Wednesday, October 3, 2018

On Supermen: Fascism and Vigilantism

Been thinking a bit about this snippet of an article I wrote for Public Seminar last summer:

What we see then in the use of “violence” is really a distinction between who gets to lay a claim to legitimate public coercion. The police are expected to use extraordinary measures to prevent any social disruption — from physical altercations to feeding the homeless in a public park. Doing so as a lay citizen, even through the consent of a larger community body, is seen as an ex ante violation of a higher natural law (even if not a violation of the actual law) of the distribution of legitimate physical coercion.

Transgression of this principle provides the basis for most superhero franchises. These characters, by virtue of centering the rationale for their righteous vigilantism, occupy a liminal space between guardian of the peace and social menace. Such a moral system is only sustainable through the artifice of the story’s narrator who ultimately wants readers to see the hero as good and thus constructs conflict resolution to support that. In reality, this moral system is where we locate fascist ideologies.

Fascist ideologies are like superheroism in that they take self-righteousness to be equivalent to general righteousness so long as vigilantism proves successful. More successful is the vigilante whose success accords him a loyal following. Unlike most superhero stories, real-life humans are prone to error without a sufficient social basis to check their hypotheses. This is evident in the proliferation of peer-review in academic literature; executive boards in corporate and non-profit enterprises; and of course the deliberative form of government that has become increasingly the norm since the eighteenth century.
Perhaps there is a little fascist in all of us. That voice that would make everything as it should be if not for societal strictures. That sense of moral indignation that one is prepared to do what society needs but does not want.

This is the locus of fascism. The executive sweeping away the degeneracy without sentiment. Disconnected from society as a true elite he grants no special favors. He perceives the social moral matrix and applies it ruthlessly, transgressing against that same moral matrix to do so.