Unpopular Opinion: Steve Rogers was Always a Fascist

There’s been a lot of good writing, here and elsewhere, about why it’s so upsetting for Marvel to reboot Steve Rogers, the original Captain America, as a crypto-Nazi HYDRA agent. But oh, is it worse than that. I want to offer this: Rogers, in both the comics and the movies, has always been a fascist. It’s just that he’s previously been on our side.

To be fair, he’s not usually a racist, white supremacist, or otherwise an evildoer; that’s a new aspect of the HYDRA-Steve persona. But behind the red, white, and blue shield and optimistic, inclusive rhetoric, there is a man who believes, ultimately, that only he can truly separate right from wrong and stand between good and evil. The simple fact that he’s been written so that the reader/viewer will agree with his conclusions is a mere distraction from his antipathy for democratic values and individual rights.

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Scan from “Civil War” (image via idratherbeloislane)

Here he is at his most idealistic, righteous, and pure. And yet, he’s 100% wrong: he goes after the press, the politicians, and the “mob”, dismissing the public, their representatives, and their voices with a simple assertion of his own moral views. The United States was not founded on a principle of individual defiance of the general will: rather, we were founded as a nation of laws, not men, of separated powers, of due process, and of representative government. Such scorn for media, politicians, and the electorate is more commonly reserved for repressive regimes.

If anything, the traditional version of Steve Rogers provides a more apt and chilling warning about the risk of an authoritarian America than any weak-sauce HYDRA parody of the man.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Occultism: Esoteric Traditions in Foucault’s Pendulum

umbertoeco

Umberto Eco (via WAMC)

Earlier this week, I talked about the political implications of Umberto Eco’s 1988 novel, Foucault’s Pendulum, particularly with respect to the conspiracy-minded thinking that it dissects. But there’s also a significant spiritual dimension to the novel, as its focus on esoterica and the occult represent a real history of discontent with mainstream religion that stretches back nearly a thousand years.

The book generally side-eyes occultists, both past and present, and doubts their claims to supernatural powers. But it is very clear that such figures and groups really existed, and many of them authentically aspired to the powers they claim to have obtained, and their claims were very widely believed. New Age philosophies and other countercultures linked to the esotericism generally have a reputation for being peaceful and loving, but it’s one which has not been earned.

Eco by no means condemns the occult in general terms, but he does call attention to the potential for such beliefs to generate abuse and hatred. The large-scale rejection of Christianity by the alt-right in the United States, and the ongoing links between various neo-pagan subcultures and neo-Nazism, show the need for continued study.

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Throwback Thursdays: Paranoia in Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco

Book cover

(via Amazon)

First published in Italian in 1988, Foucault’s Pendulum is an eerily prescient novel by the philosopher and semiotician Umberto Eco, who passed away about a year ago. Despite its arcane exploration of ancient mystical societies, and academic protagonists, its analysis of conspiracies, conspiratorial thinking, and related phenomena feel uncannily familiar, as though he were anticipating the incomprehensible modern world of truthers, birthers, and Pizzagate.

The book focuses on a trio of underemployed scholars in modern Italy, who make ends meet by working at a small, vanity publisher focusing on esoterica and conspiracy theories. Mocking their authors (whom they refer to as “Diabolicals”), the protagonists amuse themselves by trying to weave every bit of nonsense together into a grand new theory of the history of the world.

Belbo, Causabon, and Diotallevi never quite let themselves believe their own tale, but remain dangerously entranced by the possibilities that they dream up. Their apparent knowledge brings them into increasing conflict with the Diabolicals themselves, who persistently believe that any denial of a conspiracy is only evidence of its potency.

The book is set in 1970s and 1980s Italy, a time of social upheaval known as the Years of Lead. The era saw significant terrorist activity from far-left groups such as the Red Brigades as well as far-right and neo-Nazi organizations like the National Vanguard. In a society torn apart not only by violence, but by fundamentally oppositional views of the world, Eco saw the potency of esoteric thinking: it not only offered truths that could not be doubted, but the promise that ultimately, someone, somewhere, was actually in charge. Even if it was all made up.

It is this aspect of the book which resonates so deeply in the 21st century, when the world again seems plunged into chaos, and truth itself recedes into the distance. The conspiracy theories that animate contemporary politics overlap with the many legends in Foucault’s Pendulum, but even more than such specifics, the temptation, power, and danger of these beliefs echo loudly.

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Peace Through Bureaucracy: Star Trek’s Federation as Utopian Fascism

Without getting into depressing (and obvious) specifics, I’ve been thinking about fascism lately—specifically the concept of “utopian fascism”. As is often the case when grappling with such issues, I turned to science fiction for a guide. Fortunately, there is a fictional government perfectly suited to explore the question “can democracy and universal prosperity ever be successfully combined with fascism?”: Star Trek’s Federation.

The Federation’s exact political structure is sometimes difficult to pin down, but it seems to be a combination of a democratic interplanetary parliament, a massive military alliance, and a totalitarian bureaucracy.

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This isn’t what it looks like.

Now don’t panic! This isn’t going to be super depressing nor is it going to be about space Nazis (unless you count the above-pictured episode TOS episode “Patterns of Force). When I talk about fascism, I’m talking about the philosophical concept as it dates back to Rome, not the actual horrific reality of modern-day fascism. I am not about to ruin all of our moods by writing some anti-Starfleet propaganda… at least, not too much of it. What I will do is take a look at how the Federation is utopian, how it’s fascist, how (and if) the two can be combined, and what that all says about our vision of a perfect government.

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Wilson Fisk, Il Duce of Hell’s Kitchen

wilsonfiskinjailIt means that I am not the Samaritan. That I’m not the priest, or the Levite. That I am the ill intent who set upon the traveler on a road that he should not have been on.

Wilson Fisk transformed the villain’s role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He is not an evil robot, or the head of a vast conspiracy, or an ancient god of chaos. His life story is not the tale of a festering wound inflicted by the hero. He’s not even a Nazi. Wilson Fisk is a purely human force. He has no magic, no powers, no wondrous technology—nor does he seek to acquire any. He lacks the kind of megalomania that drives others to take over the world.

He relies on human powers: money, muscle, and connections – powers which can be leveraged through his knowing white privilege. He ascends as populist dictators do, staying within the boundaries of the elite as he consolidates power.

His basic desire is chillingly simple: dominance. He aspires to wrest the chaos of Hell’s Kitchen into an orderly fiefdom, where the demolition of all opposition will mean that at last, the trains will run on time. And he’s not the only burly bald man to harbor such ambitions.

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