The recent wave of church bombings, kidnappings, and executions of civilians in Iraq seems to support a contested claim by the Bush administration: that radical Islam is the philosophical cousin to European fascism; that it has less to do with politics than with nihilistic rage. As Bush put it in his address to Congress barely a week after the 9/11 attacks, "By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions--by abandoning every value except the will to power--they follow in the path of fascism, and Nazism, and totalitarianism." The president has asserted an Islamist-fascist link in at least a dozen speeches over the last three years.
Critics assail this argument as dangerously "ideological"--there's too much moralizing about the evil of terrorism, they say, and not enough curiosity about the "root causes" of Islamic violence. Religious liberals such as Bob Edgar of the National Council of Churches deride Bush's moral vocabulary as a way of "dehumanizing" America's enemies. Writing recently in the New York Times Book Review, political scientist Ronald Steel scolds administration hawks for ignoring "the essentially political causes of terrorism."
The eyewitnesses to Nazi terrorism, however, might well take exception to that view. Eric Voegelin, whose 1938 book The Political Religions made him a target of the Third Reich, offers perhaps the best-known critique of the moral and spiritual rationalizations of fascist ideology. A short work published in 1939 by philosopher Lewis Mumford, however, is also worth revisiting. Titled Men Must Act, the book grew out of Mumford's visit to Germany in the early 1930s. There he saw copies of Mein Kampf ("my struggle," Hitler's autobiography and political manifesto published in 1926) being snatched up in bookstores. He watched how Nazi brownshirts had taken over the streets in Lübeck, and listened at dinner parties as upper-class Germans praised Hitler's program against the Jews.
Writing when America was still in a pacifist mood, Mumford aimed to prod U.S. support for the Allied cause. His summary of fascist principles reads today like a recruiting manual for the al Qaeda network: (1) the glorification of war, (2) a hatred for democracy, (3) a hatred for civilization, (4) a contempt for science and objectivity, and (5) a delight in physical cruelty.
Read the entire article on the Heritage Foundation website.