Living Under Fascism
You may wonder why anyone would try to use the word "fascism" in a serious discussion of where America is today. It sounds like cheap name-calling, or melodramatic allusion to a slew of old war movies. But I am serious. I don't mean it as name-calling at all. I mean to persuade you that the style of governing into which America has slid is most accurately described as fascism, and that the necessary implications of this fact are rightly regarded as terrifying. That's what I am about here. And even if I don't persuade you, I hope to raise the level of your thinking about who and where we are now, to add some nuance and perhaps some useful insights.
|The word comes from the Latin word "Fasces," denoting a bundle of sticks tied together. The individual sticks represented citizens, and the bundle represented the state. The message of this metaphor was that it was the bundle that was significant, not the individual sticks. If it sounds un-American, it's worth knowing that the Roman Fasces appear on the wall behind the Speaker's podium in the chamber of the US House of Representatives.|
Still, it's an unlikely word. When most people hear the word "fascism" they may think of the racism and anti-Semitism of Mussolini and Hitler. It is true that the use of force and the scapegoating of fringe groups are part of every fascism. But there was also an economic dimension of fascism, known in Europe during the 1920s and '30s as "corporatism," which was an essential ingredient of Mussolini's and Hitler's tyrannies. So-called corporatism was adopted in Italy and Germany during the 1930s and was held up as a model by quite a few intellectuals and policy makers in the United States and Europe.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago (in "The Corporation Will Eat Your Soul"), Fortune magazine ran a cover story on Mussolini in 1934, praising his fascism for its ability to break worker unions, disempower workers and transfer huge sums of money to those who controlled the money rather than those who earned it.
Few Americans are aware of or can recall how so many Americans and Europeans viewed economic fascism as the wave of the future during the 1930s. Yet reviewing our past may help shed light on our present, and point the way to a better future. So I want to begin by looking back to the last time fascism posed a serious threat to America.
In Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel "It Can't Happen Here," a conservative southern politician is helped to the presidency by a nationally syndicated radio talk show host. The politician - Buzz Windrip - runs his campaign on family values, the flag, and patriotism. Windrip and the talk show host portray advocates of traditional American democracy - those concerned with individual rights and freedoms - as anti-American. That was 69 years ago.
One of the most outspoken American fascists from the 1930s was economist Lawrence Dennis. In his 1936 book, The Coming American Fascism - a coming which he anticipated and cheered - Dennis declared that defenders of "18th-century Americanism" were sure to become "the laughing stock of their own countrymen." The big stumbling block to the development of economic fascism, Dennis bemoaned, was "liberal norms of law or constitutional guarantees of private rights."
So it is important for us to recognize that, as an economic system, fascism was widely accepted in the 1920s and '30s, and nearly worshiped by some powerful American industrialists. And fascism has always, and explicitly, been opposed to liberalism of all kinds.
Mussolini, who helped create modern fascism, viewed liberal ideas as the enemy. "The Fascist conception of life," he wrote, "stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with the State. It is opposed to classical liberalism [which] denied the State in the name of the individual; Fascism reasserts the rights of the State as expressing the real essence of the individual." (In 1932 Mussolini wrote, with the help of Giovanni Gentile, an entry for the Italian Encyclopedia on the definition of fascism. You can read the whole entry at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/mussolini-fascism.html)
Mussolini thought it was unnatural for a government to protect individual rights: The essence of fascism, he believed, is that government should be the master, not the servant, of the people.
Still, fascism is a word that is completely foreign to most of us. We need to know what it is, and how we can know it when we see it.
In an essay coyly titled "Fascism Anyone?," Dr. Lawrence Britt, a political scientist, identifies social and political agendas common to fascist regimes. His comparisons of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Suharto, and Pinochet yielded this list of 14 "identifying characteristics of fascism." (The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 23, Number 2) See how familiar they sound.
But, again, this is not America's first encounter with fascism.
In early 1944, the New York Times asked Vice President Henry Wallace to, as Wallace noted, "write a piece answering the following questions: What is a fascist? How many fascists have we? How dangerous are they?"
Vice President Wallace's answer to those questions was published in The New York Times on April 9, 1944, at the height of the war against the Axis powers of Germany and Japan. See how much you think his statements apply to our society today.
"The really dangerous American fascist," Wallace wrote, " - is the man who wants to do in the United States in an American way what Hitler did in Germany in a Prussian way. 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."
In his strongest indictment of the tide of fascism he saw rising in America, Wallace added, "They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. 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." By these standards, a few of today's weapons for keeping the common people in eternal subjection include NAFTA, the World Trade Organization, union-busting, cutting worker benefits while increasing CEO pay, elimination of worker benefits, security and pensions, rapacious credit card interest, and outsourcing of jobs - not to mention the largest prison system in the world.
The Perfect Storm
Our current descent into fascism came about through a kind of "Perfect Storm," a confluence of three unrelated but mutually supportive schools of thought.
Another ill wind in this Perfect Storm is more important than its crudity might suggest: it was President Clinton's sleazy sex with a young but eager intern in the White House. This incident, and Clinton's equally sleazy lying about it, focused the certainties of conservatives on the fact that "liberals" had neither moral compass nor moral concern, and therefore represented a dangerous threat to the moral fiber of America. While the effects of this may be hard to quantify, I think they were profound.
These "storm" components have no necessary connection, and come from different groups of thinkers, many of whom wouldn't even like one another. But together, they form a nearly complete web of command and control, which has finally gained control of America and, they hope, of the world.
When all fascisms exhibit the same social and political agendas (the 14 points listed by Britt), then it is not hard to predict where a new fascist uprising will lead. And it is not hard. The actions of fascists and the social and political effects of fascism and fundamentalism are clear and sobering. Here is some of what's coming, what will be happening in our country in the next few years:
In the meantime, is there any hope, or do we just band together like lemmings and dive off a cliff? Yes, there is always hope, though at times it is more hidden, as it is now.
As some critics are now saying, and as I have been preaching and writing for almost twenty years, America's liberals need to grow beyond political liberalism, with its often self-absorbed focus on individual rights to the exclusion of individual responsibilities to the larger society. Liberals will have to construct a more complete vision with moral and religious grounding. That does not mean confessional Christianity. It means the legitimate heir to Christianity. Such a legitimate heir need not be a religion, though it must have clear moral power, and be able to attract the minds and hearts of a voting majority of Americans.
And the new liberal vision must be larger than that of the conservative religious vision that will be appointing judges, writing laws and bending the cultural norms toward hatred and exclusion for the foreseeable future. The conservatives deserve a lot of admiration. They have spent the last thirty years studying American politics, forming their vision and learning how to gain control in the political system. And it worked; they have won. Even if liberals can develop a bigger vision, they still have all that time-consuming work to do. It won't be fast. It isn't even clear that liberals will be willing to do it; they may instead prefer to go down with the ship they're used to.
One man who has been tireless in his investigations and critiques of America's slide into fascism is Michael C. Ruppert, whose postings usually read as though he is wound way too tight. But he offers four pieces of advice about what we can do now, and they seem reality-based enough to pass on to you. This is America; they're all about money:
That's advice written this week. Another bit of advice comes from sixty years ago, from Roosevelt's Vice President, Henry Wallace. Wallace said, "Democracy, to crush fascism internally, must...develop the ability to keep people fully employed and at the same time balance the budget. It must put human beings first and dollars second. It must appeal to reason and decency and not to violence and deceit. We must not tolerate oppressive government or industrial oligarchy in the form of monopolies and cartels."
Still another way to understand fascism is as a kind of colonization. A simple definition of "colonization" is that it takes people's stories away, and assigns them supportive roles in stories that empower others at their expense. When you are taxed to support a government that uses you as a means to serve the ends of others, you are - ironically - in a state of taxation without representation. That's where this country started, and it's where we are now.
I don't know the next step. I'm not a political activist; I'm only a preacher. But whatever you do, whatever we do, I hope that we can remember some very basic things that I think of as eternally true. One is that the vast majority of people are good decent people who mean and do as well as they know how. Very few people are evil, though some are. But we all live in families where some of our blood relatives support things we hate. I believe they mean well, and the way to rebuild broken bridges is through greater understanding, compassion, and a reality-based story that is more inclusive and empowering for the vast majority of us.
Those who want to live in a reality-based story rather than as serfs in an ideology designed to transfer power, possibility and hope to a small ruling elite have much long and hard work to do, individually and collectively. It will not be either easy or quick.
But we will do it. We will go forward in hope and in courage. Let us seek that better path, and find the courage to take it - step, by step, by step.