Fascism isn't just a buzzword
Steve G argues that "fascism" is just a buzzword that Bush's critics use as a thoughtless insult.
Some people incorrectly use the term "fascist" to criticize any inappropriate exercise of state power. However, there's nothing distinctively fascist about arresting demonstrators, torturing prisoners, fixing elections, domestic spying, or fighting imperialist wars. Communist countries, monarchies, theocracies, military dictatorships, and other authoritarian regimes commit similar offenses.
Anyone who wants to identify similarities between the current administration and true Fascism will have to specify exactly what's fascist about Bush and the Republicans. This is not a trivial task. However, I believe there's a very strong case to be made.
I'm NOT saying that we have a fascist government in America today. The United States is a democracy, we still have a free press, and the armed forces haven't acquiesced to the one-man rule of George W. Bush. I'm not claiming that it's inevitable, or even especially likely, that America will eventually become a full-blown fascist state. I'm certainly not saying that anyone in power today is consciously striving to create a full-fledged fascist dictatorship on the model of Mussolini's Italy or Franco's Spain. What I am saying is that the Bush administration has embraced many of the key mutually-reinforcing ideological tenets of Fascism: militarism, imperialism, corporate statism, state-sponsored religion, male dominance, irrationalism, and mass propaganda.
Fascism arose as a counter-point to Marxism. Marx argued that economics set up a situation where there would be class-driven conflict through a series of prescribed steps which leads, ultimately, to the dissolving of governments and the flourishing of people in a state of complete peace. Fascism denied all of this. In his 1932 piece "What is Fascism," Benito Mussolini, took issue with all of these points. Fascism begins with the axiom that war is the natural state of man.
This is a crucial point. A state of war is a special thing. When one is in the state of war, the normality of life is suspended. War is a time of crisis and in a state of crisis, what is normally irrational if one wants to create a civil society may become rational. During wartime, a nation is so threatened that all possible projects within the nation depend upon successful prosecution of the war, and as such, all other projects are therefore less important than winning the war. Everything in life is subjugated to the government's efforts. The survival of the country and everyone in it is in question, so your little interests need to be put on hold. A state of martial law allows for complete governmental control because it is needed to protect each and all.
It seems to me that the Bush administration is trying to do something remarkably similar. Here are some non-trivial characteristics that the administration shares with capital F-fascism.
1. Perpetual war. The administration has declared an open-ended "Global War on Terror" (GWOT), aka the "Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism"(GSAVE), now also known simply as "the long war." Terrorism is a tactic, not an enemy. The war on terror is unwinnable by design. The so-called war on terror is an endlessly extendable excuse for growing presidential power, foreign military adventures, and increased domestic surveillance. The GWOT has already served as an excuse for the illegal invasion and ongoing occupation of Iraq, the construction of billions of dollars' worth of permanent military bases abroad, and veiled threats of nuclear attack on Iran.
The Fascists said that perpetual war was part of the human condition. The Republicans have declared a phony war that can be guaranteed to last as long as they want it to. I don't see a big difference.
2. The Unitary Executive. Fascism is a cult of the leader in which the His supreme authority is required to wage perpetual war. The Republicans have demonstrated fascist tendencies by undercutting the constitutional checks on the power of the Executive Branch and concentrating power in the President himself. Their bogus theory of the Unitary Executive holds that the POTUS has the authority to override not only the laws enacted by the Legislative Branch, but also the any part of the constitution that might constrain his supposed Article II power to do whatever he deems necessary to fight the so-called war on terror.
Conveniently, you're not supposed to criticize the president during a war. Criticizing the war is also treason . The president says so.
3. The Corporate State. As Steve points out, Fascism arose as one solution to the punishing ups and downs of the free market. Fascism proposed to end the struggle between workers and bosses by uniting the powers of the state and big business to crush labor.
Like the Fascists, the Republicans hate the free market. They don't want competition, they want a handful of big businesses to dominate the economy at the expense of all other interests. They dream of an orderly world of rising profits and increasing shareholder returns, relieved of messy strikes and upstart competitors.
Corporations already shape American policy by subverting democracy and propping up the government's security state. Consider how US policy is influenced by the administration's close ties to companies like Diebold, Haliburton, AT&T, Verizon, and Duke Cunningham's crooked defense contractors. The disastrous Medicare Plan D, the biggest government program US history, is a sop to Big Pharma. Bush's abortive attempt to privatize Social Security was a pure gimme to the Republicans' friends in the financial services sector. The ruinous bankruptcy bill that was practically written by the multi-billion dollar credit card industry.
Also consider the government's intimate relationship with the right wing media machine from FOX News and Regenry books, to far-right talk radio, astroturf conservative websites, and journalistic front groups like Jeff Gannon's unlamented Talon News... For more information on this aspect of the Republican corporate state, see David Brock's exhaustive study, The Republican Noise Machine, and the chapters on the self-declared conservative media in Eric Alterman's What Liberal Media.
The Abramoff/Cunningham/Foggo/Scalon lobbying scandals illustrate how corporations have circumvented democracy by simply buying influence. Of course, Duke Cunninham specialized taking bribes from defense contractors while sitting on the House Intelligence Committee. These scandals also reveal how the culture of corruption helps perpetuate America's aggressive militaristic foreign policy.
4. Unification of church and state. The original Fascists wanted to bring the church into the corporate state. Many of today's Republicans seem to have similar ambitions. The influence of the religious right is palpable in many spheres of American policy from the selection of Supreme Court nominees to America's relations with Israel. The current administration has also slashed secular public assistance and championed faith-based programs to provide social services with tax dollars through religious organizations.
5. The security apparatus. Like Fascist citizens of yore, some Americans are so scared of terrorism that they are prepared to sign away their civil rights in the name of security. Our government is filling that demand by spying on its own citizens, including the press, with the connivance of their corporate allies (e.g., the telcos and ChoicePoint). We also have a global penal archipelago, constructed by private contractors and legitimized by the state's insistence that anything goes in the war on terror, including torture, kidnapping (rendition), and the suspension of habeas corpus.
6. Xenophobia. Fear of outsiders is a cardinal feature of Fascism. Contemporary examples of this ugly trend include anti-immigrant rhetoric, the further militarization our borders, and Bush's proposal to create permanent second-class citizens (guest workers) who will work cheap without voting, organizing, or sharing any part of the American dream.
Our government and its mouthpieces engage in constant fear mongering about outsiders scheming against the American way of life, be they terrorists, Islamists, Old Europeans, the UN, or the Axis of Evil.
7. The cult of anxious masculinity. Like the Fascists of old, Bush and his toadies thoroughly besotted romantic ideas of Decisive Action, Will, and Violent Struggle. They cheer for macho pageantry like Commander Codpiece's "mission accomplished" aircraft carrier stunt.
Like the old Fascists, many contemporary Republicans exhibit an uneasy mix of homophobia an homophilia.
Other areas of overlap between Republicans and Fascists: Contempt for the feminine. Contempt for contemplation and deliberation. Contempt for compassion. Contempt for reason.
8. Control over women's bodies and the family unit. The Fascists were very concerned with controlling women's bodies. The man's dominance within the traditional family is an integral plank of Fascist ideology. Many Republicans share the same overwhelming preoccupation. Women are, after all, the source of future cannon fodder for perpetual war, the guardians of traditional virtue, and keepers home and hearth.
Check out our government's new Forever Pregnant guidelines, exhorting America's fertile women to live in a perpetual state of "pre-pregnancy." Remember how religious politics trumped science in the Plan B fiasco?
9. Propaganda. The right wing media contribute to the corporate state by supplying an endless stream of jingoistic imagery, fake news, and political theater (see, Corporate State, above).
The state itself gets into the act all too often. Government-produced fake news clips and shills like Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher are just two examples of this disturbing trend. I haven't even addressed the administration's attempts censor the news from Iraq, or the disturbing allegations regarding its hostility towards American and non-American journalists in the theater of war.
10. Distrust of science, expertise, and open debate. A few contemporary instances: David Horowitz's academic freedom bills, the subordination of scientific experts to ideologues in government agencies, and the politicization of reproductive health policies at home and abroad. The current administration denied global warming in the face of scientific consensus and intimidated and censored its own scientists to uphold the party line.
Once again, I am not arguing the the US government is fascist, or that it's necessarily going to become fascist, or that anyone in charge is deliberately trying to turn us into fascists. I am arguing that the current regime demonstrates many of the self-reinforcing attitudes, values, and policies that defined Mussolini's ideology of Fascism and that were embodied by Fascist states in the 20th century.
For whatever reason, Fascism and modern Republicanism share a set of ideas that has enduring appeal, especially when combined as an ideological package. I have attempted to show how these tendencies are mutually reinforcing and self-perpetuating. It is a mistake to ask how far fascism has "crept up" on us. Instead, we should be focusing on how unchecked militarism and corporate statism are already undermining our freedom, regardless of whether these fixtures of American politics are harbingers of an even darker future.