Modern Fascism Revisited

Modern Fascism Revisited

In 1993, I published a book titled Modern Fascism: Liquidating the Judeo-Christian Worldview.1 In it, I showed that the various fascist movements in Europe of the 1930s and 1940s were facets of the modernist movement, particularly, the branch of that movement that morphed into postmodernism. I also showed that the intellectual establishment of the 1990s, as represented in the academia of the time, was still holding to the ideas of the intellectual establishment of the 1930s that gave us Adolf Hitler, the Holocaust, and World War II, as if those catastrophes had never happened. But, as I wrote,

My concern is not so much with the current intellectual scene as it is with what might come next. What will the “post-contemporary” movement look like, once the postmodernists have successfully discredited objectivity, freedom, and morality? What sort of society will be erected on the rubble, once the Western tradition is deconstructed?2

“What might come next”? Well, Tabletalk has asked me to revisit my book to see how it stands up nearly three decades later. Reading it again after all these years was an unsettling experience. Much of what I predicted and warned against has come true. And even when I was wrong, I was wrong in underestimating the magnitude of the fascist revival.

As an undergraduate, I took a history seminar on early-twentieth-century Europe in which we studied the rise of fascism, which, to my surprise, was actually an avant-garde form of socialism involving some of the most distinguished thinkers and artists of the day. Then, as a graduate student in literature at a time when deconstruction and postmodern were in vogue, I observed the carefully controlled fallout over Victor Farias’ Heidegger and Nazism, which showed that the godfather of postmodernism, the twentieth-century philosopher Martin Heidegger, was not only a committed Nazi who presided over the purge of Jews in his university but a member of that party’s most radical faction. The same rationalizations accompanied the publication of Wartime Journalism: 1939–1943 by Paul De Man, which showed that the author, one of the fathers of deconstruction in literature, honed his ideas in writings published in Nazi publications in occupied Belgium.

As I started my career in Christian academia, I kept coming across related facts. I read an article by Raymond Surburg in Concordia Theological Quarterly about two important pioneers of the historical-critical approach to the Bible that demonstrated how their attacks on the Old Testament were motivated by their open anti-Semitism and by their desire to purge Christianity of its “Jewish” elements and thus the influence of the Bible. One of my colleagues, William Houser, a communications professor, discussed with me the contrast between Hitler’s ideal of “the triumph of the will,” captured in Leni Riefenstahl’s artistically acclaimed propaganda film of that name, and Luther’s “bondage of the will.” I also read the critique of Christianity and its ethic of love by Friedrich Nietzsche, the nineteenth-century philosopher venerated both by the S.S. concentration camp guards and many of my graduate school professors.

I wanted to connect the dots. Concordia Publishing House had started a monograph series and asked me to contribute something. After much research wherein I found that the connections I was making were fully supported by specialists in the field, I wrote Modern Fascism. That was not my choice for the title, which makes it sound like a book on contemporary political cults. Its subtitle captures my thesis: Fascism was all about “liquidating” the “Jewish elements” in Western civilization—that is to say, the influence of the Bible, specifically transcendent morality, objective truth, the value of the individual, etc.—in favor of reviving a neopagan worldview of power, constructivism, and collectivism.

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