Speaking of Rupert Murdoch, the May edition of his Far Eastern Economic Review was banned in China, according to Friday’s Washington Times, which attributed the banning to the magazine’s publication of an essay by the American Enterprise Institute’s “Freedom Scholar,” Michael Ledeen, entitled “Beijing Embraces Classical Fascism.”
I find the ban absurd myself, but I have to say that I’ve very rarely read such nonsense as Ledeen’s essay, even by Ledeen whose writings I have monitored pretty closely since 9/11 for indications of what Richard Perle, James Woolsey, Victor Davis Hansen, Dick Cheney, and even Karl Rove may be talking about when they get together in various permutations and combinations.
He argues, among other things, that the China of today is what Italy would look like “50 years after the fascist revolution” if Mussolini’s corporatist state had somehow survived into the 1970’s, requiring of the reader an act based solely on his or her imagination and absolutely no empirical evidence of any kind. In Ledeen’s imagination, such a state would “no longer be a system based on charisma, but would instead rest almost entirely on political repression, the leaders would be businesslike and cynical, not idealistic, and they would constantly invoke formulaic appeals to the grandeur of the ‘great Italian people…’.” While Ledeen might think that description constitutes “classical fascism,” I don’t see the difference between that and a typical autocratic regime that bases its legitimacy on some form of nationalism. After about another 1,200 words of rampant speculation based on virtually nothing but (mostly questionable) cliches and stereotypes — “the Chinese, like the European fascists, are intensely xenophobic…;” “Just like Germany and Italy in the interwar period, China feels betrayed and humiliated, and seeks to avenge her many historic wounds;” “…the short history of classical fascism suggests that it is only a matter of time before China will pursue confrontation with the West” — Ledeen concludes: “It follows that the West must prepare for war with China, hoping thereby to deter it.”
Based on my own modest experience in China, I have no doubt that the country (not unlike the U.S.) is nationalistic, that its ambitions as an emerging global power are significant, and that (again, like the U.S.) it considers military power an essential component of great-power status. But “fascist?” That’s quite a leap.
From his own post-graduate study of Italian fascism, as well as his work under the great George Mosse at the University of Wisconsin, surely Ledeen knows that a cult of violence (to which Ledeen and other hard-line neo-cons like Charles Krauthammer have themselves shown a perverse attraction) and the so-called Fuehrerprinzip — the notion that a charismatic leader who thoroughly embodies the virtues of a nation should be revered and his orders followed without question — are central to the “classical” fascist ideologies that grew up in Europe in the 1920s and 30s. And while one can argue that both characteristics were on display during the Cultural Revolution, it would be very difficult to find any trace of them in the Chinese leadership today. That a once-respected and influential journal should publish this kind of agitprop is truly disgraceful.