Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Archdruid on Fascism, part 1

I began The Archdruid and I have a conversation about science fiction by noting that Greer’s first essay about Fascism, Fascism and the Future, Part One: Up From Newspeak, was up and I was awaiting his reply.  Not only is Greer’s response to me posted, but his next entry on the topic, Fascism and the Future, Part Two: The Totalitarian Center is as well.  Since I’ve finished my discussion with Greer on the topic of the first essay and already started on the second, it’s time to post our first conversation.

Here is the part of Greer’s essay that got my attention.
When George Orwell wrote his tremendous satire on totalitarian politics, 1984, one of the core themes he explored was the debasement of language for political advantage.  That habit found its lasting emblem in Orwell’s invented language Newspeak, which was deliberately designed to get in the way of clear thinking.  Newspeak remains fictional—well, more or less—but the entire subject of fascism, and indeed the word itself, has gotten tangled up in a net of debased language and incoherent thinking as extreme as anything Orwell put in his novel.

These days, to be more precise, the word “fascism” mostly functions as what S.I. Hayakawa used to call a snarl word—a content-free verbal noise that expresses angry emotions and nothing else. One of my readers last week commented that for all practical purposes, the word “fascism” could be replaced in everyday use with “Oogyboogymanism,” and of course he’s quite correct; Aldous Huxley pointed out many years ago that already in his time, the word “fascism” meant no more than “something of which one ought to disapprove.”  When activists on the leftward end of today’s political spectrum insist that the current US government is a fascist regime, they thus mean exactly what their equivalents on the rightward end of the same spectrum mean when they call the current US government a socialist regime: “I hate you.”  It’s a fine example of the way that political discourse nowadays has largely collapsed into verbal noises linked to heated emotional states that drowns out any more useful form of communication.
I’d long ago observed that use of the word fascism, didn’t like it, and decided to do something about it.
Thanks for pointing out what the word fascist has become in preparation for talking about what it really was and should be understood as.  I was a Republican for 22 years and got tired of people on the Left calling conservatives "fascists" as a general purpose insult.  Fifteen years ago, I decided to do something about by seeing what the academic experts on the subject had to say.
Follow over the jump for what I found out and the responses.

Here’s what my research from late last century uncovered.
I'll start with what Stanley Payne, Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, lists as the diagnostic features of fascism in his 1980 book "Fascism: Comparison and Definition":

A. The Fascist Negations

  1. Antiliberalism (By "liberalism", this means free-market capitalism and representative democracy, not the democratic socialism and group-identity politics of modern American "liberalism").

   2. Anticommunism.

   3. Anticonservatism (Surprise!  By "Conservatism" that means resistance to social change and allegiance to traditional sources of authority, such as the church and, in Europe, the crown.  Fascism considers itself a modernizing, revolutionary movement that will produce new sources of authority.  See Ideology and Goals).

B. Ideology and Goals

   1. Creation of a new nationalist authoritarian state based not merely on traditional principles or models.

   2. Organization of some new kind of regulated, multiclass, integrated national economic structure (national corporatist, national socialist, or national syndicalist; this is why Payne describes the m.o. of fascism as an "all-class revolution" in contrast to the revolution of the proletariat espoused by Communism).

   3. The goal of empire or a radical change in the nation's relationship with other powers.

   4. Specific espousal of an idealist, voluntarist creed, normally involving the attempt to realize a new form of modern, self-determined, secular culture.

C. Style and Organization

   1. Emphasis on esthetic structure of meetings, symbols, and political choreography, stressing romantic and mystical aspects.

   2. Attempted mass mobilization with militarization of political relationships and style with the goal of a mass party militia.

   3. Positive evaluation of and willingness to use violence.

   4. Extreme stress on the masculine principle and male dominance, while espousing the organic view of society.

  5. Exaltation of youth above other phases of life, emphasizing the conflict of generations, at least in effecting the initial political transformation.

   6. Specific tendency toward an authoritarian, charismatic, personal style of command....

Those criteria work very well to diagnose a mature fascist movement in power or rising into power and unite Mussolini's Fascism, Hitler's Nazism, and Franco's Falangism along with other authoritarian nationalist movements that arose in interwar Europe and Asia; a good many but not all apply to Argentina's Peronism.  However, they don't help recognize a fascist movement in its infancy or youth and some may not work well in 21st Century North America.  The list is also too long.

A shorter description comes from another academic expert, Robert Paxton of Columbia University, whose list boils down to a single paragraph.

"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."

Not only it more concise, it also identifies elements that would appear earlier in the movement's development.
With these criteria, I was able to point out to people calling conservatives “fascists” that they were misusing the term.  George W. Bush, in particular, was not a fascist; he was too tied into the old social and power structure.  Some of the people around him were pretty authoritarian, but other than the Neocons, a lot of whom, like Mussolini, left socialism for nationalism and militarism, didn’t fit the profile.

In the past five years, I found another definition that works better.
There is an even briefer definition from  British political theorist Roger Griffin, who devised what he called the "fascist minimum"--palingenetic ultranationalism, a radical political movement based on a myth of national rebirth.  These movements also tend very strongly to right-wing populism.  These criteria will pick out a proto-fascist movement rather early in its ontogeny.  As AlanfromBigEasy pointed out, The Tea Party would fit this model.  My opinion of the Tea Party is that its even more in denial of its fascism than it is of its racism.  Fortunately, it doesn't have a youth movement or uniformed street thugs (cosplayers in Revolutionary War garb don't count), like a mature fascist movement would.  Instead, it's a bunch of right-wing Gray Panthers, so it makes it less acutely physically dangerous.  Its ability to cause political damage is another matter.
Greer’s response showed that he wasn’t all that impressed.
Pinku-Sensei, you're a little ahead of the game. I'll be talking about the definition of fascism next week, and Ernst Nolte's six minimum points are the ones I'll be using -- Payne's set is based on Nolte's, but the latter's are both simpler and to my mind clearer. As for palingenetic ultranationalism, yes, that will pick out fascist movements early on, but it will also pick out movements that aren't fascist by any stretch of the imagination -- Gandhi's movement for the liberation of India could be described in those terms, you know. You run the risk of identifying fifteen of the next three fascist movements well in advance.
I didn’t get around to refuting Greer’s Gandhi example, but I didn’t have to.  Ice Torch did.
I’d define ultranationalist as meaning “my nation or race above all others”, with the corollary that you consider yourself absolved of any moral compunction in your treatment of those of other nations or races. By that token, Gandhi was merely nationalist, as he was too spiritually-inclined to be ultranationalist.
Fellow blogger escapefromwisconsin of The Hipcrime Vocab also chimed in and fared much better.
FWIW, I've long distinguished political parties from authoritarian movements. They are two completely different animals. The Nazis, Fascists and Communists are clearly examples of the latter. In the U.S., the Democratic party has an economic platform closer to national socialism, but the right-wing Republican party in America has configured itself into an authoritarian movement based largely on the John Birch Society of the 1950's, merged with discredited "Austrian" economic theories, Christian reconstructionism, and the social Darwinism of Ayn-Rand. The signatures of an authoritarian movement include:

    1. Scapegoating of minority groups for the nation's problems (Jews and gypsies in Germany, blacks and Hispanics in the US)
    2. Intolerance of homosexuality and embrace of "traditional values." Hatred of so-called "degenerates."
    3. Macho chauvanism and embracing of martial virtues, including gun fetishism.
    4. Reverence and worship of the miltary and military strength. Deference to all soldiers as "heroes" regardless of their role.
    5. Complete and total aggreement and a sidelining of any opposing voices. Marching in lock-step.
    6. Rewriting history and unthinking reverence for past leaders (compare Reagan to Lenin, Mao, etc.)
    7. Government regulation of personal behavior and victimless crimes (abortion, drug use, etc.).
    8. Mass surveillance of the citizenry (NSA, although this is embraced by both parties).
    9. Use of physical intimidation and citizen militias to frighten their enemies (Brown shirts then, Brooks Brothers riots, bringing guns to town hall meetings, and patrolling polling places for "fraud" today).
    10. Use of incessant propaganda to reinforce belief systems which spin a "different" truth for followers (compare Goebbels "big lie" to FOX news, Drudge, Limbaugh, etc.)
    9. Politicization of every aspect of life, including things like transportation policy, science, etc. (e.g. trains and bikes are socialism; global warming is a hoax. Compare to Lysenkoism and Horbigers' World Ice Theory).
    10. The branding of opponents not just as people with different ideas about governance, but as subversives and traitors to the nation to be eliminated at all costs (e.g. anything written by Ann Coulter).

    I would argue that this is far more useful to understand the dangers of political parties than focusing on economics. That's why I prefer to use the term authoritarianism instead of Fascism, since authoritarianism is agnostic of an economic platform. The above checklist is accurate to authoritarian parties from the Nazis and Communists, to today's far right parties such as Jobbik and the Golden Dawn (the Greek version, not the mystical lodge). Although it should be noted that the American Republican version may be the first and only one to leave most of its followers worse off economically.
Escape’s authoritarian movement idea should look familiar, as I mentioned it in National Review ironically reveals another deep truth about the current GOP.  I agreed with him.

So did Greer.
Escape, excellent. Not all authoritarian movements blame their troubles on minority groups, unless you consider "the rich" as a minority group, but other than that, your taxonomy is pretty much spot on. It's crucial, as you point out, to remember that this sort of system can emerge from any point in the political spectrum -- another detail that today's easy talk about fascism tends to miss.
And that does it for now.  I’ll have more on Greer’s second essay when I’m satisfied that I’m done with it.

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