I've had a lot of push-back on my comment in support of Mayor Bloomberg's proposed soda-size rule. Fair enough. Bloomberg's idea is novel, is restrictive, and may not work. There's a lot to debate.
But what is very adversely striking is how many of the commenters use the word "fascist" to describe the Bloomberg proposal.
Some of them are kidding of course. Language gets slack over time, and Americans will use the word "fascist" or "Nazi" to describe anything or anyone bossy, officious, or overbearing—like Mr. No Soup for You.
Unnervingly, though, some of the commenters aren't kidding. Like the 1960s college radicals, they see "fascism" in any restriction imposed by any authority for any reason on any appetite. A once-famous pamphlet by the American Marxist Hal Draper condemned Clark Kerr, President of the University of California, as a "proto-fascist". Regulations against swearing on TV? Rules on boys' length of hair or girls' length of skirt? Fascist and fascist again.
Tom Wolfe had good fun with the phenomenon in his essay, "In the Land of the Rococo Marxists":
Real fascism and genocide were finished after the Second World War, but the intellectuals used the Rosenberg case, the Hiss case, McCarthyism-the whole Communist Witch Hunt-and, above all, the war in Vietnam to come up with... "incipient fascism" (Herbert Marcuse, much prized as a bona-fide European "Frankfurt School" Marxist who had moved to our shores), "preventive fascism" (Marcuse again), "local fascism" (Walter Lippmann), "brink of 'fascism (Charles Reich), "informal Fascism" (Philip Green), latent fascism (Dotson Rader), not to mention the most inspired catch-up of all: "cultural genocide." Cultural genocide referred to the refusal of American universities to have open admissions policies, so that any minority applicant could enroll without regard to GPAs and SATs and other instruments of latent- incipient-brink-of-fascist repression.
How funny and sad—how sad and funny — that only a dozen years after the publication of Wolfe's scathing condemnation, the language of "everything I don't like is fascist" should have spread from left to right.
It's an example of a phenomenon that deserves wider recognition and treatment in its own right: the wholesale absorption of post-modernist multicultural habits of thought by the modern Right. That's a topic for another day. For today, I'd just propose the following answer to those who see a rule limiting the capacity of beverage containers as literally the same thing as the violent authoritarian nationalism that tyrannized so much of the world in the 1930s. It comes from Milan Kundera, a writer who experienced both Nazi occupation and Communist domination in his native Czechoslovakia.
[B]ecause people in the West are not threatened by concentration camps and are free to say and write what they want, the more the fight for human rights gains in popularity, the more it loses any concrete content, becoming a kind of universal stance of everyone toward everything, a kind of energy that turns all human desires into rights. The world has become man's right and everything in it has become a right: the desire for love the right to love, the desire for rest the right to rest, the desire for friendship the right to friendship, the desire to exceed the speed limit the right to exceed the speed limit, the desire for happiness the right to happiness, the desire to publish a book the right to publish a book, the desire to shout in the street in the middle of the night the right to shout in the street.
And one might add: any restriction on the right to shout in the street becomes in its turn "fascism"—because if people want to do something, even something injurious to themselves or their neighbors, who but a "fascist" would dare hinder them?