Natasha Lennard will speak on campus, Thursday, Feb. 13th, Hargeaves Hall, room 201.
Q: Why is it important to discuss fascism on campus?
A: I think it’s important to discuss how fascism, its historic and continuing iterations, spread and persist in any sort of public sphere. But it’s no accident that far right groups in recent years have made a point of targeting university campuses to speak and recruit. Students are impressionable and often seeking forms of communal attachment and belonging — the very vulnerabilities fascism feeds on. Plus, fascist groups also know they can rely on university establishments defending their right to speak. We can think about fascism in a number of ways; I don’t think there’s one totally clear and sufficient definition (this is true of most concepts!); it’s a constellation of toxic practices. Many people reserve the term “fascism” only for state regimes, like Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain. But I think it’s crucial to apply the term more broadly, so we understand the ways of fascistic practices, behaviors and desires proliferate on an everyday scale — the micro-fascisms that were not obliterated simply because the Allies won the Second World War! So we have to be vigilant when we see fascisms gain ground in our midsts — which means not only watching out for white supremacist organizations, but also working against the misogyny we see frat culture promote and the racism embedded in university administrations and syllabi.
“It’s no accident that far right groups in recent years have made a point of targeting university campuses.” -Natasha Lennard, Political Journalist
Q: What makes fascism so appealing?
A: Fascistic habits are formed of the desire to dominate, oppress, and obliterate the nameable “other.” It’s important recognize that capitalism promotes these toxic attachments to power and hierarchy. Fascist groups purport to offer simply solutions to social problems and individual alienation, while stoking the misogyny and racism already so ingrained in our society.
Q: What are strategies to combat fascism? Is violence necessary?
A: There are a number of tactics that have proven successful in combating fascism. There is a view that sees tactical and moral value in allowing the likes of neo-Nazi Richard Spencer to publicly speak and rally, believing that the fallacies of their hateful views are best made visible (thus crushing hate speech with debate and reason). This has never worked; if it did, pernicious ideas like “race realism” (pseudo-scientific claims about white superiority) would have long died out by virtue of being wrong; indeed Donald Trump would not be president! But fascism is not an ideology people choose because of its intellectual merit. The desire for fascism is all about power, domination and belonging. It makes sense, then, to combat fascism on this level: to make there be material and unpleasant consequences for people to organize with and alongside fascist groups; to cut off the oxygen supply.
This might mean a confrontational protest outside a speech, it might mean publicly naming and shaming individuals found to be organizing with fascist groups, and it also could mean responding to the inherent violence of fascism with physical, self-defensive counter-violence. It might also mean protesting and making enough of a scene such that the university or venue decides that it’s not worth their while to host fascist speakers, whose very presence is a threat to minorities. These tactics are taken up under the banner “antifa”, which is wrongly described as some sort of group or organization, and rather is a set of strategies any would-be anti-fascists can take up. Neo-Nazi skinhead were driven out of punk sub cultural scenes in the 1990’s with such tactics; fascists organizing in London after the Second World War were literally beaten away by organized vigilante Jewish ex-service members; and when neo-Nazi Richard Spencer cancelled his college tour, he did not blame not the fact that he’d faced critical debate, he blamed antifa confrontations.
The question of violence is, of course, complicated. Any discussion about violence here must note that since 1990 there have been nearly 500 deaths caused by white supremacist violence, compared to only one believed to be related to far-left activity in the US. Between 2009 and 2018, white supremacist and far-right extremists were responsible for 73 percent of extremist murders in the U.S.. Fascism is, at core, an ideology of genocidal violence. So when people blame anti-fascist protesters for turning to violence, I always insist that the state of violence was already there, brought into the picture by the very presence of fascists! Defenders of anti-fascist militancy often call the resort to violent tactics a form of self-defense—a preemptive act to protect the community from the violence inherent to fascist organizing.
“Antifa do not bring violence; the violence was there in the DNA of fascism and our world through which it permeates.” –Natasha Lennard, Political Journalist
Q: You’ve mentioned in your previous works of multiple failed suicide attempts. Is it important for people like you (scholars), to allow yourself to become vulnerable to your readers?
A: Writers and academics should only ever be as vulnerable as they want to with the public. So I don’t think there’s a moral imperative in sharing sensitive, personal information. I’ve written about my suicide attempts and abusive sexual relationships in order to interrogate certain political and philosophical questions, to which my personal experience seemed to pertain. So, in the case of suicide, yes it’s a very personal thing to share, but what I really wanted to publicly share were questions about our ideas of personal sovereignty, mortality and selfhood. When writing about my abusive ex, I wanted to questions presumptions about “radical” sex and myths about its liberatory potential. The personal stories seemed like the best way in, but on the whole I’m not a very personal writer, compared to a lot of others, especially women, who the publishing industry has a habit of mining for personal trauma stories.
Q: Is “fascist practices, fascist habits” in all of us at some point?
A: I think we are all possessed of certain fascist habits and desires at times. I don’t mean that they’re inherent to humanity, I mean that they are inherent to life under capitalism, which none of us escape. Philosopher Michel Foucault put it this way, there is “the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.”
“I think we are all possessed of certain fascist habits and desires at times.” –Natasha Lennard, Political Journalist
Fascism has always been continuous with capitalism, not some strange deviation from it. Does that mean we’re all secret neo-Nazis? Of course not. What it means is that we all, especially those of us with white privilege, have to work to create non-hierarchical ways of living, working to undo our own privileges and desires for power. And that’s necessarily communal work.
Q: When it comes to-“fascist practices, fascist habits”, can social media exponentially make this worse?
A: Social media, as we see, has definitely been a powerful proliferator of fascism. Extreme ideas become easily normalized, re-packaged as memes and spread. Isolated, resentful teens find community on chat forums and fall into white supremacist black holes. And organizers can operate anonymously online, without risking their jobs and livelihoods in a way that joining neo-Nazi groups offline might. Plus, groups use online platforms to organize their offline rallies, like the deadly Unite The Right event in Charlottesville. Far right personalities have built huge followings online. That’s why the work of exposing these groups and individuals and consistently reporting them for hate speech, trying to get their profiles and channels taken down, is such necessary work. If only companies like Facebook were as concerned with the spread of fascism as they are about the presence of “female” appearing nipples!