Monday, November 14, 2005

Are we living in a state that is headed down the path to fascism?

Yes, I am aware that the first person to yell NAZI ! in an argument is technically the loser. Unless, of course, they are yelling at Nazi's. Which can and does happen on occasion when those delightful close shaved scamps make an angry in articulate presence with their kicker boots, braces at half mast, and impotent rage at the fact they're whiteys but poor make an appearance at one of their somewhat sad rallies in support of hating other people because of their genetic pre-disposition.

Alan Ramsey in the SMH on the weekend cited an excellent analysis from the admittedly leftist organization known as the Council for Secular Humanism on this very issue. You can find their analysis here. He cited it as part of another article he was referring to by David Loehr, noted humanist in the states. His article is here.

However, to save you poor clickin' finger, I have helpfully lifted the Dave Letterman style top fourteen common threads in a fascistic state. Then you compare that to what is happening today here in both Australia, and America and judge for yourself whether we are headed down the path of puffy directing pants, riding crops, secret police big on leather jackets and fedoras, and of synchronized stiff legged marching and/or salutes to our leaders (long may they rule us).

The article was written by Laurence W Britt, who has written a novel depicting a 'future' America dominated by right wing extremists. He determined his theory after studying seven fascistic governments from history (Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal, Papadopoulos’s Greece, Pinochet’s Chile, and Suharto’s Indonesia.)

1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism. From the prominent displays of flags and bunting to the ubiquitous lapel pins, the fervor to show patriotic nationalism, both on the part of the regime itself and of citizens caught up in its frenzy, was always obvious. Catchy slogans, pride in the military, and demands for unity were common themes in expressing this nationalism. It was usually coupled with a suspicion of things foreign that often bordered on xenophobia.

2. Disdain for the importance of human rights. The regimes themselves viewed human rights as of little value and a hindrance to realizing the objectives of the ruling elite. Through clever use of propaganda, the population was brought to accept these human rights abuses by marginalizing, even demonizing, those being targeted. When abuse was egregious, the tactic was to use secrecy, denial, and disinformation.

3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause. The most significant common thread among these regimes was the use of scapegoating as a means to divert the people’s attention from other problems, to shift blame for failures, and to channel frustration in controlled directions. The methods of choice—relentless propaganda and disinformation—were usually effective. Often the regimes would incite “spontaneous” acts against the target scapegoats, usually communists, socialists, liberals, Jews, ethnic and racial minorities, traditional national enemies, members of other religions, secularists, homosexuals, and “terrorists.” Active opponents of these regimes were inevitably labeled as terrorists and dealt with accordingly.

4. The supremacy of the military/avid militarism. Ruling elites always identified closely with the military and the industrial infrastructure that supported it. A disproportionate share of national resources was allocated to the military, even when domestic needs were acute. The military was seen as an expression of nationalism, and was used whenever possible to assert national goals, intimidate other nations, and increase the power and prestige of the ruling elite.

5. Rampant sexism. Beyond the simple fact that the political elite and the national culture were male-dominated, these regimes inevitably viewed women as second-class citizens. They were adamantly anti-abortion and also homophobic. These attitudes were usually codified in Draconian laws that enjoyed strong support by the orthodox religion of the country, thus lending the regime cover for its abuses.

6. A controlled mass media. Under some of the regimes, the mass media were under strict direct control and could be relied upon never to stray from the party line. Other regimes exercised more subtle power to ensure media orthodoxy. Methods included the control of licensing and access to resources, economic pressure, appeals to patriotism, and implied threats. The leaders of the mass media were often politically compatible with the power elite. The result was usually success in keeping the general public unaware of the regimes’ excesses.

7. Obsession with national security. Inevitably, a national security apparatus was under direct control of the ruling elite. It was usually an instrument of oppression, operating in secret and beyond any constraints. Its actions were justified under the rubric of protecting “national security,” and questioning its activities was portrayed as unpatriotic or even treasonous.

8. Religion and ruling elite tied together. Unlike communist regimes, the fascist and protofascist regimes were never proclaimed as godless by their opponents. In fact, most of the regimes attached themselves to the predominant religion of the country and chose to portray themselves as militant defenders of that religion. The fact that the ruling elite’s behavior was incompatible with the precepts of the religion was generally swept under the rug. Propaganda kept up the illusion that the ruling elites were defenders of the faith and opponents of the “godless.” A perception was manufactured that opposing the power elite was tantamount to an attack on religion.

9. Power of corporations protected. Although the personal life of ordinary citizens was under strict control, the ability of large corporations to operate in relative freedom was not compromised. The ruling elite saw the corporate structure as a way to not only ensure military production (in developed states), but also as an additional means of social control. Members of the economic elite were often pampered by the political elite to ensure a continued mutuality of interests, especially in the repression of “have-not” citizens.

10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated. Since organized labor was seen as the one power center that could challenge the political hegemony of the ruling elite and its corporate allies, it was inevitably crushed or made powerless. The poor formed an underclass, viewed with suspicion or outright contempt. Under some regimes, being poor was considered akin to a vice.

11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts. Intellectuals and the inherent freedom of ideas and expression associated with them were anathema to these regimes. Intellectual and academic freedom were considered subversive to national security and the patriotic ideal. Universities were tightly controlled; politically unreliable faculty harassed or eliminated. Unorthodox ideas or expressions of dissent were strongly attacked, silenced, or crushed. To these regimes, art and literature should serve the national interest or they had no right to exist.

12. Obsession with crime and punishment. Most of these regimes maintained Draconian systems of criminal justice with huge prison populations. The police were often glorified and had almost unchecked power, leading to rampant abuse. “Normal” and political crime were often merged into trumped-up criminal charges and sometimes used against political opponents of the regime. Fear, and hatred, of criminals or “traitors” was often promoted among the population as an excuse for more police power.

13. Rampant cronyism and corruption. Those in business circles and close to the power elite often used their position to enrich themselves. This corruption worked both ways; the power elite would receive financial gifts and property from the economic elite, who in turn would gain the benefit of government favoritism. Members of the power elite were in a position to obtain vast wealth from other sources as well: for example, by stealing national resources. With the national security apparatus under control and the media muzzled, this corruption was largely unconstrained and not well understood by the general population.

14. Fraudulent elections. Elections in the form of plebiscites or public opinion polls were usually bogus. When actual elections with candidates were held, they would usually be perverted by the power elite to get the desired result. Common methods included maintaining control of the election machinery, intimidating and disenfranchising opposition voters, destroying or disallowing legal votes, and, as a last resort, turning to a judiciary beholden to the power elite.

HM here again. This is the qualifier, so you can't accuse me of taking this without a grain of salt.

Does any of this ring alarm bells? Of course not. After all, this is America, officially a democracy with the rule of law, a constitution, a free press, honest elections, and a well-informed public constantly being put on guard against evils. Historical comparisons like these are just exercises in verbal gymnastics. Maybe, maybe not.

So what do you think? In addition to Loehr's article on fascism and America, which cites the points above, check out his other one on fundamentalism (go here. Loehr makes some interesting points about the Pat Robertsons and Falwells, and other inhabitants of that dank tank of human bigotry that is the religious right in the US. Move over Osama, here comes Pat (complete with his age defying pancakes – recipe available on the 700 club website).

8 comments:

  1. These attitudes were usually codified in Draconian laws that enjoyed strong support by the orthodox religion of the country, thus lending the regime cover for its abuses.

    You can make that 'still enjoys' strong support in the case of General Franco's Spain and the Catholic church- The pope has just beatified a bunch of priests and nuns killed during the civil war, when the church was on the side of the fascists. While the murder of priests and nuns is obviously a horrendous thing, you'd think that the whole period is not something he'd want to bring to peoples' attention... but Ratzinger doesn't seem to mind being associated with fascists.

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  2. Now, now, Pope Ratty was forced into the Hitler youth, and he went AWOL when he served on a gunnery battery in the war. Completely not his fault.

    You bet atrocoties happened in the Spanish civil war. On all sides - but it was the fascists that invented carpet bombing, and drafted their soldiers from unwilling peasants.

    If you get a chance, have a read of Homage to Catalonia by Orwell. Chilling stuff.

    In Oz's case, the orthodox religion would be some elements of the Catholic chuch (George Pell), and the evangelicals that the coalition are coseying with. Not those lousy lefties going on about unfair workplace changes. No, not them. Lousy Beatniks.

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  3. Yeah I find it really funny that the same people the government were cosying up to when they moved to ban gay marriage here are the same people the government is now telling to pipe down and get their noses out of political business!

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  4. Ah political expediency at its finest.

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  5. This meme has been floating around left-leaning circles in the US for the last 2 years or so, so welcome to the club.

    There's a US Blogger named David Neiwert (his blog is named ) who does investigative reporting on hate crimes, and who has written a fantastic piece on the rise of Pseudo-Fascism and how the conservative movement in the US has used it for power gain.

    Obviously totally US-centric, but this piece is here: (PDF)
    The Rise of Pseudo-Fascism

    I read the original blog posts he based the paper off, and it's fascinating stuff.

    Oddly, I almost find the work to be hopeful, because if other people are noticing this sort of thing then perhaps we can get to a critical mass where the fascists are driven from power.

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  6. Without directly saying so, it seems clear that our Author believes that the titular question "Are we living in a state that is headed down the path to fascism?" can be answered in a positive manner.

    It seems clear to me that the political balance in this country has shifted to the right since the seventies and eighties. Does a shifting of the political balance toward the right mean the country is "headed down the path to fascism"? Arguably yes, in the same way that shifting the political balance toward the left means that the country is "headed down the path to communism", or that the progression of daily temperatures from 12 degrees to 23 degrees means that we are "headed down the path to being broiled alive". While we live in a country with intact democratic institutions, any tendency towards extremism will be slowed, and eventually reversed, by the inertia of the political views of the electorate.

    I think one of the most important aspects of a totalitarian state - not necessarily just the fascist kind - is intolerance for those who have dissenting views. The fourteen symptoms of fascism described in the post can be, and are, opposed by individuals making up a significant part of the electorate, and what is more are opposed without any kind of official suppression of the sort which I consider to be the prime symptom of totalitarianism - beatings and vandalism delivered by unofficial government organisations, arrests on trumped-up charges, seizure of assets, and "disappearances" - whether indeterminate secret detention, or murder.

    The recently proposed counter-terror legislation, with its provisions for detention without charge, control orders, and suppression of information regarding detentions, represent the first really frightening indications that governance in this country might be slipping towards a kind of tyranny. These provisions need to be opposed and if made law need to be repealed, and - I hope and expect - will be, by the next labour government.

    Even considering the recently proposed counter-terror legislation, I still think it's drawing a very long bow to suggest that the country is "headed down the path to fascism".

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  7. Hmm, interesting response from the H man, who I know is widely read and a student of history.

    I guess maybe I am looking for the signs and trying to match evidence. Like you said the counter terror laws with their sedition/secret detention/without charge components, the fixation on flags in schools, the coseying up with the christian fundamentalists in this country, the massive campaign to undercut rights of workers and allow bosses the effectively ability to sack whom they want, the constant references to muslim Australians harbouring and encouraging terrorists, the fixation of the current government in the issues of 'morals', the funnelling of monies towards religious based schools, especially the Christian independent ones, the promotion of Intelligent design as being acceptable for teaching in classrooms, the supplantion of the governor general by the prime minister as the lead 'condolence' figure and welcome/fareweller of the troops, the fixation of demonising refugees, the removal of services from universities, and all of that perhaps leads me to think that just maybe, while it's not jackboots and puffy pants being the end goal, they share the same generalised wish as fascist states do. Entrenched political control, heavy on law an order, using public fear as their mainstay political tool, all the while tailoring government to meet a narrow rightest ideology.

    Have a read of the Pseudo Fascist doc that Morton highlighted. It's some stunning reading man.

    Oz may not end up with synchronised marching. But in the last ten years the public are voting not what their country to stand for, but who is going to protect them from 'insert boogyman here'.

    It's not a country I love. It's a country that's making me despair. But it's my damn country and I am going to do my best to help return it to a more enlightened place where base shit like this does not happen.

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  8. Sorry - the 'like you said' referred to the counter terror stuff alone. Not all the other dot points of 'is this indicitive of fascism?' I forgot to insert. 'And of course, there is also ...' ahead of the rest.

    For some reason my garbage bin wasn't there allowing me to delete and amend.

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