No, Jonah Goldberg’s book isn’t out yet.
But former NYT correspondent Chris Hedges’ American Fascists, yet another book on the Christian Right, is. Michelle Goldberg, whose (competing? complementary?) book also raises the spectre of fascism on the Christian Right, interviews Hedges here. And Rick Perlstein reviews it for the Sunday NYT here.
To his credit, Perlstein is critical, arguing that Hedges’ book is more theory- than fact-driven. Given the picture he has of America, about which more below, fascism should arise in America. That it hasn’t is something Perlstein, the non-theologian, understands (in part)theologically, while Hedges, the graduate of Harvard Div School, doesn’t.
Goldberg’s interview with Hedges reveals his utter (theory-driven) misunderstanding of America. Here’s a representative passage:
For me, the engine of the movement is deep economic and personal despair. A terrible distortion and deformation of American society, where tens of millions of people in this country feel completely disenfranchised, where their physical communities have been obliterated, whether that’s in the Rust Belt in Ohio or these monstrous exurbs like Orange County, where there is no community. There are no community rituals, no community centers, often there are no sidewalks. People live in empty soulless houses and drive big empty cars on freeways to Los Angeles and sit in vast offices and then come home again. You can’t deform your society to that extent, and you can’t shunt people aside and rip away any kind of safety net, any kind of program that gives them hope, and not expect political consequences.
Democracies function because the vast majority live relatively stable lives with a degree of hope, and, if not economic prosperity, at least enough of an income to free them from severe want or instability. Whatever the Democrats say now about the war, they’re not addressing the fundamental issues that have given rise to this movement.
It’s really the destruction of the possibility of community, and of course economic deprivation goes a long way to doing that. But corporate America has done a pretty good job of destroying community too, which is why the largest growth areas are the exurbs, where people have a higher standard of living, but live fairly bleak and empty lives.
He accepts the caricature, which can’t really be based on any deep experience, that the suburbs and exurbs are "soulless" and "community-less." For the families that inhabit the exurbs, that can’t be the case: there are churches, most not (it goes without saying) incipiently fascistic, schools, activities of various sorts, and so on. And there’s book clubs, dining clubs, bunko, poker, and so on. I’ll take my parents’ retirement (they use the euphemism "active adults over 55") community (there’s that word again) as evidence that the American habit of associating is far from dead: there’s an investment club,a book club, an "Epicurean" (they don’t know what the word really means, else they wouldn’t be "active" or in a club) club, bridge, bocce (in South Carolina!), tennis, golf, and a hotly contested race for seats on the board.
Which brings me to my last point: Hedges views America through the prism of Arendt and his experience in the Balkans, which led him to the chastened conclusion that "there’s a kind of psychological inability to accept how fragile open societies are":
You saw the same thing in the cafe society in Sarajevo on the eve of the war in Bosnia. Radovan Karadzic or even Milosevic were buffoonish figures to most Yugoslavs, and were therefore, especially among the educated elite, never taken seriously. There was a kind of blindness caused by their intellectual snobbery, their inability to understand what was happening. I think we have the same experience here. Those of us in New York, Boston, San Francisco or some of these urban pockets don’t understand how radically changed our country is, don’t understand the appeal of these buffoonish figures to tens of millions of Americans.
I’ll go along with the fragility argument, but offer these caveats: Americans aren’t Serbs (200 years of history with democratic republicanism counts for something) and Christian is a crucial modifier, which Perlstein captures well: "The message people seem to be imbibing from these [execrable Left Behind] novels and from their preachers, however, is not: Take vengeance. It is: Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord."
In the end, Hedges sounds more like a professor (Barrington Moore’s massive and interesting misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the Civil War comes to mind) than like a reporter. But, as Get Religion’s Mollie Ziegler Hemingway points out, prestigious newsrooms have something in common with their higher ed counterparts--little or no intellectual diversity.