Joseph W. Bendersky of Telos has an article up on Frankfurt School luminary Max Horkheimer and his defense of militant democracy against enemies of the fascist and communist variety, in that order. He documents Horkheimer’s history as staunch advocate of state power to expunge from society the remnants of (even potential) fascist thought and behavior during WW2, to the 1960s, when he similarly saw such a threat from the generically fascist tendencies of the student movement, and likewise supported the state in efforts to suppress its influence.
In the words of Horkheimer, which Bendersky also highlights:
Fighting Anti-Semitism requires a militant policy opposed to fascism in all its forms within and without, and in all ways of life. We know that the defense of France collapsed because its democratic government had not succeeded in extirpating the fascist sympathies within the army and civil service, not to speak of the press and other important branches of public life. One of the means for preparing public opinion to demand such measures [emphasis mine] is to teach them that a strong central government able and willing to take effective action against fascism is not incompatible with democracy.
An interesting (and honest) way of putting it, “preparing public opinion.” Bendersky makes a good point further on:
The political as well as practical implications of the demanded “militant policy” are naturally quite extensive and complex. Among other things, it assumes an ability to identify “fascist sympathies” among citizens in civil society and government.
Philip Jenkins, writing at The American Conservative, details just how one may go about identifying such “fascist sympathies”: Seek the advice of professional anti-fascists. Critical of the alarmism surrounding the militia movement in the 90s, he fears such alarmism may be making a comeback with the new Democratic administration. The “expertise” of non-government affiliated organizations will be sought:
Private organizations also provide an institutional foundation for a war on domestic terror. Plenty of liberal pressure groups are only too willing to offer their services in identifying far-Right activists and painting them in the most damaging and alarming colors. Some of the most successful through the years have been the Anti-Defamation League, the Feminist Majority Foundation, and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), with its affiliated Intelligence Project (formerly Klanwatch). While there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of their convictions, such groups would gain immensely from a new political emphasis on militias or rightist groups[...]If a full-fledged right-wing terror network is not available, such pressure groups have every interest in hyping one into existence.
About as reliable as referring to the NRA for statistics on homicides involving legally obtained firearms.
It’s not particularly compelling evidence to rely on the activities of past Democratic administrations, and the voting record on H.R. 1955, or “Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007,” reveals Republicans just as eager (given their share of the House) to employ the state in such a “politically correct” way. But it’s a reasonable assertion for a popular political magazine.
He cites some of the books written in the 90s that attest to the climate of fear surrounding right-wing militias, obviously encouraged by the Oklahoma City bombing. One is Harvest of Rage, which Keith Preston has actually recommended due to its sympathetic tone. If any of the other books are like HOR, it may be misleading to use these writings as evidence of an irrational and exuberant “antifa” zeitgeist.
Getting back to Horkheimer; ironically, according to Paul Berman in Power and the Idealists, it was the student movement of the 1960s that can probably claim more allegiance to the anti-fascist cause than someone of Horkheimer’s ilk. In Phillip Hammond’s review of PATI, he writes:
Part of the fascination with the Nazi era was that, as Berman notes, the 1960s students were trying to live up to the generation who had fought the historic anti-fascist battles of the 1930s and 40s. Compared with the wartime résistant generation, the student radicals suspected that they might be ‘the generation of the second-rate… résistants with nothing to resist’.
Seen in this light, Horkheimer is more of an anti-totalitarian social democrat of the Hannah Arendt variety than a staunch anti-fascist, however much he may remain a “militant” devotee of democracy. Indeed, the biggest anti-fascists per se are die-hard (non-anarchist, perhaps?) communists, who rather inevitably end up taking on the generic fascist inclination toward authoritarianism, and the eradication of the bourgeois “civil liberties” which only serve to allow fascists to peddle their nonsense.
Unfortunately, as Bendersky makes clear, Horkheimer was all too willing to indulge in the sort of measures that attract the wrath of genuine liberals, i.e. those with no tolerance for the intolerance of surveilling police-states (or the threat thereof). Not that said genuine liberals believe there can never be such dreadful consequentialist calculations involving liberty vs. security, but that in every historical narrative of the necessity of such tradeoffs it’s been mostly or completely bullshit.