Today is the horrible commercial festival of Hallowe'en and an opportunity for fun and parties and to scare ourselves with bogeymen or bogey persons. But we do this all the year round and perhaps the chief bogeyman is fascism.
Fascism is no danger in Europe for the next twenty years - but fear of fascism is a danger and is to blame for very many bad things. I discovered that it is incredibly prevalent among academics. I was with thirty of them at a conference on nationalism at the weekend.
One distinguished professor of imagology, who had delivered a good talk on 'nationalist discourse', Joep, was saying he has been thinking for years about this and slowly realised that we think dictatorships begin with a putsch but they can come slowly and unnoticed. I warmly agreed and mentioned loss of freedom of speech. He looked at me sharply and asked for examples.
I gave two from the UK though I could have given very many: the putative new law to make sexual harassment online an offence punishable with two years in gaol and the story of the man who went to prison for two months for saying on Twitter that he hoped a footballer who was in a coma would die. Joep was in favour of these laws. He brought up the subject of Geert Wilders who, Joep said, asked a crowd if they wanted fewer Moroccans in Holland and was prosecuted for racism. When I said that in a democratic society any political programme should be allowed, 'We have judges who decide these things' Joep said very much pleased about the prosecution.
Unfortunately, he speaks for most academics in humanities who see nationalism as a purely negative thing. What is sad is that these people really do believe in a grave threat from the anti immigration right (why?) and are generals fighting the last war. They don't realise that evil morphs and the lessons they learn from Nazism are the wrong ones anyway. For example the lesson we have drawn from the Nazis is that ethnically mixed societies are ipso facto good things rather than ipso facto volatile things.