Until recently anyone in the least critical of immigrants would be called a fascist. But political correctness isn’t what is used to be, according to philosopher Rob Riemen in an interview with the Volkskrant.
Geert Wilders must not be called a fascist under any circumstance yet his style and ideas are reminiscent of pre-war fascism. He’s exploiting people’s dissatisfaction, making scapegoats of immigrants and turning against anything that is intellectual, cosmopolitan, or otherwise not ‘of the people’, writes Riemen in his pamphlet De eeuwige terugkeer van het fascisme (The eternal comeback of fascism) which will be out on Thursday.
Rob Riemen heads the cultural think tank Nexus which hosts prestigious conferences on art, culture and philosophy. Last year he published Adel van geest (Spiritual nobility), a plea for spiritual values as a weapon against superficiality, rampant consumerism and nihilism.
Is it any use calling Wilders a fascist? The immigration debate has stalled because of associations like this.
‘That’s right. But then fascism was used as a swear word. I’m using the term in order to understand populism. What is its cultural history? I see many parallels between Wilders’ movement and the rise of fascism. I am not talking about how fascism lead to Auschwitz but about how it began, as a populist movement that came to power.’
Isn’t populism simply a reaction to the very real problems surrounding immigration and criminality?
‘Of course these are problems but they are only part of the story. Most muslims are concentrated in the big cities but Wilders did very well in Limburg as well. Its fascism’s old trick of finding a scapegoat and saying: it’s him, it’s him, it’s him!’
‘The parliamentary debate was an embarrassment. It was hijacked by the Wilders agenda and didn’t even touch on the things that really matter such as the financial crisis, the environmental crisis, the crisis that the whole of civilisation is facing.’
Fascism was a mass movement with people in uniform marching behind banners. Now populism is much more fragmented. People are sitting at their computers, sending out angry messages.
‘After World War I fascism meant uniforms and banners. Our society has changed a lot since then. Another type of herd mentality has come into being that excludes rationality and wants to become the norm. People have become spoilt, aggressive and blame others for their own failings.’
In his pamphlet, Riemen cites the work of such pre-war thinkers as José Ortega y Gasset, Thomas Mann, Paul Valéry, Menno ter Braak en Max Scheler who warned against the dangers of an egalitarian society.
The German philosopher Max Scheler remarked as early as 1912 that the word ‘elite’ was beginning to be used pejoratively. The moment the thought takes hold that some are more equal than others, people’s anger can be exploited by a demagogic leader. In the 1930, Menno ter Braak, put forward a similar analysis of national socialism as an ideology of resentment.
Such a society is no longer interested in spiritual values and striving for a higher plane, says Riemen, quite the contrary. The quality of education is going down because ‘everybody’ must be able to go to university. ‘Difficult’ art causes resentment.
Riemen believes the elite should stand up and be proud. It should defend cultural and spiritual values. ‘Striving for a higher cultural plane was always a given in the history of our civilisation but today’s elite no longer seems to be interested.’
But who’s listening to the elite these days?
‘A democratic society needs an elite to show it what to aspire to. But the business elite has been disgraced. The intellectual elite doesn’t take itself seriously and all the media elite wants to do is sell. The political elite has no ideals left and is only interested in votes.’
Wilders says it’s the radical muslims that are the fascists.
‘There is no religion without fundamentalism. There are Christian fundamentalists who blow up abortion clinics. But it would be a nonsense to say all Christians are like that.’
This is an unofficial translation
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