Culture Wars/Current Controversies

The church of anti-fascism

By James McElroy Washington Examiner

Why did our governing classes treat last summer’s antifa rioters with so much more indulgence than they did the rioters of Jan. 6? Paul Gottfried’s latest book, Antifascism, offers an explanation that goes beyond mere political enmity. Anti-fascism, Gottfried argues, is the ideological foundation of our society. Our regime legitimizes itself by claiming that fascism is a permanently lurking evil that can remerge at any moment, even as it constantly expands the definition of “fascism” to include any political opposition. The black-clad thugs from last summer are not the enemies of power but its unwitting shock troops.

Gottfried is a historian and political philosopher who occupies a strange space in the intellectual scene. On the one hand, he is a giant on the Right who has written numerous books since the ‘70s. He edits Chronicles magazine and was a longtime humanities professor at Elizabethtown College. He studied with Herbert Marcuse at Yale, and in some sense, his work is a form of right-wing critical theory. His book After Liberalism is a classic that predicted every major political trend of the past 20 years.

Gottfried is more marginal and obscure, however, than his résumé might predict. He has often associated with unsavory elements on the Right. He had a long friendship with Samuel Francis, a brilliant essayist who late in his career embraced white racialism, and he coined the term “alternative right” in collaboration with Richard Spencer, who would later shorten it to the “alt-right.” But Gottfried himself is a Jew whose family fled Nazi persecution, and he has repeatedly condemned white nationalism. Regardless, Antifascism is a sober and clear-eyed book that anyone would benefit from reading.

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