Putting the “rien” in historian.

2 October 2006, 0210 EDT

The ongoing VDH war at Lawyers, Guns, and Money has, at least for the moment, degenerated into an exercise in CV parsing.

No. I’m not joking. The question: does Rob Farley’s status as an Assistant Professor at the University of Kentucky automatically make his arguments concerning President Carter’s defense policy less compelling than those of someone who is a Professor Professor Emeritus at Stanford Senior Fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, a former Visiting Professor at Stanford, and a Professor Emeritus at CSU-Fresno? Here’s a multiple-choice version:

A. Yes. If someone is at Stanford I automatically believe what he or she says over someone at a non-top-tier institution.
B. No. Rob Farley’s area of expertise is recent military policy. Hanson’s is in ancient history and literature.
C. No. I evaluate arguments based on their internal logic and the strength of their evidence.

Scoring at the end of the post.

Anyway, the argument convinced me it was time to take a look at VDH’s latest offering. Hanson mounts a stirring defense of the term “Islamofascism.” Turns out that one-ideology authoritatianism and fascism are equivalent concepts:

the general idea of “fascism” — the creation of a centralized authoritarian state to enforce blanket obedience to a reactionary, all-encompassing ideology — fits well the aims of contemporary Islamism that openly demands implementation of sharia law and the return to a Pan-Islamic and theocratic caliphate.

But it gets better. Islamicists, like fascists, romanticists, and conservatives,

… privilege their own particular creed of true believers by harkening back to a lost, pristine past, in which the devout were once uncorrupted by modernism.

Since they’re anti-semites, it also follows that Islamicists must be fascists.

Because fascism is born out of insecurity and the sense of failure, hatred for Jews is de rigueur. To read al Qaeda’s texts is to reenter the world of Mein Kampf (naturally now known as jihadi in the Arab world). The crackpot minister of its ideology, Dr. Zawahiri, is simply a Dr. Alfred Rosenberg come alive — a similar quarter-educated buffoon, who has just enough of a vocabulary to dress up fascist venom in a potpourri of historical misreadings and pseudo-learning.

Other choice quotes include VDH’s assertion that a connection between resentiment and fascism justify the declaration of all forms of religious, ethnic, and nationalist resentiment as fascist.

… fascism thrives best in a once proud, recently humbled, but now ascendant, people. They are ripe to be deluded into thinking contemporary setbacks were caused by others and are soon to be erased through ever more zealotry. What Versailles and reparations were to Hitler’s new Germany, what Western colonialism and patronizing in the Pacific were to the rising sun of the Japanese, what the embarrassing image of the perennial sick man of Europe was to Mussolini’s new Rome, so too Israel, modernism, and America’s ubiquitous pop culture are to the Islamists, confident of a renaissance via vast petro-weatlh.

I don’t think the conceptual leaps in the next quotation require much in the way of commentary:

while there is generic fascism, its variants naturally weave preexisting threads familiar to a culture at large. Hitler’s brand cribbed together notions of German will, Aryanism, and the cult of the Ubermensch from Hegel, Nietzsche, and Spengler, with ample Nordic folk romance found from Wagner to Tacitus’s Germania. Japanese militarism’s racist creed, fanaticism, and sense of historical destiny were a motley synthesis of Bushido, Zen and Shinto Buddhism, emperor worship, and past samurai legends. Mussolini’s fasces, and the idea of an indomitable Caesarian Duce (or Roman Dux), were a pathetic attempt to resurrect imperial Rome. So too Islamic fascism draws on the Koran, the career of Saladin, and the tracts of Nasserites, Baathists, and Muslim Brotherhood pamphleteers.

He also graces us with the following insight:

… just as it was idle in the middle of World War II to speculate how many Germans, Japanese, or Italians really accepted the silly hatred of Hitler, Mussolini, or Tojo, so too it is a vain enterprise to worry over how many Muslims follow or support al Qaeda, or, in contrast, how many in the Middle East actively resist Islamists.

Just to jog our memories a bit: the Nazi’s controlled a state. Al-Qaeda is a movement that seeks to re-establish the Caliphate. It follows that, contra Hanson, it matters a great deal whether or not they achieve the support and power-base to accomplish the task of toppling hostile regimes and replacing them with those following their own ideological agenda. Thus, Al-Qaeda’s popularity does impact whether they realize many of the hypothetical scenarios Hanson outlines. Indeed, his own reasoning suggests exactly that:

Bin Laden is no more eccentric or impotent than Hitler was in the late 1920s.Yet if he can claim that his martyrs forced the United States out of Afghanistan and Iraq, toppled a petrol sheikdom or two, and acquired its wealth and influence — or if he got his hands on nuclear weapons and lorded it over appeasing Westerners — then he too, like the Fuhrer in the 1930s, will become untouchable. The same is true of Iran’s president Ahmadinejad.

Incidently, the Fuhrer was not “untouchable” in the 1930s. One of the great arguments against “appeasement” stems from the widely held view that if France had moved against the German army when it reoccupied the Ruhr they would have crushed the army and likely brought Hitler down — possibly through a military coup.

The analogy between the ideological component of militant Jihadism and any sort of fascism — whether Italian fascism or National Socialism — is, of course, only marginally relevant to the practical assessment of what kinds of US policies are likely to succeed or fail in the American struggle with groups like Al-Qaeda.

Assume for a moment that Hanson is right: a US withdrawal from Iraq would greatly increase the appeal of Bin-Ladinism in the Islamic world.

• Do we need to think of militant Jihadism as a form of fascism to arrive at his conclusion?

• If a US withdrawal would empower Al-Qaeda, does that make Bin-Ladinism a form of “fascism”?

The answer to both these question is a resounding “no.” Any number of movements or regimes might receive a “boost” from their ability to claim a victory against an adversary. And the fact that two different movements or regimes might do so does not, in any way, provide a warrant for declaring them examples of the same kind of ideology. Both democracies and authoritarian regimes will usually defend themselves if attacked, but that doesn’t mean that the United States and the Soviet Union shared the same ideology.

Consider the following syllogism found in Hanson’s argument:

1. Fascism and militant Jihadism are equivalent.
2. Territorial concessions emboldened fascism.
3. Territorial concessions, therefore, embolden militant Jihadism.

Hanson uses the conclusion of the syllogism to prove one of his assumptions. The moment he does so it should be clear to anyone that he’s using the term “Islamofascism” to pre-empt thoughtful analysis rather than to enrich our understanding of the issues at stake.


A: Zero points.
B. Three points.
C. Three points.

If you scored “zero,” you need to go back and study your logical fallacies. If you scored “three,” you know how to correctly assess an argument by authority.

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