integrity in the face of the ongoing onslaught of fascist propositions promoted by nativists such as Pat Buchanan and the bastions of pseudo scholars that support him.

As author Sara Diamond observed, “After years of living as an anti-administration anti-establishment subculture, many in the progressive movement know what they are against, but have lost sight of what they stand for. This leaves persons susceptible to allying with anyone else that attacks the government. This happened against a backdrop of political illiteracy."

By exposing irrationalist philosophies, racialist aesthetics, and anti-capitalist demagogy, writers like Berlet and Diamond assert we can have this discussion without uncritically circulating the conspiratorial scapegoating fantasies of the far right. As Monique Doryland of the Bay Area Pledge of Resistance noted, “We have to be clear as progressive people that fascists, no matter what their camouflage, are not our friends."

“The dilemma for left activists,” says Berlet, “is to sort out the various strains of fascist ideology circulating in the United States and the world. It is a dangerous folly to ignore the threat to democracy posed by critics of the current administration who also promote fascism.”

(Jay Taber — recipient of the Defender of Democracy award — is an author, columnist, and research analyst at Public Good Project.)

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