13 June 2012

Clearinghouse on American Fascism

The following statement has been misattributed to American writer Sinclair Lewis: "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." More likely a similar statement comes from a talk by John Waterman Wise, Jr. in which he called William Randolph Hearst (the FoxNews/Rupert Murdoch of his day) and Charles Coughlin (the Rush Limbaugh/Glen Beck) "the two chief exponents of fascism in America. If fascism comes, he added, it will not be identified with any 'shirt' movement, nor with an 'insignia,' but it will probably be 'wrapped up in the American flag and heralded as a plea for liberty and preservation of the constitution." The Christian Century, vol. 53, 2/5/1936 (245).

George Orwell, in The Lion and the Unicorn (1941) wrote:
"But what then is Fascism?
"Fascism, at any rate the German version, is a form of capitalism that borrows from Socialism just such features as will make it efficient for war purposes. Internally, Germany has a good deal in common with a Socialist state. Ownership has never been abolished, there are still capitalists and workers, and — this is the important point, and the real reason why rich men all over the world tend to sympathize with Fascism — generally speaking the same people are capitalists and the same people workers as before the Nazi revolution. But at the same time the State, which is simply the Nazi Party, is in control of everything. It controls investment, raw materials, rates of interest, working hours, wages. The factory owner still owns his factory, but he is for practical purposes reduced to the status of a manager. Everyone is in effect a State employee, though the salaries vary very greatly. The mere efficiency of such a system, the elimination of waste and obstruction, is obvious. In seven years it has built up the most powerful war machine the world has ever seen.
"But the idea underlying Fascism is irreconcilably different from that which underlies Socialism. Socialism aims, ultimately, at a world-state of free and equal human beings. It takes the equality of human rights for granted. Nazism assumes just the opposite. The driving force behind the Nazi movement is the belief in human inequality, the superiority of Germans to all other races, the right of Germany to rule the world. Outside the German Reich it does not recognize any obligations. Eminent Nazi professors have “proved” over and over again that only Nordic man is fully human, have even mooted the idea that non-Nordic peoples (such as ourselves) can interbreed with gorillas! Therefore, while a species of war-Socialism exists within the German state, its attitude towards conquered nations is frankly that of an exploiter. The function of the Czechs, Poles, French, etc is simply to produce such goods as Germany may need, and get in return just as little as will keep them from open rebellion. If we are conquered, our job will probably be to manufacture weapons for Hitler’s forthcoming wars with Russia and America. The Nazis aim, in effect, at setting up a kind of caste system, with four main castes corresponding rather closely to those of the Hindu religion. At the top comes the Nazi party, second come the mass of the German people, third come the conquered European populations. Fourth and last are to come the colored peoples, the “semi-apes” as Hitler calls them, who are to be reduced quite openly to slavery."
Based on his analysis of a number of identifiably fascist regimes, Laurence W. Britt has compiled what he calls the 14 basic characteristics of fascism:
  • Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism
  • Disdain for the importance of human rights
  • Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause
  • The supremacy of the military/avid militarism
  • Rampant sexism
  • A controlled mass media
  • Obsession with national security
  • Religion and ruling elite tied together
  • Power of corporations protected
  • Power of labor suppressed or eliminated
  • Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts
  • Obsession with crime and punishment
  • Rampant cronyism and corruption
  • Fraudulent elections
In an April 9, 1944, article in The New York Times, "Democracy Reborn," former U.S. Vice President Henry A. Wallace (1941-45) identified the form a specifically American brand of fascism might take:
"A fascist is one whose lust for money or power is combined with such an intensity of intolerance toward those of other races, parties, classes, religions, cultures, regions or nations as to make him ruthless in his use of deceit or violence to attain his ends.
... The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power.
... [A]n American fascist [is] one who in case of conflict puts money and power ahead of human beings. ... They are patriotic in time of war because it is to their interest to be so, but in time of peace they follow power and the dollar wherever they may lead.
... Still another danger is represented by those who, paying lip service to democracy and the common welfare, in their insatiable greed for money and the power which money gives, do not hesitate surreptitiously to evade the laws designed to safeguard the public from monopolistic extortion.
... The symptoms of fascist thinking are colored by environment and adapted to immediate circumstances. But always and everywhere they can be identified by their appeal to prejudice and by the desire to play upon the fears and vanities of different groups in order to gain power.
... The American fascists are most easily recognized by their deliberate perversion of truth and fact. Their newspapers and propaganda carefully cultivate every fissure of disunity, every crack in the common front against fascism. ... They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection."
Strictly speaking, fascism was a particularly 20th Century form of authoritarian totalitarianism. One thinks of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Pinochet, etc. (By the same token, our representative democracy, our republicanism, if you will, is a particularly 18th Century form of liberal [anti-royalist] government, one which was co-opted in the early 20th Century by the authoritarian totalitarianism of Stalin and Mao among others. Yet, remarkably, it withstood both those challenges.)

Historically, fascism has taken many forms. Contemporary writer, Umberto Eco, identifies the elements of what he calls "Ur-Fascism" in his Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt (1995):
  1. The cult of tradition, or syncretism of opinion
  2. The rejection of modernism, or irrationalism
  3. Action for action's sake, taken without reflection or debate: Culture is suspect
  4. Disagreement is treason; the critical spirit is degenerate, emasculate
  5. Fear of difference; disagreement is a sign of unwelcome diversity
  6. Ur-fascism derives from individual or social frustration, or the cult of victimhood
  7. Nationalism, xenophobia
  8. Feeling of humiliation by the wealth, size, and force of the enemy
  9. Life is permanent warfare, the ongoing struggle; the Armageddon complex
  10. Contempt for the weak; Elitism of the military, the celebrity, the athlete
  11. The cult of heroism; willingness to send others to death for principles
  12. Machismo; sexism; homophobia; idealization of chastity, purity
  13. Selective populism; the Leader pretends to act for all
  14. Newspeak; elementary syntax, impoverished vocabulary
If you're interested, here's a fairly sober look at the progress and regress of the fascist current in contemporary American political affairs.

My suspicion—no, my worry—is that we are heading toward a much softer version of authoritarianism. Call it authoritarianism by consent. It won't be just like the fascism of the mid- to late 1900s, so that any attempts to saddle it with that label will be laughed out of the common discourse.

I don't know quite what form it might take, but I do believe it will involve corporate control over government: plutocrats buying Congress, the Supreme Court, and even the Presidency and, more importantly, the regulatory apparatus surrounding it; all, I might add, for the purpose of creating inequities in the system which will accrue in greater and greater proportions to those at the top.

It will likewise entail private militaries as well as public and will include all the services and industries (intelligence, weapons, etc.) surrounding them—let's call it the National Security apparatus; all of whom, I might add, require ever increasing portions of the treasury (both public and private) to sustain them. Thus creating an intensely symbiotic relation with the corporatist faction.

I don't think we're there quite yet, and I have some sympathy with Sara Robinson's point above, to wit: the 2000s saw the pendulum swing more toward the fascist side of our polity, and the 2010s have seen us moving—however incrementally and incompletely—back from that extreme. This may simply turn out to have been a hiccup in the inexorable march of democratic societies to some form of authoritarian totalitarianism, something toward which much of our Western political history—from the ancient Greeks and Romans on—has trended. That, of course, remains to be seen, and is dependent on the strength of our democratic institutions to withstand the corruptions of corporatism and our will to maintain an open and relatively equitable society over against the creeping militarism.

It is our job to keep our eyes open and call it out when we see it.
If you disagree and feel our society's corporatist militarism is heading us irretrievably in the direction of fascism, download and print a hard copy of Gene Sharp's cookbook for democratic revolutionaries before they take your internets away: From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation:
"When one wants to bring down a dictatorship most effectively and with the least cost then one has four immediate tasks:
  • One must strengthen the oppressed population themselves in their determination, self-confidence, and resistance skills;
  • One must strengthen the independent social groups and in- stitutions of the oppressed people;
  • One must create a powerful internal resistance force; and
  • One must develop a wise grand strategic plan for liberation and implement it skillfully." (7-8)


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Sara Robinson doesn't mention that some of the worst excesses of of the national security state, have been made bipartisan by Obama (for example, the NSA spying on everyone in service of the "war on terror").

And we've had a reinterpretation of the concept of "due process" that not even Bush and Cheney attempted.

As far as corporatism goes, there's no ray of sunshine there, either. Obama and Holder have protected the banksters from day one.

Randal Graves said...

That's the beauty of the New Fascism™ (now that I've coined this term, I just need a smoking jacket & a sense of smugness), why use 1000 heavy-handed jackboots* when a 1000 cuts will work much more quiet.

*save for occasions of LOOK! PEACENIKS!, of course

Jack Crow said...

Curious why you'd include Allende...

Jim H. said...

@Jack: Thanks for the close reading. Of course, it's Gen. Pinochet. Derp. Fixed.

@RG: Or 1000 Shades of Gray.

@Thunder: Calling it like we see it.