Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Klan and Fascism (Again)

(Sigh!) I just can't let the topic of whether the Ku Klux Klan was fascist go! This post expand on my previous post on the subject. In particular, my discussion of the "fascist negations" was overly brief and superficial, so here is a more detailed discussion (addressing the Reconstruction Klan only).

Anti-Communist. This is an obvious anachronism in the context of the original Reconstruction Klan. Communism was not at issue. However, if one substitutes for opposition to Communism, opposition to radicals who threaten to overturn the social order, this description fits perfectly. The only difference was that the danger was from Radical Republicans instead of Communists.

Anti-liberal. This one is harder to answer and depends on how one defines liberalism. Contrary to Jonah Goldberg, I do not believe that fascist anti-liberalism means only opposition to classical liberalism, i.e., limited government and free market economics. Liberalism is not so much an ideology or political program as a state of mind, and it is really that state of mind that fascism opposes more than any specific ideological platform. In evaluating anti-liberalism, therefore, I believe it is fair to evaluate what it meant to be "liberal" in any particular historical or social context and see if a purportedly fascist organization opposed what its peers would have seen as "liberal."

The Klan was obviously anti-liberal if one defines liberalism as believing in universal human rights that apply to all races and believing that slavery violates such rights. And certainly contemporary Europeans equated liberalism with opposition to slavery and gross racism. But the Klan was not opposed to many other things that contemporary Europeans saw as liberal, such as elective government, universal (white) male suffrage, and trial by jury.

And ante-bellum American definitions of liberalism are a different matter altogether. Elective government, trial by jury and (to a lesser extent) universal white male suffrage were accepted by all Americans, liberal or conservative. The abolitionist movement grew largely out of the dying embers of the Federalists, the conservative party, while Jeffersonian and Jacksonian liberals did their best to avoid the subject. To be liberal in an ante-bellum American context generally meant favoring free trade, distrusting banks, and, above all, supporting state's rights and local autonomy and opposing a strong central government. In that sense, the Klan could very well have seen itself as a movement of Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democrats resisting an oppressive federal government.

On the other hand, the assumption that liberal = states rights = the southern party was becoming increasingly dubious in the 1850's. Among the great spokesmen for the south, Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democrats were giving way to Calhounian (if there is such a word) aristocrats. State's rights began looking less and less like local democracy and more an more like a barrier to keep dangerous ideas out. The Democratic Party began looking less and less like the party of the common man and more and more like the party of Southern domination. Southern aristocrats who once proclaimed themselves champions of the common man because they favored cheap to free land in the West came out against the Homestead Act. Southerners who claimed to favor limited federal power made an exception for fugitive slave laws and slave codes in the Territories. In short, the South started looking less and less liberal in the late ante-bellum period.

The Ku Klux Klan may very well have seen themselves as Jeffersonian and Jacksonian liberals, but that claim would not have withstood serious scrutiny by any contemporary, European or American. The Klan was objectively illiberal, but may have subjectively have seen itself quite differently.

Anti-conservative. This was a non-issue. In the South in the aftermath of the Civil War, conservatism in the sense of maintaining the status quo of power did not exist. The old order (slavery) had been decisively overturned, and everyone knew it was never coming back. No new order had yet arisen to take its place. So the Klan could not either favor or oppose maintainnig the status quo of power because there was no status quo of power. What they favored was creating a new order as near as possible to the old one.

In short, I would give the Klan a full point as anti-radical. I would give it half to one point as anti-liberal. And since conservatism was not an option, it does not count. So the Klan gets between one and a half out of two and two out of two for the (three) fascist negations.

I stand by my old contention that the Klan was generally fascistic in its methods, except that it did not have a strong charismatic leader, but did not have any of classic fasicism's more ambitious goals of remaking society.



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