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Why the Rittenhouse verdict matters

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By “matters,” I mean beyond its obviously overwhelming personal importance to the families and friends of Rittenhouse’s victims. This travesty is a fresh tragedy for them of course.

But why does it matter politically, which is to say systemically?

Yesterday there was plenty of the typical left-liberal handwringing about isn’t a shame that Wisconsin has such a broad self-defense law, and that a 17-year-old can so easily get his hands on such a destructive weapon, and so forth. The problems, it seems, are the formal legal rules and the ubiquity of guns.

This is just wrong.

The problem is the Republican party, which has gone fascist. That’s what turned this murderous little son of a bitch — a precise technical term in this context — into a national hero overnight. And make no mistake: he is now a hero to the entire American right wing, whose institutional representative is the Republican party, which has gone fascist.

Umberto Eco:

Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action’s sake. Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Goering’s alleged statement (“When I hear talk of culture I reach for my gun”) to the frequent use of such expressions as “degenerate intellectuals,” “eggheads,” “effete snobs,” “universities are a nest of reds.” The official Fascist intellectuals were mainly engaged in attacking modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for having betrayed traditional values. . . .

No syncretistic faith can withstand analytical criticism. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.

Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity. Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition. . . .

Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology, insofar as it is fundamentally aristocratic, and aristocratic and militaristic elitism cruelly implies contempt for the weak. Ur-Fascism can only advocate a popular elitism. Every citizen belongs to the best people of the world, the members of the party are the best among the citizens, every citizen can (or ought to) become a member of the party. But there cannot be patricians without plebeians. In fact, the Leader, knowing that his power was not delegated to him democratically but was conquered by force, also knows that his force is based upon the weakness of the masses; they are so weak as to need and deserve a ruler. Since the group is hierarchically organized (according to a military model), every subordinate leader despises his own underlings, and each of them despises his inferiors. This reinforces the sense of mass elitism.

In such a perspective everybody is educated to become a hero. In every mythology the hero is an exceptional being, but in Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death. It is not by chance that a motto of the Falangists was Viva la Muerte (in English it should be translated as “Long Live Death!”). In non-fascist societies, the lay public is told that death is unpleasant but must be faced with dignity; believers are told that it is the painful way to reach a supernatural happiness. By contrast, the Ur-Fascist hero craves heroic death, advertised as the best reward for a heroic life. The Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, he more frequently sends other people to death.

Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters. This is the origin of machismo (which implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality). Since even sex is a difficult game to play, the Ur-Fascist hero tends to play with weapons — doing so becomes an ersatz phallic exercise.

The problem is not our laws, whether about gun ownership or self-defense. We could have exactly the same laws — many far more civilized countries have very similar laws to ours in this respect — and still live in a decent society, but we don’t, because the Republican party has gone fascist.

The ingredients for fascism in American culture have always been there: indeed the original KKK in the post-Reconstruction South was arguably the world’s first proto-fascist movement. These include:

(1) Worship of violence for its own sake.

(2) Gun fetishism (obviously closely connected to the first point).

(3) Religious traditions featuring violent eschatological fantasies at their core.

(4) Paranoid fear of the contamination of the national spirit by the Other/Outsider.

(5) Virulent anti-intellectualism, which is a necessary defense mechanism, given the world views that need to be protected from any kind of rational examination or critique.

The Rittenhouse verdict matters because it is a symbolic representation of what the American right wing and its avatar the Republican party have become: A movement of heavily armed religious and quasi-religious fanatics, who wish to purify and thereby restore the traditional greatness of the Real America through the cleansing power of violence.

There’s a word for that kind of thing, but no prominent Democratic politician can use it accurately, because to use it accurately would imply the need for radical resistance to the Republican party and what it has become. And almost no one in any position of power or influence is ready to advocate for that, because people in positions of power and influence aren’t the kind of people who can look this particular species of reality in the face, because doing so would call into question the very system that has made them so powerful and important and respected.

But that doesn’t change that reality: it only exacerbates it, through continual and systemic denial.

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