Saturday, June 27, 2009

Two books on the American Far Right --old and new

Two of my favorite books on the American far right were published 66 years apart. Leonard Zeskind's Blood and Politics was published just weeks ago, while John Roy Carlson's Undercover, was a best-seller in 1943.

Blood and Politics will likely be viewed as the authoritative history of the racialist American right over the last fifty years. It's going to be discussed next week in the TPM Cafe. Check out the discussion. Meanwhile, Daniel Levitas has an insightful review in the Forward.

To most Americans, including seasoned political observers, the machinations of white supremacists and professional antisemites are regarded, if at all, as crude carnival theater. After more than three decades of close observation, Leonard Zeskind, recipient of a 1998 MacArthur Fellowship for his independent scholarship on far-right, racist and neo-Nazi groups, is not so dismissive. More important, his first book, “Blood and Politics,” analyzes the past 35 years to provide a trenchant and troubling assessment of the future of what Zeskind terms “the white nationalist movement.”

Since the mid-1980s a number of books have detailed homegrown paramilitaries and the bigoted zealots behind them, but “Blood and Politics” provides an entirely deeper level of analysis. Zeskind is the first to fully integrate a sophisticated understanding of global events — specifically the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union — with an equally forceful insight into the uniquely American dynamics of racial identity, Southern sectionalism and national politics. After the Soviet Union “cracked apart like a three-minute egg,” and anticommunism became almost instantly irrelevant to American national identity, white nationalists rushed in to fill the vacuum.

The end of the Cold War dichotomy gave way to a new struggle, that of nationalism vs. internationalism, and the results of this “geopolitical earthquake” are still reverberating all around us, Zeskind explains. While most of the civilized world ostensibly looked on with horror as the multicultural communities of Yugoslavia disintegrated under the demands of ethnic nationalism, white supremacists and antisemites in the United States saw increased promise in the prospect of recasting their domestic struggle as both an ethnic and religious war.

Because Undercover as a tremendous best-seller, there's a good chance you might find it a used-book store, ebay, or abebooks. There is an on-line PDF

Here's what Time magazine said about Undercover back in 1943

For four years pseudonymous Author John Roy Carlson, a youthful Armenian-born journalist, has sat in on the conclaves of some 30 U.S. fascist and near-fascist groups. What he saw and heard, and what he thinks about it, makes a bulky (544 pages), jumbled, fact-crammed book. * It is good reading and worth reading; it is a believable account of real viciousness, relieved by fragments of pure absurdity. Smart readers will make allowances for Investigator Carlson's enthusiasms, distinguish for themselves between stooges and stars.

The Line. Before Pearl Harbor U.S. fascism was blatant and aggressive. Federal agents and public hostility have driven it to cover. So today's techniques are largely confined to whispering campaigns in industrial centers, promotion of racial violence, draft dodging, food hoarding, agitation for "democratic" opposition to the Administration. The objective, says Carlson, is to sabotage "with every means at their command, a quick Allied victory ... to ,prolong the conflict in order to intensify . . . work of dissension. . . ."

"The America First spirit," said Senator Gerald Nye to Carlson, "is much stronger now. But . . . you can ruin a good thing by coming out with it at the wrong time." When the time comes, explained the " 'dean' of American intellectual fascism," suave Lawrence Dennis, "such slogans as 'America for the Americans,' 'White Supremacy,' . . . 'Europe for the Europeans' . . . will become popular. Reactionary feeling will become rampant, followed closely by antiSemitism. . . . Declare yourself for the war now [and] after you say this begin to explain that we're fighting for Communism."

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