09 September 2005

Fascism Anyone?

A little over two years ago, Dr. Lawrence Britt published a widely quoted article called, "Fascism Anyone?" in which he extracted fourteen characteristcs common to fascist regimes. His exemplars included Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal, Papadopoulos’s Greece, Pinochet’s Chile, and Suharto’s Indonesia. I noticed a small poster on another professor's office door this morning, and could not help but make the now obvious connections to the current state of the United States.

Over the past few years, I have commented on what I call "the reversal of America," as the behaviours of its government seemed to acquire totalitarian overtones. But given the emotion around the 2004 election, and the circumstances surrounding the war in Iraq, opposing sides are easily polarized, and such observations easily dismissed as partisanship.

But now, in the wake of the tragedy wrought by Hurricane Katrina, exacerbated by an ineffective governmental response, and made obscene by official denial, obfuscation and shifting of blame, more of Britt's fascist characteristics are clearly coming to light in non-partisan (or bi-partisan) forums and venues. I will quote liberally (no pun intended) from Dr. Britt's article:
1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism. Catchy slogans, pride in the military, and demands for unity were common themes in expressing this nationalism. It was usually coupled with a suspicion of things foreign that often bordered on xenophobia.

2. Disdain for the importance of human rights. The regimes themselves viewed human rights as of little value and a hindrance to realizing the objectives of the ruling elite. Through clever use of propaganda, the population was brought to accept these human rights abuses by marginalizing, even demonizing, those being targeted. When abuse was egregious, the tactic was to use secrecy, denial, and disinformation.

3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause. The most significant common thread among these regimes was the use of scapegoating as a means to divert the people’s attention from other problems, to shift blame for failures, and to channel frustration in controlled directions. Active opponents of these regimes were inevitably labeled as terrorists and dealt with accordingly.

4. The supremacy of the military/avid militarism. Ruling elites always identified closely with the military and the industrial infrastructure that supported it. A disproportionate share of national resources was allocated to the military, even when domestic needs were acute. The military was seen as an expression of nationalism, and was used whenever possible to assert national goals, intimidate other nations, and increase the power and prestige of the ruling elite.

5. Rampant sexism. Beyond the simple fact that the political elite and the national culture were male-dominated, these regimes inevitably viewed women as second-class citizens. They were adamantly anti-abortion and also homophobic. These attitudes were usually codified in Draconian laws that enjoyed strong support by the orthodox religion of the country, thus lending the regime cover for its abuses.

6. A controlled mass media. Under some of the regimes, the mass media were under strict direct control and could be relied upon never to stray from the party line. Other regimes exercised more subtle power to ensure media orthodoxy. The result was usually success in keeping the general public unaware of the regimes’ excesses.

7. Obsession with national security. Inevitably, a national security apparatus was under direct control of the ruling elite. Its actions were justified under the rubric of protecting “national security,” and questioning its activities was portrayed as unpatriotic or even treasonous.

8. Religion and ruling elite tied together. Most of the regimes attached themselves to the predominant religion of the country and chose to portray themselves as militant defenders of that religion. The fact that the ruling elite’s behavior was incompatible with the precepts of the religion was generally swept under the rug. A perception was manufactured that opposing the power elite was tantamount to an attack on religion.

9. Power of corporations protected. Although the personal life of ordinary citizens was under strict control, the ability of large corporations to operate in relative freedom was not compromised.

10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated. Since organized labor was seen as the one power center that could challenge the political hegemony of the ruling elite and its corporate allies, it was inevitably crushed or made powerless. Under some regimes, being poor was considered akin to a vice.

11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts. Intellectuals and the inherent freedom of ideas and expression associated with them were anathema to these regimes.

12. Obsession with crime and punishment. Most of these regimes maintained Draconian systems of criminal justice with huge prison populations. Fear, and hatred, of criminals or “traitors” was often promoted among the population as an excuse for more police power.

13. Rampant cronyism and corruption. Those in business circles and close to the power elite often used their position to enrich themselves. This corruption worked both ways; the power elite would receive financial gifts and property from the economic elite, who in turn would gain the benefit of government favoritism. Members of the power elite were in a position to obtain vast wealth from other sources as well: for example, by stealing national resources.

14. Fraudulent elections. Elections in the form of plebiscites or public opinion polls were usually bogus. When actual elections with candidates were held, they would usually be perverted by the power elite to get the desired result. Common methods included maintaining control of the election machinery, intimidating and disenfranchising opposition voters, destroying or disallowing legal votes, and, as a last resort, turning to a judiciary beholden to the power elite.

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Anonymous said...

Anyone volunteer to rejig the terminology a tad to make it make sense for corporations as well? :)

Mark Federman said...

Interesting probe, Boris. In fact, (or in theory, I guess, since it's the theory that I'm currently working at developing) there is no difference between countries, corporations, institutions, universities. They are all equivalent, anachronistic artefacts of the 17th to 19th centuries, that attained their obsolescence during the 20th.

In this sense, one might make the observation that the vast majority of corporations are fascist organizations, with a dedication to the "religion" of scientific management (in its various and sundry contemporary forms).

Additionally, I would suggest that fascism itself is obsolesced by the effects of emergent transparency that render its machinations visible to those who would amass to resist it.

Anonymous said...

I would have to say that labeling similar systems as facist lends a little to much credit to facism itself. Facists, and I'm thinking the more 'sophisticated' (and I dread using that word as well) National Socialists merely ripped off other totalilarian systems. Its hardly universal to them at all. You can see aspects of it in other feirsely nationalistic countries which would never be labelled as facist. You can also see the same characteristics in conglomerate/transnational corporations which export their products (more like 'culture'). Its all about taking over and dominating others/nations/markets/relations. They all need to spead, but at the same time this goes against the very basis of their 'philosophy'. You have include all the 'others' to dominate (power in numbers) but by that point everything's the same.

Think of the foreign units the SS had and the acquistions transnational corporations make. The SS using foreigners when they spoke of Greater Germany -- and corporations merely buying out competitors.

Anything 'total' never stays that way.

And I have ranted much to much here...