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You Long-Haired Freaks Should Just Be Happy You Still Get to Call Yourself Americans!

In a previous post about the Bush campaign ads, I mentioned what to me has and most people I know has always been a basic rule of thumb: that you never use Hitler as an analogy, or use the words "Nazi," "Fascist," "Apartheid" or "Holocaust" casually. It cheapens the reality of these tragedies to use them loosely, and also inevitably torpedoes by overstatement whatever argument you are making.

But what about Mussolini? I've been interested in the apparently unrecorded comments from the American Constitution Society convention at which Federal Judge Guido Calabresi compared Bush to Il Duce, although principally on the question of the basis of his election. ( ?The king of Italy had the right to put Mussolini in, though he had not won an election, and make him prime minister.....When somebody has come in that way, they sometimes have tried not to exercise much power. In this case, like Mussolini, [Bush] has exercised extraordinary power.") I find this fascinating not just because it is a good point but because: 1. I remember being told that the Calabresi family was the real-life model for the Finzi-Continis, which may not be exactly true, but they were similarly assimilated, Northern Italian Jews, so they are entitled to talk about Musollini; 2. Judge Calabresi's nephew, Stephen Calabresi, also spoke at the conference, but as one of the token conservatives, a founder of the Federalist Society (a long time ago, I was somewhat friendly with Steve Calabrese, a smart and very decent person, although I have learned from Michael Froomkin's blog that he was also one of the authors of the legal doctrine of the "unitary executive" that supports the contention in the torture memos that the president's powers are limitless when he assumes the role of Commander-in-Chief); 3. It really is the comparison that fits Bush, and doesn't seem quite so out-of-bounds. Mussolini was not so much pure evil as an opportunist and a dunce, easily used. Like Bush, the paradox is that he was by every measure incompetent and overmatched, yet still claimed a reputation for competence and efficiency, entirely unjustified. (And in both cases, now unmasked.) I don't know that much about Mussolini; I invite my mother, who knows much more, to contribute in the comments section on whether Mussolini analogies are out of bounds or not.

While trying to find a citation for the Calabresi quotes, I did find an amazing few paragraphs from The Weekly Standard. Joel Engel summarized Mussolini's career, and then concluded:

YOU CAN FILE THE LESSONS of Mussolini's rise under "H" for Hegel, the idea that extreme movements always beget extreme counter forces. It was the far left, by relentlessly chipping away at the foundations of Italian life, that gave birth and power to the far right--as it did a decade on when Hitler rode nearly the same path under similar circumstances.

This is what seems most pertinent today, as "activist" groups like Moveon.org and demagogues like Michael Moore and angry men like Al Gore and George Soros rail so irrationally against both the president (comparing him to Hitler and Mussolini in a variety of contexts) and the structures of daily American life, including the legally adjudicated Supreme Court decision that ultimately decided the 43rd presidency in advance of a tedious recount that would've yielded the same outcome.

As it turns out, Judge Calabresi's intemperate comparison was indeed useful, though with an irony he didn't intend. Either this November or in four years, George W. Bush is going to be turned out of office; even the judge agrees with that. Someday, though, a populace provoked by the left's constant fire-breathing may look for a dragon slayer who won't go quite so easily.

In other words, if you all don't shut up and keep quiet about Bush, we're going to stick you with someone a lot worse! You liberal freaks should just appreciate that you have any civil liberties left at all!

This is sheer lunacy, deeply disturbing, and it did not appear in some random blog, but bearing the full imprimatur of Messrs. Kristol, Brooks and Bennett. This is, I assume, the unstated part of the "Coalition of the Wild-Eyed" argument coming from the Bush campaign.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on July 7, 2004 | Permalink


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The implication that Al Gore and George Soros are examples of an extreme left that would justify a totalitarian regime puts the spokesman so far to the right that one wonders what historical comparisons are appropriate.

Posted by: Jerry | Jul 7, 2004 12:16:53 PM

It also shows a very brittle grasp on history, to say the least. The Weinmar Republic was indeed weak, but not because "it chipped away" at the pillars of German life. Hitler's rise had more to do, in my mind, with:

a.) widespread economic poverty and desperation
b.) a feeling of resentment and humiliation on the part of many Germans toward the French and the British
c.) the weakness of the Weimar government, which was Germany's first real attempt of democracy and lacked legitimacy in the eyes of Germans, who longed for the god ol' days of the Kaiser

I mean, to say that "liberalism" hacked away at the "old pillars" of European society, thus paving the way for fascism, is prepsterous. The "old pillars" of old European civilizations were monarchies at that point. Representational government was a very very new concept outside of England and France (and the latter failed at it many, many times before it finally got it right).

Posted by: Brad Reed | Jul 7, 2004 3:44:24 PM

Should be "Weimar" not "Weinmar." Feelings of rage eroded my spelling skills.

Posted by: Brad Reed | Jul 7, 2004 3:51:25 PM

I think the fascism thing works o.k. The term now means something so awful as to be unthinkable, but it was not always so, and there are lots of movements with a touch of it (or more)

Eco on Fascism


Long version

Posted by: AlanB. | Jul 7, 2004 6:35:11 PM

I think it's instructive to remember in circumstances like this that most conservatives are people who would have gladly toed the line for their king, were they Europeans of such an age wherein the evil forces of modern liberalism and capitalism were "chipping away" at the foundations of their feudal order. I can imagine such folks decrying the evils of the Reformation, or shouldering pikes for Ned Ludd.

Posted by: a lesser mongbat | Jul 7, 2004 7:41:26 PM

The real difference between Mussolini and George W. Bush was shown after the Matteotti murder.

For those of you who may have forgotten: in 1924, two years after taking office in a nominally parliamentary regime, Mussolini ordered the murder of his most effective opponent, Giacomo Matteotti. A hamfisted coverup quickly unravelled, whereupon Mussolini stood up in Parliament and said, in effect, Yeah, I whacked him; what are YOU gonna do about it?

Can anyone imagine George W. Bush having the stones to take proud responsibility for any of his many crimes? Actually, in a perverse way, his cowardice may be a piece of luck, because I suspect that, if he did follow Mussolini's example, he would gain votes: possibly many votes. I think *that* is what it would take to galvanize the Republican stay-at-homes.

Posted by: Frank Wilhoit | Jul 9, 2004 12:20:22 AM

Another big difference between the Duce and the Shrub is that, unlike Bush with Iraq, Mussolini didn't cowardly sneak in the handover of sovereignty to the Ethiopians two days earlier than planned.

When did Mussolini plan to hand back sovereignty to the Ethiopians, anyway?

Posted by: L.Thorne | Oct 8, 2004 1:48:19 AM