The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Buchanan & Fascism: A Serious Look

Chip Berlet
February 18, 1996

(Part 2 of 3)

The Roots of the Culture War

Spanning the breadth of the antidemocratic hard right is the banner of the Culture War. The idea of the Culture War was promoted by strategist Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation. In 1987, Weyrich commissioned a study, Cultural Conservatism: Toward a New National Agenda, which argued that cultural issues provided antiliberalism with a more unifying concept than economic conservatism. Cultural Conservatism: Theory and Practice followed in 1991.

Earlier, Weyrich had sponsored the 1982 book The Homosexual Agenda and the 1987 Gays, AIDS, and You, which helped spawn successive and successful waves of homophobia. The Free Congress Foundation, founded and funded with money >from the Coors Beer family fortune, is the key strategic think tank backing Robertson's Christian Coalition, which has built an effective grassroots movement to wage the Culture War. For Robertson, the Culture War opposes sinister forces wittingly or unwittingly doing the bidding of Satan. This struggle for the soul of America takes on metaphysical dimensions combining historic elements of the Crusades and the Inquisition. The Christian Coalition could conceivably evolve into a more mainstream conservative political movement, or--especially if the economy deteriorates--it could build a mass base for fascism similar to the clerical fascist movements of mid-century Europe.

For decades anti-communism was the glue that bound together the various tendencies on the right. Ironically, the collapse of communism in Europe allowed the US political right to shift its primary focus from an extreme and hyperbolic anti-communism, militarism, and aggressive foreign policy to domestic issues of culture and national identity. Multiculturalism, political correctness, and traditional values became the focus of this new struggle over culture. An early and influential jeremiad in the Culture War was Allan Bloom's 1987 book The Closing of the American Mind.

But neither the collapse of communism in the former Soviet Union, nor the publication of Bloom's book accounts for the success of this Culture War in capturing the high ground in popular discourse. Instead, it resulted from the victory of hard-right forces within the New Right (which helped lead to its demise as a coalition), and the concomitant embrace by hard right activists of a nativist, theocratic ideology that challenged the very notion of a secular, pluralistic democracy.

At the heart of this Culture War, or kulturkampf, as Patrick Buchanan calls it, is a paranoid conspiratorial view of leftist secular humanism, dating to the turn of the century and dependent upon powerful but rarely stated presumptions of racial nationalism based on Eurocentric White supremacy, Christian theocracy, and subversive liberal treachery.

The nativist right at the turn of the century first popularized the idea that there was a secular humanist conspiracy trying to steer the US from a God -centered society to a socialist, atheistic society. The idea was linked from its beginnings to an extreme fear of communism, conceptualized as a "red menace." The conspiracy became institutionalized in the American political scene and took on a metaphysical nature, according to analyst Frank Donner:

"The root anti-subversive impulse was fed by the [Communist] Menace. Its power strengthened with the passage of time, by the late twenties its influence had become more pervasive and folkish....A slightly secularized version, widely shared in rural and small-town America, postulated a doomsday conflict between decent upright folk and radicalism--alien, satanic, immorality incarnate."

This conspiratorial world view continued to animate the hard right. According to contemporary conspiratorial myth, liberal treachery in service of Godless secular humanism has been "dumbing down" schoolchildren with the help of the National Education Association to prepare the country for totalitarian rule under a "One World Government " and "New World Order." This became the source of an underlying theme of the armed militia movement.

This nativist-Americanist branch of the hard right (or the pseudo-conservative, paranoid right, as Richard Hofstadter termed it in his classic essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" came to dominate the right wing of the Republican Party, and included Patrick Buchanan, Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, the Rockford Institute, David Noebel's Summit Ministries, and Paul Weyrich's Free Congress Foundation and Institute for Cultural Conservatism. Of more historical importance are the John Birch Society, the Christian Anti-Communism Crusade, and Billy James Hargis' Christian Crusade, although the John Birch Society's membership doubled or tripled since the Gulf War in 1991 to over 40,000 members. Despite some overlap at the edges, reactionary hard right electoral activists should be distinguished from the extra-electoral right-wing survivalists, militia members, and armed White racists on their right, and from the Eastern establishment conservative branch of the right wing represented by George Bush on their left.

Secular humanism has been called the bogey-man of right-wing fundamentalism ; it is a term of art, shorthand for all that is evil and opposed to God. While historically there has been an organized humanist movement in the United States since the mid-1800s, secular humanism as a large religious movement exists more in the right's conspiracy theories than in actual fact. Secular humanism is a non-theistic philosophy with roots in the rationalist philosophies of the Enlightenment that bases its commitment to ethical behavior on the innate goodness of human beings, rather than on the commands of a deity.

The conspiracy that the right wing believes has resulted in secular humanism's hegemony is both sweeping and specific. It is said to have begun in 1805, when the liberal Unitarians, who believed that evil was largely the result of such environmental factors as poverty and lack of education, wrested control of Harvard University from the conservative Calvinists, who knew that men were evil by nature. The Unitarian drive for free public schools was part of a conscious plan to convert the United States from capitalism to the newly postulated socialism of Robert Owen.

Later, according to the conspiracy theorists, John Dewey, a professor at Columbia University and head of the progressive education movement (seen as "the Lenin of the American socialist revolution"), helped to establish a secular, state-run (and thus socialized) educational system in Massachusetts. To facilitate the communist takeover, Dewey promoted the look-say reading method, knowing it would lead to widespread illiteracy. As Samuel Blumenfeld argued in 1984, "[T]he goal was to produce inferior readers with inferior intelligence dependent on a socialist education elite for guidance, wisdom and control. Dewey knew it...."

For the hard right, it is entirely reasonable to claim both that John Dewey conspired to destroy the minds of American schoolchildren and that contemporary liberals carry on the conspiracy. As Rosemary Thompson, a respected pro-family activist, wrote in her 1981 book, Withstanding Humanism's Challenge to Families (with a foreword by Phyllis Schlafly ), "[H]umanism leads to feminism. Perhaps John Dewey will someday be recognized in the annals of history as the `father of women's lib.'"

To these rightists, all of the evils of modern society can be traced to John Dewey and the secular humanists. A typical author argued:

"Most US citizens are not aware that hard-core pornography, humanistic sex education, the `gay' rights movement, feminism, the Equal Rights Amendment, sensitivity training in schools and in industry, the promotion of drug abuse, the God-Is-Dead movement, free abortion on demand, euthanasia as a national mention a few, highly publicized movements...have been sparked by humanism."

According to the right, by rejecting all notions of absolute authority and values, secular humanists deliberately attack traditional values in religion, the state, and the home.

The link between liberalism and treachery is key to the secular humanist conspiracy. In 1968, a typical book, endorsed by Billy James Hargis of the Christian Crusade, claimed, "The liberal, for reasons of his own, would dissolve the American Republic and crush the American dream so that our nation and our people might become another faceless number in an internationalist state."

Twenty-five years later, Allan Bloom, generally put forth as a moderate conservative, argued that all schoolteachers who inculcated moral relativism in school children "had either no interest in or were actively hostile to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution."

The Culture War & Christian Theocracy

Most analysts have looked at the Culture War and its foot soldiers in the traditional family values movement as displaying a constellation of discrete and topical beliefs. These include support for traditional, hierarchical sex roles and opposition to feminism, employed mothers, contraception, abortion, divorce, sex education, school-based health clinics, extramarital sex, and gay and lesbian sex, among other issues.

Traditional values also include an antipathy toward secular humanism, communism, liberalism, utopianism, modernism, globalism, multiculturalism, and other systems believed to undermine US nationalism. Beliefs in individualism, hard work, self-sufficiency, thrift, and social mobility form a uniquely American component of the movement. Some traditional values seem derived more immediately from Christianity: opposition to Satanism, witchcraft, the New Age, and the occult (including meditation and Halloween depictions of witches). Less often discussed but no less integral to the movement are a disdain for the values of egalitarianism and democracy (derived from the movement's anti-modernist orientation), and support for Western European culture, private property, and laissez-faire capitalism.

This orthodox view of the traditional values movement as an aggregate of many discrete values, however, is misleading, for it makes it appear that Judeo-Christian theism is simply one value among many. Rather, Judeo-Christian theism, and in particular Christianity, is the core value of the traditional values movement and the basis for the Crusades --like tone of those in the hard right calling for the Culture War.

Traditional values start from a recognition of the absolute, unchanging, hierarchical authority of God (as one commentator noted, "The Ten Commandments are not the Ten Suggestions") and move from there to a belief in hierarchical arrangements in the home and state.

As Pat Robertson said at the Republican convention, "Since I have come to Houston, I have been asked repeatedly to define traditional values. I say very simply, to me and to most Republicans, traditional values start with faith in Almighty God." Robertson has also said, "When President Jimmy Carter called for a `Conference on Families,' many of us raised strenuous objections. To us, there was only one family, that ordained by the Bible, with husband, wife, and children."

In part, the moral absolutism implicit in the Culture War derives from the heavy proportion of fundamentalist Christians in the traditional family values movement. Their belief in the literal existence of Satan leads to an apocalyptic tone: "The bottom line is that if you are not working for Jesus Christ, then you are working for someone else whose name is Satan. It is one or the other. There is no middle of the road."

The hard right activist, as Richard Hofstadter noted, believes that all battles take place between forces of absolute good and absolute evil, and looks not to compromise but to crush the opposition.

A comment by Pat Robertson was typical:

"What is happening in America is not a debate, it is not a friendly disagreement between enlightened people. It is a vicious one-sided attack on our most cherished institutions. Suddenly the confrontation is growing hotter and it just may become all out civil war. It is a war against the family and against conservative and Christian values."

Paul Weyrich sees the struggle today between those "who worship in churches and those who desecrate them."

The root desire behind the Culture War is the imposition of a Christian theocracy in the United States. Some theocratic right activists have been quite open about this goal. Tim LaHaye, for example, argued in his book The Battle for the Mind that "we must remove all humanists from public office and replace them with pro-moral political leaders."

Similarly, in Pat Robertson's The New World Order: It Will Change the Way You Live (which argues that the conspiracy against Christians, dating back to Babylon, has included such traditional conspirators as John Dewey, the Illuminati, the Free Masons, the Council on Foreign Relations , and the Trilateral Commission ), the question of who is fit to govern is discussed at length:

"When I said during my presidential bid that I would only bring Christians and Jews into the government...the media challenged me, `How dare you maintain that those who believe the Judeo-Christian values are better qualified to govern America than Hindus and Muslims ?'

"My simple answer is, `Yes, they are.' If anybody understood what Hindus really believe, there would be no doubt that they have no business administering government policies in a country that favors freedom and equality....There will never be world peace until God's house and God's people are given their rightful place of leadership at the top of the world."

"How can there be peace when drunkards, drug dealers, communists, atheists, New Age worshipers of Satan, secular humanists, oppressive dictators, greedy moneychangers, revolutionary assassins, adulterers, and homosexuals are on top?"


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