Fascism: What it is, and How NOT to Fight it
by J. Andrew Zalucky
A rather pessimistic reader recently responded to my article on Politics and the Problem of Evil with the following comment:
“I doubt that 1 out of 150 people could adequately define Fascism.”
Right you are.
Therefore, in the spirit of spreading important information to readers and whoever might stumble on this page, let’s put a good definition out there:
Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.
Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism
I thought to put this definition here today for a couple of reasons. One being that when you look at the history of fascist movements in Italy, Germany, the Balkans, France, and elsewhere, this definition fits rather nicely. The other reason is that, while most hard-right groups in the west are highly marginalized, it’s important to remain vigilant about the continued appeal of fascist ideas to those on the fringes of society; to those who wish for a violent, reactionary re-engineering of society back to the monarchical world order that existed before the Enlightenment of the 1700’s.
The Dim Shades of Modern Fascism
A friend of mine recently posted this article in our political discussion group, which details rising fascist groups operating in Europe and The United States: The American Freedom Party, The British National Party, The English Defense League, New Resistance, and of course Greece’s Golden Dawn. It may be easy to dismiss these parties as hysterical fringe groups, and while that may be an accurate description, one should remember that The Nazi’s remained a very marginal party as well, even up to the late 1920’s.
I would also add radical Islamist groups to this list. Just as European Fascist groups dreamed of a return to the classical authoritarian order, so do Jihadists wish for a return to the old imperialist Islamic caliphate. There are certain factions of the Left in The United States and Europe that wrongly point to radical Islam as a form of revolutionary anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, liberation theology. While they stop short of directly praising them (for the most part), the Left tends to look at the cultural backwardness and inhumane violence preached by Jihadist groups and explain it all away as a consequence of Western oppression and exploitation. Though the west has a lot to atone for, the Left takes this attitude at its own peril. Yes, we should honest about the darkness in our own past and not be afraid to incur the wrath of those who would call us “unpatriotic” for doing so. However, one should be able to call a spade a spade: to denounce the principles and goals of Jihadism as violent, misogynist, theocratic poison (which it is) is NOT to engage in some orientalist marginalization of “the other”, or just crude racism with democratic window dressing. Though anti-muslim racism does exist, criticism of the ideology should not be confused with hatred of Arabs and Persians as ethnic groups.
Nor should it be confused with the uncritical support of all western military intervention. More on that in a moment.
In order to fight fascism in its modern forms, we should at least have the courage to break the chains of masochistic political correctness that punishes any form of language not approved by postmodern-relativist orthodoxy. One outrageous and almost hilarious example of this is the recent inclusion in the PC vocabulary of the ridiculous term “theophobia”. You would be hard-pressed to find a better example of shooting yourself in the face than this.
Something less obvious
There is another authoritarian strain (if not completely fleshed-out fascism) that bears watching: that of its germination and growth within our own system in The United States under the guise of the “War on Terror”. What I mean to say here is that being able to stand in opposition to fascism, totalitarianism, and other forms of tyranny is important, but of equal and perhaps more importance is HOW that stand is taken. It’s been pointed out by many writers from Jeremy Scahill to Glenn Greenwald and many others that the permanent war footing that the US Government has placed us under since 9/11 is deeply corrosive to democratic proceduralism, civil liberties, and many other important barriers on state power that are supposed to distinguish us from our enemies. To push for an end to the “War on Terror” in its current incarnation is in no way the declaration of surrender that conservatives love to say it is. In fact, the strategic implications of endless conflict are ones that in the end actually grant Jihadism an even larger victory than it could have hoped for in 2001. What the war has done is to transform what was originally a fight against people with an ideological animus against the West into a mass-production line of purely revenge-driven hatred of the US.
With some difficulty, ideologues can be argued with and eventually brought to their senses. Revenge is not like this at all. As Scahill said a few weeks ago when talking about Obama’s targeted killing program, the victims of said attacks “Don’t hate us for our McDonalds.”
In short, the war on terror has dragged on to the point where it has aligned more power into the military-industrial complex, and has begun to lead to the militarization of civilian life.
That’s not to say Jihadism should not be fought at all. To alter the fight from a limitless binge of warfare to a healthy dose of international law enforcement changes the game quite a lot. Al-qaeda is a global militant organization, not a nation that can be subject to the same declaration of war as a nation-state. An Islamist militant plotting to attack civilians in American and European cities belongs on the docket in The Hague, NOT on a secret Presidential “kill-list” cut off from any congressional oversight.
“What does this have to do with Fascism in any historical sense?”
In the aftermath of The Reichstag fire in February of 1933, Germany was put basically under a permanent state of emergency, with communist deputies in Parliament kicked out and arrested, and led to The Enabling Act which handed dictatorial powers to Hitler and the National Socialists. President Paul Von Hindenburg, still alive at the time, also chose to suspend civil liberties and allow the police to search without warrants and detain citizens without trial. Even before the Nazi’s rise to power (ushered in willingly by German conservatives), the chaotic environment of 1920’s Germany saw private paramilitaries with allegiances separate from the constitutional obligations to The Weimar Constitution. This was among hundreds of factors would led to the subversion of German democracy. To any American who paid attention during the Iraq War, this should sound at least slightly familiar.
To be clear, the similarities between the United States post-9/11 and Germany in 1933 should not be overstated. NO- I do not believe that 9/11 was a false-flag or an inside job…let’s just get that out of the way. Crises’ happen because they happen. Our leaders are not the masterminds behind some grand conspiracy to destroy democracy (they’re too stupid for that). Those in power are easily corrupted when left unchecked by an ignorant populace and a timid congress. This power will only continue to grow until finally fascism’s ghastly cult of loyalty and violence causes the whole system to implode on itself, or is rightly destroyed from the outside (see picture above).
It is easy to become comfortable and sneer at hysterical reactionary groups like BNP, Golden Dawn, and their Salafist counterparts when they sit outside the bounds of our mainstream political consensus. It is much more important to notice and be vigilant against their ideas when they take root, however subtly, in our own democratic institutions; especially when they are smuggled in through the cargo hold of “national security.”