Thoughts on Fascism, If and How
A heady, well-informed, brilliantly expressed discussion went on a bit ago about fascism – they’ve certainly been common enough, though this one had more Phids than most – which struggled to come up with an accepted definition. It was inspiring yet hopeless, vast ponderous educations clashing over unhelpful minutia with wondrous civility as a hundred distinct, entirely subjective objective views per participant paraded majestically past.
My prejudice is toward practicality. We’d like to know what constitutes Fascism and what doesn’t, so that we can avoid, and combat if it erupts, a system that always leads to destruction and death. So I’ve tried to find the most solid, objective definition I subjectively can.
We pretend that words mean for the speaker what they mean for the hearer, and write definitions to establish common meaning. We are defeated in this proposition by subjective experience; a ‘yacht’ can be defined as a kind of boat, but my ‘boat’ is built of my experiences, and so is different from yours. I might see a schooner where you don’t even see a vessel for navigating on water. We start then by admitting this; we seek a definition that works, even while knowing the end product cannot be for me what it is for you.
However, we can get closer by seeing what others use the word to label, and look at the characteristics of that which has been labeled to see what parts they do and don’t share. How is the word used? Again, my prejudice is to get as objective an observation as possible, which draws me to professional opinion, and even further to that consensus which professional observers have reached.
Yes, professional, expert opinion can be wrong even in the majority, and often is. But we must start somewhere, and Occam and his razor lead the way: If you cannot be certain of Fact but you must base your next move on being right, you choose the most pragmatic explanation, avoiding emotional certainty and magical thinking.
You can obtain any end you desire if your only aim is to get there; we’re trying to let the thing to be described lead us to it. It’s the difference between the kind of lazy, magic-based scenario thinking that most people are satisfied with and a true analysis of objective reality –
Okay, my clumsy attempt at a true yadda yadda. You know, as audience, you could be a little more encouraging. Sheesh.
I find no universally accepted definition of this word among experts, and so a practical reading is required. What do most historians use the word ‘fascist’ to describe? What countries have been described so by mainstream historians?
You make your own list; mine includes certainly the Top Ten on Your Rockin’ Dial, all the European models so worshiped by Hollywood. Japan of a century ago through WWII, must be included, as well as a number of African nations, including the Baathist regimes of Libya and Iraq. On the other hand, though some have described its government as fascist, there is far from any agreement on Iran, so we leave it out. Many countries have had governments for a time (or still do) that a consensus has arisen among historians to refer to those political systems as fascist.
A remarkable picture is revealed; that those elements universally included are as important as the ones that have no agreement. Policy of one kind or another is often cited as important parts of such a political definition, but this leads to a hopeless morass. Any attempt to compare any policy – that is, the actual programs and actions that fascism enacts when in charge – is doomed, as no consistent policy is in evidence between any two such governments. This dissimilarity actually gives us a defining characteristic, in that, since policy among fascists is so malleable, finding any particular shape to it in any one nation is uselessly misleading.
Therefore we must reject any definition that includes any assessment of policy, and conclude that policy, both domestic and foreign, is entirely opaque and devoid of theme, based only on the need of the government to control the population. For any fascist state, policy illustrates nothing; one can see policy adopted by fascist governments that look like those of states from communist to capitalist to libertarian. The only goal for those governments of any and all policy is power.
Policy then is a common dissimilarity. The significant similarity that shows up is the boundary-free nature of those states. In the West we have become used to distinct, clear borders between the parts of Government and between Church, State, Party and Wealth, Art Pope’s North Carolina notwithstanding. Fascist governments in all places have been open to a merging of those functions; to be in the government at any level requires Party membership, religious affiliation and the blessings of Wealth, and a personal dedication to the Great Leader and the needs of Party.
This then becomes the pragmatic definition, based on how the word is used and the common characteristic all these governments share:
Fascism is a system of governance in which one party rules at all levels, administrative, legislative and legal, national and local; where no boundaries exist between the Party, all functions of the State and the officially-recognized religion, and in which entry to any of these is open to wealthy Party backers but closed to non-Party citizens; a financial system so involved with the Party and State that it can be best defined as ‘mercantilism’; and a completely arbitrary approach to government policy based only and entirely on the goal of controlling populations to keep and expand Party power.
You may notice something about this definition: Add only a hereditary ruler and a nobility and you have the classic European royalty. Until the last few centuries, the King of England was specifically recognized as head of State, in complete charge of the entire Government filled with his followers and supporters spoken of as a ‘Party’, that even the highest legal official was subordinate, and that he was at the same time the head of the Church. To act against any part of government or to be in commerce without grant or to fail to claim faith in official religious dogma were all equal with outright treason as acts against the King – ‘noblesse oblige’.
Yet you may also have noticed something else about our definition. Squint only slightly and it describes what the Right has been moving toward, very similar in goal and method. Though it started in the ’70s, one can date the formal opening of hostilities by the Right against democracy to the Gingrich Revolution and the founding of Fox as a fascist-apologist propaganda machine. Since then, a few fantastically wealthy individuals have been investing in One Party, which party has been focused like a laser on acting alone, and killing even bills they created when they are part of any other party’s policy; and to lack any consistent policy beyond those that serve their immediate Party needs and the interests of those same wealthy backers, refusing to waste any political energy on other governmental duties or obligations. They demonized Clinton and Obama as extremists outside the norm, though both caused grief and heartache on the Left by keeping to actions solidly within the center-right tradition that previous presidents of both parties had established.
Republicans for the last few decades have openly, brazenly worked to become not just the dominant but the only party that is permitted to act.
The only party to legislate; personal destruction of any member of the opposition; putting Party first even at the clear cost to the Nation; being no more than a conduit for the influence of wealth; working to break down our traditional boundaries between Church and State; served by a corporate media arm that has endlessly accused its enemies of invented scandal.
As Hitler’s favored theorists wrote before the War, it’s important to invent scandals out of every bit of whole cloth that comes your way, to find Sin and Shame in every headline; when the mainstream doesn’t report on them because they’re invented, followers take it to be proof of the Great Conspiracy and dependence on further propaganda is strengthened. Eventually, some scandal will have a shred of reality, but people will be so sick of the scandals that the small fleck of truth will be all that’s required to take the victim down.
Thus your modern Republican party – so close to fascism now, a few more degrees won’t mean much.
One can then make this shortcut: A Fascist ruler is like a King, except the King and the nobility ordain themselves. Just like the kingdoms of Europe, everything is about the Holy God-blessed Ruler, and all that State, Party and Church does is in support of that Ruler and the maintenance of his power. Is it possible that this, then, is the default position for political systems on this planet? That we can assume the modern democratic republic is as frail and easily overwhelmed as Mein Kampf promised it was in extremis by this urge to Authority?
Should we accept that, if a tipping point is reached where enough people feel so ill-served by the culture that they withdraw their support – when the center cannot hold – that this is the monster waiting there for it? This mob mind, angry and scared to insanity, desperately rushing toward the warm embracing Moral Certainty of hierarchy like a frightened child? Absolute Leader as the dominant fall-back position to Democracy?
This is the office that Trump imagines he is running for; an unlimited President with power to singlehandedly enact sweeping legislation – no, I lie, he doesn’t understand it that well: With sweeping powers to singlehandedly act without limit or question. The Republicans are going to stop this? Why?
And yet, as the title of this screed might suggest –
Is this really that different than what you think? That Law makes Order? If that’s so, if law creates order, won’t more law make more order? If the goal is to accomplish a perfect order, shouldn’t Law be all-encompassing? Wouldn’t it be, in fact, evil if our culture could be perfected, and a perfect Law established to control everything and make it perfect – and we didn’t do it?
Every crime, every theft, every act of violence would stand against us, accusing, shaming, if we could find Perfect Law and implement it and we don’t. Every innocent life ended would be a damnation of us. This is unavoidably true –
If you are right about our desperate dependence on Law. I ask you to look deeply within yourself. You do believe this, don’t you? Don’t worry; it’s only you and around 350 million other citizens.
So let’s not kid ourselves. Yes, Trump and his movement are fascist, clearly; they are using every slimy, disgusting trick in the politics-by-thuggery playbook – suppression of the votes of the opposition, turning everyday politics into a feces-flinging to drive away the decent, threats of violence, projection, scapegoating minorities, drumming up fear of the ‘other’, the Big Lie built up of an avalanche of lesser ones, using the weakness of the modern Press that can only function if ‘both sides do it’, working overtime to develop false narratives that equate small errors of the opposition grossly exaggerated to ‘equal’ those vicious words and acts of Peerless Leader.
But the Trumpeters are only slightly farther down that slip-n-slide than the rest of modern Republicans. And they only a bit ahead of the Left.
We drown in a deluge of well-intended intolerance, with a humorless insistence by Left, Right and Center to their own right to boss others that Adolf would have recognized.
Still, a person would have to be a real Bozo to believe in fascism, in the rightness of telling others what to do and punishing their disobedience. Fascists are clownish cowards.
But we’re all Bozos on that bus.