Hero-villain stories are among the most beloved in European mythology. This episode explores the strange Slavic story of Ivan and Koschei the Deathless, the origins of King Arthur and the wizard Merlin, the journey of Odysseus as he resists the beautiful songs of the Sirens, and finally, Sigurd and his battle with the dragon Fafnir.
By uncovering disturbing patterns that are as prevalent today as ever, philosopher Jacob Stanley reveals in How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them that the stuff of politics—charged by rhetoric and myth—can quickly become policy and reality. Only by recognizing fascist politics, he argues, may we resist its most harmful effects and return to democratic ideals.
For this conversation Stanley is joined by Harvard associate professor of History Elizabeth Hinton.
Racism makes societies vulnerable to fascism
look I’m white but it’s in my
self-interest to fight against racism
because it opens my society to fascism
Are economics responsible for fascism?
for family issues back in Ohio and I
would go through rural Ohio but I see no
feline annex and I’d see poverty and
nobody Cambridge you about under and and
it wasn’t covered you know and so I
always say follow the money and there’s
no money in the rural areas and
globalism works in Boston and San
Francisco but it doesn’t seem to work in
rural America and so I always think that
globalism is doomed and democracy is
doomed if they can’t figure out a way to
put rural Americans into this economy
that doesn’t that that doesn’t seem to
have happened I was I was in southern
Ohio and a family gathering in Lebanon
Ohio and the fireman was talking to me
in there was part of the group and he
said he’s retiring early because he
can’t stand picking up opioid addicts in
a little talons Ohio with 10,000 people
he’s got a five six calls a day take
care of over those people and people
shooting out in cars
so yeah and this is little little
hometown you know Warren Ohio is dead so
you’re raising a couple different relate
related points but both very important
first of all we haven’t talked much
about political economy and I think it’s
very important to talk about political
economy as as a factor also in the
factor in the far-right movement like
what’s happening it’s all right now
fascism is not fascist politics not
being used to like buttress military
empire as much as its used to other one
other than Yemen and so it is but but it
it’s being used to like funnel money
into oligarchs hands and blah and sort
of like throw sand in the face of people
with genuine economic concerns but the
I mean it’s not just the rural Midwest
like my partner is a doctor physician in
New Haven New Haven Connecticut has a
horrific OPA opioid problem I mean the
pharmaceutical companies I mean they
delivered a whole bunch of opioids to a
lot of people and and it’s a problem
that is the dhih industrialized areas
I mean opiates horrific it’s like what
60,000 deaths last year 70,000 deaths so
so but and it’s it’s tricky figuring out
you know Carl Hart’s work would say it’s
it’s mainly an economic problem you
solve people’s economic issues and
they’re not gonna be opioid addicts but
but but you’re you’re I mean one thing
about the economic anxiety point is that
if you look at who was affected by the
Great Recession the group that was most
affected by the Great Recession I think
were people of color but they didn’t
flee into the arms of fascism you know they
didn’t start voting for or you know they
didn’t vote for Trump so I I don’t think
so it can’t I think that economic and
and then you look worldwide my book is
about the world and you look at Poland
like the Civic Platform in Poland
like the Civic Platform expanded the GDP
radically Poland was doing really well
economically and then law and justice
came in and did all these tactics and
one look at Bavaria one of the richest
areas in the world Bavaria is filled
with this you say oh say offer so the
economic anxiety does not match all the
areas it can explain it can explain why
some groups in some areas fall prey to
this politics but looking
internationally the politics gets a grip
and even looking nationally because it
gets a grip on some groups and not the
other others and if you look at if you
look at and my book is about why it gets
a grip when it’s so obviously a false
promise and so in the United States when
we talk about the poor working class we
– we – the white working class we forget
a chapter and Du Bois as black
reconstruction is a poor white you know
we have to talk about the psychological
wages of whiteness we have to talk about
and and the response is of course an
economic response is a labor movement a
labor movement you know when they smash
the labor movements in the Upper Midwest
suddenly people felt much more prey to
this kind of politics and so you know so
I think we do face this crisis we need a
labor movement that’s why they went
after the labor movement we’re in a
crisis after the Janice decision and and
so we have to rebuild the labor we
wouldn’t give people economic hope I’m
not sure it’s as globalization as much
as it’s the lack of a of a of a labor
movement in the United States
I mean German manufacturing is doing
fine and German labor is doing fine
history and making history no but I
guess how do you make it known
given that the I mean given what you’re
talking about you know the attack on
truth the discrediting of sources the
control of educational boards or
institutions by people who might not be
in their interest a place you know I
mean so what I don’t know if that’s I
mean if doing it’s having conversations
like this I mean I think it’s it’s it’s
really up to us and this is like in
terms of thinking about what is the role
of academics right now I mean people who
do research is – it’s one I think that
qualitative research in general is just
D legitimized and it’s it’s dismissed as
not being true despite the fact that you
know my I don’t use my data doesn’t come
from surveys it’s not in document since
the ways in which I’m interpreting those
documents just like it’s the ways in
which other people are interpreting
their quantitative data and so I think
that you know right now the other kind
of struggle going on in universities is
the growing attack in many ways on the
liberal on liberal arts in general which
is tied to the developments that Jason
described so eloquently in the book so I
think part of it is you know doing the
work of having discussions like this
it’s amazing that there’s so many people
here and we’re having this really engage
an important discussion that takes a lot
out of us but that’s I think part of our
responsibility as as researchers as
scholars as intellectuals to try to
write in accessible ways Jason was just
telling me that he’s been on the radio
for like ten hours this week that’s
doing the work that’s doing that
important work and I think part of the
difficulty is in many in in many
instances we we end up kind of preaching
to the choir you can only go on Berkeley
radio so many times I mean
– is also kind of moving into different
spaces where we might be less
comfortable when I get invited to speak
with libertarian or white ring groups
are I’m happy to go because knowing that
I might be walking into an abrasive
situation you know I tried to make my
book and my research as undeniable as
possible and I think the argument that
you’ve laid out in this book is also
undeniable and that’s how I think we can
begin to think about re-educating
correcting the false narratives and
erasing the untruths the mythic past
that’s been created in history is I
think really historical work is really
key to that we don’t know how we got
here unless we really really understand
the past yeah I just want I just want to
say you know that’s why do boys ends
ends black reconstruction at the
propaganda of history and that’s why
he’s so corny and capitalizes truth you
know that’s that’s that’s what gets me
upset when people attack for instance
african-american studies as as has been
happening a lot or Gender Studies
because they’re trying to tell the
actual truth of a story that’s not told
and you know and that that’s that’s why
dude you know Dubois is always so corny
about truth see like he’s like you know
when you know erasure and erasure is
never truth you know so and of course
the backlash is always like a little bit
of like at Yale what happened the I mean
I could have told my colleagues the
English department they added googy Wafi
Unga this this goes back to you they had
a GUI hua Theon go to one course and and
there were like 20 articles from
right-wing media about how they’re
eliminating Shakespeare at Yale and it
hit them so by surprise I was like my
colleagues in the English department
like what happened what happened we’re
gonna go as death threats I’m like yeah
you added an African writer to a
required course you know so that’s the
and we we have academic administrators
here they can tell you about this but
there’s there’s you know the very ID so
true like multiple perspective
which doesn’t mean multiple perspectives
doesn’t mean there’s many truths there’s
only one truth that’s why Dubois
capitalizes it but the truth involves
you know that the Nate what happened to
the indigenous populations as well as
what happened to Dale Carnegie
What is something unrealistic that you often see in movies that annoys the hell out of you?
- no headrests
- Villains can’t shoot
- Heroes never reload their weapons
- Women fighting with long hairs. How do they even see?
- Teenagers with flawless skin and looking like they are in their mid-20s
- How do heroes remember who has killed their father or mother when he was 5. Most people forget what has happened at that time.
- How do women knock out men twice their size without a scratch? Men have height and weight advantage.
- Highly-trained snipers missing a very clean shot
The storming of the Capitol is a creation myth for a political movement.
Image Credit… Mike Theiler/Reuters
Since the presidential election was called for Joe Biden on Nov. 7, President Trump has cultivated the myth that the election was stolen. Despite his claims of voter fraud and election mismanagement after dozens of courtroom losses, it’s become clear over the past few months that there is no real legal basis for contesting the election results.
But myths are often invulnerable to reality. As the “Stop the Steal” mantra spread from the White House to the mouths of conservative members of Congress and the halls of Republican-controlled state houses, and throughout conservative social media, something insidious and predictable happened: Senators such as Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley announced they would object to the results of the election on Jan. 6 because so many Americans doubted the validity of its outcome. The myth became the basis for contesting the facts.
A myth becomes reality through ritual, when its story is dramatized and its adherents brought to collective participation in it. When Trump supporters took hold of the Capitol, temporarily halting the counting of the Electoral College votes, they brought the fiction down upon the levers of government through temporary mob rule.
It is tempting to think of this insurrection as akin to Pearl Harbor or Sept. 11, but doing so places an act of domestic terrorism in the historical lineage of attacks from external actors. If we are going to reckon with the import and legacy of Jan. 6, we must look inward.
After the Civil War, Reconstruction saw the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, which abolished slavery and granted equal citizenship to Black Americans. In the years after the war, the nation witnessed Black Americans’ integration into Southern political life. Local chapters of the Union League and other organizations mobilized Black voters and fostered Black candidates for local and state elections. In 1868 South Carolina had a Black-majority state legislature; in 1870 Hiram Revels of Mississippi became the first Black American to serve in the United States Senate. For a short while, it seemed that liberty and justice for all was an attainable legal goal.
However, in the late 1860s and early 1870s, white Southerners developed the notion of the Confederacy as the Lost Cause in order to combat the radical changes taking root in Dixie. The Lost Cause is sometimes referred to as revisionist history, but I would call it something else: collective memory in the form of Confederate civil religion.
According to proponents of the Lost Cause, the South was the victim of an invasion by “Yankee vandals,” as Caroline Janney, a University of Virginia historian, phrases it. In response, they framed themselves as occupying the moral high ground in the conflict — a class of honorable and loyal families who defended their soil and way of life in the face of undue Northern aggression. To make their case, they had to argue that slavery was not the real issue of the war, but rather a pretext for a political and economic power grab.
Like the myth of the stolen election, these claims are historically untenable. But the historical realities are less important to the myth than the narrative, rituals and symbols that developed in conjunction with the Lost Cause.
As Charles Reagan Wilson, a Southern historian, has shown, Lost Cause mythology was enacted through the rituals of Confederate civil religion: the funerals of Confederate soldiers, the celebration of Confederate Memorial Day, the pilgrimages made to the hundreds of Confederate monuments that had been erected by the dawn of World War I. The rituals and symbols instilled in the younger generation the nobility of the Confederacy and the moral vacancy of its enemies. Together, they supported a religious myth that for many Southerners supplanted the historical record. The men who died in battle became its martyrs. The generals became its patron saints.
The civil components of the Lost Cause were combined with Christian mythology. The South played the part of Christ in the Christian drama — crucified, yet unrisen. The saints in this Lost Cause theology were the heroes of the Confederacy — most notably Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. A scholar of Southern religion, Paul Harvey, put it this way: “Key to this mythology was the exalting of southern war heroes as Christian evangelical gentlemen. Evangelists of the New South era immortalized the Christian heroism of the Confederate leaders and soldiers and dovetailed them into revivals of the era.” No matter one’s denominational affiliation, it offered a story and a set of high holy days every white Southerner could celebrate.
The Lost Cause is an example of how collective memory works. Collective memory is not concerned with historical accuracy; its preoccupation with the past is based on a desire to mobilize a vision for the present and create a prospect for the future. Heather Cox Richardson argues persuasively in her recent book “How the South Won the Civil War” that even though the Union defeated the Confederacy on the battlefield, the South won the war by creating a Southern identity that led to the emergence and re-emergence of the Ku Klux Klan and the institution of Jim Crow laws, and then spread west to provide fuel for the Chinese Exclusion Act and acts of violence against Native Americans — all on the basis of resentment, myth and symbol, rather than facts or truth.
Make America Great Again is a politics of grievance complete with its own myths and symbols. Mr. Trump’s rallies have been the ritual locus of his brand of nationalism. They create a collective effervescence in attendees that leaves them seething at their political enemies and ready to follow the president down any authoritarian road he takes them. Moreover, Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry have shown that Mr. Trump’s religious support comes from Christian nationalists who believe the United States was built for and by white Christians.
Like the Lost Cause, MAGAism is buttressed by religious narratives and imagery, and its gospel is spread through houses of worship every Sunday. For some evangelicals, Mr. Trump is a divinely ordained savior uniquely able to save the nation from ruin at the hands of godless socialists, Black Lives Matter activists and antifa. So it’s no surprise that as insurrectionists stormed the Capitol, they waved a mix of Confederate, Christian and Trump flags.
MAGAism also has an eschatology based on conspiracy. As Marc-André Argentino, who studies QAnon, told me by email, for many Trump supporters, including growing numbers of white evangelicals, Jan. 6 figures as “the start of the long awaited period of tribulation that will announce the arrival of the promised golden age.” In other words, Jan. 6 is both a beginning point and a sign of the end, a rebirth for the dangerous delusions of extremists who see violence as an appropriate means for finishing what they started in order to usher in a new world.
The lasting legacy of the Jan. 6 insurrection is the myth and symbol of Mr. Trump’s lost cause. He has successfully nurtured a feeling in the 74 million Americans who voted for him that they can trust neither their government nor the electoral process. By encouraging them to question the validity of votes in some of the Blackest cities in the country, such as Detroit, and stoking anger that such constituencies would have the power to swing an election, he convinced them that the process is rigged, thus giving his supporters the moral high ground. This creates the foundation for a collective memory based on a separate national identity held together by the tragic stealing of his presidency and the evil of his opponents.
The Lost Cause provides a blueprint for winning the war, even though Mr. Trump has lost this election. After Mr. Biden’s inauguration, if prominent Republican figures encourage their followers to accept the results, but not defeat; if they pick up Mr. Trump’s leadership mantle by fostering resentment and the desire for revenge through their Twitter feeds; if they perpetually call into question the legitimacy of the U.S. government through an army of evangelical pastors less concerned with reality than with disseminating the myths and symbols of Make America Great Again as a vehicle for Christian nationalism, it’s not hard to see how they will become heirs of the Lost Cause. That should frighten us all.
The Lost Cause of the Confederacy, or simply the Lost Cause, is an ideological movement that describes the Confederate cause as a heroic one against great odds despite its defeat. Read a book excerpt: https://amzn.to/2RzkM8M
The ideology endorses the supposed virtues of the antebellum South, viewing the American Civil War as an honorable struggle for the Southern way of life while minimizing or denying the central role of slavery.
The Lost Cause ideology synthesized numerous ideas. Lost Cause supporters argued that slavery was not the main cause of the Civil War, and claimed that few scholars saw it as such before the 1950s. In order to reach this conclusion, they ignored the declarations of secession by the seceding states, the declarations of congressmen who left Congress to join the Confederacy, and the treatment of slavery in the Confederate constitution. They also denied or minimized the wartime writings and speeches of Confederate leaders in favor of postwar views. (See Cornerstone Speech.) Supporters often stressed the idea of secession as a defense against a Northern threat to their way of life and said that the threat violated the states’ rights guaranteed by the Constitution. They believed any state had the right to secede, a point strongly denied by the North. The Lost Cause portrayed the South as more adherent to Christian values than the allegedly greedy North. It portrayed slavery as more benevolent than cruel, alleging that it taught Christianity and “civilization”. Stories of “happy slaves” were often used as propaganda in an effort to defend slavery. These stories would be used to explain slavery to Northerners. Many times they also portrayed slave owners being kind to their slaves. In explaining Confederate defeat, the Lost Cause said that the main factor was not qualitative inferiority in leadership or fighting ability but the massive quantitative superiority of the Yankee industrial machine. At the peak of troop strength in 1863, Union soldiers outnumbered Confederate soldiers by over two to one, and financially the Union had three times the bank deposits of the Confederacy.
Critics of the ideology have stated that white supremacy is a key characteristic of the Lost Cause narrative. Supporters typically portray the Confederacy’s cause as noble and its leadership as exemplars of old-fashioned chivalry and honor, defeated by the Union armies through numerical and industrial force that overwhelmed the South’s superior military skill and courage. Proponents of the Lost Cause movement also condemned the Reconstruction that followed the Civil War, claiming that it had been a deliberate attempt by Northern politicians and speculators to destroy the traditional Southern way of life. In recent decades Lost Cause themes have been widely promoted by the Neo-Confederate movement in books and op-eds, and especially in one of the movement’s magazines, the Southern Partisan. The Lost Cause theme has been a major element in defining gender roles in the white South, in terms of honor, tradition, and family roles. The Lost Cause has inspired many prominent Southern memorials and even religious attitudes.
Let’s talk about that new liberal plan….
There are several levels of knowing and interpreting reality—a “hierarchy of truths,” as Pope Francis calls it.  Not all truths are of equal importance, which does not mean the lesser ones are untrue. So don’t fight useless battles against them. Something might be true, for example, on a psychological, historical, or mythological level, but not on a universal level. Fundamentalists think the historical level is the “truest” one, yet in many ways literalism is the least important meaning for the soul. Facts may be fascinating, but they seldom change our lives at any deep level. I do believe the “historical-critical” method of interpreting Scripture is a helpful frame , without which fundamentalists create a fantasy that looks a lot like their own culture and preferred class perspective.
Scholars since Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) have been making good use of a distinction between logos, or problem-solving language, and mythos. Logos language includes facts, data, evidence, and precise descriptions. Rob Bell describes how “logos language and thinking got us medicine, got us airplanes. . . . For the past three hundred years we have had an explosion of logos language. . . . But the problem is, there are whole dimensions of our existence that require a different way of thinking.”
Bell rightly says, “The Bible is mostly written in mythos language. . . . Good religion traffics in mythos. . . . Mythos language is for that which is more than literally true. . . . Evolutionary science does an excellent job of explaining why I don’t have a tail. It just doesn’t do so well explaining why I find that interesting!”  We need mythos language to express the more-than-factual meaning of experiences like falling in love, grief, and death.
Good religion, art, poetry, and myth point us to the deeper levels of truth that logos can’t fully explain. Early Christians knew this; but the Western Church spent the last five centuries trying to prove that the stories in the Bible really happened just as they are described. For some Christians, it’s imperative that the world was created in six literal days, otherwise their entire belief system falls apart. Christianity came to rely heavily on technique, formula, and certitude instead of the more alluring power of story, myth, and narrative.
The whole point of Scripture is the transformation of the soul. But when we stopped understanding myth, we stopped understanding how to read and learn from sacred story or Scripture. Children delight in hearing the same fantastical stories over and over again because they are open to awe, mystery, and discovery. Oh that we could all read the creation story with similar childlike wonder and open-heartedness!