Fascism Is Not a Matter of Taste
At the signing of the notorious Hitler-Stalin Pact, Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov was asked to justify partnering with the Nazis. His retort: “fascism is a matter of taste.”
Recently, House Republicans refused to sign onto a resolution demanding that the State Department add three contemporary European fascist organizations to the US’s foreign terror list. Their critics condemn them for being as indifferent to fascism as Molotov.
The three organizations were Ukraine’s Azov Battalion (aligned with Russia), Britain’s National Action, and Scandinavia’s Nordic Resistance Movement. The Rise Above Movement, a US-based street-fighting gang, in 2018 sent some of its members to train with the Azov Battalion that uses a swastika-like symbol. The State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations is now mostly made up of Muslim extremist groups. A broader State Department designation would provide US security officials with more tools to monitor and potentially prosecute Americans associated with today’s fascist internationale that helped inspire American neo-Nazi marchers in Charlottesville, as well as New Zealand’s mass murderer of Muslims.
Apparently, the worthies of the Swedish Academy, who pick the Nobel Prize for Literature, also think along Molotov’s lines. In 2018, they had to postpone awarding the 2018 prize after their hushing up of a sex scandal was revealed. Now they have made up for lost time by honoring Austrian writer Peter Handke, a fan of Milosevic’s Bosnian genocide, as co-winner of the award for 2018-2019.
New York Times columnist Bret Stephens thinks the award to Handke is OK, because the arts and literature should not be mixed with politics. His view echoes the judgment of those who defended American poet Ezra Pound after he was arrested for treason by American forces in Italy because he spent World War II delivering hundreds of radio broadcasts from Rome vilifying President Franklin Roosevelt and the Jews. Subsequently, Pound pleaded a nervous breakdown caused by his captors, and spent 12 years in St. Elizabeth’s Psychiatric Hospital in Washington, DC. Whether this was to treat his lunacy or immunize him from prosecution is debatable.
Should fascists and antisemites be handled with kid gloves if they are artistic geniuses? In my view, it depends. Arguably, Shakespeare despised the Jews because this was the orthodoxy of the Christianity of his time. I am inclined to take historical relativism into account and be lenient with him posthumously. But I judge much more harshly Ezra Pound or Peter Handke, both fascist provocateurs against the common decency of modern times. They deserve severe punishment for knowing better.
Fascism, never a matter of taste, should not be excused today.
Historian Harold Brackman is coauthor with Ephraim Isaac of From Abraham to Obama: A History of Jews, Africans, and African Americans (Africa World Press, 2015).