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Rococo Marxism and Fake Fascism

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Steven M. Falk/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP

Trump supporters might not be tired of winning, but liberals sure are. Just this week, Professor Dylan Riley — from one of  America’s most liberal colleges, no less — made the monumental confession that President Donald J. Trump is indeed not a “fascist” by any sane definition of the word. (The sound you hear is this brave soul dropping off of dozens of Left-wing Christmas-card lists.)


It’s troubling enough that this may be the first liberal academic to dispute the idea, which is prevalent on college campuses, that Trump is some noxious blend of Hitler and Mussolini. It’s more worrisome that such an obvious truth must be expressed at all. What does it say about our universities and popular culture that wealthy and educated men and women have no idea what fascism is — or at least pretend not to?

The late Tom Wolfe, in his delectable essay “In the Land of the Rococo Marxists,” provides an admirable analysis of just this phenomenon, namely, the use of “fascism” as a buzzword and slur rather than a politico-historical term of art.

Wolfe explains how “fascism” was originally a Marxist coinage that communists applied not only to the totalitarian regimes in Italy, Germany, and Spain, but also to any number of anti-communist regimes in the West. Eventually, the Left began applying fascism to everyday phenomena that conflicted with their vision of the world.

“Real fascism and genocide were finished after World War II,” Wolfe explains, “but the intellectuals used the Rosenberg case, the Hiss case, McCarthyism — the whole Communist Witch Hunt — and, above all, the war in Vietnam to come up with … “incipient fascism” (Herbert Marcuse, much prized as a bona-fide European “Frankfurt School” Marxist who had moved to our shores), “preventive fascism” (Marcuse again), “local fascism” (Walter Lippmann), “brink of” fascism (Charles Reich), “informal Fascism” (Philip Green), “latent fascism” (Dotson Rader), not to mention the most inspired catch-up of all: “cultural genocide.” Cultural genocide referred to the refusal of American universities to have open admissions policies, so that any minority applicant could enroll without regard to GPAs and SATs and other instruments of latent-incipient-brink-of-fascist repression.”


Wolfe concludes: “‘Anti-fascism’ became a universal ray gun, good for zapping anybody, anywhere, from up here … on the intellectuals’ Everest of Indignation."

Wolfe’s words are even more relevant today in the Trump Era than they were in 2002 when he wrote his essay; no other president or administration ever has been labeled “fascist” so often – and not because of his conformity to historical fascism, but simply because the president does things liberals dislike.

Wolfe connects this name-calling phenomenon to the American Left’s parallel intellectual decline, especially after World War II. He explains how Marxists, unable to incite an American proletarian revolution, increasingly relied on what they considered disenfranchised minority groups — “women, non-whites, put-upon white ethnics, homosexuals, transsexuals, the polymorphously perverse, pornographers, prostitutes (sex workers), [and] hardwood trees,” as Wolfe puts it — to stir up resentment against the middle class. He calls this kind of Marxism “Rococo Marxism,” because it doesn’t “get too hung up on political issues, which never seem to work out right anyway,” and instead focuses on deconstructing the West’s inheritance of common-sense knowledge, after the fashion of poststructuralists such as Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida.

But if this  rampant smear of “fascism” on anything liberals despise is so clearly anachronistic, why does this practice persist as typical journalists and academics applaud? 

The answer? Political correctness! “By now people above it have learned to shrug and acquiesce to ‘political correctness,’ to Rococo Marxism, because they know that to oppose it out loud is in poor taste,” says Wolfe. “It is a … breach of the etiquette you must observe to establish yourself as an educated person.”


In other words, journalists and professors deploy the blatantly ahistorical “fascism” because they crave the approval of their fellow coastal elites. Declining academic institutions and a lemming-like drive to conformity are the twin jets of this cultural absurdity. 

The quickest way to combat Rococo Marxism and fake “fascism” is to resist the Left’s feather-brained narratives. Kudos to Professor Riley for finally breaking this mold. One hopes that more such professors follow Riley’s lead as the Trump presidency approaches its fourth — but likely not last — year.

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