Monday, November 01, 2004

America and Fascism

There's been a lot of flinging around of the word "fascist" in recent years. Liberals like to compare Bush to Hitler, and eventually conservatives caught on to this idea and started calling various liberal ideas "fascist". I can't provide examples from the conservative side, because they are all so ridiculous, and indicate such a lack of understanding of fascism, that I seem to have repressed them all from my memory.

But as for the leftist comparison, someone has actually studied several fascist regimes, and come up with a group of commonalities. When compared to the current state of affairs in the United States, the similarity is pretty striking.
The 14 Defining Characteristics Of Fascism
by Dr. Lawrence Britt

Dr. Lawrence Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each:

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism -
Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights -
Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need."

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause -
The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

4. Supremacy of the Military -
Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

5. Rampant Sexism -
The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.

6. Controlled Mass Media -
Sometimes the media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

7. Obsession with National Security -
Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

8. Religion and Government are Intertwined -
Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions.

9. Corporate Power is Protected -
The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

10. Labor Power is Suppressed -
Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts -
Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment -
Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption -
Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

14. Fraudulent Elections -
Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.
According to neologic, this text appeared in "Free Inquiry" magazine, Spring 2003 issue.

A couple of items on the list deserve comment. Item 5, "Rampant Sexism", for example, might be disputed. However, how many female Presidents has the United States had? And how many has Pakistan had? There are many countries which have had female heads of state, and many which actually guarantee a certain proportion of their legislative seats to women. I'm not saying that reserving a number of seats for women is necessarily the way to go, but I think it's pretty fair to say that the American record of women in leadership roles is not nearly as good as it could be. Particularly when considering the role of large corporations in the American power structure--what percentage of corporate CEO's are women? And, when considering the issue of the power of women in America, although I think that the feminist movement has made some tremendous strides, I can't help thinking about a photo I saw a while back, of a group of middle-aged, balding, overweight white guys all standing around looking pleased with themselves while they signed a "partial-birth" abortion bill into law--a bill that would make abortions much harder to obtain. Middle-aged, balding, overweight white guys, controlling the wombs of American women--that's really the way it goes in this country.

Item 11, "Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts"--this one is interesting in light of the statement, "Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked." I'm thinking speech codes at Universities here. This appears to be an item which goes both ways--many right-wing groups complain loudly of infringement of their freedom of speech on college campuses. On the other hand, I don't think anyone can make a convicing case that liberal expression is not under attack either: witness the ploy over the past 15 years or so to drive the media to the right by constantly repeating the "liberal media" whine. Witness also the attacks on the National Endowment for the Arts, which has long been a pet issue for the GOP. Support of the arts has been painted as something undesirable--at best, a waste of tax dollars going towards endeavors that should "pay for themselves." This is merely code for, "the only arts worth doing are the arts that investors can profit from," and for "money is the standard by which all things should be measured." Which, in fact, ties in heavily with Item 9 on the list.

So, although a couple of those items might be disputed, the disputes really don't hold up. So the list is actually a pretty good description of the state of the U.S.

The obvious question here is, what can be done about it? I don't think that simply getting rid of Bush is going to be good enough. A lot of those items describe trends that have been afoot for a long time--the disdain for intellectualism has been around for much longer than I have been alive, for example. Item 10 claims that the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government. I certainly agree that organized labor can be a threat, but is it the only threat? Because we're in trouble, if it is. The only way Germany managed to get itself out of the clutches of the Nazis was to have a bunch of other countries practically grind it into dust. Naturally, I have a big problem with seeing that happen to the U.S.


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