I’ve done my best to avoid partisan politics on the blog these past few months. While it’s impossible to completely separate our deepest values from our collective expression of those values (a.k.a. – politics), in general I prefer to focus on devotion, magic, and building deep relationships both in this world and between the worlds. But I saw something last week that I need to respond to.
Rhyd Wildermuth, co-founder of Gods & Radicals, has a new essay titled The Future Is Fascist. The title alone got my attention, because my gut tells me it’s right. It’s a long piece (over 4000 words) and as with most of Rhyd’s writing, his diagnosis of the disease is better than his prescription for a cure. Here are a few key quotes:
The abrupt appearance of fascist, ultranationalist, racial separatist, and authoritarian movements throughout the world in the last five years—and their success in coming to power through “democratic” electoral processes—is truly terrifying…
Multiple theories have arisen as to precisely why this is happening. Unfortunately, none of them suffice to explain the actual causes, only assure us that what has arisen throughout the world can be fought or stopped. In general, these theories usually label these fascist impulses as “reactionary,” meaning that they are conservative at their core and wish to turn back the clock on social progress or stop an inevitable flood of civil rights expansions.
Rhyd says these theories are wrong, and I agree. He goes on to say that fascism is:
a reaction to an emergency… a way of managing civilizations during emergencies.
And further, he says that the emergency driving the current resurgence of fascism is climate change. Here I don’t agree. Our current batch of fascists aren’t reacting to climate change – they don’t think it exists.
At this point I need to leave my critique of Rhyd’s post and go off on my own.
Fascism has a definition
In common conversation, “fascism” is often used to mean “any socio-political action I don’t like.” But it has a definition, even if scholars can’t exactly agree on what it is.
Wikipedia begins their article on fascism by saying:
What constitutes a definition of fascism and fascist governments has been a complicated and highly disputed subject concerning the exact nature of fascism and its core tenets debated amongst historians, political scientists, and other scholars since Benito Mussolini first used the term in 1915.
Wikipedia’s quality varies widely, but this article is quite good.
My definition of fascism is government or quasi-government that is authoritarian, nationalistic (often to the level of xenophobia), and traditionalist. It blames the nation’s problems on “the Other” and seeks to control the populace in the name of order and security. It suppresses dissent. It is economically agnostic, but it’s often associated with corporatism and plutocracy.
The lure of fascism
In a state-based society (i.e. – anything larger and more complex than a tribal society), fascism is never far from the surface because it is many people’s (perhaps most?) reaction to perceived threats.
And there are always perceived threats.
Whether you see threats as real or based in prejudice and blown out of proportion is a matter of opinion and perspective. I see fascism in border security1 and bathroom bills – the Right sees fascism in equal accommodation laws and governmental responses to climate change.
That doesn’t mean both views are equally correct – they aren’t. This is one of those situations where folks of a liberal persuasion should not agree with or even sympathize with reactionaries, but we damned well better understand why they feel the way they do.
History has shown over and over again that people want to feel safe from perceived threats more than just about anything else, and not only are they willing to torture and kill “the Other” to feel safe, they’re also willing to give up their own freedoms. The lure of the Strongman is, well, strong. Say what you will about the fairness and integrity of the 2016 election, but 60 million people voted for Trump.
(If Trump is not a fascist, it’s only because constitutional limitations and institutional power – the very “swamp” Trump wanted to drain – constrain him from acting as one.)
A deal with the devil
As libertarians and as radicals on both sides of the political spectrum like to point out, the mechanisms of the state are always there to exercise control, whether the hands on the levers are conservative or liberal. Obama deported more people than Trump, to cite only one example.
But remove the power of the state (as libertarians argue) and the power of corporations and wealthy individuals will be unchecked. See early medieval feudalism and the Gilded Age for examples of how that plays out – no thank you.
Return to an ultra-low-tech tribal society (which is what Rhyd appears to be advocating in his essay) and material standards of living will drop to a level most Westerners (and many Easterners) would consider abysmal. But also, tribal societies are hardly “free” – social pressure to conform to cultural norms is intense.
Human society is always a deal with the devil. We give up some freedoms in exchange for security; we give up some of our identity as individuals in exchange for acceptance and identity in something larger and more permanent than ourselves.
And the deal is never final.
There will never be a utopia: not of the modern liberal variety, not of the libertarian variety, not of the anarchist variety. And if by some stroke of luck we actually reached it, it would begin to deteriorate immediately. Everything is in motion, and will remain in motion for as long as life continues.
And right now the general trend of that motion is unfavorable.
An empire in decline
The American empire is in decline and no amount of MAGA can stop it.
Neither can electing a Democratic President in 2020.
The people who say there’s no difference in the two parties aren’t paying attention. Look at the differences in environmental policy, labor policy, enforcement of equal rights, court appointments, and educational philosophy. Look at the way they interact with the press and with our international allies. Electing a Democratic President – and ideally, a Democratic congress – will help repair some of the damage done since January 20, 2017.
But it’s not going to do anything to reduce the attractiveness of fascism in a lot of people’s minds. They will continue to vote for authoritarian candidates and regressive, nationalistic policies because that’s what they want.
And remember that in March of 2016, nobody thought Donald Trump had a chance to win – including me.
There are no house elves in a democracy, and the progress of November 2018 was only a start. Do your part. That means voting, at the least.
A workable response to fascism
Fascism is a deeply-seated human impulse and I cannot save the world from it. I do not intend to die trying. I’m working to put my own mask on first, then help others to breathe as the cabin depressurizes and we continue to head downward. I do not think we will crash, but where we land will not be where we expected to go when we got on the plane.
I do not know how to persuade people who are afraid of “the Other” that their fears are mostly unfounded and are often manipulated by those who want their votes and their money. I am both temperamentally and physically unsuited for revolution… and my reading of history tells me that tearing down a bad system is a lot easier than building up a good one. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Put your own mask on first. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself. Eat good food, drink plenty of water, and drink other things in moderation. Get enough sleep. Keep up your daily spiritual practice. That’s how you maintain your connections to your Gods and ancestors, to their virtues, and to their power.
Build your communities. Find others who are like you. Support them, and they’ll support you in return. Form alliances. Lots of people who pray to different Gods or to no Gods at all see things much the same as we do. Work with them.
Facsism thrives on fear. We live in fearful times, but through reason and experience we need not be afraid.
Fascism is a bully, picking on those who are weak and vulnerable to make themselves feel strong. Our clichés tell us to fight back and the bullies will crumble – reality is rarely so simple. Those who are skilled fighters can and should fight. Those who aren’t can use other methods.
Most importantly, be who and what you’re called to be. Be a Pagan, be a witch, be a tree-hugging naturalist. Be a radical in the streets or a hermit deep in the forest.
Fascism demands conformity – being yourself is the first and most authentic act of resistance.
1 People of good will (i.e. – non-fascists) can and do disagree on immigration policy and on the proper ways to enforce it. The current administration’s demonization of immigrants and brutal treatment of refugees is inexcusable and checks every box on the definition of fascism.