The Many Faces of Fascism
by Tadit Anderson
Fascism can be a difficult concept to understand. Of course it doesn't help that conventional academics and politicians tend to mislead or are confused themselves. In the simplest definition "fascism" is the opposite of democracy as a form of governance. The goal of democratic practice is to increase the participation of people in the governance of their society, their own lives, and the nation for the benefit of all. The goal of fascism is to reduce the number of people benefiting from and participating in the governance of their society or nation. The use of "noble lies," propaganda, and public relations disinformation are important tactics commonly used by fascists as a means to gain support for the elites in their ideas of social order and stability according to their judgment and priorities. A large part of the difficulty of understanding fascism is due to the misuse and misapplication of language and history for the purposes of mis-direction and bribery. In order to proceed here a distinction has to be made between "cleverness" and "intelligence." Fascists tend to be profoundly clever, but also tend to have an impoverished imagination and intelligence, except for perversions based upon power.
Since the defeat of openly fascist Italy alongside the national socialist Germany, advocates of fascism will no longer identify themselves as "fascist." Further, advocates of lesser forms of fascism may not even realize the relation of their own priorities to fascism since they will either have no experience with authentic democracy or cannot see where a pro-democratic course of action would benefit their personal interests and status. Instead, they will use highly ambiguous adjectives that give the illusion of good judgment or patriotism, such as "conservative," "centrist," "free market capitalism," "neo-liberal economics," "responsible management," and most frequently of all "democratic." Even so, their apparent understanding of these terms, as measured by the outcomes of their policies, seem to directly contradict a basic understanding of democracy. Thanks to George Orwell's book 1984 the concept of "doublespeak" gives us an adequate description of the pretense of communication.
Concepts such as "justice," "ideology," "social order," "a good citizen, "moral values," "patriotism," and "leadership" take on wildly different meanings depending upon the political philosophy of the speaker. Therefore fascism and democracy have to be identified by their deeds, actual priorities, and the results of their policies, not by their false promises, ahistorical posturing, and amoral boasting. The mechanisms of a weak democracy can be used as easily as a military coup toward establishing a fascist government.
In the context of a fascist political statement a "good citizen" is someone who believes and does what they are told by someone presuming to be a higher authority and less flawed than . The expected compliance is complete no matter how conflicting the dogmas and edicts are with democratic principles, moral codes, or direct experience. The same authorities are always quite willing to sacrifice someone else's lives in the name of "God" or "Patriotism." A "good citizen" in the context of an authentic form of democracy is someone willing to question political statements when they stray from facts and verifiable experience and who will listen to opposing points of view as long as they are not libelous or held beyond accountability.
A "democracy" which elects representatives, though the offered candidates are first chosen by political and economic elites, where the partisan political landscape is structured in favor of two existing major political parties though they represent very similar world views, where elected representatives solicit bribes in return for their votes and influence, or where election fraud is an established tool kit of techniques to over-rule the popular vote, could reasonably be described as only technically a democracy. It might even be said that such a nation's reputation as a "democracy" is readily available to be used as a cover for anti-democratic priorities. The advocates of fascist political agendas, as a form of extremist conservatism, will oppose all changes which would reduce the powers, privileges, and unearned wealth of elites. Further, they are likely as well to advocate a return to a form of feudalism under the pretense of "restoration." Typically fascism appears as the guiding political philosophy of individual politicians or of a nation though it also serves the interests of transnational elites. A transnational form of fascism would have to seize control of a powerful nation state or a coalition of similarly captured governments.
Fascist leadership tends to distract its popular supporters with unobtainable goals, icons, racism, and cultural wedge issues, avoiding any accountability for practical outcomes, democratic principles, protection of the commons, and basic human rights. When opportunities arise for them to externalize costs and privatize public resources in the name of "free enterprise" and "democracy" they will not hesitate to use their advantages. Another part of the difficulty is the mis-use of history as a basis for exceptionalism and privilege, rather than as a basis for accountability.
When a nation's citizens have lost the basic experience of participating in an authentic democracy and when their living conditions are difficult they will often accept the "leadership" of repressive and corrupted authority wrapped in the symbols of strength, revolution, democracy and religious faith. Another way that nations have established fascist governments is through a reaction based rejection of direct imperial occupation and of imposed regimes marketed under the pretense of "democracy" and "liberation" Even within alternative subcultures, when confronted with a crisis a group will often lapse into a corporatist structure for lack of direct experience with any other form of governance or management.
Beyond the spin cycle distortions there is also propaganda that is based upon disinformation related to history and political economics which add to the difficulties of identifying and comparing fascist forms of governance. Such disinformation is based upon a conveniently narrowed view of history which lays the basis for deflecting historical comparisons. One form places fascism as something that happened in a particular time and place, usually at a comfortable degree of abstraction. This form confuses the name of something with the pattern of behavior that is of interest, this also known as Whitehead's "fallacy of misplaced concreteness." Another form is based upon name recognition and attempts to gain credibility by association. It poses an assumption that a particular regime is entitled to use the legacies and history of a nation or state with which it presumes to share some linkage in order to lend itself credibility and usually nobility. When under a closer analysis it is entitled to neither based upon its actual behavior.
One example of this sort of convenient misinformation is the period and the associated political history of when and by whom the word "fascism" was coined. For this Benito Mussolini is given credit, though the credit should be limited to him giving a name to a pattern rather than for the invention of a new pattern of behavior. His intent of course was to establish positive associations his political agenda. The fact that Italy was on the losing side of World War II gives the use of "fascism," as a word, an entirely negative association. Key here is that the pattern has existed and will arise without its advocates outright claiming its fascist patterns and it is adaptive to a wide range of contexts.
The word itself is derived from the Latin "fasces" which was used to describe the bundling together of the different elements of authority in a society and in particular the Roman Empire of which the bundling of birch rods and an ax was emblematic of authority. The use by the Italian fascists of Roman Imperial history was entirely intentional and largely ahistorical to the extent that it was used to imply a common destiny by association. A similar re-writing of history has also cultivated a fairly rich fantasy life for many politicians in terms of errant associations with the founding of democracy in the American Colonies. No less of a figure than James Madison described the US Constitution as being designed â€œto protect the minority of the opulent from the majority.â€?
Mussolini acknowledged that the term "fascism" referred to the "estato corporativ," which translates as "the corporate state," meaning the binding together of the elements of authority and as such can be described as "corporatism." There is no necessary connection to business corporations except as a binding together of individuals as an incorporated entity for the sake of shielding individuals from personal liability. To the extent that corporations often tend to represent businesses operating against the interest of the general public, or which repress democratic behavior by its serfs and wage slaves, and that they represent major concentrations of wealth and act as shields against individual accountability they will promote a fascist culture. To the extent that legitimate and regulated free market capitalism serving the public interests is replaced by a capitalism of privilege, access, and ideology it will trend toward fascism. To the extent that the "rights" of corporations and institutions supersede the rights of natural citizens and democratic authority, fascism has been established.
As a political philosophy it is resilient and adaptive in its opposition to the practice of democracy. It is not limited to a particular historic time and place except that it tends to be initially the direct successor to monarchical, imperial, and manorial feudalism. The oriental forms bear some differences though the pattern of bundling together of political, economic, military, and religious elites remains basic. Tribal cultures tend to operate in a less hierarchical fashion and are less prone to massive concentrations of power and wealth. To paraphrase the acknowledged fascist political philosopher Juan Donoso Cortes 'the elites are right because they have the power to suppress,' in other words, might makes right.
The convenient limitation of use of the term "fascism" to describe only one group of allied combatant nations in World War II, Germany, Italy, and Japan, obscures the more general pattern of political behavior. To the victors go the spoils and righteous posturing, and to the defeated goes the blame and indictments of war crimes. One set of allies controlled established empires and their surrogate states, and sought to control the rest of the world(aka: "the good guys"). Two of the opposing set of allies were nations who were only recently re-established as nation states, Italy and Germany. These upstart nations, including Japan (aka: "the bad guys"), committed the major crime of attempting to establish their own empires in the model of their competitor empires and losing the contest. Only the most superficial analysis of World War II would accept that it was about "Democracy's Allies" fighting valorously against the barbaric and fascist "Huns" and "Japs."
It is well documented that financiers and industrialists in Great Britain and the US contributed to the rise of German fascism in the 1930's. This was done as a strategy to stop the growth of worker political participation in central Europe, as well as a strategy to generate profits for the armament related industries. The propaganda based telling of history may have considerable emotional appeal and undoubtedly many well intending people fought and died exactly for the sake of the proclaimed values of democracy. Still, loudly and frequently repeated lies and disinformation cannot erase the basic pattern of elitism, racism, and anti-democracy among all of the combatant nations.
The propaganda based interpretation of history also fails to answer how nominally communist and socialist nations became fascist and nationalist socialist states. Under the banner of revolution new elites often only replace or become incorporated into pre-existing societal elites. It also fails to explain why the US failed to align itself primarily with the western European nations until it became clear that Hitler's Germany could not win decisively against the Soviet Union. And it fails to explain how Japan's occupations of China and Korea were not an issue worth US intervention in favor of democracy. Also it does not explain why Pearl Harbor was intentionally left vulnerable to Japan's retaliation against US steel and oil embargoes against Japan and against US expansion of its influence into the Western Pacific. In effect World War II was a conflict among several fascist and empire building nations. Some of those nations became the apparent winners. Others became designated as the defeated nations, suffered occupation, realigned their loyalties afterward to the apparent winners, and were held responsible for reparations. Also it fails to provide a basis for understanding of how nominal progressive and socialist organizations even within nations claiming a democratic history often operate in a fascist and corporatist manner.
The contrary form of this propaganda interpretation of history attempts to gain credibility by disassociation. One version is credits the elites with the sole responsibility for the conversion of a democratic state into a fascist state. The simple persistence of the pattern indicates persistent cultural and individual sources of the pattern apart from relatively unique and historic factors. The use of the term "fascism" has also been to condemn just about everything that constrains nominal leftist or socialist posturing. Usually such taggers exempt by definition socialist states even though prominent socialist and communist states have demonstrated a equal tendency to bundle together political, economic, and military elites in a totalitarian fashion at the expense of the common citizen. These exemptions have also diluted and contradicted the core patterns that identify fascism.
The nature of the political culture of a nation's individual citizens is highly important in their surrender to fascism. Certainly, the political, economic, religious, and military elites will continue to press their agenda with the substantial resources available to them. It is also true that those priorities would not succeed if substantial numbers of people did not look forward to personal gain and status for their voluntary servitude. Undermining a democratic political culture requires a great deal of time and the belief that a wide portion of the population benefits from the state's oppression of domestic minorities and the colonial extraction of wealth from elsewhere. The institutionalization of political intellectual culture in academia also cultivates that same type of willing servitude. Common citizens defer after a time to experts and professional intellectuals in service to ideologies as much out of habit as ignorance A mass communications industry dominated by corporations with self serving political agendas will also operate against the public's interest in a democratic culture. A pro-democratic strategy would include re-establishing an independent, democratic culture.
The nature of the modern centralized nation state itself also facilitates the seizure of that apparatus by the deference people tend to develop over years to institutional authority. Some political theorists even go so far as to credit the reason for the invention of the modern nation-state as being expressly to establish control by the economic, political, religious, and military elites. The character of the administrative functions of a large nation state is dependent upon the democratic or anti-democratic nature of the administrators and politicians. From there the administrators are sensitive to the value placed upon democratic or anti-democratic values and behavior by the general population. This in turn reflects the actual amount and depth of experience that people have with using democratic principles in their daily lives. A pro-democratic strategy would include re-establishing an independent, democratic culture.
The elites and aspiring elites will always be with us, and their subversion of a democracy would not be possible without the submission of broad portions of the population. As extremist conservatives they will go to whatever means they can to establish a full reversal of democratic culture. Under the influence of an anti-democratic culture and government, the individual functionaries of that nation will be capable of the most horrific forms of socialized dehumanization in the most banal ways by their perception of their personal responsibility to God, Country, Race, and Destiny and to any perceived threats.
A simple comparison of the culture of the American Colonies from 1750 to 1775 to our current culture and gestures of governance demonstrates the importance of the democratic culture at the level of individual and small group participation. In the late colonial period high value was placed on participation in discussions and self directed education. In the non-violent occupation of the court houses in the rural areas of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, hundreds of colonialists participated in decisions made regarding their occupation of the courthouses and the tax collectors offices. In that time our society was dominated by small independent farmers and merchants, who in their relative self sufficiency lived by their ability to solve problems. When the occasion called for it, the efforts of a community could be brought to bear in seasonal or emergency related responses. By that time the wave of religious extremism of the original settlers from Europe had proven its lack of merit, practicality, and authority.
The later Jeffersonian Declaration of Independence in the name of the Continental Congress was a statement of political positioning by the indigenous elites who wished to institute their status and sources of unearned wealth. These same pale faced gentlemen in their majority acted to establish slavery as an institution though a movement to abolition of slavery had already been established in England and slave ownership was threatened by the increasing number of slave revolts. They also perpetuated the seizure of the territories of the native Americans. The same assembly also left the control of public currency and the public economy to private interests out of both ignorance and deceit. The basis of the overt political philosophy of the Federalists was the centralization of the institutions of governance While centralization offers an efficiency and consistency of governance, again, it also offers the means of entrenching the privileges of elites.
The daily lives of US citizens are today dominated by the structures of profit obsessed and cronyism based corporations and by Protestant ministers and Catholic priests presuming powers and positions of religious higher authority. Today most of us walk, eat, and work in essentially corporatist social organizations where democratic freedoms have been eliminated and criminal behavior is the expected strategy to protect and expand the extraction of wealth for the few. Further, many have conceded in irrational faith to the higher authority of ignorant and anti-democratic elites in the name of religion, wealth, or political position. The opportunities to live and breathe authentic democracy are few. The institutionalization of public education has greatly reduced its positive support of a democratic culture by the reduction of education to a mass production process. Further decimation has been accomplished by the insistence under the pretense of "fairness" upon religious doctrines given equal status to science, by the withdrawal of elitist support of fully public and equal education, and by the severe reduction of financial support by ideological extortion and by political bribery from corporations. Reversing the erosion of a democratic culture requires the establishment of participatory contexts where people can restore their practice of democracy.
Following the basic pattern of the bundling of the interests of elites for the sake of a dictatorship form of governance that characterizes fascism backward through time, it becomes very obvious that the rise of fascism as a political philosophy is directly related to collapse of the European monarchies. The American colonial revolt began in 1775, the first French Revolution began in 1789, the Haitian war for independence began in 1791, the first Napoleonic wars went from 1799 to 1815, and several revolutions occurred across Europe during 1848-49. By the turmoil and unrest alone it was obvious that the European monarchies were no longer serving the needs of the common people with their increased wealth and education, nor were they able to repress the challenges of the common people to the privileges of the elites.
Deeper contradictions also coexist within relatively stable fascist cultures by their dependence on dualities. In that the blatant hypocrisy of the mainstream requires that subcultures be maintained which exist as opposite and mirroring subcultures, and to provide a constant supply of righteous indignation. Typical totalitarian societies live a sort of divided existence. One face presents a totalitarian face that spouts moralisms, heroic myths, and family values and another face is as corrupt, false, deceitful, and dehumanizing as could be imagined. In our own situation this sort of split personality is reflected in there being one form of fascism which is mainstream in nature, and a form which is libertine by comparison. Another division poses a conventional form of corporatism, and then a nominally "progressive" form which is likewise corporatist and irrational in its behavior. This alternative form of corporatism tends to be political and moral, and tends to propose reforms to the dominant fascist institutions. What would be considered as contradictions by a neutral observer arise from the premise of reforming a corporatist society by advocating corporatist reforms. The focus upon these "reforms" largely nullify any effort to move toward a more democratic culture. Organizing "pro-democracy" organizations and activities on the basis of personality, elitism, hierarchy, partisan politics, sexism, and ideology is a simple reflection of typical fascist structures and accomplishes little in the way changing the basic behavior patterns. Countering the irrationalism of fascism with contrary forms of irrationalism also gains little traction toward change.
The simplest and most direct example is the fever to establish change at the institutional level by electing corporatist candidates of a less belligerent nature over those that subscribe to a more extreme form of fascism. As a strategy this would only result in a different flavor of fascism, not a stronger form of democracy. To the extent that there is no effort to increase a functioning democratic culture at the personal level we can hardly expect that authenticity of democracy at the institutional level would increase. To the extent that irrational mechanistic and mystical values are invested in at the personal level, that person will be incapacitated from either participating or supporting the re-establishment of a democratic culture or governing institutions. The emotional rhetoric of an ideology does nothing toward. nullifying sexism, racism, nationalism, and elitism in themselves and is only capable of supporting or strengthening forms of corporatism.
On one hand the elites allowed to elude regulation and accountability will always operate to expand their privileges and wealth at the expense and exploitation of others. As a rule they have no interest in the sustainability of their greed. On the other hand if the culture of a nation has been re-shaped by institutions such as hierarchic corporations and political representation purchased by the highest briber or campaign contributor, then those patterns will tend to set the conditions for the return of fully totalitarian fascism or secular feudalism.
The simple exclusion of work based or open source democracy or of the involvement of citizens in the practical work of improving the organic, mental, and other capacities of its citizens will result in an regressive nullification of life itself. One of the more peculiar aspects of fascist cultures it the degree to which it replaces relationships of intimacy and mutual support based upon natural needs with relationships based upon power. By its very nature fascist cultures suppress creativity and imagination and can be expected to sterile in many ways. Democratic culture would in contrast be expected to be highly creative, imaginative, and inquiring.
The thread of anti-democratic and fascist political philosophies from the present exaltation of Strauss's Platonist "noble lies" and "philosopher kings" by the neo-con ideologues and the recurring self deifying theocrats extends deep into the feudal, and monument building periods of human history. During brief periods the rest of humanity occasionally took exception to their exploiters and either walked away or revolted as mass movements. Rebuilding the capacity of individuals to function in an authentic democratic context is where we must start. Mass movements and confrontation invalidate themselves without this foundation. Suppression of dissent is relatively easy in one way or another, but the suppression of a democratic culture is very difficult.
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