[Paleopsych] Free Inquiry: Laurence W. Britt: Fascism Anyone?
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Laurence W. Britt: Fascism Anyone?
Council for Secular Humanism
October 15, 2005
The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 23,
Free Inquiry readers may pause to read the "Affirmations of Humanism:
A Statement of Principles" on the inside cover of the magazine. To a
secular humanist, these principles seem so logical, so right, so
crucial. Yet, there is one archetypal political philosophy that is
anathema to almost all of these principles. It is fascism. And
fascism's principles are wafting in the air today, surreptitiously
masquerading as something else, challenging everything we stand for.
The cliché that people and nations learn from history is not only
overused, but also overestimated; often we fail to learn from history,
or draw the wrong conclusions. Sadly, historical amnesia is the norm.
We are two-and-a-half generations removed from the horrors of Nazi
Germany, although constant reminders jog the consciousness. German and
Italian fascism form the historical models that define this twisted
political worldview. Although they no longer exist, this worldview and
the characteristics of these models have been imitated by protofascist
regimes at various times in the twentieth century. Both the original
German and Italian models and the later protofascist regimes show
remarkably similar characteristics. Although many scholars question
any direct connection among these regimes, few can dispute their
Beyond the visual, even a cursory study of these fascist and
protofascist regimes reveals the absolutely striking convergence of
their modus operandi. This, of course, is not a revelation to the
informed political observer, but it is sometimes useful in the
interests of perspective to restate obvious facts and in so doing shed
needed light on current circumstances.
For the purpose of this perspective, I will consider the following
regimes: Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Franco's Spain, Salazar's
Portugal, Papadopoulos's Greece, Pinochet's Chile, and Suharto's
Indonesia. To be sure, they constitute a mixed bag of national
identities, cultures, developmental levels, and history. But they all
followed the fascist or protofascist model in obtaining, expanding,
and maintaining power. Further, all these regimes have been
overthrown, so a more or less complete picture of their basic
characteristics and abuses is possible.
Analysis of these seven regimes reveals fourteen common threads that
link them in recognizable patterns of national behavior and abuse of
power. These basic characteristics are more prevalent and intense in
some regimes than in others, but they all share at least some level of
1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism. From the
prominent displays of flags and bunting to the ubiquitous lapel pins,
the fervor to show patriotic nationalism, both on the part of the
regime itself and of citizens caught up in its frenzy, was always
obvious. Catchy slogans, pride in the military, and demands for unity
were common themes in expressing this nationalism. It was usually
coupled with a suspicion of things foreign that often bordered on
2. Disdain for the importance of human rights. The regimes themselves
viewed human rights as of little value and a hindrance to realizing
the objectives of the ruling elite. Through clever use of propaganda,
the population was brought to accept these human rights abuses by
marginalizing, even demonizing, those being targeted. When abuse was
egregious, the tactic was to use secrecy, denial, and disinformation.
3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause. The most
significant common thread among these regimes was the use of
scapegoating as a means to divert the people's attention from other
problems, to shift blame for failures, and to channel frustration in
controlled directions. The methods of choice--relentless propaganda
and disinformation--were usually effective. Often the regimes would
incite "spontaneous" acts against the target scapegoats, usually
communists, socialists, liberals, Jews, ethnic and racial minorities,
traditional national enemies, members of other religions, secularists,
homosexuals, and "terrorists." Active opponents of these regimes were
inevitably labeled as terrorists and dealt with accordingly.
4. The supremacy of the military/avid militarism. Ruling elites always
identified closely with the military and the industrial infrastructure
that supported it. A disproportionate share of national resources was
allocated to the military, even when domestic needs were acute. The
military was seen as an expression of nationalism, and was used
whenever possible to assert national goals, intimidate other nations,
and increase the power and prestige of the ruling elite.
5. Rampant sexism. Beyond the simple fact that the political elite and
the national culture were male-dominated, these regimes inevitably
viewed women as second-class citizens. They were adamantly
anti-abortion and also homophobic. These attitudes were usually
codified in Draconian laws that enjoyed strong support by the orthodox
religion of the country, thus lending the regime cover for its abuses.
6. A controlled mass media. Under some of the regimes, the mass media
were under strict direct control and could be relied upon never to
stray from the party line. Other regimes exercised more subtle power
to ensure media orthodoxy. Methods included the control of licensing
and access to resources, economic pressure, appeals to patriotism, and
implied threats. The leaders of the mass media were often politically
compatible with the power elite. The result was usually success in
keeping the general public unaware of the regimes' excesses.
7. Obsession with national security. Inevitably, a national security
apparatus was under direct control of the ruling elite. It was usually
an instrument of oppression, operating in secret and beyond any
constraints. Its actions were justified under the rubric of protecting
"national security," and questioning its activities was portrayed as
unpatriotic or even treasonous.
8. Religion and ruling elite tied together. Unlike communist regimes,
the fascist and protofascist regimes were never proclaimed as godless
by their opponents. In fact, most of the regimes attached themselves
to the predominant religion of the country and chose to portray
themselves as militant defenders of that religion. The fact that the
ruling elite's behavior was incompatible with the precepts of the
religion was generally swept under the rug. Propaganda kept up the
illusion that the ruling elites were defenders of the faith and
opponents of the "godless." A perception was manufactured that
opposing the power elite was tantamount to an attack on religion.
9. Power of corporations protected. Although the personal life of
ordinary citizens was under strict control, the ability of large
corporations to operate in relative freedom was not compromised. The
ruling elite saw the corporate structure as a way to not only ensure
military production (in developed states), but also as an additional
means of social control. Members of the economic elite were often
pampered by the political elite to ensure a continued mutuality of
interests, especially in the repression of "have-not" citizens.
10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated. Since organized labor was
seen as the one power center that could challenge the political
hegemony of the ruling elite and its corporate allies, it was
inevitably crushed or made powerless. The poor formed an underclass,
viewed with suspicion or outright contempt. Under some regimes, being
poor was considered akin to a vice.
11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts.
Intellectuals and the inherent freedom of ideas and expression
associated with them were anathema to these regimes. Intellectual and
academic freedom were considered subversive to national security and
the patriotic ideal. Universities were tightly controlled; politically
unreliable faculty harassed or eliminated. Unorthodox ideas or
expressions of dissent were strongly attacked, silenced, or crushed.
To these regimes, art and literature should serve the national
interest or they had no right to exist.
12. Obsession with crime and punishment. Most of these regimes
maintained Draconian systems of criminal justice with huge prison
populations. The police were often glorified and had almost unchecked
power, leading to rampant abuse. "Normal" and political crime were
often merged into trumped-up criminal charges and sometimes used
against political opponents of the regime. Fear, and hatred, of
criminals or "traitors" was often promoted among the population as an
excuse for more police power.
13. Rampant cronyism and corruption. Those in business circles and
close to the power elite often used their position to enrich
themselves. This corruption worked both ways; the power elite would
receive financial gifts and property from the economic elite, who in
turn would gain the benefit of government favoritism. Members of the
power elite were in a position to obtain vast wealth from other
sources as well: for example, by stealing national resources. With the
national security apparatus under control and the media muzzled, this
corruption was largely unconstrained and not well understood by the
14. Fraudulent elections. Elections in the form of plebiscites or
public opinion polls were usually bogus. When actual elections with
candidates were held, they would usually be perverted by the power
elite to get the desired result. Common methods included maintaining
control of the election machinery, intimidating and disenfranchising
opposition voters, destroying or disallowing legal votes, and, as a
last resort, turning to a judiciary beholden to the power elite.
Does any of this ring alarm bells? Of course not. After all, this is
America, officially a democracy with the rule of law, a constitution,
a free press, honest elections, and a well-informed public constantly
being put on guard against evils. Historical comparisons like these
are just exercises in verbal gymnastics. Maybe, maybe not.
1. Defined as a "political movement or regime tending toward or
imitating Fascism"--Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
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Death. Coral Gables, Florida: North-South Center Press, 2001.
Yglesias, Jose. The Franco Years. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1977.
Laurence Britt's novel, June, 2004, depicts a future America dominated
by right-wing extremists.
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