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“Fascist adjacent”

Updated: Feb 28



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I saw a question online the other day that asked “was Colin Wilson fascist adjacent?”.


It sounds like jargon from an American college campus “adjacent”—“address your adjacency to white supremacy”.


The term rankles because it misuses the term “adjacent”—which, per the etymological dictionary, only refers to a spatial relation.


So you can have a “sea-front property with superb views, a 255 sq m garden, ample parking, and adjacent fascism”, but you can’t have a person who is “fascist adjacent”.


Hence we could say that Stalin was “fascist adjacent” if he once stood next to Hitler, or that the USSR was “fascist adjacent” because, after the invasion of Poland, it had borders that met those of a fascist state. This would be to use the word in its correct sense—and so we can see why the term feels out of place when used to describe political positions.


Indeed, East and West Berlin were both directly adjacent to each other while at the same time being completely different from each other.


Even if we accept the conceit that political views can be spoken of in metaphorical terms as “spatial”, then the statement, if affirmed, conveys nothing—my “political house” may well be adjacent to yours, but it is still a separate entity and perhaps, though adjacent to your house, I built a large wall to keep you out…


So why do they say it?


Well, in one dimension it’s to smear people—it’s just to say “he’s suspected out-group, stay clear”; so the term itself doesn’t matter, in a sense—what matters is that you can’t sue me if I say you’re “fascist adjacent”.


However, I notice that the usage has the characteristic inflexion of the American left, which is intensely feminine and intensely “awks” (worried about awkward situations; hence, to use English middle-class slang, it’s “totally awks” to call a “Native American” a “Red Indian”; possibly, it’s also “cringe”)—so it’s the same thing as some prim Victorian who says “lavatory” sotto voce, almost in emotional pain may I use your…convenience.


The whole way the language is used “adjacent” has this idea of distancing in it—the other political view is a block, a house or a plot of land, and we want to situate it at some distance from our psyche (because it causes us distress). The unmentionables—the woman’s pantalettes.


But to be adjacent to something is, by definition, not to be the same as it—but here mere proximity is enough to imply guilt. Again, it’s the language of the “bad neighbourhood” and the wrong sort (who may, possibly, live adjacent to us—and so lower the tone of the neighbourhood).


It reflects the whole feminised position of the Western left, the American left in particular, in that it can’t even use a relatively weak statement like “sympathiser” but has to use the quasi-euphemism “adjacent” to maintain emotional distance from any statement that is too definitive.


They’re not just genderfluid—they’re language fluid. And, of course, in the search for a euphemism they misuse an actual word. It’s all to avoid embarrassment and social shame—so it’s narcissistic. I think they use the word because it’s so ambiguous that you can’t be wrong—if I snap back “he wasn’t a fascist” it’s so definitive that it will hurt your ego I was wrong (and that’s emotional pain).


However, if you pose the question in vague terms “adjacency” then you can’t really be wrong in a definitive way—after all, everything in the world has a vague relation to everything else, since everything is connected; and in this sense fascism is adjacent to tortoises and to Vauxhall cars and to the Women’s Institute.


So you protect your ego from failure, because you can make the case that anything is “adjacent” (“related”, we might say) to anything else—anything to avoid that yes/no answer and the possibility you might be wrong.


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Right-wing equivalents to “adjacent” are “sympathiser” (as in “known Communist sympathiser”) or the stronger “fellow-traveller” (implies crypto membership of a Communist organisation, not just sympathies)—although quite vague, these are still more concrete than “adjacent”.


Secret members of Communist organisations were real things, so the latter term relates to an actuality—although in rhetorical terms it was often used very broadly, in much the same way as “adjacent” is used today.


“Sympathiser” is even more vague and rhetorical and is closer to what the left means by “adjacent” (although to be adjacent has no connotations of intent, because it relates to objects—you “just happen to be there”, whereas sympathy is an active emotional state).


I could say, “I disagree with Jeremy Corbyn’s political views, but I sympathise with a man who, in an age of phoney politicians, says what he really thinks.” This could then be construed, uncharitably, as “738, a self-admitted Corbyn sympathiser”. And that happens in politics all the time.


So the literal and uncharitable response to the question “was Colin Wilson fascist adjacent?” would be “your question is meaningless, because adjacency only refers to spatial relations—as with a building, plot of land, or geometry” (some would say that my strict adherence to the meaning of words is itself “fascist adjacent”).


An editor of The Economist used a similar trick with “privilege” in the 2000s. He said that since “privilege” is an either/or situation (you either have access to “private law” or not) a person cannot be “underprivileged” by definition, because you either have it or you don’t (it’s not a relation of degree).


That’s clever, but it’s a lawyer’s answer. It blunts the rhetorical force of statements like “1/3 of British children are underprivileged, we must raise taxes to address this issue”, and perhaps a rhetorical statement deserves a rhetorical reply, but it doesn’t address, to use another word that raises the hackles, “the real issue”.


In the same way, when someone asks “was Colin Wilson fascist adjacent?” what they really mean is “was Colin Wilson a fascist sympathiser?” or even “was Colin Wilson a fellow-traveller, a covert member of a fascist organisation?”.


Of course, those are difficult questions to answer, similar to whether or not some leftist intellectuals were “Communists”—when a person doesn’t actually belong to an organisation, and we don’t know how they vote, and they never make a concrete declaration one way or the other then we can’t really say “he’s a Labour man” or “he’s a fascist”.


It enters the vexed arena of “does he really believe what he says?”. Does the current pope really believe in God as described in Catholic doctrine? Does the current Prime Minister really believe in Conservative values? Does Trump really believe what he says, or is it all just a cynical ploy to boost his ego?


Of course, it’s very difficult to tell what someone “really believes”—and it enters a metaphysical realm, because your psychological state often shifts from day to day, and you may well sincerely believe for a period and then relapse but maintain the same public persona all along.


At most, we can infer things from your body language or general behaviour. Hence I say there are few Christians who believe in the faith as it was believed in the time of the Roman Empire, because there were many martyrs then—and today martyrs are rare, although there are ample opportunities in China, the Muslim world, and Israel to martyr yourself (be put in prison, for the most part). But to say “nobody really believes in Christianity anymore” is too strong a statement.


With Wilson, as I’ve noted before, he met Mosley and he produced articles for one of his post-war publications, though not many (i.e. he wasn’t a key figure in the operation, a regular columnist or an editor). His general worldview and fascination with “the will”, with “genius”, and with a pagan-type gnosis all accord with the fascist worldview (with Hitler being a particular fiend for genius).


So I would say that from that we can infer he was sympathetic to fascism, or, to make a more conservative statement, he was not hostile to the fascist worldview. However, we couldn’t say he “was a fascist”, because that means, if it means anything, to belong to a fascist organisation or to make a statement like “I support Hitler’s worldview”.


Indeed, even the statement “I think Hitler should have won the war” does not make you “a fascist”, because there are many reasons you could want Hitler to win the war aside from agreement with his worldview—although few people who say that would not also agree with his worldview; and, further, you may agree with one element of his worldview but not others.


When there is no strong statement one way or another or membership of an organisation, you can say someone was sympathetic or that they thought in a similar way—for Wilson to visit Mosley post-war and to volunteer articles for his publications is a strong statement, a “revealed preference” to use economics jargon, given that Mosley was “notorious”.


So I would say he was sympathetic to a worldview that is perhaps broader than fascism but includes fascism within it—that is a worldview that gives priority to the individual, the individual of genius, and stresses that a quasi-spiritual state of “will” can overcome obstacles in life, and that, further, there are latent “powers” within man that can be accessed through magic or gnosis.


However, at its broadest such a worldview could include most people who call themselves “conservative”—though it inclines more towards the fascistic, in particular because it reaches back to pagan and magical ideas (Wilson lived in Cornwall, which is its “own thing” being technically under the direct authority of the king in many respects and also being renowned for magic—hence it has a museum of witchcraft; it’s an “archaic European” county).


That’s why with regard to Wilson I would say he was sympathetic to the fascist worldview, and, now he’s dead and can’t sue me, was “as good as a fascist”—but, in technical terms, he wasn’t because he didn’t adhere to any fascist organisation, nor, to my knowledge, did he make an explicit statement that supported a fascist worldview.

















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