Fascism’s conservative enablers

This article was written for Fightback’s magazine issue on the far right. Subscribe here.

Written by CA Monteath-Carr.

In March of 2020, two nationalists and a libertarian sat down for “the ideological debate of the century: Conservatism vs Libertarianism.”1

The debate was not widely viewed, garnering less than a thousand views across YouTube, BitChute, and live viewers. The host, James Davidson, is a far-right content creator and former member of the ACT party. His past projects include JChannel, now rebranded as RightTimes.tv, a streaming channel that covers topics such as “white wellbeing” and how multiculturalism is a “cold war” against traditional Western values.

The libertarian, Stephen Berry, is a former deputy leader of the LibertariaNZ party – the fringe political party for people who think ACT are mainstream, statist sell-outs. Stephen is not an incredibly deep political thinker, and it is not clear that he realises who or what his interlocutors are; he presents his views, but never meaningfully pushes back against anything the other two participants bring up.

The third man, Dieuwe de Boer, is another far-right blogger. He runs Right Minds NZ, a blog where he rails against abortion (“Abortion Is Really Sick, Extreme, and Odious,” reads a blog post dated 19/03/2020,2 “we need those who can train Christians on how to agitate against abortion in the way that churches fought and ended slavery two centuries ago,” a somewhat ahistorical view of American Christianity’s relationship with the Peculiar Institution). His blog minimises and downplays systemic and societal racism in New Zealand (the Christchurch shooter’s eco-fascism is compared to climate change activists Extinction Rebellion; systemic racism in New Zealand is “the dirtiest of dirty lies … being peddled by people who have a special interest in New Zealand being viewed as a racist hellhole.”)

The debate is less interesting for any questions it poses and fails to answer as to the merits of xenophobic nationalism versus libertarianism as moral and political philosophies, and more interesting in how de Boer and Davidson market their xenophobic nationalism as mere ‘conservatism.’ The far right, in Aotearoa and around the world, realise that their beliefs are on the edge of political respectability, and so activists such as de Boer and Davidson go to some lengths to launder their beliefs and so push them further into the mainstream.

***

There is historical precedent for this. Ever since fascism – the particular blend of racism, nationalism, the allure of a romanticised historical greatness, the cult of libationary violence and heroic action for action’s own sake, and the rejection of modernity and multiculturalism – arose in the early 20th century in the shadow of the horrors of The Great War and gained traction in Europe following the economic collapse of the Great Depression, fascist parties and agitators have always needed the support of mainstream conservatives in order to take and hold power.

Mussolini, for example, was installed as dictator of Italy once his March on Rome convinced right-wing business leaders and the King that he was the best defence they had against a left-wing parliament. Hitler, too, was made Chancellor not by winning a free election, but by social conservatives and business leaders who feared Social Democratic reforms. Today, in the 21st century, far-right leaders and would-be dictators from Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, India’s Narendra Modi, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, to Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan came to power by rising to the leadership of right- and centre-right parties and using their power to popularise their xenophobic nationalism.

While not every far-right activist believes in taking power through electoral politics, it is worth keeping an eye on the ones who do. The very online far-right activists are adept at seeding their ideas throughout the culture; this is how a popular celebrity chef ends up re-posting a cartoon containing occult Nazi symbolism or how the centre-right National party echoed far-right conspiracy theories about the UN Global Compact on Migration in 2018, and continued to do so as recently as July 2019, despite the fact that a man, acting on a sincere belief in these conspiracy theories, murdered 51 innocent people in Ōtautahi/Christchurch six months earlier.

***

Back in the debate, de Boer’s chief complaint against libertarianism, it seems, is that it focuses too much on the individual, almost as if there is “too much liberty,” and that libertarianism doesn’t have an anchor to the past.

While de Boer might be applauded for believing that there is, in fact, such a thing as society, the society he wants is a homogenous one, with no room for diverse lifestyles. There is a correct way to live, and it is the role of the state to promote and if necessary enforce that.

Without the state monopoly of force, he says, “you lose the ability to keep a cohesive nation of people who have similar values and similar ideas and similar backgrounds to keep your nation together, and you probably end up with a government that needs to get bigger and stronger to stop people from fighting each other.”

This emphasis on there being One True Way to live one’s life is a recurring motif in de Boer’s thought. The correct way of life has already been discovered and proven; all that remains is to follow it. This One True Way is, of course, grounded in “Anglo-Christian heritage and culture,” and can be applied very effectively throughout the world.

Colonialism, in other words, was good for Māori. According to de Boer, “Māori embraced and adopted a lot of this English culture, with high literacy rates compared to England.” It’s only when New Zealand adopts the “socialist approach” that Māori start to suffer:

…what happened in the 20th century it was the adoption of the more ‘socialist approach’ was what’s being very damaging to Maori and I think that conservatism does have the answer to the social issues that Maori are seeing and that what the Left in general and socialism is offering them that’s what’s actually maintaining the – you know if you have intergenerational welfare, if you have if you’re being encouraged to go back to these old ways, to ‘decolonise,’ that is actually harmful I believe and that the Western way of life is adaptable for everyone and that it will actually improve outcomes.

De Boer very explicitly ties British Imperialism, colonisation and conquest to his view of conservatism – they are one and the same. De Boer frames the spread of the British Empire, it’s exploitation of indigenous people, and extraction of foreign wealth, as merely “exporting Conservatism.”

Historically speaking that’s what conservatism especially in the English sense has done. What we refer to as the Anglosphere countries – you know, England, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, America – are basically the most prosperous and wealthy countries in the world. Singapore and Hong Kong [were] outposts there and you had some in Africa until recently anyway that were doing very well and so consider, it was mocked and it was mocked today but the idea that at least the English conservatives had was hey we can go to these people and we can share our religion with them and show them how we build our society and then they can come on board and join into this.

Not that de Boer means to whitewash or brush off the less savoury aspects of Colonialism, mind:

Sometimes a little bit too aggressively and too much force was used I’m not saying this was like perfect and all roses you know this was wonderful and lovely and everyone loved it and it was great for everybody but looking back at it in the long run this is something that did work and so I have no particular objection to it in that way. I get of course that not everybody might want to be a part of that but again that is something that did that conservatives have done and has worked well so the idea, you can export conservatism and especially the English did they exported their conservatism around the world and it exported very very well.

(Stephen Berry, asked for comment after this speech, says he has nothing to add.)

While it’s quite common for small-c social conservatives to romanticise the British Empire and make apologetics for colonialism, de Boer elevates this “Western Chauvinism” into an ideology, and justifies the violence and oppression of colonial rule by pointing to the material wealth hoarded by the perpetrators of the violence and descendants of the oppressors. White countries can be seen as the current global hegemon, therefore, white culture is the best culture, and should be imposed upon everybody, by force if necessary.

***

De Boer would go on to stand as the New Conservative party’s candidate for Botany in the 2020 general election, the seat vacated by Jamie-Lee Ross (Advance NZ) and ultimately won by Christopher Luxon (National).

De Boer only won 482 votes, a mere 1.54% of electorate votes cast in the seat. This can be thought of as a comforting statistic: de Boer is not a natural or charismatic public speaker, and Botany is a traditionally safe National seat, so this result is well within expectations for a neophyte candidate from a fringe party.

Alternatively, de Boer’s candidacy and the New Conservative’s campaign can be viewed as the normalisation of far-right views. Overshadowed by Christopher Luxon’s high-profile campaign – amidst speculation that Luxon was the heir apparent of former National leader John Key – de Boer did not attract much press attention. Local Auckland paper Times ran a favourable piece in their May 12, 2020 edition, downplaying a January visit from Police as “politically motivated,” noting his opposition to the Abortion Legislation bill but not reporting that de Boer views abortion as tantamount to barbaric human sacrifice.

While de Boer only received a handful of votes, more than a handful of Botany residents will have watched him speak at candidate events. Even more will have read coverage of New Conservative policies and received copies of their glossy literature. And in this way, far-right talking points can be re-framed as simply common-sense conservative ideas.

***

One last anecdote.

I met then New Conservative leader Leighton Baker at a candidate meeting in Christchurch, and engaged him in a conversation afterwards in regard to the party’s staunch opposition to hate speech legislation, on the grounds that free speech rights should be paramount.

I was making the point that there is an argument that ethno-nationalists and fascists do not respect the free speech of dissidents once they are in power, and that as these groups do not respect the marketplace of ideas, perhaps they should be excluded from it. Leighton was having none of it.

“But what if [fascists] get support, and then seize power?” I asked. “If people choose fascism, that’s OK with you?”

“Well, that’s a stupid decision,“ he replied. “But the people have to choose, because otherwise, someone has dictated to them what they’re allowed to choose. And isn’t that to some degree fascism?”

1 See https://righttimes.tv/libertarianism-conservatism-debate/

2 Archived at https://bit.ly/2NBEapC

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