I was chasing up the connection between Climate Change Denialism, DDT and the Tobacco Industry when I serendipitously came across a very useful essay on the topic of ‘What Is Fascism ?’ at Orcinus.
The essay is called Rush, Newspeak and Fascism, written by Daniel Neiwert in the midst of the G W Bush era. Neiwert’s special interest is the conspiracist US Patriot/Militia movements, their involvement in domestic terrorism and the way they admire and are accommodated by the Republican Party.
Neiwert canvasses some important essays on Fascism including Umberto Eco’s essay on Ur-Fascism before settling on Oxford University’s Roger Griffin’s definition of ‘Palingenetic Ultranationalist Populism’ as the animating principles of Fascism. Palingenetic means ‘rising from the ashes, as the Phoenix’
Neiwert then notes some important additional factors: the hand-in-glove relationship of Fascism to Big Business (what he terms ‘Corporatism’), the valourisation of violence and the need of Fascist’s to regard themselves as reacting against Victimisation, persecution or repression (what I classify as the reactionary element of Fascism).
The purpose of Neiwert’s essay is to clearly define Fascism so that it may be recognised in nascent forms as well as its full-blown ‘mature’ form.
As Neiwert notes, the term ‘Fascist’ is grossly abused, mostly by the Left, and is usually delivered as an insult meaning nothing more than ‘authoritarian’. The destructive power and disease of Fascism is too deadly to allowed to obscured by lazy usage. Like ‘Genocide’, the appellation of ‘Fascism’ is too important to be misused. It’s a definition that needs to be kept sharp to remain useful.
Having defined Fascism and castigated the Left for misuse of the term Neiwert then spends the remainder of the essay discussing to what extent right-wing extremist groups in the USA have been accommodated by the Repunlican Party and to what extent the rhetoric and beliefs of the extreme right find everyday expression in Republican mainstream discourse. Its an interesting exploration.
That’s Enough About Him
I see Fascism as an opportunistic movement arising from crisis or flux. The pre-conditions have to be right for Fascism to erupt in the public imagination. A charismatic/redemptive leader is crucial.
The United States, in my opinion, has a greater potential to slide into Fascism than Australia, for a number of reasons:
• Their national image as a ‘nation of destiny’
• Their national image as an example to all nations, a leader of the world community,
a youthful, vigorous, vanguard, revolutionary nation free of the corrupting
accretions of senile cynical European leadership. (Old Europe v. New Europe)
• Highly patriotic and jingoistic
Great love of patriotic symbols such as the National Flag.
My country right or wrong. American pride: America must ‘walk tall’ cannot be in second place, cannot lower the flag (e.g at Olympics)
• Their belief in a transcendent American spirit and American values –
Values worth rediscovering/recovering/fighting )literally) for.
• Their national birth through revolution; hence national rebirth obtainable by revolution on the same principles.
• Unilateral. – Rejects United Nations, International Criminal Court
• Approves of Torture as a means of achieving national goals.
• A Martial nation – Highly militaristic and militarized: which nation has military bases in 150 nations
around the world ?
• Presidential system with propensity to degenerate into a personality cult. Round the clock PR machine polishing/aggrandaisin the image.
• Significant racist undercurrent including White Supremacist groups
– a hangover from the Slave Trade and The South
• Big Business and Political classes are the same people (Corporatist) and integrated
to an extent far more openly than other Western nations.
• Highly inflammatory/irresponsible political rhetoric typified by Sarah Palin
• Domestic terrorist groups (Militias)
In a wry twist, the term ‘Palingenetic’ perfectly describes the overt aims of the GOP-derived ‘Tea Party’ movement, now identified with Sarah Palin, whose website and speech making contain highly distasteful and culpable affirmations of violent and forceful action against a corrupt political culture, perfectly synchronous with a Fasist template.
But, as Neiwert says, the GOP/Big Business are more interested in Money and Power than racism and fascism and neither the GOP nor Sarah Palin is not Fascist.
The accommodation of racist and/or extremist thinking, like the accommodation of Christian fundamentalist thinking in the GOP is a means to an end, not and end in itself. When/if Racism/warped Christian Fundmentalism (really pseudo-Christian white totalitarianism) becomes the end in itself, then the United States would have taken a stride toward Fascism.
So, in my view, many of the necessary elements for Fascism are present above mere trace levels in the USA.
They sorely need to regain a civilised political rhetoric in order to rein in some of the factors noted above.
Rhetoric vs. Reality
A colleague of mine made a very valid point about distinguishing between rhetoric and action. Even if the GOP is willing to trade in some of the rhetoric of the outer right it does not mean that the GOP is actually going to implement the policies of the outer right.
For example, Christian Fundamentalists began to desert the Republicans in the Obama election because they felt betrayed by the GOP. The GOP despite their rhetoric were not delivering on their (implicit) undertakings.
John Cain never talked about faith and seemed to be spiritually apathetic. Obama, OTOH seemed to be a real believer. So the Fundies began to drift toward the Democrats.
That was one reason why Palin was drafted in as Vice-Presidential nominee: she’s a bona-fide Christian Fundamentalist. She was bought in to stop that drift.
So, the question is, has there really been a rightward shift in American Politics even if one should happen to agree that there has been a rightward shift in rhetoric.
Well can a person clutch fire to their chest and not be burned ?
The Southern Strategy
The first rightward lunge by the GOP occurred under the Southern Strategy, of the 1960’s, developed by Nixon to appeal to white racists. That strategy resulted in a number of policies designed to appeal to racist sentiment; for example, ‘Forced Busing’ (to achieve racial desegregation) was dropped, ‘Law And Order’(meaning oppose Civil Rights Protest), and anti-welfare (meaning stop whites having to pay for Black welfare) policies were implemented.
The electioneering phrase for these programs taken together was ‘States Rights’ which harked back to the 1948 formation of the States Rights Democratic Party, formed by Southern Democrats to oppose the Civil Rights movement. Reagan resurrected ‘States Rights’ rhetoric in 1980, announcing his support for ‘States Rights’ in a township famous for the murder of three Civil Rights activists in 1964.
The success of The Southern Strategy inverted the racial orientation of American politics making the GOP, formerly the ‘Party Of Lincoln’ (i.e. racial emancipation) the racist-friendly party, forcing the formerly racist Democrats to a non-racist stance since they needed some Black Vote.
Reagan regenerated the Sothern Strategy, introducing a range of anti-welfare and taxation policies which he knew would be perceived as anti-black in the South. Here’s how his campaign advisor Lee Atwater,
later chairman of the Republican National Committee described it
Questioner: But the fact is, isn’t it, that Reagan does get to […]the racist side of the Wallace [i.e. Southern] voter by doing away with legal services, by cutting down on food stamps?
Atwater: You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. […]We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger
Reagan also gave racist private Universities access to certain tax exemptions which had been previously denied to them on the basis of discriminatory behaviour and opposed affirmative action and quotas. TV adverts showed a white hand crumpling a job rejection notice talking about quotas. In short, anti-welfare equals anti-Black to a Southern audience. Its a dogwhistle. The inclusion of States Rights delivers the code words infallibly.
As Atwater put it, The GOP is happy to be viewed as implementing economic measures to hurt blacks to appeal to whites.
The confluence of Reagan’s ideological anti-welfare leanings with his desire to appeal to white racists provides fig leaf cover for an argument that the appeal to racism is merely fortunate, a mere by-product of good economics. Though the disproportional effect on Blacks is recognised it is not intentional, in fact it is good or them, breaking the welfare cycle (and there is some truth in that).
In a similar vein one might say that the location of the ‘States Rights’ speech was merely fortunate, even planned, but not driven by any particular racist motivation.
But Atwater admits to fostering the racist sentiment by choosing ‘States Rights’ as the vehicle by which to deliver these policies, which means that the GOP is happy to trade in racism in order to win office. They’re happy for racism to be associated with political leadership.
Which is reprehensible.