The following was written in response to last month’s physical attack on Yiannis Boutaris, the mayor of Thessaloniki, by members of Greece’s extreme right. Just a few days ago we witnessed an even more stunning case of backpedaling in an incident involving Golden Dawn MP Konstantinos Barbarousis (read more about it here).
Every time that extreme-right wing thugs have been called on to face the consequences of their actions, they have presented themselves as repentant and misguided and not merely as innocent. The kids who attacked Yiannis Boutaris, Mayor of Thessaloniki, on May 21 make for the most recent example. I do not see this behavior as an abjuration of the “machismo” that fascists show in their beliefs but rather as an extension of it. Fascism is the raw glorification of power. When someone loses the advantage of superiority over a solitary opponent and finds himself at a disadvantage, he has no choice but to submit to power. Historically, fascists have pursued one of two solutions when things have gone badly for them: they’ve either committed suicide or “betrayed their ideology.”
The question of the courageous fascist does not correspond to whether we are willing to acknowledge that, in principle, there do exist among our ideological enemies—even among fascists—people who would be willing to give their lives for their (horrendous and barbaric) ideals. I would think that this is, theoretically, possible. The classic example is Creon in Sophocles’ Antigone. Many scholars argue that he is the hero of the play: utterly stubborn, he is destroyed by a “tragic error” and yet does not back down. Creon, however, was born to “share in hate,” not love; the opposite of Antigone. The question is an empirical one: is such coexistence of courage and hatred so historically improbable? Why is it so common for fascists to weep the moment they’re put in a tough spot? Or, if they don’t weep, they are at any rate perfectly content to deny their beliefs.
Ancient heroism was transmitted, via Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle, to Nazi Germany, where it proved inspirational. Heroic myths would become a pillar of the Nazi imagination. Leo Schlageter marks one case in point: he has a place of honor in Hitler’s Mein Kampf and had already been heroized in the early 1930s. He was apprehended by the French authorities after he drunkenly revealed secret information to a woman he was sleeping with at a hotel, but still he received all the statues and celebrations that he merited.
Horst Wessel was also worshipped as a Nazi hero because communists planted two bullets in his skull. The Fuhrer himself spoke at his funeral, where Goebbels delighted in the humiliation of the communists who had to watch thousands of Nazis pass by their offices. I’m not sure how courageous Wessel was at the moment he was killed but, in any event, that’s who he was. The truth is that the role he played as Nazi-martyr was so significant that British airplanes dropped propaganda pamphlets on Berlin with instructions on how to hang oneself painlessly, which they signed off with “The Horst Wessel standard is calling!”
So, there were the unnoticed suicides (a thousand over three days in a town of just 16,000 people, for example), but there were also the eminent ones. These people were called on by their leaders called to choose a heroic departure over a dishonorable surrender, as Hitler and Goebbels did. A few months before his death, Goebbels had praised Cato of Utica, the famed Roman statesman and Stoic philosopher who committed suicide rather than surrender to Caesar.
In fact, support of Nazism in Germany was forgiven rather quickly, as efforts at Entnazifizierung (denazification) ceded to the Cold War. In general terms, then, there was no reason for a former Nazi official to play the hero. If he hadn’t committed suicide outright, now he could deny his past, happy in the knowledge that there was no way of verifying the answers he provided on the famous Denazification Questionnaire on which Germans were forced to reveal the extent of their participation in National Socialism. By the same token, our own kiddos could have gone from German collaborators to patriots, opponents of the traitorous Left, without anyone worrying the slightest bit.
Let us, then, consider it a condition of heroism for someone, in the face of a dilemma, to make the most costly decision because his conscience demands it. Not, that is, to suffer the misfortune of meeting an enemy and losing his life, but for there to be a moment in which he decides that, even though he is in a position of weakness, he will not renounce his beliefs. The example of the Golden Dawn will furnish no such inspirational paradigms. The kids who attacked Boutaris said:
“I saw people yelling at someone and went up to see who it was. Ι got caught up in it because I was dumb and I’m young.”
“I didn’t know who it was. I made a huge mistake and I’m sorry. I got caught up in the crowd. I’d heard that the mayor had let the gays have a parade.”
The second twenty-year old didn’t know who had organized the rally he’d just gone to; he didn’t know how harmful ten years of training in Tae Kwon Do can be when you kick a 76-year old, and so on. But the best is the one who hastened to explain that he didn’t just cooperate with authorities; he gave them the name of a 17-year old buddy of his who beat up Boutaris along with him.
These kids parroted what their lawyer urged them to say. Actress and director Kitty Arseni, who was detained during the Greek Junta, recounted the uneasy relationship members of the resistance had with lawyers-—uneasy precisely to keep them from letting the lawyer make a mess of things just to flatter the court and get their clients released. In other words, these people refused to cheapen the ordeal of torture they had already endured so as to secure the court’s leniency. “Details,” you'll probably just say.
Apart from the heroic examples of communist tranquility in the face of death, of the blissful revolutionary who does his duty, all the while smiling at the vermin that send him to his end, one might also think of the youths of Velventos, who cried “Long live anarchy” despite being encircled by five Judge Dredds—where we know that every syllable will be paid for with ten kicks to the teeth.
What I’m trying to say is that, although I’m willing in principle to acknowledge the possibility that fascism can be attended by courage, the attitude shown thus far by fascists who have had to face the consequences of their actions has been pathetic. We saw the first such wave with the arrests following the murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fissas (Killah P): no one knew; no one saw; the swastika is an Ancient Greek symbol; the guy had a “Sieg Heil” tattoo because he liked the design. Such a parade of cowardice—you could hardly believe it would come from such thugs. (These very people would say that “they cry like little girls,” and so hope to forget the example of Kitty Arseni and so many other women who never cried like the “tough guys” do amid trying circumstances.)
And yet this parade of cowardice is natural and only to be expected. There is no ideal within fascism that outranks superiority of force. So, when the fascist faces arrest, there is no objection he can make. He loses; he can’t take on everyone, so without his protective cushion of power—in effect, the angry mob that accompanies him—there is no ideal, no authority that can save him from disgrace. He throws a tantrum and collects grudges and psychoses to break out the next time he finds a solitary immigrant to beat down, ten at a time.
My point is that it’s not even a contradiction. The path from group attack on a 75-year old to tears shed before a judge is a straight one: there exists no authority and no ideal except the glorification of power. This makes for boldness in the moment of power and humiliation in the moment of trial. And the greater the humiliation, the greater the brutality that will be shown to the next victim who crosses the fascist’s path later on. To cry before a judge is not to deny the supremacy of power; it is to be deprived of it. I have never found myself in enemy hands; I have never been arrested and had my future, my bodily integrity, or my life be determined by my attitude. Thankfully, I might add. I can, however, recognize the difference between dignity and disgrace.