Attention! Fascism in the Furniture Store!
One of the social-cultural plagues of our time is the universally spread opportunism of the educated classes known as Political Correctness. It proclaims itself as a brave and uncompromising defender of freedom of speech, and an equally fervent enemy of all forms of censorship. While this would be entirely admirable, in reality this freedom is limited to itself.
While one is free to promulgate an unrestricted freedom of expression everywhere, problems arise when it comes to basic, day-to-day tolerance for dissenting views. These same people who claim to so cherish freedom see fit to castigate any utterance not in accord with their own interpretation of freedom.
These PC arbiters have authority to determine what is true and what is false, what is good and what is evil, what is just and what is not. And, as is so often the case, it just happens that their ideological fanaticism splendidly coincides with their secular self-interest.
It is not much of an exaggeration to say this new priestly class, heavy with privileges but lacking accountability, is one of our greatest contemporary problems, and that bringing to an end its monopoly on identifying and framing issues is one of the most pressing political-intellectual challenges of our time. For whoever has a monopoly in determining who is an enemy and who is a friend - and especially who does so in a ruthless, aggressive, and fanatic manner - effectively has a monopoly on power. Thus, the "Political Correctness" issue is, in the fullest meaning of the word, a political one.
In the linguistic arsenal of its adherents, you will find words or terms that not only confuse and confound reality, but also morally disarm adversaries. These terms are not meant to describe reality as it is. Instead, their basic purpose is to produce a certain intellectual and emotional aura, generate an atmosphere of horror, conjure up a ever-lurking threat and danger, and create an atmosphere of uncertainty and existential fear. Europeans are being scared by mighty and influential persons whose power is based exclusively on socio-technical propaganda manipulation of the masses.
People are encouraged to fear things that are neither specific nor tangible, but simply to be frightened in general - metaphysically, so to speak - and to be fearful not merely of others, but even of themselves. For the "enlightened" and "liberated" European, Political Correctness has gradually come to dictate an imperative duty: to be permanently on the alert for enemies and saboteurs, as well as to overcome one's own superstitions. This basic method employed in this ultimate of causes is the simple, propagandistic formula of "guilt by association".
One might assume that after the collapse of the Communist regimes in Europe, people in both the East and the West would finally breathe freely. With the end of the nightmare, it's time for some cheerfulness and optimism. Not so. The good citizen in European countries discovers with a shock while reading newspapers, watching TV, and listening to the radio that, according to society's opinion-molding circles, the enemy has not only not vanished, he is fully awake, ever ready to threaten our democratic, civil liberties.
But just who is the horrible monster? Well, he's not hard to find because he is identified by many different and familiar labels. He appears in the guise of: populism, nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism, right-wing extremism, religious fundamentalism, neo-Nazism, and zoological anti-Communism - in short, fascism.
So, these days fascism is again on everybody's lips. Revived, it once again enjoys a dazzling career. "Fascism will never vanish", thunder the international news media. It's nothing less, we learn, than the danger we had been told was annihilated half a century ago. The fascism we smashed to bits during the Second World War, and which is supposed to have rotted away over the past several decades, today poses the greatest and most imminent danger to all the nations and people of Europe. And today, we are constantly told, combating fascism is not only an ever more urgent necessity, but also the moral duty of all people of good will.
As the memory of Communism recedes ever further into the past, the greater grows the anti-fascist hysteria. People take to the streets to demonstrate their hatred against those who hate. Intellectuals gather to express their intolerance of intolerance. Politicians call for decisive new laws to combat the danger. Lawyers vie with each other in finding new ways to lock up the enemies of an open society. The moral authorities proclaim, urbi et orbi: no freedom for the enemies of freedom!
As it turns out, the enemy is everywhere - he lurks around every corner, and behind every bush. He may take a shape of an 80-year-old neighbor or a close friend. And new reports keep arriving: in France, Jean-Marie Le Pen and his followers murder Arabs and overturn Jewish grave stones. In reunited Germany, Franz Schoenhuber revives the Waffen SS, while in Italy Gianfranco Fini uses force to keep the trains running punctually. Saddam Hussein plants bombs in New York City, and in Russia Vladimir Zhirinovsky threatens to soak his feet in the Indian Ocean. In Austria Joerg Haider engages in ethnic cleansing, while from Iran the Ayatollah Khomeini (although reportedly dead) is still hunting the writer Salman Rushdi. In the United States Pat Buchanan protects criminal Hitlerites, and in Poland Fr. Rydzyk is shaving the heads of libertine parliamentary deputies. In France, the philosopher Roger Garaudy insults the memory of millions of victims of racist genocide, and in Sweden Count Wachtmeister sets fire to mosques. Look out! Fascism!
Decent citizens - our Kowalski, Schmidt, Dubois or Svenson - is shocked and terrified. Phantoms of the past rise from their graves to humiliate, torture and murder. Something must be done, and immediately. Demonstrate, protest, act, repel the forces of evil and violence! Don't wait a minute, tomorrow may be too late.
Our decent citizen is just about to grab a club from his basement, along with a banner proclaiming "Long live freedom!", on his way to a street protest to express his boundless contempt for people who hold other people in contempt, when all of a sudden - as if struck by a lightning - he comes to his senses. He looks around furtively, observing with suspicion. He talks with his family and friends, his neighbors and colleagues, and even strangers in the coffee shop and bar, and... what?
Nothing. He can't locate a real fascist. Well, he has heard of an eccentric poet in Warsaw, Brzóska-Brzoskiewicz, who goes around in a Gestapo uniform, and some months ago he saw a young fellow running in the street wearing tall leather boots and a strange leather jacket, but, frankly, he was rather more frightened by the rowdy and disheveled fellows who were chasing after him.
And so, our decent German, Frenchman, Swede, Pole lightheartedly turns his back on the world of Orwellian language, surrealism, hysteria and uproar, happy to return to reality. He once again enjoys nature, and he treats stupidity with indulgence and humor. He reads only periodicals of small circulation, while on TV he watches only soccer games. He enjoys art and music, but preferably from before 1918. And he no longer confuses idealism with fanaticism or fundamentalism, nor a radical critique of the ruling class with populism, national pride with right-wing extremism, historical research with incitement against minority nationalities.
Above all, he is no longer afraid of "fascism", because he realizes that nowadays this notion is no longer used to describe a (possibly) dangerous ideological phenomenon, but instead is used, with rather obvious intent, to morally discredit political adversaries.
* * *
In late 1995 a sensational news item appeared in newspapers around the world. The Anti-Defamation League, based in New York, demanded $200,000 restitution, an apology, and public repentance from IKEA, the Swedish-based international furniture chain store. According to the ADL, IKEA had some dangerous (but not clearly specified) fascist ties in the past. The ADL also threatened that if IKEA failed to accept its demands, it would proclaim a boycott of IKEA across the United States, where the company has many stores.
People wondered: what motivated this organization to take such high-profile action against a furniture company? Had the IKEA company employed slave labor or supported the German armaments industry during the last war? Not at all. As it turns out, the reason for this action by the Jewish-American defenders of dignity and honor is this: during the late 1940s and early 50s, the founder and owner of the IKEA, Swedish entrepreneur Ingvar Kamprad, while he was a student in Malmö, Sweden, attended lectures of Per Engdahl, the leader of a minuscule rightist party, "The Young Swedish Movement", which before the war did not hide its fascist sympathies. At that time Kamprad also wrote two letters to Engdahl, in which he expressed his interest in corporativism and admiration for Engdahl's intellect. Forty-five years later, these letters found their way into the hands of reporters, who did not hesitate to use them accordingly. And that's what the entire IKEA "fascism" scandal amounted to.
In December 1995, Ingvar Kamprad publicly repented for the sins of his youth, and his company paid the money demanded by the Anti-Defamation League. So, 50 years after the end of the Second World War, fascism suffered yet another stunning defeat - this time not on the battlefield but in a furniture store.
Jaroslaw Zadencki holds a degree in philosophy from the University of Warsaw. He is currently working at the University of Uppsala in Sweden.
This essay, a translation and adaptation from the original Polish, first appeared in issue No. 1(30),1997, of the journal Stanczyk, ul, St. Pietaka 9, 51-140 Wroclaw, Poland.
Additional information about this document
|Title:||Attention! Fascism in the Furniture Store!, A European look at 'Political Correctness'|
|Sources:||translated from the journal "Stanczyk," No. 1(30),1997|
|First posted on CODOH:||June 29, 1997, 7 p.m.|