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A syllabus of errors


It’s funny until someone gets hurt:

Naturally Vermeule will claim that he is joking, or that his interpreters are making the mistake of thinking that the camps will be run by Trump rather than by left wing authoritarians like Bernie Sanders, who will imprison anti-Trump conservatives even before actual Trumpists (That the latter claim seems nonsensical on its face is irrelevant to our comedians on the far right. ETA: A commenter points out that a large percentage of the people in that photo are Jewish, which makes Vermeule’s reference to “camps” especially . . . resonant.).

Adrian Vermeule is a well-known (or “well-known”) Harvard law school professor, who a few years ago converted to Catholicism: specifically the neo-reactionary authoritarian “integralist” version of the religion, which rejects liberalism in the sense of liberal democracy tout court, and considers Boniface VIII a far more reliable authority than Pope Francis, let alone James Madison or John Rawls.

Neo-reactionary authoritarian Catholics are by nature fascist-adjacent rather than “pure” fascists (to the extent that the idea of a pure fascist even makes sense; I tend to agree with Umberto Eco that fascism is opportunistically syncretic rather than ideologically coherent) since fascism is in its various manifestations not exactly compatible with a Catholic theocracy (Integralists claim not to be theocrats, but as a practical matter it’s a distinction without a difference).

But fascism in particular and right-wing authoritarianism in general are far more congenial to integralism than any form of liberal democracy, which is why Vermeule is a big fan of Donald Trump et. al., and which is why people like him reserve special contempt for conservatives who fail to recognize that ultimately the only real political choice is between the One True Church and its enemies.

Of course the temptation to dismiss Vermeule as just another tenured crank is strong, but his views, or something resembling them, are held by many influential people at the core of the current alliance of convenience between neo-reactionary Catholics and white evangelical Protestants, that has played such a key role in bringing Trump to power. (See, for example, the neo-reactionary Catholic roots of our current Attorney General).

I highly recommend this long but fascinating essay by Isaiah Berlin about how the roots of 20th-century fascism can be found in certain strains of reactionary Catholic thought:

And who is the enemy? All those who throw dust in the eyes of the people or seek to subvert the appointed order. Maistre calls them ‘la secte.” They are the disturbers and subverters. To the Protestants and Jansenists he now adds deists and atheists, Freemasons and Jews, scientists and democrats, Jacobins, liberals, utilitarians, anti-clericals, egalitarians, perfectibilians, materialists, idealist, lawyers, journalists, secular reformers, and intellectuals of every breed; all those who appeal to abstract principles, who put faith in individual reason or individual conscience; believers in individual liberty or the rational organization of society, reformers and revolutionaries: these are enemy of the settled order and must be rooted out at all costs. This is ‘la secte,’ and it never sleeps, it is forever boring from within.

This is a catalogue which we have heard a good deal since. It assembles for the first time, and with precision, the list of enemies of the great counter-revolutionary movement that culminated in Fascism. Maistre attempts to turn against the new and satanic order which had made the fatal revolution, first in America, then in Europe, all the violence and fanaticism which he believed them to have unloosed upon the world.

There is of course a considerable historical irony in the alliance between people like Vermeule and Trump’s white evangelical Protestant base:

The most dangerous enemy of the human race — the destroyer whose aim and function is to sap the foundations upon which all societies rest — is the Protestant: the man who lifts his hand against the universal church. Bayle, Voltaire, Condorcet, are but feeble secular disciples of the great subverters: Luther, Calvin, and their followers. Protestantism is the revolt of individual reason or faith, conscience against blind obedience, which is the sole basis of all authority: hence it is au fond political rebellion. No bishop, no king.

But fascism is, or fascisms are, by nature full of irony and contradiction, as indeed we are now being reminded on a daily basis.

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