How do you like to take your fascism?

Until recently, I thought I overused the word fascist.  Now I wonder.  Years ago – more than ten years – I offered the following.

What do I mean by ‘fascism’?  I mean a commitment to the strongest kind of government of a people along overtly militarist and nationalist lines; a government that puts itself above the interests of any or indeed all of its members; a commitment that is driven by faith rather than logic; with an aversion to or hatred of equality, minorities, strangers, women and other deviants; a contempt for liberalism or even mercy; and a government that is prone to symbolism in weapons, uniforms, or its own charms or runes, and to a belief in a charismatic leader. 

The word came originally from the Latin word fasces, the bundle of rods and axes carried before Roman consuls as emblems of authority, and was first applied to the followers of the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, Il Duce, and then to the followers of Il Caudillo, Generalissimo Franco, and the Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler.  Fascists are thick-skinned, thick-headed, and brutal.  They despise intellectuals – who are after all deviants – but they may have an untutored and irrational rat cunning.

As Professor Simon Blackburn of Cambridge University tersely remarks: ‘The whole cocktail is animated by a belief in regeneration through energy and struggle’ (kampf).  To an outsider, it looks like pure moonshine that is the first refuge of a ratbag and a bully, a brilliant and seductive toy for the intellectually and morally deprived, and an eternal warning of the danger of patriotism to people of good sense and good will.  But while that ‘cocktail’ may look la bit much for Plato, it looks fair for Sparta.

I am reading about what is now called the ‘far right’.  That is tricky, because I have trouble understanding what the ‘right’ is.  But it is clear that those who call themselves ‘conservative’ here and the U S, but not England, tend to have very different views about the environment than others do.  And the difference grows as you go the edge.  Most clearly in the US, but also in places like Hungary and Poland, those with views we would regard as extremely illiberal look to have views about climate that are unreasonable – just as ‘fascists’ felt the need to have their own demons to go after. 

A lot of the connections are very worrying – if not terrifying.  Especially with the rise of conspiracy theories that surge incessantly in people who feel naked without a mobile phone in hand.  We have just seen, it seems, an appalling instance of the lethal capacity of conspiracy theories in Queensland.  Those who have lost out in the race of life succumb to the bad dreams of conspiracy theorists and form cadres of the fallen that offer asylum to the politically homeless.

A recurring issue is a fear of a loss of standing of or among the people at large.  At its worst, this is a fear of dilution of the blood of the people – and a contempt for those of different blood.  Many Americans were unsettled to see a black man in the White House.  Boris Johnson said: ‘The real problem with the Islamic world is Islam’ and that ‘The best fate for Africa would be if the old colonial powers, or their citizens, scrambled once again in her direction; on the understanding that this time they will not be asked to feel guilty.’  That’s from a man who would become Prime Minister of a country that was troubled about maintaining a statue for Cecil Rhodes.  Jair Bolsonaro said that ‘Minorities have to bend down to the majority’ and their choice was to ‘either adapt or simply vanish.’

What we see now so often is a reflection of former kinds of fascism – people who have a dream about the past and a nightmare about the future.  They posit a past grandeur being reborn to return the nation to its exalted and exclusive position.  That they are false about the past is palpable.  The falsity of their future is inevitable.

Historians now see three phases in the violent edge on the right. 

First, there has to be a crisis.  My understanding is that historians say that the probabilities are that Hitler would not have come to power but for the Crash and the Depression.  The same goes for Mussolini and the Great War.

Secondly, the dominant class must be willing to allow the fascists to deal with the crisis.  That was clearly so with Mussolini, Hitler and Franco (and in different caricature, with Lenin in 1917).  You can call it doing a deal with the devil – on the false understanding that you will be able to undo it.   And just wash your hands.  Like Pontius Pilate.

Thirdly, there follows an exceptional regime of systematic violence against those identified as enemies of the nation.

Do we see an echo of these phases in the recent history of the U S.

Now, there is plainly room for going overboard here – on both sides (if that phrase is still permitted).  It is a little early to talk of a need for Lebensraum, or to resort to hate speech like – ‘No green politics will ever be as exciting as red blood on black earth’. 

But Timothy Snyder of Yale University has high credentials on murderous regimes, and he, I now read, concluded a chapter on Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning by saying that global warming is the sort of crisis for which fascism waits in the wings.  ‘When an apocalypse is on the horizon, demagogues of blood and soil come to the fore.’

Until a few years ago, I would have thought all this was over the top or plain silly.  Since then, I have seen what used to be called the better people in the U S encourage an unhinged crook to turn the nation upside down, then submit to him, and then just look the other way while the brownshirts that he incited sought to take power in the State by force with better prospects of success than Hitler’s beer hall putsch a century earlier.

It may help to put into perspective what I see as a real and present danger some remarks I had made previously about fascism in the last century.

What might be described as the failure of the better people of Italy has been described by a biographer of Mussolini in terms that could be transposed word for word to the Germans and Hitler.

Mussolini still needed their [the moderates’] help, for most of the liberal parliamentarians would look to them for a lead.  He also took careful note that chaos had been caused in Russia when representatives of the old order were defenestrated en masse during the revolution: fascism could hardly have survived if the police, the magistrates, the army leaders and the civil service had not continued to work just as before, and the complicity of these older politicians was eagerly sought and helped to preserve the important illusion that nothing had changed.

The liberals failed to use the leverage afforded by his need for their approbation.  Most of them saw some good in fascism as a way of defending social order and thought Italians too intelligent and civilised to permit the establishment of a complete dictatorship.  Above all, there was the very persuasive argument that the only alternative was to return to the anarchy and parliamentary stalemate they remembered…. Mussolini had convincingly proved that he was the most effective politician of them all: he alone could have asked parliament for full powers and been given what he asked; he alone provided a defence against, and an alternative to, socialism.  And of course, the old parliamentarians still hoped to capture and absorb him into their own system in the long run; their optimism was encouraged by the fact that his fascist collaborators were so second-rate. 

Does that not seem to be word for word a correct rendition of how so many decent Germans probably reacted to Hitler?  Still today you will find Christian apologists for Franco, and not just in Spain, who say that his fascism was preferable to republican socialism.  Mussolini had the other advantage that for reasons we now regard as obvious, no one outside Italy could take Mussolini seriously.  As his biographer reminds us, Mussolini was, rather like Berlusconi, seen as an ‘absurd little man’, a ‘second-rate cinema actor and someone who could not continue in power for long’, a ‘César de carnaval’, a ‘braggart and an actor’, and possibly ‘slightly off his head.’  Churchill always took Hitler seriously; he could never do that with that Italian buffoon.  The Führer would betray his nation and kill himself and his mistress; the Italians would revolt from and then murder their Duce and his mistress, and hang them upside down in public.  (The Italians have never had any idea of political stability or succession.)

So, you can get no comfort from the fact that the newly ensainted leader may be a stunted runt, a preposterous oaf, or a vapid Catholic zealot who coolly dispenses death sentences over coffee and his rosary – or a stupid spoiled brat who dodged the draft and evaded paying tax, who could not put a sentence together, and who then resorted to selling tradeable picture cards showing himself as Superman. 

How do you like to take your fascism?

Until recently, I thought I overused the word fascist.  Now I wonder.  Years ago – more than ten years – I offered the following.

What do I mean by ‘fascism’?  I mean a commitment to the strongest kind of government of a people along overtly militarist and nationalist lines; a government that puts itself above the interests of any or indeed all of its members; a commitment that is driven by faith rather than logic; with an aversion to or hatred of equality, minorities, strangers, women and other deviants; a contempt for liberalism or even mercy; and a government that is prone to symbolism in weapons, uniforms, or its own charms or runes, and to a belief in a charismatic leader. 

The word came originally from the Latin word fasces, the bundle of rods and axes carried before Roman consuls as emblems of authority, and was first applied to the followers of the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, Il Duce, and then to the followers of Il Caudillo, Generalissimo Franco, and the Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler.  Fascists are thick-skinned, thick-headed, and brutal.  They despise intellectuals – who are after all deviants – but they may have an untutored and irrational rat cunning.

As Professor Simon Blackburn of Cambridge University tersely remarks: ‘The whole cocktail is animated by a belief in regeneration through energy and struggle’ (kampf).  To an outsider, it looks like pure moonshine that is the first refuge of a ratbag and a bully, a brilliant and seductive toy for the intellectually and morally deprived, and an eternal warning of the danger of patriotism to people of good sense and good will.  But while that ‘cocktail’ may look la bit much for Plato, it looks fair for Sparta.

I am reading about what is now called the ‘far right’.  That is tricky, because I have trouble understanding what the ‘right’ is.  But it is clear that those who call themselves ‘conservative’ here and the U S, but not England, tend to have very different views about the environment than others do.  And the difference grows as you go the edge.  Most clearly in the US, but also in places like Hungary and Poland, those with views we would regard as extremely illiberal look to have views about climate that are unreasonable – just as ‘fascists’ felt the need to have their own demons to go after. 

A lot of the connections are very worrying – if not terrifying.  Especially with the rise of conspiracy theories that surge incessantly in people who feel naked without a mobile phone in hand.  We have just seen, it seems, an appalling instance of the lethal capacity of conspiracy theories in Queensland.  Those who have lost out in the race of life succumb to the bad dreams of conspiracy theorists and form cadres of the fallen that offer asylum to the politically homeless.

A recurring issue is a fear of a loss of standing of or among the people at large.  At its worst, this is a fear of dilution of the blood of the people – and a contempt for those of different blood.  Many Americans were unsettled to see a black man in the White House.  Boris Johnson said: ‘The real problem with the Islamic world is Islam’ and that ‘The best fate for Africa would be if the old colonial powers, or their citizens, scrambled once again in her direction; on the understanding that this time they will not be asked to feel guilty.’  That’s from a man who would become Prime Minister of a country that was troubled about maintaining a statue for Cecil Rhodes.  Jair Bolsonaro said that ‘Minorities have to bend down to the majority’ and their choice was to ‘either adapt or simply vanish.’

What we see now so often is a reflection of former kinds of fascism – people who have a dream about the past and a nightmare about the future.  They posit a past grandeur being reborn to return the nation to its exalted and exclusive position.  That they are false about the past is palpable.  The falsity of their future is inevitable.

Historians now see three phases in the violent edge on the right. 

First, there has to be a crisis.  My understanding is that historians say that the probabilities are that Hitler would not have come to power but for the Crash and the Depression.  The same goes for Mussolini and the Great War.

Secondly, the dominant class must be willing to allow the fascists to deal with the crisis.  That was clearly so with Mussolini, Hitler and Franco (and in different caricature, with Lenin in 1917).  You can call it doing a deal with the devil – on the false understanding that you will be able to undo it.   And just wash your hands.  Like Pontius Pilate.

Thirdly, there follows an exceptional regime of systematic violence against those identified as enemies of the nation.

Do we see an echo of these phases in the recent history of the U S.

Now, there is plainly room for going overboard here – on both sides (if that phrase is still permitted).  It is a little early to talk of a need for Lebensraum, or to resort to hate speech like – ‘No green politics will ever be as exciting as red blood on black earth’. 

But Timothy Snyder of Yale University has high credentials on murderous regimes, and he, I now read, concluded a chapter on Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning by saying that global warming is the sort of crisis for which fascism waits in the wings.  ‘When an apocalypse is on the horizon, demagogues of blood and soil come to the fore.’

Until a few years ago, I would have thought all this was over the top or plain silly.  Since then, I have seen what used to be called the better people in the U S encourage an unhinged crook to turn the nation upside down, then submit to him, and then just look the other way while the brownshirts that he incited sought to take power in the State by force with better prospects of success than Hitler’s beer hall putsch a century earlier.

It may help to put into perspective what I see as a real and present danger some remarks I had made previously about fascism in the last century.

What might be described as the failure of the better people of Italy has been described by a biographer of Mussolini in terms that could be transposed word for word to the Germans and Hitler.

Mussolini still needed their [the moderates’] help, for most of the liberal parliamentarians would look to them for a lead.  He also took careful note that chaos had been caused in Russia when representatives of the old order were defenestrated en masse during the revolution: fascism could hardly have survived if the police, the magistrates, the army leaders and the civil service had not continued to work just as before, and the complicity of these older politicians was eagerly sought and helped to preserve the important illusion that nothing had changed.

The liberals failed to use the leverage afforded by his need for their approbation.  Most of them saw some good in fascism as a way of defending social order and thought Italians too intelligent and civilised to permit the establishment of a complete dictatorship.  Above all, there was the very persuasive argument that the only alternative was to return to the anarchy and parliamentary stalemate they remembered…. Mussolini had convincingly proved that he was the most effective politician of them all: he alone could have asked parliament for full powers and been given what he asked; he alone provided a defence against, and an alternative to, socialism.  And of course, the old parliamentarians still hoped to capture and absorb him into their own system in the long run; their optimism was encouraged by the fact that his fascist collaborators were so second-rate. 

Does that not seem to be word for word a correct rendition of how so many decent Germans probably reacted to Hitler?  Still today you will find Christian apologists for Franco, and not just in Spain, who say that his fascism was preferable to republican socialism.  Mussolini had the other advantage that for reasons we now regard as obvious, no one outside Italy could take Mussolini seriously.  As his biographer reminds us, Mussolini was, rather like Berlusconi, seen as an ‘absurd little man’, a ‘second-rate cinema actor and someone who could not continue in power for long’, a ‘César de carnaval’, a ‘braggart and an actor’, and possibly ‘slightly off his head.’  Churchill always took Hitler seriously; he could never do that with that Italian buffoon.  The Führer would betray his nation and kill himself and his mistress; the Italians would revolt from and then murder their Duce and his mistress, and hang them upside down in public.  (The Italians have never had any idea of political stability or succession.)

So, you can get no comfort from the fact that the newly ensainted leader may be a stunted runt, a preposterous oaf, or a vapid Catholic zealot who coolly dispenses death sentences over coffee and his rosary – or a stupid spoiled brat who dodged the draft and evaded paying tax, who could not put a sentence together, and who then resorted to selling tradeable picture cards showing himself as Superman. 

Politics – Far Right – Trump – Bolsonaro – Johnson – Hitler.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s