Notes from a Fascist Country

Notes from a Fascist Country September 17, 2012

A reader writes:

One critical error people make in contemplating fascism is to believe that fascism is about ideas, dogmas, or programmatic solutions to human problems. Fascism is none of those things. First and above all, fascism is a belief in the state as the supreme human achievement. Or, as the Party recently said, the state is the only thing we all belong to. This gives the fascist state a flexibility unknown to most totalitarian movements, notably socialism, which are bound by dogmatic commitments and the corresponding need to pretend that the dogmas are productive.

Put another way, the magical thinking of socialism is like fan fiction — it’s limited by a background story. So Pope John Paul II, when he was a cardinal in socialist Poland, could upbraid the socialist utopia for failing in its constitutional promise to respect religion. In contrast, the magical thinking of fascism is unlimited, which makes fascism a much more potent and insidious form of evil. So Eduard Milch could rise to the rank of Field Marshal, and head Luftwaffe fighter production, even though his father was Jewish, qualifying Milch for death in a concentration camp. As Herman Goering said, “I decide who is a Jew.”

“Everything in the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” Obedience to the state is the whole of human goodness. Here, the Obama administration has decided whose speech is evil. Bill Maher’s speech is good because Bill Maher supports the state. The probationer’s speech is evil, because he is inconveniencing the state. So he has been hauled in for questioning, even though the state has been keeping tabs on his behavior for years. Surveillance always comes in handy. As we see, the state already labors day and night to place us all under surveillance, to put us all on probation.

Only the most stupid of Americans (the 99%), will be unable to make that connection. The 99% will instead choose to believe that this man is a criminal and his case is ‘different.’ He’s not being hauled in for questioning because of his speech, but because he used aliases or a computer to speak.

Conditioned by decades of fascist thought, the 99% will say that criminals have no rights, or at the least, criminals who have abused their right to speak may be silenced. It’s all routine, nothing to do with the political ramifications of his speech. It’s nothing to do with us. After all, no one’s decided that we’re Jews. Not yet.

"Temp account. First comment. Sock puppet."

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  • This is brilliant, and utterly important for us to understand. Thanks for posting it.

  • Irenist

    Mark, for an aficionado of political thought and history, reading this comment induces the reaction you would have if you came upon, in a blog you loved, a long complaint that the Pope is a horrible Lutheran Presbyterian Copt who is bent on making the world safe for Shi’ite Reform Judaism. Those denominations are very different, and you know this. So anything written by someone who didn’t know this would be hard for you to take seriously as a religion article. You might find yourself wondering if it was the work of some ill-informed hack at the NY Times.
    The comment you quoted makes some good points. But it spoils them by equating the current governance of the U.S. with fascism and socialism. To be sure, this Administration and its predecessor have been abysmal on civil liberties. But a corrupt representative democracy governing a warfare/welfare state is not precisely fascist. It just isn’t. Fascism is a very specific political philosophy, exemplified by Mussolini and others in 20th c. Europe, and less so by some of the 20th c. authoritarian regimes in Latin America. This imperial moment in our politics is sort of like the authoritarianism of Napeleon I and Napoleon III are sort of like constitutional monarchy is sort of like medieval monarchy is sort of like absolute monarchy is sort of like fascism is sort of like communism is sort of like socialism is sort of like welfare state capitalism is sort of like laissez faire capitalism is sort of like distributism. But none of these political economies is the same! Can we please, please, please stop with the Godwin’s Law foolishness? Whenever Christians–especially pro-life and therefore “conservative” Christians–call Obama a fascist, it makes us look like Bircher cranks. There is plenty to criticize about Obama! But let’s try not to do it in a way that makes us so easy to caricature. Please?

    • Confederate Papist

      You’re right.

      Obama’s not a fascist. He’s a Marxist.

      • Irenist

        Cute. Calling Obama a Marxist is like calling the Old South feudal: at best, it’s intended as humorous hyperbole; more likely, it represents a complete refusal or inability to think precisely about history and politics. But whatever. If Mark’s blog is going to become one of those dark, fetid corners of the Internet where Obama is a Marxist, T.R. and Lincoln were fascists, Jeff Davis was an unblemished freedom fighter, Martin Luther King was a Maoist, and Francisco Franco was a distributist paladin, then there’s only so much I can do to prevent it. It’s really up to Mark to deal with this sort of thing. I imagine he’d prefer to just linger at the dentist–less painful.

    • ivan_the_mad

      I grasp your points, but consider this: What was the specific point/date at which a German in the 1930s would have been justified in no longer referring to his government as a (corrupt) republic but as a fascist state? And, having identified that point, would any German prior to that date/point employing the term “fascist” in warning or criticism have been guilty of gross or ignorant caricature or hyperbole?

      This isn’t (at least I hope it isn’t) Godwin’s Law. You write to precision of terms on the one hand (fascist vs. corrupt republic etc) and an admonition against useless hyperbole and caricature on the other. I am addressing that second part. I disagree that this is useless hyperbole or caricature, especially because we have historical precedent in the preceding (wakka wakka) century of constitutional republics sadly becoming fascist states.

      • Irenist

        Ivan, that’s a thought-provoking point.
        Here’s my take:
        In the 1930’s, fascism was seen as an up-and-coming wave of the future by many, from the graphic designers who brought us the New Deal-era blue eagle iconography to Ludwig von Mises, no lover of fascism, who nonetheless in his 1927 book “Liberalism” (i.e., libertarianism) credited fascism’s role against communism with the words “It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history.” Fascism was the going thing in authoritarian centralization back then.
        It isn’t now. Current trends w/r/t civil liberties in the U.S., U.K., and elsewhere are ominous indeed. But “historical precedent . . . of constitutional republics sadly becoming fascist states” eight decades ago isn’t much better a predictor of what the future will look like than (to paraphrase) “historical precedent . . . of Senatorial republics sadly becoming the Augustan principate” or Marx’s chowder-headed idea that because revolutionaries at barricades had been important in the transition from the Ancien Regime to the French First Republic, revolutionaries at barricades would be important in the transition from laissez faire capitalism to some kind of lasting successor to laissez faire capitalism. (Marx’s Stalinist and Maoist epigones employed revolutionaries at barricades for their bloody failed experiments, but the welfare state has outlasted both laissez faire capitalism and the abominations of the communists; the welfare state had progenitors who looked a lot more like LBJ and Clement Attlee than the sans culottes.) History does rhyme, but it never *exactly* repeats itself.
        If the West becomes far more authoritarian due to the wars on terror, poverty, or whatever noun the leaders want us to be angry at, it won’t become “fascist.” It will become something else, with some new name and new power structure. It will probably have a great deal more to do with Madison Ave. and a veneer of democratic elections than the open adulation of any Duce or Fuhrer. The mailed fist will be velvet-gloved. Fighting the last war is a good way to lose the current one. History gives us analogies, not blueprints. Calling the current electoral duopoly of corporate errand boys “fascist” obscures more than it reveals, and thus makes it harder to engage in serious analysis that might actually lead to an alternative.

        • Hezekiah Garrett

          The abandonment of heuristics is intellectual paralysis, not increased clarity.

          • Irenist

            Depends on the heuristic. Abandoning Cartesian metaphysics for Thomistic metaphysics would increase clarity, e.g.

        • ivan_the_mad

          Irenist, thanks for the illuminating reply! I’m tickled pink to learn the bit about von Mises’ paean to fascism. I think that by and large I agree with you on the terminology. For myself, I’d lean towards corporatism or oligarchy as the descriptors to where I think the national government is headed.

          Regarding the issue more at hand, I think that fascist is often bandied about because of the relatively recent history involving said groups, i.e. it’s easy to relate to and apply the historical narrative of a weakened republic succumbing to fascism. This is not strictly true, as you write, but I suppose that I disagree with your last line – I think calling them fascist is a solid step in the right direction, away from blind patriotism and/or blind naivete in the beneficence of government. Thanks for the discussion.

          • Irenist

            Thank you for the discussion, too, Ivan.
            I agree that compared to naive, worshipful attitudes like “America is always right” or “Obama is the Messiah,” calling the current state of affairs “fascist” is a step toward at least critiquing the government. It just seems to me that since the 1960’s, most of us have gotten really good at moving past naive 1950’s-style patriotism, but have yet to get very good at the kind of patriotic dissent that offers constructive critique as opposed to just grumbling and jeremiads. As in so much (liturgy, politics, social mores), this post-Boomer is really just impatiently waiting for this country to get the 1960’s out of its system.

  • Ted Seeber

    Science fiction vs fantasy.

  • Tim

    Regardless of what you call it, all government systems throughout history, save US style democracy, consist of a ruler (king, Tsar, party chairperson, ect.), his “court” (party leaders, ect) and the minions. The rulers and his court own most everyting and enjoy the benefits (wealth, healthcare, property) and the minions survive on the leftovers. Obama’s intent is to end the American experiment.

    • Irenist

      “The rulers and his court own most everyting and enjoy the benefits (wealth, healthcare, property) and the minions survive on the leftovers. Obama’s intent is to end the American experiment.”
      This is wrong for the same reason that paranoid liberal screeds that G.W. Bush wanted to hoard everything for the rich, destroy democracy, and start WWIII by instigating 9/11 were scurrilously wrong. Neither Bush, nor Obama, nor any other mainstream Republican or Democrat of any prominence in our national politics wants to “end the American experiment.” Many of them–in both parties–are so misguided that their actions do endanger that experiment, but all of them sincerely believe that their unhelpful policies are the best possible course for the continued survival and flourishing of American capitalist democracy. On civil liberties, for instance, both Bush and Obama sincerely believe that executive aggrandizement is necessary to protect us from terrorists. They are wrong. And even if they were right, the surrender of the Bill of Rights is not a price worth paying for safety. But that they are wrong does not mean that they are not sincere, or that they do not believe themselves to have acted to protect the American experiment in ordered liberty. You won’t convert anyone to a more realistic view of the perils facing American democracy and liberty by impugning the motives of sincerely misguided politicians. You’ll just get your interlocutors paranoid about conspiracy theories, or dismissive of your views.