The New Right Dystopianism

Dave Weigel has a neat op-ed in The LA Times on the American right’s new dystopian literature:

Two years from now, terrorists under the banner of the “Progressive Restoration” will take over Manhattan in a larger attempt to overthrow the government. Thirteen years later, President Chelsea Clinton and Vice President Michael Moore will haul out the good White House china for Osama bin Laden’s state visit. By fiddling with your radio, you may be able to catch an underground broadcast by Sean Hannity. If you own a radio, that is; folks living in states that are under Sharia law won’t even be that lucky.

These aren’t my fantasies or nightmares. All of these vignettes are ripped from science fiction thrillers that have hit shelves in just the last 18 months. Sharia comes to the United States in Robert Ferrigno’s potboiler, “Prayers for the Assassin.” In Joel C. Rosenberg’s “Last Jihad” trilogy, a steel-spined U.S. president nukes Baghdad, then combats a Russo-Iranian axis, all in fulfillment of Scripture (or so we’re told in the nail-biting third book, “The Ezekiel Option”). Hannity and his stone-jawed sidekick, G. Gordon Liddy, battle the Clinton restoration in Mike Mackey and Donny Lin’s comic book, “Liberality for All.” The Second American Civil War is breaking out in Orson Scott Card’s “Empire” (book out now, video game on the way).

Dave regards this as sillly and implausible. Glenn Reynolds sticks up for silly implausibility and explains that “Dystopias — like utopias — are there to make a point, not a prediction.” I actually have a ton to say about this but the post keeps getting too long.


Let me just shorten it to the point that while liberalism is easy to satirize effectively, it’s extremely hard to dystopianize as a means of critique. The problem is that liberalism’s alleged weakness is crucial to the conservative critique of liberalism, which makes it hard to outline a coherent liberal totalitarianism. I think the best job is probably done in Demolition Man in which we see a kind of public health totalitarianism but it’s important here that the state actually has almost no repressive apparatus and proves incapable of coping with Edgar Friendly’s small, unarmed band of graffiti artists without resorting to illiberal methods that promptly lead the regime to collapse.

As a result, you get an odd mishmash in the New Right Dystopianism. Liberal weakness is supposed to lead to jihad run amok. But they want to make liberals rather than jihadis the real bad guys for emotional reasons so the liberals need to be tough and repressive. But if the liberals are so tough, why are the jihadis run amok? It’s well known, after all, that jihadis don’t like liberals (feminists, gays, etc.) very much. If the jihadis are strong, they kill the liberals, not leave them around to repress conservatives. And if the liberals are strong enough to repress conservatives, they should fight the jihadis. The upshot is dystopias that are not only “implausible” but that don’t really make sense. If your complaint about liberals is that they’re too hesitant to curb individual liberties in order to attack the enemies of the state, you can’t very well spin a dystopia about repressive “Coulter Laws” and so forth.

Heavy-handed EPA regulations, or onerous FICA taxes (12 percent of GDP on entitlements!) sure, but that’s a different kind of ball game. At the end of the day, everybody knows that if it came down to an armed conflict, the conservatives would win. Which leads to Dave’s point — these books aren’t dystopian at all, they’re wish fulfillment about a world in which the right gets a legitimate rationale for battling liberalism through brute force.