Before you report me to whichever authorities such things are supposed to be reported to, the title above isn’t a statement of my innermost feelings.
This is a sign prominently adorning the shop windows in a growing Russian chain of organic food outlets, sort of a miniature version of Whole Foods. The shops boast of selling, among other things, the best bread in Russia.
The chain, whose outlets appear in central thoroughfares of Moscow, Petersburg and other cities, belongs to the billionaire Gherman Sterligov, who professes Christian piety.
In that spirit, his expensive bread (up to £3 a loaf) is offered for free to poor people. But a slightly expanded version of the same proviso applies, as another sign makes clear: “No free bread for smoking, drinking, made-up and poof-looking people”.
The shorter sign, carved in wood, is for sale, costing an equivalent of £30. You must agree this is a small price to pay for such a concise encapsulation of one’s life philosophy.
To be fair to Russians, some of them have complained about the signs to the local councils. The protests were rejected, with the authorities invoking freedom of speech and the proprietor’s right to display whatever sign he wishes on his property. One wonders if they’d be as committed to civil liberties if a sign said “Down with Putin”, but that’s a separate issue.
The issue that interests me today is fascism, especially since some readers have taken exception to my describing as fascist such anti-immigration parties as the German AfD and the French National Front. What makes them fascist? asks a reader who, like me, identifies mass uncontrolled immigration as a serious problem.
I dare say it’s the same thing that makes Sterligov fascist, and indeed the government that allows such signs to be displayed for public consumption. The problem lies not so much with the underlying sentiment but with emphasis and style, and only a fool dismisses those as insignificant.
Fascism combines elements of both socialist and conservative heresies, and overstressing one aspect at the expense of the whole is the essence of heresy.
Most people assume that a heresy puts forth a wrong proposition, or at least one that contradicts the orthodoxy altogether. That’s not always true. In fact, many heresies aren’t necessarily wrong in their main tenet. Where they err is in trying to assign an undue significance to that one idea, passing a part for the whole.
This tends to compromise the whole, especially since heresies are usually expressed hysterically and intrusively. “The style is the man himself” (Le style c’est l’homme même), said Georges Buffon, and the same could apply to beliefs.
Sterligov is a heretic because he misses a key, overriding point about the religion he supposedly professes: hate the sin; love the sinner. His heresy takes him out of the territory he may share with conservatives and into the lot signposted by fascism.
A true conservative or, for that matter, Christian will oppose homomarriage, the mandated treatment of homosexuality as an equally valid “lifestyle”, propaganda of homosexuality and the Walpurgisnacht of Gay Pride parades. But only a fascist will display “no poofs” signs or, as Sterligov also allegedly does, pay thugs to attack homosexuals in the streets.
In the same vein, a true conservative will be appalled by an influx of cultural aliens distorting the demographic balance of a country, debauching its culture and social cohesion. But only a fascist will turn such feelings into the hub around which his whole life revolves.
In general, I tend to be wary of single issue politics even when I happen to agree with the single issue. For example, I know quite a few people who have allowed their perfectly legitimate abhorrence of the European Union to take over their whole outlook on life.
This is another example of fanaticism compromising a sound idea, for such tunnel vision leads those people into numerous blind alleys and intellectual traps. One such is their affection not only for European neo-fascist parties but even for the frankly fascist regime of Putin’s Russia, where “no poofs” signs are not only allowed but actively encouraged.
Their logic is lamentably primitive. We hate the EU. Putin hates the EU. Ergo, Putin is our friend. Single-issue politics has put blinkers on those poor souls, making them overlook blindingly obvious evil.
For Putin doesn’t just hate the EU; he loathes the West and demonstrates in practice his contempt for everything that makes the West Western.
His political opponents are harassed, beaten up, imprisoned or killed. His courts rubberstamp predetermined verdicts. Free speech is nonexistent, with the mainstream media spewing nothing but emetic propaganda and all opposition websites blocked. Putin bolsters every enemy of the West, including North Korea. He commits aggression against Russia’s neighbours. Hardly a day passes without Putin or his mouthpieces issuing nuclear threats against the West.
Our EU-haters ignore all that. They describe Putin’s regime as conservative because it’s anti-EU. That’s all that matters – and the profusion of “No poofs” signs further reinforces Putin’s conservative credentials in their minds.
Yet neither Christianity nor conservatism can be defined by what we hate – only by what we love. The thesis of love may dialectically presuppose the antithesis of hate but, when the balance is skewed towards the latter, the emerging synthesis won’t be conservative. It’ll be fascist.