Another weekend, another spectacle. This time it took the form of a “#UniteTheRight” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where the self-appointed saviors of Western Civilization gathered to congratulate themselves on their self-proclaimed cultural superiority. On Friday evening, a subset of these gathered to lead a torch-lit march through the campus of the University of Virginia, for the attention of a few people standing around with smartphones – UVA is still on summer break, so for all intents and purposes this grand spectacle was a collection of Bateman’s Losers wandering through a deserted part of middle-of-nowhere Virginia. The main event Saturday was more fraught, with counter protests meeting the thugs in their homemade neo-nazi-LARP gear head on, and one of the Hitlerjugend deciding to ram his car through a crowd of Black Lives Matter demonstrators, killing one woman and injuring many more.
And what a spectacle it was – the inverse correlation between confidence in one’s own racial superiority and one’s impressiveness as an example of our species is now so well evidenced as to amount to a scientific principle. Sweaty young men wandered through campus with tiki torches insisting loudly they will not be “replaced.” The next day they play-acted in faux-military garb, waving makeshift shields and calling for “White Sharia”(apparently this obsession with the supposed rise of Sharia in America is aspirational). The tiki torches are becoming a regular fixture at these gatherings (I assume Costco is running a deal or something), lending our new yuppie Herrenvolk the menacing quality of a local community theater production of Beauty and the Beast. While they are ostensibly dedicated to the defense of Western Civilization, apparently what they’re actually defending it from are mosquitoes.
Some are incredulous at we who find humor in these bumbling brown shirts. “How can you sit back and laugh,” they demand, “as fascism returns to America. Now is the time for action.” This may seem particularly so when the gatherings turn violent, as they did Saturday afternoon. To this I respond: we are taking action. Mockery is the most dangerous tool in politics.
It is inconvenient for some to remember now, but for much of the 1930s elite opinion in the Anglosphere looked on the developments in Germany and Italy with admiration. The Fuhrer’s fans included King Edward VIII (he of the abdication crisis – beware women from Baltimore, they always cause trouble), U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain Joseph P. Kennedy, and even, in the early days, Winston Churchill (Churchill eventually saw his error). American Liberals saw much to admire in Mussolini, and much of the New Deal program was inspired by the Italian Fascist’s reforms (e.g., Joel has briefly discussed FDR’s appreciation for Il Duce here). Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists had as many as 50,000 members. All this is not to cast aspersions, but to point out it was not inevitable that we or our British cousins were to end up on the right side of the 20th century’s most important question.
Except maybe it was. Orwell took the position that, in hindsight, it had been impossible for the martial blather to take root in Britain. Such pomp had some appeal to the upper classes, for whom decorations and parades stirred something in the breast, but repulsed the masses. For the Goose-Step, Orwell pointed out, “ugliness is part of its essence, for what it is saying is ‘Yes, I am ugly, and you daren’t laugh at me’, like the bully who makes faces at his victim.” This rendered it useless in Albion: “It is not used because the people in the street would laugh.” These are, after all, the people who would later give us the Ministry of Silly Walks.
Instead, the British turned the Teutonic nonsense into a bit of sport. P.G. Woodhouse rejiggered Oswald Mosley as Roderick Spode, leader of the “Black Shorts.” Spode leads rallies of dopey acolytes with speeches about spuds, insisting on the superiority of British potatoes and the measurement of British knees (Charles Cooke keeps pointing out his uncanny resemblance to a current public figure). Americans, always being a bit more literally minded, rendered the Fuhrer himself into a cartoon character.
All this is to give the übermenschen in Virginia too much credit, of course: a few hundred tikis on a dark night can look imposing, but it’s not much larger than the crowd at a typical Walmart on a moderate day. Estimates for Saturday’s attendance are hard to come by, but it seems clear the bigots were dwarfed by the objectors. Much was made of the “alt-right” conference held in DC last fall, attended by a whopping 300 people – more than half of whom were reporters dispatched to gape at the car crash. For comparison’s sake, the events in Virginia come one week after the Democratic Socialists of America held their convention, which attracted several multiples of the crowd in that DC ballroom last November. The media covered these budding Bolsheviks as the incoming wave in American Politics. That was last week. This week the incoming wave is the twitter frogs. Which is it? The DSA membership tripled this year, to 25,000. Impressive growth, but keep in mind that the Green Party boasts around 250,000 members, and the Libertarian Party around 500,000. The comrades singing Le Internationale are some ways off from seizing the means of production, while the champions of the white race are marching with torches imported from Mexico. In the 1950s, the bigots had badges and firehoses. Now they are reduced to ranting anonymously on the internet, scared to death of being found out for what they are.
I understand those who dislike living in a country where bigots march in public (though I am aware of no country where such does not take place), particularly those at whom the bigotry is targeted. We should meet the stupidity and ignorance with intellect and with argument, and, where necessary, we should meet force with force. But we must also chuckle and cackle at a political ideology whose medium of exchange is cartoon frogs, whose vocabulary is so limited they must take their slogans from fetish porn, whose displays are the practice not so much of activism as onanism (less “Blood and Soil,” more soiled underpants – “Yes, I am ugly, and you daren’t laugh at me”). As H.L. Mencken reminded us, “one horse laugh is worth a thousand syllogisms.”