Sep 2, 2011

Jon Gaynor's "The New Integralist Conservatism" – A good discussion of counter-jihadism and fascism

As a follow-up to my previous post about Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik, I want to discuss a particularly good essay about the counter-jihadist movement in which Breivik's politics are rooted. "The New Integralist Conservatism: a briefing" appeared on shortly after the July 22 massacre in Norway. Its author, Jon Gaynor, is a member of the Anarchist Federation in Britain. Gaynor argues that counter-jihadism is "expanding by filling an ideological gap on the far-right, which has been left open by an outmoded and unpalatable fascism reliant on biological racism and anti-semitism." Gaynor usefully outlines what the new movement and classical fascism have in common, as well as what sets them apart.

"Counter-jihadism" is a common label for the international Islamophobic network that includes the English Defence League (EDL), Geert Wilders's Party of Freedom, and authors such as Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, and Bat Ye'or (Gisele Littman). But instead of this label, Gaynor offers his own: integralist conservatism. The movement is conservative because "it has its origins in the fringes of the mainstream right, rather than fascist circles" and promotes themes that are common in the mainstream media and political discourse. It is integralist "not in the sense of fascist economic integralism, but rather the viewpoint which sees an essential, unitary nation corrupted by external conspiracy." This is helpful shorthand, although imposing a name on the movement from the outside seems at cross purposes with Gaynor's assertion that "this new right should be defined on its own terms."

Like fascism, in Gaynor's view, the integralist conservative movement (1) mythologizes the nation as a fundamental community that is under attack, and (2) "blurs together Marxism, a sinister ethnic-religious 'enemy' and, sometimes, finance capital" as conspiratorial partners in this "existential threat to the nation." Stated another way, both integralist conservatism and fascism promote "paranoid themes of national decline as a result of cosmopolitan decadence and mass immigration." Here Gaynor echoes Roger Griffin's argument that fascist politics centers on a myth of national "palingenesis," or rebirth out of a period of near-fatal decline or decadence.

Gaynor argues that integralist conservatism differs from fascism in rejecting biological (as opposed to cultural) racism and antisemitism, strongly supporting Israeli foreign policy, and advocating laissez-faire neoliberalism rather than monopolistic corporatism. Integralist conservatives rarely try to build centralized political parties in the classical fascist mold. Also, for integralist conservatives "the idealized, essential 'nation' being defended from the Muslim-Marxist threat is not the romantic, pre-industrial racist fantasy of neo-Nazis, but liberal democracy before the advent of mass immigration in the late 1950s."

Gaynor's approach is much more thoughtful and informative than most discussions of counter-jihadists' relationship to fascism. But I'd like to offer a couple of caveats. First, not everybody attracted to counter-jihadism disavows biological racism consistently – witness Breivik's manifesto or, apparently, some of the EDL splinter groups that Gaynor himself discusses. Second, fascist ideology is considerably more varied than Gaynor's essay implies. Italian Fascism, for example, was not particularly antisemitic (before 1938), enjoyed cordial relations with right-wing Zionists, and was much more overtly "modernist" in outlook than German Nazism. Among today's neofascists, some currents such as the LaRouchites and the Nouvelle Droite (European New Right) have rejected biological racism as thoroughly as any integralist conservative. Most counter-jihadists' emphasis on shaping discourse rather than building parties also closely parallels the Nouvelle Droite's "metapolitical" strategy.

But if fascist movements don't necessarily fit the standard profile (which is based primarily on German Nazism), that doesn't mean we should count integralist conservatism as one of them. Yes, the two have important points in common, as Gaynor argues, but there is still a line to be drawn. In my view, fascism is a right-wing revolutionary force that seeks to overthrow the established political order and impose its own ideological vision on everyone else, including the ruling class. It rejects pluralism and aims to subordinate all spheres of society to one doctrine, whether racial supremacism, cultural nationalism, or religious orthodoxy. As far as I can tell, Islamophic integralist conservatism simply doesn't go that far. It pushes the boundaries of established politics but, as Gaynor notes, it is still rooted in and very much interconnected with the mainstream. Maybe the Norwegian massacre will push part of the movement in a more revolutionary direction, or maybe it will have the opposite effect.