Roads to Dominion: Rightwing Movements and Political Power in the United States.
by Michael Novick
It is difficult to imagine two books about the U.S. political right further apart in style and focus--yet so close in capturing the essential issues and ideas.
In Roads to Dominion: Rightwing Movements and Political Power in the United States, author Sara Diamond is the favorite teacher, furiously scribbling at the blackboard while an auditorium of students sits mesmerized by the detailed descriptions of various political players. The focus is broad, the style is academic.
In White Lies, White Power: The Fight Against White Supremacy and Reactionary Violence, author Michael Novick is the popular soap-box orator, boldly gesticulating on the street corner while a boisterous crowd gets energized by the detailed condemnations of various villains. The focus is narrow, the style is polemic.
Novick's use of the term "white supremacy" reflects the broader definition--not just race--hate groups, but the entire superstructure of oppression erected during European colonialism to justify domination of so-called inferior peoples who were identified and made the 'other" by assigning the idea of race to skin color.
Novick helped found People Against Racist Terror, a California-based activist group that publishes Turning the Tide, the journal he edits. White Lies, White Power began as a series of essays in the journal, leading to some confusing gaps in coverage and an unremitting tone, suitable for short articles but which I found tiring in book length.
Sometimes, such as when Novick discusses the relationship between the state and the paramilitary right, he seems to oversimplify; other times his analysis is complex and nuanced. But there isn't a chapter that doesn't ask tough questions. This isn't light reading, but it's must reading, especially for white activists seeking to go beyond guilt to effective anti-racist action.
As Novick writes, the book "puts forward the hope that together, we can overcome the problems that face us. It is an invitation and a challenge to people, not simply to take a stand or choose a side, but to help change the balance between the forces of repression and those of liberation."
Diamond's goal is to remake the basic definition of the political right: to be rightwing means to support the state in its capacity as enforcer of order and to oppose the state as distributor of wealth and power downward and more equitably in society."
Diamond divides the right into four broad movements in order to describe their complex interactions and transformations since World War II: the conservative anti-communist right, the racist right, the Christian right, and the neoconservative right. She also describes how rightwing movements and groups sometimes support the system and sometimes oppose it. This is an especially useful concept since the same type of paramilitary right groups that once assisted government agencies in spying on civil-rights and anti-war dissidents are now busy forming anti-government armed militias and blowing up federal buildings.
One wishes that Diamond would spend more time explaining subtle distinctions, especially the difference between conscious and unconscious white-supremacist thinking within the racist right, but then the book had to omit something to achieve its broad goal. Diamond's panoramic analytic overview and self-assured command of the facts make this the most important comprehensive book on the U.S. right ever written.
Both Diamond and Novick examine mainstream public and private institutions when studying the right. This challenges the mainstream pluralist/extremist paradigm, which frames the right as composed of politically marginal extremists.
Proponents of the pluralist/extremist view see the center as a safe harbor from the unreasonable demands of the radical left and radical right. They claim democracy takes place in the center among pluralists, with extremists populating the fringes where law enforcement can police their criminality.
Diamond cites a form of social-movement theory that first gained widespread attention with the publication of Michael Rogin's 1967 book, The Intellectuals and McCarthy: The Radical Specter. Rogin, a thesis adviser for Diamond, took a potshot at pluralist/extremist theory; Diamond has fired the cannon.
Pluralist/extremist theory was developed by liberal centrists to explain 1950s McCarthyism and the Goldwater and Wallace Presidential campaigns. These same fading liberals would soon rise, Phoenix-like, from the ashes of McCarthyism to create the neoconservative movement.
Novick's central premise is that white supremacy in the United States is not a marginal activity by extremists but implicit and complicit with institutionalized liberal democracy and a corporate state willing to use political repression to block dissent, especially in the face of a complacent and comatose mainstream human-relations and civil-rights community.
Racist paramilitary movements and hate groups are only one aspect of the anti-democratic right. The other major segments include:
* Ultraconservative, reactionary, and theocratic backlash movements that in the United States defend white privilege, patriarchy, militarism, and Christian hegemony.
* Corporate economic interests reflecting different business sectors that shift from cooperation to competition depending on the issue, and which can ally with different sectors of the right.
* Public and private institutions that promote or tolerate racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and other forms of supremacy.
* Authoritarian state action, especially our country's long history of government intelligence abuse, police brutality, and political repression, which usually is aimed at civil-rights, peace, and social-change activists--and which historically has had far more injurious and lethal consequences for people of color.
In short: racism, anti-semitism, and other forms of supremacy are not the exclusive domain of marginal extremist groups but are also domiciled in mainstream culture and politics. Most mainstream human-rights groups still use the rhetoric flowing from pluralist/extremist theory: "radical," "extremist," "fringe." These are terms favored by a group of people who want dissidents to shut up and sit down.
Let's remember, however, that civil-rights activists, student activists, anti-war activists, women's-rights activists, gay and lesbian activists, ecology activists, and disability-rights activists were all labeled "extremist" at their inception, and still are so described by rightists who are not on the fringe, unless that's what you call the current U.S. Congress.
The most influential human-rights group still mired in pluralist/extremist theory is the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. The ADL's reliance on pluralist/extremist theory explains why the ADL leadership defends its role as hand-maiden for law-enforcement and intelligence agencies, while ignoring the institutional racism undergirding much police misconduct, now highlighted by the O.J. Simpson trial.
Groups like the ADL have no business circumventing privacy rights by collecting information on their political enemies and sharing it with government agents barred from seeking the information by law. Civil-rights groups should have public libraries and open archives, not private relationships with authoritarian government spies. ADL's leadership isolates many on its own staff who are deeply committed to civil rights and civil liberties and civil discourse, and who produce excellent reports on skinhead violence and Holocaust revisionism.
Rejecting centrist theory is not sufficient. To fight the right we also need understand "corporatism," which spawned pre-world War II Italian fascism. A new, improved model of "neocorporatism" now dominates global society, with the implicit notion that huge multinational conglomerates, negotiating with local labor forces and consumers, reach democratic outcomes through the free market. That's like sitting down at the poker table opposite someone with ten billion times more poker chips than you have--with the fantasy that you will win the first hand.
Resorting to nationalist appeals to defend sovereignty is not an appropriate tactic to fight neocorporatism, however, especially in the current volatile political climate. Ralph Nader and Public Citizen played this rightwing populist card during the NAFTA and GATT debates. leading Allen Hunter to raise some deserved criticism in the summer 1995 issue of Social Policy.
In times of social or economic distress, people often turn toward swift, simple solutions and the strong leadership of the "man on the white horse." Authoritarianism undergirds militarism outside our borders and repression inside our borders. When combined, as it is now, with the theocracy of rightwing fundamentalists, and the neocorporatist assumptions behind global restructuring on behalf of multinationals, the goal of reat participatory democracy seems hopeless.
It is easy to see why febrile conspiracy theories about secret teams, evil elites, bilious bankers, corrupt politicians, jackbooted Gestapos, and U.N. troops carrying new world orders have such an attraction to some on the left. They certainly are far more entertaining than systemic analysis and social-movement theory. and social-movement theory.
The problem, however, is not some mythic cabal of elitists ruling the world. We must listen to the late African leader Amilcar Cabral, who advised: "Don't shoot shadows." We must call the demons out by name.
Diamond and Novick call out the demons. The authors, despite their disparate styles, give us the vocabulary and vision we need to block the hard-right backlash, and begin rebuilding a truly progressive movement for peace, economic fairness, and social justice.
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 1995|
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