Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Fathoming U.S. Quasi-Fascism in 2006

A few years ago, on political board I was signed onto, I linked to Lawrence Britt's article, "The 14 Characteristics of Fascism," which originally appeared in Free Inquiry magazine in Spring 2003. The immediate response from one poster was to question the source of the material, though not its substance. I contacted the magazine and the editor, Tom Flynn, told me that in fact the author was a real person (though he didn't say if "Lawrence Britt" was a pseudonym). Nevertheless, the piece was garnering lots of attention from readers and bloggers. The mainstream media didn't touch it and Lord knows, despite all the signs pointing to its relevance, they won't touch it now.

Why? Because no one in the mainstream media really wants to call out the fascistic aspects of the current administration, which they've enabled and with which they're deeply implicated, let alone seriously entertain the fact that we as a society--and yes, that includes the 48% of the nation that voted against W in 2004, and the 49%-50% in 2000--have gradually acquiesced to whatever criminal activity the administration has been up to, including the most recent outrageous news that W authorized illegal domestic wiretapping that appears to have gone beyond (how far? who knows and when will we ever know?) what either the New York Times or he initially claimed. (And why, if everything were on the up-and-up, would his deputies, including current Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, have to have gone to then Attorney General John Ashcroft's sickbed to get his approval, and then persuade him, given that even he was opposed to the policy?) In fact, there were also reports that the NSA wiretapped some of the non-US missions at the UN to gauge their security council votes, and that some of the dragnetted material from the warrantless wiretaps was shared among an array of agencies. Certainly there cannot be a principled conservative in this country who agrees with this sort of scary crap, can there? I can remember when critics of Rudy Giuliani called him a "fascist," and his minions quickly turned this around as an "ethnic slur." It was hardly an ethnic slur (was General Suharto, pictured above, Italian?), but it also wasn't the most apt use of the term, because I don't think Giuliani was really a fascist, just a racist--or rather a virulently anti-Black and anti-Arab racialist, since he didn't seem to loathe Asians or light-skinned Latinos--with authoritarian tendencies and a powerful sense of public aesthetics. (He really did work wonders with the West Side Highway.)

But back to W. You may be saying, Oh, this administration is out of control but that's not fascism, and in any case, systematically murderous Hitlerian fascism, to give one example, was different in substantial ways from Benito Mussolini's (at left) nationalistic fascist state, or the Falangist, neutral state under Generalísimo Francisco Franco, and since all differ, it's impossible to draw a clear standard for a fascist state. (And then there's Suharto. The Communist dictators are beasts of a different stripe, though I've said more than once that the neoconservatives and X-ian Wrongers unsurprisingly have Stalinist leanings as well.) And what does those horrible entities have to do with the US state right now? While W is permitting and authorizing torture, abuse, extraordinary renditions, indefinite hearings of people without cause or legal representation, he's no Mussolini. (Though he does like military uniforms, despite that fact that he couldn't be bothered to stay in the one--or the military branch--he'd signed up for in the early 1970s.) And though, if one takes the aspect of Walter Benjamin's famous conclusion in "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproducibility" that deals with fascism and the aestheticization of politics at face value, W, Cheney and Rove could easily fill an encyclopedia entry. But they're not Falangists. Right?

Here's Lawrence Britt's original taxonomy. He studied Hitler's, Mussolini's, Suharto's, and others' fascist governments, and distilled the essence of the fascist state. Go down the list and think carefully about each of his points. One could make the argument that not every fascist state exhibits every one of these traits, though terrifyingly enough, all of them are in effect in the US as of today. I'm not saying that we live in a fascist state, but I am saying that comparing Britt's list with our government, and in particularly the self-aggrandizing and empowering "unitary" executive branch, really is disturbing. BTW, if you hadn't heard, the president and GOP leadership inserted a secret provision in the recent defense bill to fund religious school vouchers in the New Orleans area. It was such a big deal--despite there being no public debate or announcement about it--that right-wing Nobel Laureate economist Milton Friedman even called W to congratulate him on ramming this into law. Now, would the people of the city that W allowed to be destroyed while he fingered a banjo have approved? Who knows, but I doubt it. (That's number 8, by the way.) The Abramoff scandal and his plea today? Cf. No. 13. And on and on. Let's also not forget that the Republicans impeached the last president for having consensual sex with another adult, and lying about it--at first. Do the War in Iraq, the faked intelligence and statements about the non-existent WMDs, the GAO propaganda rulings, the Potemkin rallies, Abu Ghraib and the other torture scandals, the criminal actions after Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast, the widespread voting irregularities in 2000, 2002 and 2004, Plamegate, the Niger memo, and other serious trangressions, in addition to the illegal domestic wiretapping, not merit the same response? Back to Britt:

Britt's "14 Characteristics of Fascism" (all the text below, from 2003, mind you, is his):

  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." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.
  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.

Now what do you think?


  1. .
    If I could speak in any
    language in heaven or
    on earth but didn't love
    others, I would only be
    making meaningless noise
    like a loud gong or a
    clanging cymbal. If I
    had the gift of prophecy,
    and if I knew all the
    mysteries of the future
    and knew everything
    about everything, but
    didn't love others, what
    good would I be? And
    if I had the gift of faith
    so that I could speak
    to a mountain and make
    it move, without love
    I would be no good to
    anybody. If I gave
    everything I have to
    the poor and even
    sacrificed my body,
    I could boast about it;
    but if I didn't love others,
    I would be of no value
    whatsoever. Love is
    patient and kind. Love
    is not jealous or boastful
    or proud or rude. Love
    does not demand its
    own way. Love is not
    irritable, and it keeps
    no record of when it
    has been wronged.
    It is never glad about
    injustice but rejoices
    whenever the truth
    wins out. Love never
    gives up, never loses
    faith, is always hopeful,
    and endures through
    every circumstance.

    May You Always
    Experience This
    Kind Of Love,
    Dr. Howdy

  2. That's frightening and very disturbing, John. I'm also struck by how we've become completly unconcerned about being under constant survaillance with cameras on street corners and intersections, in stores, public transportation, everywhere, all in the name of 'safety and security.' Freedom has become the ability to go shopping, and 'freedom of choice' has boiled down to 'paper or plastic' (that last from George Carlin, not me)

  3. Reggie, the constant surveillance is very disturbing. But it's also a part of our economic system, and just think about how we've acquiesced to being ever more closely tracked and carefully marketed to. Years ago many people would have balked at putting their personal information, especially credit cards, etc., online, and now, many people do so without hesitation, use them for everything and that information goes to a wide array of databases that aren't even stored in the US anymore....

    What really troubles me is the creeping fusion of church and state, and the blasé response among many public commentators to this warrantless wiretapping. How anyone can justify this given the pliability of the FISA secret court to the president's wishes is just mind-boggling. And I'm still waiting to learn how far the spying went. Were they listening to Kerry? To anti-war activists? Who got this information? Will we ever again have a press that's willing to ask and press these sorts of basic and vital questions and demand answers?

  4. About a year ago, I taught a class on queer stuff and I started thinking about the subject of political address: who does Bush and, more generally, who do politicians envision as their audiences?

    And the more I talked in class (I do tend to ramble), the more I realized "we" all desire to be the addressees of political address, we all desire to be the spoken-to subjects. Hence, the terms "middle class" and "American" or even "democratic" position us as listening and acting subjects within the law.

    This, I think, is part of Butler's point when she weds Althusser to Freud. How does political discourse create "us" as desiring subjects? It's not simply about resistance, as though there can be a place outside of power-yes, I am very Foucauldian on this-but also about the desirability of address.

    And this is the lure of facism, in part. It creates "us" as desiring subjects, no matter how much "we" want to be oppositional. (I butcher Zizek here, but I think he also makes this point, albeit in a different way.)

    So, not resistance, but how to think about complicity to allow resistance. This, I fear, is a much more difficult, if necessary, task.

  5. I taught a class on German history in Cologne last year to a bunch of kids from the Pennslyvania college system. The thing that struck me the most was not just the speed in which the National Socialist unified the Party with the Government, but my students reaction to reading about "Gleichschaltung".

    "You mean they could do absolutely nothing?"

    "Why did people not just get up and leave?"

    "Why did that Jewish writer stay in France, she could have left?"

    "I would have just gotten out of the way."

    Shifts in the balance of power and who wills it can be all encompassing, leaving no film and giving no odour or warning (though I thought the 2000 election gave off a really nasty funk). And that is everywhere. When I ask questions about the military junta of Brazil during the eighties, many or my co-workers respond: "Oh, don't ask him, he is from the interior, he does not even know we had a dictatorship." Just as there are some Germans that were more starkly affected by the Nazi Party than others. The reality of fascism is that for many people life has not changed that much day to day. And if they accept policies that ensure that their life will not be over run, they will agree silently. Especially if they are part of a group that stands to gain much.

    Second. A friend of a friend survived the second world war, and saw Germany and his little town near Strassbourg turn into a hot house ready to do him in (that is putting it mildly). He has said that the misnomer is that only Germans or Italians can be fascist and no one else. I agree with him. After seeing facism up close in texts, learning German and talking to older people I realize that every society receives the fascism that it deserves. And we have gotten ours.

    It is the Christians vs. the Infidels, and maybe there is something to be said about traces of fascism that florished before 1933. Are we picking up other pieces of past social behaviors in our critic of American society?

    The Tsars were a bitch too you know.

  6. Great points, Little Milk. In thinking about my readings of histories of the Third Reich, one of the things that always comes back to me is how the Nazis prepared the foundation, through a steady diet of propaganda, controlled and uncontrolled violence, and manipulation of allies, from the time of the Kapp Putsch onwards. By the time they'd seized power, through supposedly Democratic means in 1933, they had already resituated the social and political context for many people to the point that a large portion of the population was acquiescing. Yet they also still encountered considerable opposition, particularly in the cities and among working-class socialists, so this is where state-sanctioned violence really came into play. Your students' questions are the ones I used to ask, before reading people like Klemperer, who held onto a belief, well into the 1930s, that the "German people" were too decent, too rational, to let a madman and his cronies take over. And it got steadily worse. Walter Benjamin once famous wrote that people keep asking when it will end, but that the end will be that point at which the nation reachest the absolute worst. Of course by that point he was already dead, in Port Bou, of a suicide. But still even into 1945 there were people who kept believing their Führer was going to pull things out (of a magic hat, or something).

    You're right too about the degrees to which people are affected by certain things. I always think of how, during the days of Jim Crow, the differing degrees of racial segregation Blacks experienced based on where they lived. Adrienne Kennedy notes in her book People Who Led to My Plays how she lived among White people in Cleveland--and experienced certain kinds of racial discrimination, but wasn't physically segregated in school or in terms of housing--but when she and her brother would ride the train south, how they'd have to sit in a Black car and how her brother would cry all the way to their destination, in Georgia, I believe. Even as a child she and he perceived the differing degrees of that injust system--she dealt with it by burying herself in fantasies of movies stars and pop idols, while he simply wept his heart out.

    Fascinating stuff about Brazil too. I would imagine that because of the strong pockets of resistance in Rio and São Paulo that the authorities were probably harshest there. But what about in outlying areas of Santa Catarina, say, or Pará? Who experienced what, and to what degrees?

    I agree that the roots of fascism predate 1933 (or 1920, which is when Mussolini took over, right?).

  7. Keguro, fascinating points, yes.

    Here's the thing, though. In my case, for example, I have never assumed or envisioned myself as the "addressee" of W and his people. Never. Not from day 1 when the man started his campaign in 1999. I felt the same way about his daddy and about Raygun. It also was clear that they didn't--and don't--consider me part of their "audience." I am not the sort of desiring subject they envision or imagine, even in their wildest moments of extrapolation--and I don't see W extrapolating that much. Maybe Rove, but solely in terms of maximizing W's electoral potential and thus his power--or "capital," as he said in his quasi-Bourdeauian moment.

    We do desire to be the addressees fo political address, of certain kinds, but I think we also realize the limits of the address, which is where the salient facts of race, ethnicity, class, linguistic registers, gender, sexuality, etc. all come into play. We may begin from the premise that we will not be the subjects of address, that our desire is structured on a very powerful and unremitting lack--at least mine is. I'm not sure that "middle class" and "American" and "democratic" really fully position us as listening and acting subjects, though--maybe in an ideal sense, but I think there are many people who run this democracy--or rather, republic--who consider that people like me exist as exceptions, as outside the framework of address, the law, America, any class. That doesn't make me "outside" the power, exactly, but where does it situate me? In a different place from which I situate msyelf. It's not always a place of resistance, either. But then it's not complicity too. Does this sound far-fetched? Do you think it is? I often feel this way in this country--especially out here in the Midwest. I'm not sure Butler, as a White person, gets into this enough.

    Fascisms' lures, I agree, create some as desiring subjects, or rather, incorporates them. Fascism has that bodily connotation and appeal--the body of the state, the leader's body, etc. Everything bound tightly together, like the fasces. But what if by our very--what? not nature, but something else--we begin as oppositional to the body that is bound together? What then? We cannot be part of the fascist body? Our desire isn't part of that sociopolitical economy--it exists as a kind of negative presence, a debit. Or least not a credit. Hmmm.....

  8. I sometimes think of America, in the political interrelation of its black and white populations, as an interracial couple. A white man and a black (battered) woman. We, she, is not the enemy, exactly, although there are times when to look at us, her, your wouldn't know it; and sometimes, in certain respects, she, we can be quite close to power or limitedly powerful in our own right (always subject to, contingent upon the husband). And yet the wife is never consulted in the making of decisions, or considered in the making of them. It's a strange relationship.

    kai in nyc

  9. Kai, I'm fascinated by the way you've gendered this relationship in an essential sense, and the sort of domestic model you describe; I wonder what other people think about this. I agree that the black (battered) body or bodies are part of a complex societal relationship; these bodies, usually objectified but sometimes as--to follow Keguro--desiring subjects, are actually addressed and consulted, or at least the other, controlling body gives the appearance of doing so. It is strange and highly dysfunctional, if I can use that term. Very interesting.

  10. John, to follow on Kai, I, of course, misused Butler, as I misuse all theorists, but I like the term "desiring subjects" especially as it works in and through Euro-American racial-imperial histories. So very ambivalent.

    Is the white master's rape not justified as a function of the desiring African woman, whose no always means yes? And is desire not the alibi to justify structural abuse, as Kai points out?

    I think of Hughes's "I,Too," which I think is always misread. Canonical interpretations see Hughes as talking across racial lines, desiring a place at the "white table," actually desiring to be desired at the white table, whereas I always read his desire as both inter- and intra-racial.

    Interpretive differences aside, I think that poem, along with McKay's "Harlem Dancer" got me thinking about political desire: what does it mean to take on the name "American" or "Kenyan" or "Subject" or "Citizen," irrespective of who claims ownership of those terms or defaces them? Aren't all political critiques interventions into the category of political desire, Hegelian demands for recognition? (Fanon recognizes this.)

    (And along with misreading Butler, I've also picked up her lamentable habit of using endless questions, in my case, punctuated with parentheses. No wonder my professors sigh and shake their heads.)

  11. Keguro, isn't it productive to misread Butler? LOL One point I'd take is: to what extent does the construction of the "desiring subject" who's the "addressee," at least in American terms, for example, depend upon the exclusion of racial/raced, ethnicized, gendered, etc. subjects?

    I'm not sure I agree with the notion that the master's rape is justified as a function of the desiring African woman; isn't that the argument that the master would make? But what abou the African woman's argument, her location? Isn't her subjectivity and subject position elided in this formulation? Even if we account for a complexity of negoations, does that permit us this kind of conceptual slippage? Whose alibi? Certainly not the African woman's--is it?

    I agree with you about Hughes; to what extent does his submerged queer subjectivity, his origins at the edges of the metropole, his racially mixed ancestry and cosmpolitanism, all factor into his appeal in that work?

    Your points about McKay's poem and about political critiques are well taken. But I still wonder, is it an issue of who claims ownership or defaces, or rather, the socioopolitical structuration of those terms in and of themselves?

    Why are quotations and parentheticals "lamentable"?

  12. quick clarification: I meant that the master would justify himself through appropriating the notion of the African woman's desire. In other words, we agree.

    I *think* we're on the same page. I think the reason I use "desiring subject" is precisely because the notion of exclusion relies, in part, on a concept of desire. One cannot be excluded unless one "desires" to be included. Desire can always be co-opted, and perverted. This has been the lesson (often unheeded by many white scholars) of queer theory.

    Again, Fanon, what does the black man want? He never really answers this question. For good reasons, I think. And once I figure out what they are, I'll have the chapter written, the dissertation done, and an article out.

    Questions and parentheses function as asides, often meaning that I'm having multiple conversations in my head, and have not learned to translate them on to the page. This, of course (no referent) is why I like marginalia. Sadly, or not, it works much better in creative as opposed to critical writing. I am told, "be more expository," unlearn asides and condensed formulations.

    So sad I couldn't have taken one of your classes. UIUC should really set up some exchange program with Northwestern.