Monday, December 13, 2004

Fascism for Idiots

Fascism is an easily defined and understood concept. Its origins are not mysterious. It is easy to distinguish from other political philosophies, as it features a rigid and distinct unifying concept, which Mussolini expressed as “Nothing above the State, nothing outside of the State, and nothing against the State.”

Fascism is simply totalitarian Statism - in which every aspect of society is nationalized and subject to control by State authority - with the additional notion that the State is an ultimate end in itself. The State serves only its own interests, demanding absolute obedience from its members without assuming any obligations towards them. Groups and individuals within the State are merely components of the State, like cells in the body of a super-organism. For this reason, Fascism has also been called Corporatism, from the Latin corpus (body).

There is a philosophical tradition behind the idea of the “living State”, which I won’t try to go into. It’s the same tradition that inspired Marxism: German Idealism, especially the philosophy of Hegel. Politically, Fascism is basically a Marxist heresy.

Why would anyone become a Fascist? Why would anyone want to be a widget in a Fascist colony organism?

Because (the Fascist will say) you can only be truly happy and fulfilled when you have been assimilated into the Fascist State, and because you have no choice – it’s your destiny as a human animal to become part of this transcendent phenomenon. Like other forms of politicism, Fascism is both utopian and fatalistic. It’s utopian because it promises to resolve all differences and disputes, producing harmony and perfect human solidarity. It’s fatalistic because it believes itself to be the unavoidable future; the logical outcome of a natural or historical process – a process which it variously refers to as Nature, Evolution, History, Spirit, or Will.

To the potential recruit, Fascism makes the same wild promises that Marxism does. In the Fascist State, people will evolve into higher beings, once the State has freed them from insecurity, conflict, and – well, freedom. Every man will become a hero - Fascism borrows heavily from Nietzsche’s Ubermensch, and from European Romanticism. Like the Marxist, the Fascist does not consider the idea of an enslaved Superman to be a paradox. It only looks like a paradox to those of us who are corrupted by bourgeois democratic notions about “liberty”.

Some common misconceptions about Fascism can be cleared up by comparing it to its competitors.

LIBERALISM (meaning, of course, not just American political “liberalism” but the general tradition of free and open democratic societies). Fascism is pretty much the complete opposite of this, as it opposes individual liberties, individual rights, free speech, and democracy. According to Fascism, these things produce nothing but conflict and chaos, which allows people to exploit one another and retards human evolution.

The main confusion between Fascism and Liberalism is the question of Capitalism, which is an outstanding feature of all Liberal societies. Marxists (except for a brief period during the 1930s) always insisted on associating Fascism with Capitalism (and therefore with Liberalism), partly in order to avoid having Fascism associated with Marxism. The non-Marxist left tends to follow this line, when it suits their own dogmatic purposes.

The equation is obviously false. Fascism requires not only a centralized economic plan, but complete and absolute State control of all industry and production, and control of labor as well. The Capitalism that made Ayn Rand go all girlish and swoony is an outrage to Fascism. Fascism argues that the free production and marketing of goods leads to exploitation, division, and conflict, so it must condemn Capitalism for the same reason that it condemns democracy.

The biggest fallacy here, very popular with amateur leftists, is that Fascist Corporatism means rule by corporations. The terms “corporatism” and “corporation” are both derived from the same Latin root, but otherwise are totally unrelated. Corporations are publicly owned institutions that distribute (and de-centralize) wealth and power, in manner that is directly contrary to Fascism. A society ruled by corporations would be a form of oligarchy, which is a bad thing but is definitely not Fascism.

SOCIALISM AND MARXISM. Fascism is necessarily a form of socialism, because it requires total State control of everything. But Fascism differs from Marxism in its understanding of a) the State, b) society, and c) property.

The State: In Fascism, the State is the ultimate expression of human evolution, whereas to the Marxist it is nothing but the by-product of historical and economic conditions, destined to ultimately “wither away”. Fascism is necessarily nationalist, while Marxism is anti-nationalist (in theory, at least , though rarely so in practice).

Society: Fascism attacks Marxism most strongly over the question of class warfare, which Fascism rejects. Fascism claims to harmonize all social classes, making class warfare unnecessary. Essentially, Fascism takes society as it is, and installs State control at every point. Instead of pitting worker against capitalist, it makes them both mere functions of the State. Marxism promises a classless and egalitarian society (Communism) at some point in the future – Fascism insists on having one right now, else somebody is going to get shot.

Property: Fascism and Marxism take different views of private property, but this is really a very minor distinction. Fascism does not really recognize private property - the State is entitled to confiscate whatever it requires, and individual rights do not exist - but it does not directly attack the concept of private property in the way that Marxism does. The Marxist obsession with property comes from the influence of antique leftists like Pierre “Property is Theft” Proudhon. Marx essentially got hung up on a “private property” fetish. The Fascist view is more logical: it doesn’t matter who holds the deed to a factory; the only thing that matters is who controls the factory, and in that regard Fascism is no different from Marxism.

NAZISM: Fascism is often held to be more or less the same thing as Nazism, but this is problematic. Fascism is a true ideology, while Nazism was not. The central feature of Nazism was the absolute authority of Adolf Hitler, who believed himself to be superior to any mere political theory. Nazism lacked a coherent social and cultural program, simply because Hitler had little interest in such things, and Hitler’s obsession with race gives “Nazism” a different emphasis than Fascism. In practice the Nazi State was closer to being an oligarchy than a true Fascist State. The tragedy of Nazi Germany is a huge and difficult subject to tackle, so let it suffice to say that Fascism and Nazism are closely related but separate phenomena.

There is one thing that Nazism shares with Fascism, and with Marxism as well: It took a false and caricatured view of 19th century science and turned it into a disastrous political program. (Can you say Social Darwinism, boys and girls?)

THEOCRACY: Just a small note to be made here – modern Islamic extremism is often compared to Fascism (“Islamofascism”). I should know, having so often made the comparison myself. But a purist would have to observe that no theocracy could be a true form of Fascism, since theocracy appeals to an authority above the State.


So (you might ask): What prompted this pompous discourse on Fascism? Was our existence on this festering cheese of a planet called Earth not already sufficiently boring, without you making it worse?

All of this was, of course, only a prologue to my true purpose: attacking something that some fool wrote on their blog. Namely, this piece of prime idiocy dumped by The Daily Kos (the Cornucopia of Really Bad Ideas) which argues that the United States is now a Fascist State. This assessment is based on a list of “14 signs of a Fascist society”, which has been floating around the internet like an STD virus at a Green Day Concert:

1. Powerful and continuing expression of nationalism.
2. Disdain for the importance of human rights.
3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause.
4. The supremacy of the military/avid militarism.
5. Rampant Sexism.
6. A controlled mass media.
7. Obsession with national security.
8. Religion and ruling elite are tied together.
9. Power of corporations protected.
10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated.
11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts.
12. Obsession with crime and punishment.
13. Rampant cronyism and corruption.
14. Fraudulent elections.

Presumably, the United States displays enough of these characteristics to be called “Fascist”, in the opinion of people who think themselves smart enough to spot Fascism - though they apparently lack the intelligence to qualify for Canadian citizenship, else they would not be here to tell us this bad news.

First of all, NOT ONE of these symptoms is unique to a Fascist State. The moron who compiled this list might as well have noted (with appropriate alarm) that in Fascist societies people put their pants on one leg at a time, and sometimes have trouble finding a good parking place. In fact, a theorist of Fascism (like the late Lawrence Dennis, who is often favorably cited these days on Indymedia and would strongly object to 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, and 14 – claiming that these are contrary to ideological Fascism.

Given a sympathetic jury, a very determined prosecutor could possibly convict the United States of two or three of these offenses. On the other hand, 95% of the nations on Earth are guilty of the same offenses, plus a whole lot more. Many of the troubled nations of the Arab League would probably be found guilty on all 14 counts, which would lead some to condemn the list as racist and Islamophobic. Cuba, the former Soviet Union, and Nicaragua under Sandinista rule displayed nearly all of the listed traits, but somehow this rampant "fascism" escaped the notice of the left.

In short, running around with a Fascist checklist serves no purpose other than to alarm other persons who are as paranoid and imbecilic as yourself.

“Fascism” is a term that properly describes a highly specific historical phenomenon. It does not truly describe any significant society that exists today, though societies like North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and pre-invasion Iraq are close comparisons. Fascism as a theory is as dead as Mussolini, though similar ideas survive on both the far right and the far left. Likewise, Marxism is dead, though some marginal creatures are still gnawing on its bones.

Today Fascism is a rhetorical device, not an actual thing. It has some proper uses, but mostly it's an expression of one's own spitefulness and intellectual laziness. So it has been since the fabled Sixties that our elders are so fond of, when everybody was a fascist: the police, the local draft board, and above all Mommy and Daddy. Maybe even yourself, if you ever attended a group criticism session and found out what an awful person you were.

Some people like that kind of anti-intellectual environment. They would have been happy back in old Salem Village, huddled around a fire wondering how many of their neighbors are witches.

UPDATE: Someone pointed me to Fascism: Past, Present, and Future by Walter Laqueur. I'll follow it in nailing down a few more points:

Laqueur: What made fascism different from earlier dictatorships was the presence of a mass party that monopolized power through its security services and the army and that eliminated all other parties, using considerable violence in the process. This new style of party was headed by a leader who had virtually unlimited power, was adulated by his followers, and was the focus of a quasi-religious cult.

I didn't deal with the charismatic dictatorship aspect because it is not unique to Fascism, and is not really a theoretical requirement of Fascism. In practice, of course, Fascism turned to personal dictatorship. So did Marxism, after a period of so-called "party democracy". All such ideologies must inevitably end in a dictatorship, usually a personal dictatorship, because social revolution wrecks the machinery of normal society and continually redistributes power upwards to a group of elites, who in turn become governed by a smaller super-elite, and so on.

So Fascism will always end in dictatorship, but it's misleading to look at it as simply a type of dictatorship. In Nazism, on the other hand, the personal dictatorship of Hitler was not just the central feature of the system, it was virtually its only solid feature.

Laqueur: Defining fascism was difficult because only two countries ever became fascist. During World War 11, the Vichy-style regimes under Axis tutelage cannot truly be considered fully fledged fascist, even though some, such as Croatia, tried hard to move in that direction.

I would disagree, calling Fascist Italy the sole example, with Nazism as a related but distinct phenomenon. Nazi Germany operated like a feudal kingdom, in which powerful figures competed under the aegis of the Führer. There were absolutely no rules in this competition other than the need to stay in Hitler's graces - Nazism operated without reference to a legal system, a constitution, or any kind of party authority that could punish members for misconduct or political deviancy.

The official Nazi Party theoretician, Alfred Rosenberg, was generally regarded as a clown by everyone, including Hitler. It was characteristic of Hitler - very unlike Stalin - that he did not suppress Nazis that he mistrusted or disliked. He prefered to keep them "in the mix", to serve as check on other potential rivals - a sort of wolf pack system. He agreed to purge Ernst Röhm only after a great deal of pushing from Röhm's enemies.

Another state that was often called Fascist was Franco's Spain. Very briefly: In spite of a lot of Fascist sentiment in Spain, Franco was a conservative and anti-communist dictator who had no interest in Fascist or Nazi ideology, both of which were seen as anti-Catholic by Spanish conservatives. And Franco felt free to defy both Hitler and Mussolini, probably because he owed them a lot of money that would never be repaid if they pushed him out of power.

One more interesting thing on the "class" basis of Fascism:

Laqueur: White-collar workers were fairly strongly represented in most fascist movements, whereas working-class representation varied greatly It was initially strong in France and relatively strong in Spain, but less so in Eastern Europe, except in Hungary. The reason was largely accidental - a popular local leader who joined the fascists would bring with him his followers. Students were strong supporters of the fascist movements in Spain and Romania, and so in these countries fascism was in the early years a phenomenon confined mainly to particular universities. Likewise, the Nazis emerged victorious in Germany's university elections well before they became a major political factor nationwide.

Somebody better grab that Fascist checklist and inspect Columbia University, before it's too late.