Subtle Kind Of Fascism
By John Chuckman
09 October, 2006
word fascism is used a lot, often pejoratively. The image that immediately
comes to mind is Mussolini in a steel helmet, hands on hips, head tipped
back, jaw thrust out. It is an image that influenced other fascists.
Young Hitler was a great admirer.
It is always helpful for
any discussion to define the subject carefully, a seemingly obvious
principle often ignored. What exactly is fascism? Can fascism coexist
to any extent with democratic institutions?
Fascism certainly is not
the same thing as communism, although both these systems are represented
by strongmen or tyrants and the state apparatus needed to support them.
Those who like the nomenclature of the French Revolution might say that
the two political extremes, right and left, almost meet somewhere in
a bend of political space.
Private enterprise, of course,
has been regarded as incompatible with communism, although contemporary
China with its New Economic Zone begins to confuse the issue. Things
have always been quite different with fascism. Fascist governments are
favorable to the interests of enterprise, at least the interests of
large-scale enterprises. Great private combines existed and were encouraged
under Hitler, Tojo, and Mussolini. Fascism represents, if you will,
a kind of large-scale, public-private partnership.
Fascism, much like the mental
image of Mussolini, tends to be about power, generally a raw display
of political and military power. These two things are welded together
in a fascist state. Flags, banners, strutting, and marching feature
prominently, with political occasions sometimes difficult to distinguish
from military ones.
displays serve several purposes. One, with their rise to power, fascist
parties brag about getting things done (the reality of entrenched fascism
proves another matter altogether), as opposed to the mundane, boring
inefficiency of ordinary deliberations. This kind of promise appeals
to the frustrations of many people who yearn for decisive change. Their
yearnings may concern anything from building public projects to imposing
There likely is a built-in
component in human beings which finds authority attractive, at least
over certain limits. Society mimics the show of power in many institutions
from popes to presidents.
The display of power also
intimidates enemies. Political opponents are not a common feature of
fascist states, which always feature secret police, secret prisons,
and heavy domestic spying, although they are sometimes allowed to exist
in a neutered form for show or internal political purposes.
Aggression is closely associated
with fascism. Partly the aggression is simply the result of having large
standing armies and all the state and corporate apparatus associated
with them. Large standing armies simply tend to get used - historians
have offered this as one of the important explanations for the First
World War - and the impulse to use them is undoubtedly increased by
the psychology of fascism.
The psychology of fascist
states tends to include penis-fixation - big guns, big flags, and big
monuments. Aggression is a direct outgrowth of all the strutting, bragging,
Aggression also grows out
of the fascist tendency to regard the nation as somehow specially blessed
or endowed or entitled. There follows an assumed inherit right or even
obligation to rule over others or at least to direct their destinies.
When you consider these characteristics,
every one of them is an intrinsic part of contemporary American society.
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that America is a kind of fascist
state, certainly a softer-appearing one than some in the past, but then
America excels at marketing, perhaps its one original intellectual gift
to the world.
America does cling to ideals
of human rights, something which it never fails to remind the world
at international gatherings, but the truth is international gatherings
are only regarded as useful for just such announcements. Despite clinging
to human-rights ideals, at the very same time, America refuses to deal
with others on the basis of these rights, and it often fails even to
enforce the rights of selected categories of its own citizens.
This ambiguity about human
rights is not so odd if you consider the many American Christians who
enshrine Jesus' great commandment and the Ten Commandments and yet stand
ready at a moment's notice to kill others in meaningless wars.
Genuine respect for human
rights is surely more a matter of prevailing day-to-day attitudes in
a society than words written on old pieces of paper.
But America is a democracy,
isn't it? It certainly has many of the forms of a democracy, but when
you closely examine the details, as I've written previously, American
democracy resembles a badly worn wood veneer. The ugly structural stuff
underneath sticks out the way elbows do in a threadbare coat.
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