I’ve been reading Modern Fascism: Liquidating the Judeo-Christian Worldview by Gene Edward Veith, and it details the worldview of fascism, an ideology respected—and even popular—among Western intellectuals in the 20th century before Nazism revealed the horrors it can unleash.
The book was written 30 years ago (thankfully, untainted by today’s political controversies and biases), so it’s shocking to discover that not only is it relevant to our situation today, but also the ideas central to the fascist worldview have filtered down from the 20th-century intellectuals and gained a great deal of ground in mainstream, popular thought—just not under the proper name of “fascism.”
Veith sums up the central idea of the fascist worldview this way:
Fascism can be understood most clearly in terms of its archenemy, the Jew. Just as the Nazis sought to exterminate the Jews, fascism sought to eliminate the Judeo-Christian tradition from Western culture.
Ernst Nolte has defined fascism as “the practical and violent resistance to transcendence.” Whereas the Judeo-Christian tradition focuses on a transcendent God and a transcendent moral law, fascist spirituality is centered upon what is tangible. Nature and the community assume the mystical role they held in the ancient mythological religions. Religious zeal is displaced away from the transcendent onto the immanent: the land, the people, the blood, the will.
Fascists seek an organic, neomythological unity of nature, the community, and the self. The concepts of a God who is above nature and a moral law that is above society are rejected. Such transcendent beliefs are alienating, cutting off human beings from their natural existence and from each other.
Specifically, such transcendent beliefs were condemned as being “Jewish.” Fascist anti-Semitism was not merely racial—despite the biological race theory that dominated National Socialism. The rationale for anti-Semitism was also the ideas of the Jews. According to fascist theorists, the Jewish influence—that is, the idea of a transcendent religion and a transcendent moral law—was responsible for the ills of Western culture.
Because fascists rejected the transcendent, they were hostile towards Bible-centered Christianity (and the Judaism that birthed it). They also rejected the idea of knowable, objective truth and viewed the academy as a way to indoctrinate people into the “correct” (that is, their preferred) ideas. Here, Veith explains Heidegger’s argument against academic freedom:
Academic freedom as the disinterested pursuit of truth shows “arbitrariness,” partaking of the old essentialist view that truth is objective and transcendent. The essentialist scholar is detached and disengaged, showing “lack of concern,” missing the sense in which truth is ultimately personal, a matter of the will, demanding personal responsibility and choice. In the new order, the scholar will be fully engaged in service to the community. Academic freedom is alienating, a function of the old commitment to moral and intellectual absolutes.
The concept that there are no absolute truths means that human beings can impose their truth upon an essentially meaningless world. There are no objective, essentialist criteria to stand in the way of united, purposeful scholars forging their new intellectual order and willing the essence of the German people. What this meant in practice can be seen in the Bavarian Minister of Culture’s directive to professors in Munich, that they were no longer to determine whether something “is true, but whether it is in keeping with the direction of the National Socialist revolution.”
You may see something there that looks familiar to you: “Truth” is subordinate to agenda, and the claim that we should seek to discover the objective truth of a matter is seen as a threat to our social responsibility to uphold the narrative, and is therefore dangerous, which is why “academic freedom” shouldn’t be allowed.
And what was the result of these elements of the fascist worldview in Germany?
If reason can no longer lead to a common truth and if meaning is a function of the will, then the intellectual life becomes a conflict of competing wills. Persuasion is a matter not of rationally analyzing evidence to reach a common conclusion; rather, it becomes a matter of power, of one will conquering other wills. In a discussion of his political rallies, Hitler analyzes persuasion as the process whereby weak wills are overwhelmed by a stronger will….
Fascist rhetoric thus aims at the will rather than the mind. Rational discussion is replaced with psychological and rhetorical manipulation; the search for truth is set aside in favor of a power struggle and a contest of wills.
That fascism placed such an importance on the will may help to explain its particular mode of tyranny. Those who dissented with the regime were seen not as people who disagreed intellectually or philosophically, but as people with hostile wills. In rejecting the common will, they were guilty of not belonging. This is perhaps why the Nazi apparatus was so thorough in its interrogations—what was wanted was not so much conformity but assent. Those who disagreed were exhibiting a contrary will; they were not skeptics but enemies. Conflicts of the will cannot be mediated by reason; they can only be resolved by force, with one will imposing itself on the other. There is no question of persuasion; only coercion or—for those totally outside the collective will, such as Jews—elimination.
Who does not see this approach—a lack of care for objective truth, psychological and rhetorical manipulation and pressure to assent, labeling those who disagree as enemies, attempting to remove them from public life—echoed today? The rejection of the transcendent has had and will have terrible consequences.
The more I learn about the history and consequences of ideas, the more two things become clear to me. First, Christians must love truth. There’s a reason why God values truth so highly. In fact, I’m sure there are many reasons and that we only know some of them. As I wrote last year:
The temptation to close our eyes to truth, to tweak it, to hide the inconvenient bits for the sake of something “good” is especially strong in our culture right now. But every truly good thing can only be discovered, revealed, and accomplished in truth, so we ignore truth at our peril. Instead, we must seek it, submit to it, champion it, and allow ourselves to be changed by it rather than viewing it as a dispensable tool to be discarded when it interferes with our well-intentioned narrative and goals. You cannot blur truth for the sake of serving God because only truth can point to the God who is true.
This is countercultural, so it will take effort to go against the current in this. We need to be intentional about our allegiance to truth (which is, ultimately, allegiance and submission to the God of truth) and never place other goals above it.
Second, Christians must love the Bible. It is absolutely crucial that we, as believers in a transcendent God and standard, fully submit ourselves to the revelation he’s given us. Again, this is extremely countercultural in a society that values creating our own identities and “truths,” but the difference between our worldview and the culture’s goes right down to this root: Is there a God we ought to submit our lives to in order to flourish, or does our flourishing depend on our creating ourselves according to our own desires? While explaining how Nietzsche’s ideas became part of Nazism, Veith says this:
For Nietzsche, this next stage of human evolution is not merely a superior biological specimen, but a newly authentic self, who will usher in a new moral, cultural, and spiritual order. The Superman will not accept the abstract, transcendental meanings imposed by a disembodied rationalism or by a life-denying religion. Rather, the Superman will create meaning for himself and for the world as a whole.
The Superman, according to Nietzsche, is an artist who can shape the human race according to his will. “Man is for him an un-form, a material, an ugly stone that needs a sculptor.”
Again, sound familiar?
As Veith points out, only the Christians who insisted on holding to transcendent biblical truths stood up to the Nazis, opposing “‘the practical and violent resistance to transcendence’ that was fascism.” The destruction that will come today from rejecting both truth and the Bible will be devastating. Let’s do our small part every day to resist it—not only in the world, but also in our own hearts.