The language of fascism: how the right discredits intellectuals


Lilah Kimble

The Democratic party headquarters in downtown Lexington. Members of the Republican Party are espousing the rhetoric of fascism, opinion writer Jack Evans argues.

Jack Evans

I want you to imagine a reality where members of the intellectual opposition are labeled and vilified as “radicals,” where students gather in huge crowds to listen to the dogmatic rants of party leaders and pundits, and where whole disciplines of study are dismissed and even ridiculed. Does that sound familiar to you? It should. 

The reality I asked you to imagine is the reality you live in. It is the one the Republican Party has conflated with patriotism, righteousness, and necessity as it propagated this to young conservatives. This is the story of how the right convinced millions of high schoolers and college students to dismiss their educators as mere regurgitators of the “liberal agenda” and to distrust intellectual authorities.  

 I’d like to introduce you to Charlie Kirk, the 29-year-old founder and president of Turning Point USA. Kirk has made his career communicating Republican values and worldviews to young Americans. In many ways, he is the liaison of the right to students. While there is nothing wrong with a political party wishing to engage young people—in some sense, it’s even commendable—the message Kirk is sending is dangerous. 

He has demonized universities as “islands of totalitarianism,” claimed that colleges “let our children get indoctrinated by those who fundamentally disagree with America’s greatness,” and advises students to do “anything but college.” His organization, Turning Point USA, has been described as, “the largest and fastest growing conservative youth activist organization in the country,” yet he uses his pulpit with young people to tell them that college is a “scam.” 

 Make no mistake: Kirk is doing a lot more than dismissing higher education. He and his organization are waging a war against diversity of thought. Turning Point USA maintains a “watchlist” of professors at universities across America that is allegedly “dedicated to documenting and exposing college professors who discriminate against conservative students, promote anti-American values, and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom,” in Turning Point USA’s own words. 

The list includes professors who are civil rights leaders, professors that voiced negative opinions about Donald Trump, and professors that are climate change activists. The organization, which claims to be the “student movement for freedom” clearly only promotes “freedom” when said freedom is in line with its agenda.  

 At  an event for Turning Point Action, another Turning Point organization, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz devalued American universities as “woke college campuses” and alluded to the crowd that there are more conservatives at their campuses than they think, but that they are “afraid” to announce their beliefs. 

He also mocked the correct use of gender pronouns by remarking, “My name is Ted Cruz, and my pronoun is: kiss my ass [sic].” 

The crowd booed at the mention of college, yet cheered at Cruz’s sneer. Apparently, demonizing higher education and applauding bigotry is taught to young conservatives even from the highest offices of government.  

 Of course, Kirk is not alone in propagating this anti-intellectual agenda. Since 2009, Dennis Prager has been sending the same message through his ironically named organization: Prager University. 

Prager University (PragerU) is not a university at all. It does not offer any academic credits and is not accredited by any organization. Instead, it is a website and YouTube channel that has the purported goal to “educate, inspire, and entertain millions of online viewers” in easily digestible five-minute videos. 

The videos are presented in a pseudo-lecture format where conservatives such as Candace Owens, Tucker Carlson, Nigel Farage and other notable commentators talk about topics like immigration, race, gender, economics and, of course, education. In one such video, “The Conservative Student’s Survival Guide,” Pennsylvania State University professor Matthew Woessner advises students to “steer clear” of any course that ends with the word “studies,” because of their supposed tendency to be too “ideological.” He particularly mentions “gender studies” classes as ones where conservative viewpoints “will not be tolerated.” 

In another video, “College Made Me a Conservative,” Jay Stephens — a college graduate — claims she was being “brainwashed” and “indoctrinated” by “leftist professors” and that college was too politically correct. She also expresses her dissatisfaction with her double-major degree in film studies and political science.

 Despite their overt anti-intellectual rhetoric, most of the Republicans promoting this anti-college sentiment are hypocrites. Ted Cruz attended Princeton and Harvard. Dennis Prager went to Columbia. Another perpetrator I didn’t mention as much, Tucker Carlson, went to Trinity College. 

In fact, most of the Republican Party’s leadership went to elite colleges and universities. So why would they work so tirelessly to make sure their base dismisses academia? Sadly, when we look back to the fascism movements of the early 20th century, the motives behind the right’s actions become clear.  

 I am not claiming that the Republican Party is the same as the Nazis of the Third Reich. In fact, I believe there can only be one group of true Nazis — a group forever relegated to the period before the end of World War II. I am also not claiming that we live in a fascist state; this article simply would not exist if we did. Instead, I am claiming the American right has adopted the tactics and strategies of fascism. 

Anti-intellectualism and anti-elitism were crucial to the fascists of the 20th century and the fascists of today. Fascists have a vested interest in devaluing education and discrediting intellectual authorities. 

Fascists believe that there is only one viewpoint — one ideology — and all deviations from said ideology are existential threats. For this reason, a budding fascist must successfully demonize any deviations of thought (i.e. intellectual diversity) and discredit the individuals and institutions that promote such deviations. 

 When fascists targeted university professors, they claimed they were “too Marxist” and that they were the enemies of society. They did this because they had to control the “acceptable lines of inquiry.” How is that different from Turning Point’s “Professor Watchlist?” It isn’t. 

Fascists, then and now, have no tolerance for reason and open debate. They only claim to support those ideals as far as they protect their interests, no one else’s. 

 The right’s bigoted attacks on Gender Studies aren’t new either. In order to promote the preeminent patriarchal ideology, fascists demonized women’s movements and feminism, going as far as to claim that “feminism was a Jewish conspiracy to destroy fertility among Aryan women,” according to Yale Professor, Jason Stanley. The right isn’t “owning the libs” when they denounce Gender Studies as a useless study; they’re parroting fascists.  

 Finally, when fascists discredit intellectual authorities, they become unbridled to define facts by whatever meets their agenda. The goal of fascist anti-intellectualism is not to remove “education” entirely (though, one could argue what they keep is a far cry from real education). 

Instead, the goal is to install their own doctrinal education—which typically includes instilling extreme nationalistic pride. Beyond Prager (not a) University, there is also Charlie Kirk’s newest  addition to the Turning Point family: Turning Point Academy. 

Turning Point Academy – in contrast to PragerU – is a group of real K-12 schools. These schools promote a “conservative, America-first education.” Furthermore, it claims to combat Critical Race Theory.

 These schools don’t provide a place for students to test new thoughts and express differing opinions. Instead, they are vacuum chambers of the right’s dogma. No matter what Kirk claims, Critical Race Theory is not what the right fears; it fears critical thinking.These academies are the next phase of the conservatives’ war on academic institutions, and it’s a play right from the fascist playbook. 

 I know this article may evoke feelings of anxiety, anger, and even sadness. I must admit, there is a good reason behind this. What I highlighted in this article is only one piece of a grander rhetorical strategy I like to call “the language of fascism.” It encompasses many more elements, and the individuals I discuss in this piece are far from the only people who speak this “language” fluently. 

However, there is hope for when the “language of fascism” shows its ugly head. This “language” is one that thrives in your lack of comprehension. Throughout history it has disguised itself as a people’s native tongue. Be it Italian, German, or now, English, it sounds nearly imperceptible from the true language of a people. But, by identifying the patterns, trends and ulterior motives behind the “language of fascism,” we can empower ourselves to recognize when people are trying to manipulate us. 

We can see that the oppressive evils the right has conjured are nothing more than mere boogeymen. We can see when these con artists try to divide us and implant hatred into our hearts. 

It is my hope that by making you aware of these deceptions that you will choose to reject the right’s lies. However, I concede that I’ve spent a lot of time trying to convince my conservative friends to no avail. But even if being aware isn’t enough to change anyone’s mind, it is still important for everyone to know what these people are doing. I believe it is important to label these strategies for what they are. These people will try to warp and distort the truth, so we must document reality every time they try to sell us their fantasy. But, like I said, there is still hope in learning the “language of fascism.” That hope lies in everyone’s personal choice. The choice, for now, is still yours.