Thursday, April 12, 2018

PE of Fash Week II: Economic Anxiety and Angry White Men (Reading List)

Tonight was the second night of my six-class minicourse on the political economy of fascism. The readings for this class touch on a debate that cropped up in the wake of Donald Trump's ascendancy to the presidency: was his base motivated by racism or economic anxiety. I picked readings that problematized this dichotomy and the epistemology that would assert that these two phenomena are unrelated.

In the sphere of fascist ideology, economic outcomes are critically tied to the composition of the citizenry. On the one hand, fascists take the promise of democratic representation at face value, and thus political power is fundamentally a matter of the demography of the electorate. On the other hand, fascists see extra-electoral and extra-political factors bearing down on political, and hence economic, outcomes. In either instance, the fascist sees representative democracy as systemically corrupted.

The three "required" readings for the week seek to explain why a person, and hence why the public, would latch on to conspiracy theory and political myth and further what causes mobilization on its basis. The readings by Tanner and White seek to find a rational basis for the embrace of conspiracy theory which both locate in an attempt to explain complex systems of economic (Tanner) and political (White) power based on limited information. The last reading by Van Dyke & Soule attempts an empirical synthesis of two approaches to political mobilization to explain the growth of the militia movement.

I chose to focus on conspiracy theory and militia mobilization for a number of reasons. First, both are far more prevalent in the US than fascist ideology proper. Second, fascism proper rarely permeates society at large when it is able to take over; however, its manner of reasoning - paranoid, reactionary, essentialist - as well as its mode of action - extralegal, paramilitary, chauvinistic - tends to permeate fairly widely. As I like to say, you can't have a fascist state without a fascist society.

As I mentioned in the previous entry, weeks 2-6 feature 3-4 core readings, one of my own publications, a series of auxiliary readings and videos on related subjects, and 2-4 books for students interested in further reading. The readings list is as follows:

"Required" Readings

Ed White 2002 "The Value of Conspiracy Theory"

This article reviews the various theories attesting to the salience of conspiracy theory as a mode of political reasoning in modern republics using the early United States as a case study. Among the things he notes are that not only is conspiracy theory at least as old as the United States, but that it might very well be a slow adaptation from common feudal-era understandings of politics. He identifies 5 principle features of conspiracy theory:

  • Looming apocalyptic crisis
  • Manichean (good vs. evil) struggle
  • Supernatural enemy
  • Facts with loose, plausible connection
  • Meticulous arrangement of facts substituting for rationality

Jakob Tanner 2008 "The Conspiracy of the Invisible Hand: Anonymous Market Mechanisms and Dark Powers"

This article discusses various US conspiracy theories in terms of their ability to transmit auxiliary myths about patriotism and moral good. As a mode of reasoning they maintain their staying power by their rather low barrier to entry, their entertaining nature, and their ability to explain the unknown.

Nella Van Dyke & Sarah Soule 2002 "Structural Social Change and the Mobilizing Effect of Threat: Explaining Levels of Patriot and Militia Organizing in the United States"

This article attempts to demonstrate a structural explanation for the growth of militia organizations in the United States. While it provides a decent review of the historical growth of militia organizations, its data analysis practices are (in my opinion) questionable. See my notes for my critiques if statistics is your thing.

My Writing

Befriending Nazis Won't Stop Fascism

My article "Befriending Nazis Won't Stop Fascism" in Jewish Currents highlights the perspective that fascist ideologies can be confronted with friendship and deliberative engagement. Emphasizing the fact that fascists simply utilize a different and chauvinistic mode of reasoning, I caution against the presumption that one can engage those espousing fascist ideologies while knowing little about them.

Popular Publications

Erin Corbett Inside the Alt-Right's Violent Obsession with 'White Sharia War Brides'
Ashley Feinberg This is the Daily Stormer's Playbook
Laurie Penny On the Milo Bus with the Lost Boys of America's New Right
Luke O'Brien Andrew Anglin: The Making of an American Nazi
Korva Coleman & Michael Kimmel What Drives Men to Violent Extremism


Mark Blyth Why People Vote for Those Who Work Against Their Best Interests
A&E Biography Timothy McVeigh
Cecilia Sjoholm & Klaus Theweleit Male Bodies, Fascism, and Fantasies
History Channel Hitler and the Occult

Books for Further Reading

Michael Kimmel 2013 Angry White Men
Wilhelm Reich 1933 Mass Psychology of Fascism