To Fight Against This Age: On Fascism and Humanism by Rob Riemen

The author is a Dutch writer and “cultural philosopher”. The dust jacket says To Fight Against This Age was an international best seller. The book has two parts: “The Eternal Return of Fascism” and “The Return of Europa”.

The first part argues convincingly that fascism is a recurring tendency in Western civilization. The second argues that a united Europe could be much more than it has turned out to be, which is “nothing other than an Economic Union, where the terms soul, culture, philosophy, and live in truth are as impossible as a palm tree on the moon” [167].

The situation in the United States being more urgent, I found the discussion of fascism more engaging. We hesitate to apply the word “fascist” to the right-wing extremists who have gained ground in America (and in some parts of Europe),  mainly because they haven’t taken total control of society and spread bloodshed in the manner of Hitler and Mussolini. Rieman, however, says we should use the term to make clear how extreme these movements are and also make it easier to stop them:

… the fascist bacillus will always remain virulent in the body of mass democracy. Denying this fact or calling it something else will not make us resistant to it…. If we want to put up a good fight, we first have to admit that it has become active in our social body again and call it by its name: “fascism” [34].

In the twenty-first century, no fascist would willingly be called a “fascist”. Fascists aren’t that stupid, and it fits with their mastery of the skill of lying. Contemporary fascists are recognizable partly through what they say, but just as important is how they operate…. Fascist techniques are identical everywhere: the presence of a charismatic leader; the use of populism to motivate the masses; the designation of the base group as victims (of crises, or elites, or of foreigners); and the direction of all resentment toward an “enemy”. Fascism has no need for a [small “d”] democratic party with members who are individually responsible; it needs an inspiring and authoritative leader who is believed to have superior instincts (making decisions that don’t require supporting arguments), a faction leader who can be obeyed and followed by the masses [83-84].

Sound familiar?

The View from Ukraine

By pointing out recently that there are a lot of Russian speakers living in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, I didn’t mean to imply that Ukrainians in those areas are pleased with the Russian occupation. The New York Times printed two op-ed pieces today by Ukrainians who dispute the idea that the Russians are welcome anywhere in Ukraine. 

In “The Myth of a Divided Ukraine”, Natalka Sniadanko writes that:

In recent days, in cities across the region, people have gathered to protest Russian aggression. Thanks to Mr. Putin, Ukraine has seen a rise not only in Russian-speaking Ukrainian patriots, but also “Russian-speaking Russophobes,” who identify as Russian but want nothing to do with him.

In “Crimea: Russia’s Next Afghanistan?“, Olga Dukhnich says that she lives and works among ethnic Russians who are deeply worried by the Russian occupation:

The leaders of Russia may be ruthless and determined, but they are not blind. They can try as hard as they can to shut the eyes and ears of the Russian public back home and in the Crimea through shameless propaganda on every TV channel. But — staged rallies and corrupt local quislings aside — the Russians, now that they have landed, surely see that they are not welcome, but feared, even by the ethnic Russians who they thought would embrace them.

Despite Ukraine’s recent political and economic problems, it is hard to imagine that many Ukrainians, ethnically Russian or not, want to go back to being ruled by Moscow instead of staying independent and moving closer to the West. Nevertheless, the most recent indications are that the Europeans, especially the Germans, don’t want to jeopardize their economic relationship with Russia, their principal supplier of energy. For that reason, there may be a very limited Western response to the Russian invasion.

Update:  If you want an excellent summary of Ukraine’s recent dictatorship and revolution, read this article written a few days ago by Timothy Snyder, Professor of History at Yale and the author of a great book called Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. It’s especially helpful if you’ve heard that the revolution was led by fascists, the story Putin has been pushing.

The Russians in Ukraine

If you want to see what’s probably going to happen to Ukraine, take a look at the New York Times map below. In the orange area to the west, people speak Ukrainian and voted for the opposition in the last election. In the blue areas to the south and east (including the Crimean peninsula), most people speak Russian and voted for the President who was recently impeached.

It shouldn’t be a surprise if Russia eventually absorbs the blue areas. The West will strongly object, but nothing too bad should happen so long as the Russians don’t move too far west and their natural gas keeps flowing through Ukraine to Europe. On the other hand, nothing very bad should have happened after Franz Ferdinand was shot in 1914. (Other maps are here.)


The Old World and the New, 1492 – 1650 by J. H. Elliott

The English historian J. H. Elliott is an expert on the history of Spain. His subject in this short book is the effect of the discovery of the New World on Europe, especially the Spanish. Yet he is hesitant to identify causal relationships, tending to identify historical correlations instead, e.g. between the amount of gold and silver taken from the Western Hemisphere to Spain and rising prices in Europe.

The book begins with Columbus discovering North America and ends with the collapse of the Spanish Empire. Between those events, the Spanish viewed the New World as a source of gold and silver and as an opportunity to spread civilization, especially Catholicism. There were  intellectual consequences, but most of the impact was economic and political. Harvesting 180 tons of gold and 16,000 tons of silver (plus any that wasn’t officially reported) helped Spain become the most powerful nation in the world.

This development wasn’t lost on the other European powers. In Elliott’s words: “Overseas possessions came to be seen as essential adjuncts of Europe, enhancing the military and economic power of its rival nation-states”.

Considering that Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America, was founded in 1607, and the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in 1620, it isn’t surprising that the English play a small role in this story. What surprised me was how much history was being made in the New World by the Spanish, Portuguese, French and Dutch before the English began to colonize North America.

Not everyone in Europe thought the discovery of the New World was a blessing. There were Spaniards who criticized the treatment of Spain’s new subjects and believed Spain would be better off economically and morally without importing all that precious metal.

The French essayist Montaigne also had something to say: “So many goodly cities ransacked and razed; so many nations destroyed and made desolate; so many infinite millions of harmless people of all sexes, states and ages, massacred, ravaged and put to the sword; and the richest, the fairest and the best part of the world turned topsy-turvy, ruined and defaced for the traffic of pearls and pepper”.