CHARACTERISTICS OF RIGHT WING POPULISM
Chip Berlet and Matthew N Lyons in “Right Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort.” New York, NY: Guilford Press, 2000, pp 6-13.
One of the staples of repressive and right-wing populist ideology has been producerism, a doctrine that champions the so-called producers in society against both “unproductive” elites and subordinate groups defined as lazy or immoral… White farmers, laborers, artisans, slave-owning planters, and “productive” entrepreneurs; it excluded bankers, speculators, monopolists – and people of color. In this way, producerism bolstered White supremacy, blurred actual class divisions, and embraced some elite groups while scapegoating others…
In the 1920s industrial philosophy of Henry Ford, and Father Coughlin’s fascist doctrine in the 1930s, producerism fused with anti-Semitic attacks against “parasitic” Jews. Producerism, with its baggage of prejudice, remains today the most common populist narrative on the right, and it facilitates the use of demonization and scapegoating as political tools (Saxon, A “Rise and Fall of the White Republic, p 313).
2. Demonization and Scapegoating
Jean Hardesty argues that the contemporary Right has frequently relied on “mobilizing resentment” as an organizing process (Hardesty, JV. “Mobilizing Resentment: Conservative Resurgence from the John Birch Society to the Promise Keepers”. Boston, MA: Beacon, 1999).
Demonization of an enemy often begins with marginalization, the ideological process in which targeted individuals or groups are placed outside the circle of wholesome mainstream society through political propaganda and age-old prejudice. This creates an us-them or good-bad dynamic of dualism, which acknowledges no complexity or nuance and forecloses meaningful civil debate or practical political compromise.
The next step is objectification or dehumanization, the process of negatively labeling a person or group of people so they become perceived more as objects than as real people. Dehumanization often is associated with the belief that a particular group of people is inferior or threatening. The final step is demonization, the person or group is framed as totally malevolent, sinful and evil. It is easier to rationalize stereotyping, prejudice, discrimination, scapegoating and even violence against those who are dehumanized or demonized (Aho,JA. “Phenomenology of the Enemy.” Seattle: University of Washington Press, pp. 107 -121. Young-Breuhl, E. “Anatomy of Prejudices.” Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univerisity Press, 1996.).
The word scapegoat has evolved to mean a person or group wrongfully blamed for some problem, especially for other people’s misdeeds.
We use the term scapegoating to describe the social process whereby the hostility and grievances of an angry, frustrated group are directed away from the real causes of a social problem onto a target group demonized as malevolent wrongdoers. The scapegoat bears the blame, while the scapegoaters feel a sense of righteousness and increased unity. The social problem may be real or imaginary, the grievances legitimate or illegitimate, and members of the targeted group may be wholly innocent or partly culpable. What matters is that the scapegoats are wrongfully stereotyped as all sharing the same negative trait, or are singled out for blame while other major culprits are left off the hook (Alport, GW. “Nature of Prejudice,” Cambridge MA: Addison-Westley, 1954, pp 243-260. Girard,R. “The Scapegoat.” Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 1986.).
Scapegoating often targets socially disempowered or marginalized groups. At the same time, the scapegoat is often portrayed as powerful or privileged. In this way, scapegoating feeds on people’s anger about their own disempowerment but diverts this anger way from the real systems of power and oppression. A certain level of scapegoating is endemic in most societies, but it more readily becomes an important political force in times of social competition or upheaval. At such times, especially, scapgoating can be an effective way to mobilize mass support and activism during a struggle for power.
Conspiracism is a particular narrative form of scapegoating that frames the enemy as part of a vast, insidious plot against the common good, while it valorizes the scapegoater as a hero for sounding the alarm. Like other forms of scapegoating, conspiracism often, though not always, targets oppressed or stigmatized groups. In many cases, conspiracism uses coded language to mask ethnic or racial bigotry, for example, attacking the Federal Reserve in was that evoke common stereotypes about “Jewish bankers.” Far right groups have often used such conspiracy theories as an opening wedge for more explicit hate ideology.
Conspiracism differs in several ways from legitimate efforts to expose secret plots. First, the conspiracist worldview assigns tiny cabals of evildoers with superhuman power to control events; it regards such plots as the major motor of history. Conspiracism blames individualized and subjective forces for political, economic, and social problems rather than analyzing conflict in terms of systems, institutions, and structures of power.
Second, conspiracism tends to frame social conflict in terms of a transcendent struggle between Good and Evil that reflects the influence of the apocalyptic paradigm.
Third, in its efforts to trace all wrongdoing to one vast plot, conspiracism plays fast and loose with the facts. While conspiracy theorists often start with a grain of truth and “document” their claims exhaustively, they make leaps of logic in analyzing evidence, such as seeing guilt by association or treating allegations as proven fact (Hofstadter, R. “Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays.” New York, NY: Knopf, 1965, pp 37-38.).
Conspiracist attacks can be directed either “upward” or “downward.” Antielite conspiracism (or antielite scapegoating) targets groups seen as sinister elites abusing their power from above. Countersubversive scapegoating targets groups portrayed as subversives trying to overturn the established order the established order from below or from within…
What these versions share, and what especially defines antielite conspiracism, is that the scapegoat is seen as a subjective, alien force that distorts the normal workings of society. Thus, despite its “radical” veneer, antielite conspiracism shares the mainstream assumptions that the United States is fundamentally democratic, and that any injustice results from selfish special interest groups, not from underlying systems of power and oppression.
As Donner argued, “In a period of social and economic change during which traditional institutions are under the greatest strain, the need for the myth is especially strong as a means of transferring blame, and outlet for the despair [people] face when normal channels of protest and change are closed (Donner, FJ. “Age of Surveillance: The Aims and Methods of America’s Political Intelligence System.” New York, NY: Knopf, 1980, pg 11.) In these ways, countersubversive scapegoating has played an important role in this country’s system of social control, bolstering elite privilege and power.
4. Apocalyptic Narratives & Millennial Visions
Apocalypticism – the anticipation of a righteous struggle against evil conspiracies – has influenced social and political movements throughout US History.
In its generic sense, the word apocalypse has come to mean the belief in an approaching confrontation, cataclysmic event, or transformation of epochal proportion, about which a select few have forewarning so they can make appropriate preparations. Those who believe in a coming apocalypse might be optimistic about the outcome of the apocalyptic moment, anticipating a chance for positive transformational change; or they might be pessimistic, anticipating a doomsday; or they might anticipate a period of violence or chaos with an uncertain outcome (Bromley, DG. “Constructing Apocalysm.” pp 31-45. Wessinger, C “Millennialism With and Without Mayhem.” pp 47-59. Both in Robbins, T & Palmer, SJ (ed.). “Millennium, Messiahs and Mayhem: Contemporary Apocalyptic Movements.” New York, NY: Routledge, 1997.).
Millennialism is a specific form of apocalyptic expectation. Most contemporary Christian fundamentalists believe that when Christ returns, He will reign for a period of 1,000 years – a millennium. Yet not all contemporary Christians promote apocalyptic demonization. Within Christianity, there are two competing views of how to interpret the apocalyptic and millennial themes in the Bible, especially the book of Revelation. One view identifies evil with specific persons or groups, seeking to identify those in league with the Devil. A more optimistic form of interpreting apolcalyptic prophecy is promoted by Christians who see evil in the will to dominate and oppress. Apocalyptic thinking, in this case, seeks justice for the poor and weak. The two interpretations represent a deep division within Christianity. The dangerous form of millennialism comes not from Christianity per se, but from Christians who combine biblical literalism, apocalyptic timetables, demonization and oppressive prejudices…
These social movements sought to influence public policy, social conduct, and cultural attitudes, sometimes coming into conflict with the established order and state power.
A few years ago, I read “Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies” by Buruma and Margalit. Written in the wake of 9/11/01 and the start of the U.S. War with Iraq, and just as I completed a paper on totalitarian idealism in the church, I found the parallels staggering. I’d misplaced the book and just recently turned it up again. (I was amazed, because I did not remember the number of notes and red pen marks I’d made in the book on my first time through it four years ago.)
Though the book discusses how the Middle Eastern and Asian Peoples view the people of the West, the patterns of idealogical totalism always seem to hold true, no matter what the application. (“The dehumanizing picture of the West painted by its enemies is what we have called Occidentalism,” pg 5.) Robert Lifton defined many of these same trends in occidentalism when he wrote the gold standard of the patterns our idealism falls into the trappings of uniformity, even within the Christian Faith. Just as the works of the flesh which war against the Spirit of God manifest the same way in the human heart, so the patterns of our human drive for uniformity pulls us into these same common patterns that manifest as thought reform. Some have referred to many different types of political groups and groups of intolerant Christians as the “Christian Taliban,” and they are not far off. Though the Taliban follows Islam which is much opposed to the Christian faith, astute people readily identify the similar patterns of control and coerced uniformity demanded by the followers of both groups.
The last time that I read this book, I did not fully appreciate the high level of hatred that the patriocentrist/patriarchy movement within the Evangelical Christian Church holds towards the Enlightenment. As I studied this movement in greater depth, I read the writings of many from the Confederate South and the modern neoconfederates within this modern movement that is so popular among homeschoolers. The earlier groups of Christian Reconstructionists (which contains this subgroup of neoconfederates) did not express the vehement opposition to Enlightenment thinkers that men like Dabney penned in his "Defense of Virginia and the South." With this consideration, I recognized even more parallels between the patterns of intolerant religious fundamentalism in the East and those among some groups of American Evangelicals, those whom the Late John Robbins called “ersatz evangelicals.” In addition to the hatred of cities and industrialization, there is also the dehumanization and exclusionary thought that many of those who call themselves Calvinists profess wherein they exploit and abuse election as a means of rejecting both sinner and fellow Christian as damned by God and worthy of suffering, exploitation and even death in some cases. (They will have it in the life to come for God hates them, so why prolong their living?) Rather than blessing our enemies and giving an account of our faith in meekness and patience, they call for imprecatory personal prayer (against specific people and not principalities or spiritual forces) rejoicing in the eternal damnation of those whom they perceive fall outside of their privileged group.
Here are a few selected quotes from the first chapter of the book that caught my attention, showing the common themes within Eastern and Middle Eastern Thought and the Christian Agrarian Movement:
[Concerning the Japanese intellectuals circa 1942] Westernization, one opined, was like a disease that had infected the Japanese spirit...There was much talk about unhealthy specialization in knowledge, which had splintered the wholeness of Oriental spiritual culture. Science was to blame. And so were capitialism, and the absorption into Japanese society of modern technology, and notions of individual freedoms and democracy. All these had to be “overcome..."
Japan’s industrial revolution, which came not long after Germany’s, had equally dislocating effects. Large numbers of impoverished country people moved into the cities... It was as though Japan suffered from intellectual indigestion. Western civilization had been swallowed too fast. And this is partly why that group of literati gathered in Kyoto to discus ways of reversing history, overcoming the West, and being modern while at the same time returning to an idealized spiritual past...
The philosopher Nishitani Keiji blamed the religious Reformation, the Renaissance, and the emergence of natural science for the destruction of a unified spiritual culture in Europe. This gets to the core of Occidentalism. It is often said that one of the basic distinctions between the modern West and the Islamic world is the separation of church and state. The church, a s a distinct institution, did not exist in Islam. To a devout Muslim, politics, economics, science, and religion cannot be split into separate categories. But the professor in Kyoto was not a Muslim, and his ideal was also to build a state in which politics and religion formed a seamless whole, and the church as it were, merged with the state. That church in wartime Japan was State Shinto, a modern invention, based less on ancient Japanese tradition than on a peculiar interpretation of the pre-modern West. The Japanese tried to reinvent a distorted idea of medieval Christian Europe by turning Shinto into a politicized church. This type of spiritual politics is to be found in all forms of Occidentalism, from Kyoto in the 1930s to Tehran in the 1970s. It is also an essential component of totalitarianism. Every institution in Hitler’s Third Reich, from the churches to the science departments of universities, had to be made to conform with a totalist vision. The same was true of the Soviet Union under Stalin and of Mao’s China...
Other participants in the Kyoto meeting did not go so far back as the Reformation or the Enlightenment, but pointed to the rise of industrialization, capitalism and economic liberalism in the nineteenth century as the root of modern evil. They spoke in dire terms of “machine civilization” and “Americanism...”
This is not about policies, but about an idea, almost a vision, of a machinelike society without a human soul...
The view of the West in Occidentalism is like the worst aspects of its counterpart, Orientalism, which strips its human targets of their humanity. Some Orientalist prejudices made non-Western people seem less than fully adult human beings; they had the minds of children, and could thus be treated as lesser breeds. Occidentalism is at least as reductive; its bigotry simply turns the Orientalist view upside down. To diminish an entire society or a civilization to a mass of soulless, decadent, money-grubbing, rootless, faithless, unfeeling parasites is a form of intellectual destruction. Once again, if this were merely a matter of distaste of prejudice, it would not be of great interest. Prejudices are part of the human condition. But when the idea of others as less than human gathers revolutionary force, it leads to the destruction of human beings...
One way of describing Occidentalism would be to trace the history of all its links and overlaps from the Counter-Reformation to the Counter-Enlightenment in Europe, to the many varieties of fascism and national socialism in East and West, to anticapitalism and antiglobalization, and finally to the religious extremism that rages in so many places today...
These strands are linked, of course, to form a chain of hostility – hostility to the City, with its image of rootless, arrogant, greedy, decadent, frivolous cosmopolitanism; to the mind of the West, manifested in science and reason; to the settled bourgeois, whose existence is the antithesis of the self-sacrificing hero; and to the infidel, who must be crushed to make way for a world of pure faith...
[T]oday’s... holy warriors don’t suffer from some unique pathology but are fired by ideas that have a history....To understand is not to excuse, just as to forgive is not to forget, but without understanding those who hate..., we cannot hope to stop them from destroying....
I just sat down to read the latest mail from The Trinity Foundation, though this has been a melancholy experience since John Robbins went by faith through grace to be in the presence of Jesus just a few weeks ago. I felt quite vindicated by what he wrote in December 2007 concerning the neoconfederate idealism that has infiltrated many Reformed churches in recent years, now published in the recent Trinity Review.
This is official essential reading for anyone interested in the Cause of the South and anyone interested in the patriarchy movement promoted by individuals like Doug Phillips, RC Sproul, Jr and others. I don't completely agree with Robbins on some of these points, but this matter is so ideological and revised from the perspective of history that I don't know what to believe objectively. I don't know that there is such a thing as a completely objective historical account of it all.
A couple of notewordy quips from entirely noteworthy "Christians and the Civil War" by John Robbins:
Some of these Latter Day Confederates seem to be people who were born and reared in the North and now feel they must prove their fidelity to the Lost Cause. Apparently their Northern roots have given them a guilty conscience. What is worse, many of these men profess to be Christians and mix their religion with their love for the Confederacy, making the two inseparable. This has done much damage to the cause of Christ and the proclamation of the Gospel in the South.
Organizations such as American Vision in Atlanta (Gary DeMar) and Vision Forum in San Antonio (Douglas Phillips) are promoting Confederate propaganda. (Oddly, these groups all have “vision” in their names, yet they are blind to both soteriological and historical truth.) Wannabe Romanists themselves, their efforts are applauded by genuine papists like Thomas DiLorenzo.
Even Presbyterian Robert L. Dabney’s 1867 book Defence of Virginia and the South, which purports to defend Southern slavery from the Bible, has been reprinted. This embarrassing and inexcusable association of Christian theology with Southern slavery has been a stain on Christianity in the South and a hindrance to the proclamation of the Gospel for two centuries.
DeBow’s Review, a Southern secessionist journal, wrote in 1862: “Every man should feel that he has an interest in the State, and that the State in a measure leans upon him.... It is implied in the spirit which times demand, that all private interests are sacrificed to the public good. The State becomes everything, and the individual nothing.” The political ideology of the Confederacy was statist and socialist, and that ideology was to become the dominant political ideology of the twentieth century.
Temple acknowledged that “there was no justifiable ground for the attempted secession of the eleven Southern States in 1861....” He discussed the causes of secession, as he saw them. His discussion of the Southern attitude toward work, and the South’s generally pagan,(4) agrarian, and medieval anti-capitalist mindset, reflected in its acceptance and defense of slavery, is particularly good...
Some readers might be surprised by the word pagan. Spokesmen for the South not only appealed to Greece and Rome as exemplars of civilizations built on slavery, but they espoused views of work and commerce that were held by pagan philosophers such as Aristotle and Cicero. In these senses the mind of the South must be characterized as pagan. Please see my commentary on Philemon, Slavery and Christianity, as well as my book Freedom and Capitalism.
Please read the complete and entire document HERE.