The word “fascism”The definitions have evolved over time since Benito Mussolini coined the term just over a century ago. By the criteria of some of those definitions, the US already qualifies as a fascist regime.
Mussolini most simply described the underlying philosophy of fascism as “…everything in the state, nothing against the State, nothing outside the state.” The tendency in the US to conflate all imperatives of morality and ethics with subjects for law and regulation is a dangerous symptom of fascist thinking which is widespread on both the left and the right. It has led us almost to the point of the totalitarian ant-hill in TH White’s Once and Future King, in which everything not forbidden is compulsory.
Umberto Eco, who grew up in fascist Italy under Mussolini, towards the end of his long and incredibly productive life, in, formulated fourteen characteristics of fascism:
- The cult of tradition: check. The US inculcates its citizens with a mystical reverence for the sacredness of the Founding Fathers, the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War, The Constitution, the Presidency, the Supreme Court, the flag, the act of voting, and the Congress. The National Mall resembles nothing so much as a temple dedicated to this cult.
- The rejection of modernism. (In the sense of rejecting intellectual modernism, the Enlightenment ethos of addressing human wants, needs, and problems rationally). Eco says, “Both Fascists and Nazis worshiped technology. … However, even though Nazism was proud of its industrial achievements, its praise of modernism was only the surface of an ideology … The rejection of the modern world was disguised as a rebuttal of the capitalistic way of life, but it mainly concerned the rejection of the Spirit of 1789 (and of 1776, of course). The … Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity.” I’m afraid we have to give the US a check mark, or at least half a check, on this one too.
- The cult of action for action’s sake. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection.” (all quotes here from Eco unless otherwise specified) We must do something about gun violence, about opioid addiction, about Iran, about healthcare, about immigration… Check.
- Disagreement is treason. Look at today’s news: The science is settled. Deniers/skeptics are conspiracy theorists. Our democracy is endangered. Our children are endangered. No time for further debate. We must act now. Check.
- Fear of difference. This is most often ethnic or racial, but for example in Mussolini’s Italy, where half the population were swarthy Corsicans and Sicilians, the existence of race was often denied. However, a campaign to keep the Slavs out of Italy was brutally pursued in a campaign of what today we call ethnic cleansing. We see this tendency in the US today, in the right-wing scapegoating of immigrants from Latin America, but also in the leftist scapegoating of white males and southerners. Check.
- “Appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation… In our time, when the old ‘proletarians’ are becoming petty bourgeois…the fascism of tomorrow will find its audience in this new majority.” The angry working classes of flyover country and the angry millenials who are buried in student debt and can only find jobs flipping burgers fit this definition. Check.
- “…The obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia.” The New World Order. The globalist corporate financial system. The Deep State. The vast right-wing conspiracy. Check.
- “The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies…Fascist governments are condemned to lose wars because they are constitutionally incapable of objectively evaluating the force of the enemy.” Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Iran, North Korea: are these dangerous threats to world peace and stability or decadent weaklings that the US should grind underfoot? “The enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.” Check.
- “Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. It is bad because life is permanent warfare.” Support the troops. Fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here. Exposing US military corruption and war crimes is considered treason. Check.
- Elitism, but a peculiar type of elitism, where everyone is a member of the elite by virtue of being an American, but the majority of Americans are weak, foolish, and misguided, and thus require the guidance and leadership of stronger, wiser Americans. Check.
- The cult of heroism linked to the cult of death. Look at the most popular movies in the US: Six of the focused on superheros, fighting, warfare, explosions, shooting, and/or death. Look at the video games Americans are playing. Look at the TV we are watching. The only ray of hope is that the content of children’s entertainment has gotten much less violent than I remember. But I have to give this one at least half a check too.
- Machismo (which implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality). This is one area where the US has become less fascist, rather than more so. Obama was the least macho President in living memory. Anti-Trump people will argue that we elected a “pussy grabber” as President, but this type of language and the behavior that it describes has been prevalent for a long (expletive deleted— remember Watergate? Remember JFK? LBJ?) time. That the US is even having a discussion about whether it disqualifies him (and Bill Clinton before him), I have to put in the no-check column.
- Selective populism: “Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter. Having lost their power of delegation, citizens do not act; they are only called on to play the role of the People. Thus the People is only a theatrical fiction.” While 20th-century fascism required mass turnouts of citizenry to achieve this illusion, in the 21st century an increasingly regulated and homogenized internet-based news media can represent the Will of the People far more insidiously. The segregation of the right and left into social media and news bubbles allows both teams to believe that their interests are included in this interpretation. Check.
- Newspeak. Coined by Orwell in his book 1984, this refers to a mode of speaking and writing in which vocabulary is limited and phrases are simplistic and hyperbolic. Fake News. Climate Change Denier. Homophobe. Black Lives Matter. Bad hombres. Deep State. Discrimination. Gun violence. Also reminiscent of Orwell, phrases can change meaning and become pejorative or complimentary depending on the speaker and the political context in which they are used. Political words cease to have objective, denotative meaning and are purely connotative. Check.
You may have notice that I used examples from both the so-called “right” and the so-called “left” of the political spectrum. Fascism does not care about such divisions. It may be aggressively atheistic when challenging the power of the Church (Mussolini famously challenged God to strike him down where he stood while giving a speech), but it also may be aggressively religious when being so will help enlist submission from church leaders, and so consolidate state power. It may be nominally socialist, communist, corporatist, mercantilist, or democratic, but the overwhelming migration of all power and glory to the the State as personified in its leadership is the underlying ideal.
Are we there yet? What do you think?