First off, this is only the second Chris Hedges book I have read, but I can say, without hesitation, that he is one of my favorite authors. The other one, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, fundamentally shaped my view of human society. In War, Hedges wrote about how the us v. them mentality that war requires gives people a cause, a goal, a sense of fulfillment. It's the same sort of mentality that the oh-so-often-quoted 1984 demonstrated in its extreme: leaders can control people if the people are in a constant state of conflict, united against a common enemy. It sounds kinda obvious, but it's so much better than I'm making it sound. Hedges worked for years as a New York Times war correspondent and he is able to answer the question "why?" that comes up when we see the bodies strewn in the streets in Rwanda, in Bosnia, in Sudan. He knows why. And since I've read the book, so I do I.
In American Fascists, Hedges turns that same eye to the Christian Right. Being a person of faith, he's much more credible than I would be when he writes, "Radical Christian dominionists have no religious legitimacy. They are manipulating Christianity, and millions of sincere believers, to build a frightening political mass movement with many similarities with other mass movements, from fascism to communism to the ethnic nationalist parties in the former Yugoslavia." This is not hyperbole. It is an assertion that is fleshed out throughout the book. This man does not pull punches.
He writes about radical Christians' "ecstatic belief in the cleansing power of apocalyptic violence" about the way that church members pray on the troubled, cult style, as they go in search of converts, about why radical Christian men demand the oppression of women and gay people in order to be secure in their masculinity (I never got this before and now I do). Another central point is that in order for leaders to control people, the people need to feel victimized and persecuted by the "them" in us v. them. This comes up in War and in American Fascists. "The war on Christmas" anyone?
It's eye opening. It's scary. I tend to dismiss religious wackos as harmless, partially because I was so influenced by Thomas Frank and the late Molly Ivins, both of whom felt the Christian right had been taken for a ride by politicians who took its votes and did not implement its agenda. (and partly because I do believe in people's freedom to believe whatever they want) This is true to a large extent but with Mitt Romney saying crap like "Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom" (I'm going with false on both counts there skippy), the Bush administration funneling tons of money into abstinence-only sex ed, which studies have shown does not work, and other related nonsense, it's good to get the old outrage flowing again now and then. I'll need it come November.
I've only read five chapters of American Fascists so far. I'm really looking forward to The War On Truth, which begins with scenes of a "museum" that shows people and dinosaurs co-existing, Flinstone style. Ha ha funny, until you realize that with homeschooling and Christian schools, some kids really don't know any better. They have not been exposed to any other ideas. War on Truth indeed. If it sounds like an Orwell cliche, it's only because Orwell was right and Hedges is too.