Where leads this road paved with good intentions

Given my previous posts have centered on picking out some example of discrimination on the basis of sex, this week’s readings seem a natural fit.

I’m instead going to take a different tack, addressing right-wing accusations that societal reckonings over gendered and neocolonial dynamics are the basis for a new fascism, a new Marxism, something between or something worse than both. Paternotte and Kuhar’s article addresses these most clearly, as they detail the religious-conservative alliance pushing back against same-sex marriage, cast as a Trojan horse for an Orwellian and anti-Catholic redesigning of society, and (co-opting arguments from the left) a new imperialism looking to forcibly restructure non-Western social networks.

Actually addressing this gets a little delicate, even under a pseudonym. Yes, the current conversations happening in society – in terms of identifying and hopefully, eventually, somehow counteracting and redressing the countless ways in which centuries of hierarchy have infused nigh-on every part of daily life with some insidious flavor of sexism, racism, classism, etc. – do, taken to their logical conclusions, require a social revolution. And yes, given the problematic role of religious institutions in maintaining many of these divisions, they would necessarily be put under close scrutiny.

It’s on the basis of such statements that Paternotte and Kuhar’s conservative groups accuse social liberals of serving as ‘useful idiots’, paving the road for a totalitarian regime.

One such totalitarian movement, the 1930s-1940s Romanian Legionary Movement described by Sandelescu, did indeed see its quest as the construction of a New (Fascist) Man. This New Man (and Woman, notwithstanding the focus on men) was to be created “in the Nest, the work-camp, in the organization and the legionary family itself” – an environment the Movement emphasized would re-educate its members and purge them of the perfidious influence of those looking to divide the nation (referring here to Jews).

On a basic level, dabbling in horseshoe theory (that the far left and the far right eventually come to resemble each other), one can see similarities. Society is depicted as corrupted, and as requiring redemption through a re-education dictated by those enlightened/woke. While this isn’t enforced at gunpoint nowadays, the religious-conservative alliance will point to ‘cancel culture’, arguing that ousting non-compliant individuals from their livelihoods is a clear threat of violence, simply economic rather than physical, an ultimatum to silence oneself or be silenced.

However, that distinction – economic versus physical – is a significant one, and not one that can be handwaved away. It’s a distinction that keeps the Sleeping Giants, Time’s Up, and others within the realm of legitimate, democratic, majoritarian politics. It’s a distinction that allows for even far-right communities to create their own economic ecosystems and legal drolleries, as described by Cynthia Miller-Idriss, to continue their activities. It’s a profoundly important distinction, by which ideas are to be defeated through the soap box and the ballot box, rather than at the hand of magistrates, judges, and guns.

As well, this ‘social revolution’ is – by its very nature, arguing that injustice towards one is injustice towards all – decentralized, looking to unearth injustice towards every one. Though there may be prominent figures, there is no centralized mouthpiece; there is no populist firebrand who, as per Finchelstein, could shake off the post-Hitlerian taboo on populist violence. And could there even be such a leader in such a movement, capable of corrupting its fundamental principle that all of society is wounded by the maintenance of artificial hierarchies?

That is not to say that there have not been excesses – there have been, and academics have underlined and spoken out against those. But the movement as a whole has remained well within the bounds of legitimate political activism, and to criticize it on the basis that its fringes may create a slippery slope to potential authoritarianism – or that a dictator may drape itself in the language of the movement – is of questionable intellectual honesty.

One Reply to “Where leads this road paved with good intentions”

  1. Hi! I really like how you were able to link Sandulescu’s analysis of the Romanian Legionary Movement and his quest to rid Romania of its problems through creating a better man, with the contemporary anti-gender campaigns that target what is seen, by the groups leading them, as a corruption of the society that must also be rid of!

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