A Movement That Must Invent Its Enemies To Exist

It is safe to say that Paul Gottfried, the current editor-in-chief of Chronicles magazine, is one the world’s experts on historical fascism. He has written extensively on the subject over his long career as an academic and polemicist. Therefore, it stands to reason that he would also have a deep understanding of antifascism. He puts that to good use in his latest book, Antifascism: The Course of a Crusade.

The point of the book is not to score points against the people who currently wave the antifascist flag, but to explain the concept as a historical phenomenon. In fact, the book is intended to be a partner to an earlier work on fascism titled Fascism: The Career of a Concept, which he wrote in 2016. This new book covers some of the same ground, with a focus on the movements that arose in reaction to fascism.

Those looking for a scalding critique of Antifa and its fellow travelers will be disappointed, as Gottfried is a serious academic and he treats the topic as a serious intellectual movement. The book is just 150 pages but it has 30 pages of endnotes and five pages of titles for suggested reading. In other words, this is a serious study of the topic by a scholar deeply familiar with the material.

The primary takeaway from the book is that antifascism has a long history that dates back to the very beginning of the fascist movement. Like that which it claims to oppose, antifascism has evolved over the last century, adapting to changes in society as it seeks to maintain itself as a movement. In fact, antifascism curates fascism now, maintaining it in the public consciousness, despite the fact that fascism no longer exists.

The old joke about the demand for Nazis exceeding supply is both funny and true, as Gottfried demonstrates with regard to the Left in general and antifascism in particular. As negative identity movements, they have become dependent upon their enemies. The Left, for example, is obsessed with the “far-Right.” For antifascism, this means maintaining an increasingly fictionalized version of their primary bogeyman.

Gottfried notes in the first chapter that modern antifascist movements have come to resemble the old interwar fascism in strategy and tactics. He observes that “Except for its efforts to identify itself with other forms of the Left that operated at other times, Antifa through violence and its ability to create extensive support systems looks very much like early National Socialism.”

This becomes increasingly clear as Gottfried chronicles the evolution of intellectual antifascism. The modern incarnation is not a creature of the old American Left, but a weird offshoot of anarchism and post-Marxism. The “anti’s” organize and dress like the fascist street gangs of the interwar years but decorate themselves with symbols and logic borrowed from communism and anarchism.

Of course, Antifa is a vapid and juvenile activity rather than a serious political movement, which is probably why Gottfried addresses it in the first chapter then moves onto the more intellectually serious strains of antifascism. This is the primary focus of the book and the material of greatest interest to those trying to understand what is happening with modern Western elites.

Gottfried helpfully explains what happened with antifascism in Europe. The desire immediately after the war to remove lingering Nazi sympathies quickly morphed into what should be called cultural genocide. Antifascists came to believe that the only way to permanently remove fascism from the German psyche was to erase what it meant to be German, which meant anathematizing German history and culture.

If this sounds familiar, it should. The current antiracism mania in America has become a crusade against whiteness. Just as Nazism has been used to shame Germans into going along with erasure of their identify, slavery and segregation are being used to shame white Americans into embracing the great replacement. Antifascism and antiracism are sister movements sharing the same worldview.

It is this worldview that is responsible for the current crisis. Gottfried points out in the chapter on populism that antifascists have come to believe that the evil of fascism, racism, and so on are the products of white Christian men and the oppressive civilization that this group produced. It logically follows that the path to a world free of these “isms” is to obliterate all traces of whiteness, which means the razing of society itself.

This is why the post-Marxist Left across the West has gone berserk in response to traditional populist movements. Antifascism and its traveling partners have become the religion of the ruling elites. Resistance to elite policy is therefore seen as a direct personal threat to the agenda of transformation. The spastic lashing out at critics, declaring them fascists or white supremacists, is very personal and, interestingly, very feminine.

This is something Eastern European critics of liberal democracy have noted and something Gottfried touches on as well. Communist antifascism after WWII was physically coercive and direct. Contemporary antifascism is more insidious and indirect, a form of psychological terror, rather than physical coercion. Instead of fearing the secret police, ordinary people now fear using the wrong pronoun.

The one weakness in Gottfried’s presentation is in his discussion of the nature of the antifascist state. He spends a lot of time talking about the fine differences in style and the major differences in philosophical origin, but he does not go past the superficial to examine the animating spirit of antifascism in the United States as the secular religion of the ruling class.

This is a bizarre arrangement, given that America has never had a fascist movement, beyond the parodic. European fascism was a creature of a unique set of conditions that have not existed for generations. Despite this reality, the managerial elite is reorganizing the administrative state to not only oppose a menu of “isms” but to search for any hint of them in the population.

Since fascism does not exist, antifascism must conjure it. We see this with the absurdly broad and hysterical discovery of hateful “isms” in a wide variety of harmless words, symbols, gestures, and practices.. Punctuality has been declared white supremacy. Black conservatives are labeled as racists and Jewish intellectuals are often called Nazis. Broadly speaking, fascism has become anything that vexes the antifascist. Even inanimate objects can be fascist now.

Organizing a state around opposing a nonexistent threat is a novel approach to governing. Thus,  antifascism has no positive agenda. It exists only in reaction to something and as a project to negate that thing—a thing that does not exist in the real world.

This is why the managerial state is becoming increasingly paranoid and coercive as it reorganizes around this imaginary threat. The lack of actual fascists is not treated as disconfirmation of the core belief, but rather it is manipulated into new conspiracy theories about the invisible dangers. In other words, the lack of proof is confirmation that they must redouble their efforts to thwart the threat.

Overall, Antifascism: The Course of a Crusade is an excellent standalone study of this evolving ethos of the managerial state. Read alongside Gottfried’s earlier book on fascism, it makes for a comprehensive review of a phenomenon that is casting a darkening shadow over civilization. If there is going to be a new dark age, it will likely be the result of the antifascist state collapsing under its own contradictions.

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