Monday, January 21, 2008

A New American Fascism

In The End of America, Naomi Wolf argues that the US is moving towards fascism. Similarly, Ron Paul has recently said that the US is developing a “soft fascism.” Interestingly enough, paleo-conservative libertarians like Paul and progressives liberals like Wolf seem to be equally disturbed about trends in the US. It is a legitimate question and one which bears serious investigation. If any society, which is relatively free, seems prepared to give up that freedom for security, true “patriots” must begin asking questions and demanding answers.

Part of the difficulty is that, as I have argued before, “fascism” is an all purpose charge with a historical resonance—it means “I don’t agree with your politics so therefore I will equate it with the worst political system I can imagine as a way of discrediting you.” Previously, I outlined characteristics of fascism largely drawn from Nazi Germany and Italy with some additions from other fascist-style movements. So is the US sliding to fascism based on these criteria?

There is no doubt that their have been certain tendencies in this direction in recent years. Most nations are nationalistic in some form, the US is no different, however, because US nationalism is connected to a high powered military apparatus and transnational capitalism, US “nationalism” often takes the form of imperialism—something that few Americans grasp. Yes, according to international law, countries have the right to self-defense, however, does self-defense mean I can attack whomever I want whenever I perceive a threat, no matter how minute or irrational? Of course the answer is no, but it seems as if American political culture simply cannot process this. I do sense a growing “nationalism” in the US which mimics imperial justification. We have to fight them over there so we don’t fight them here—right?

Similarly, the naturalization of the corporate structure and planned capitalism in the US does create a certain reverence for martial like institutions and social hierarchy. We question particular leaders, but rarely the concept of leadership. That all presidential candidates run on their “leadership qualities” (which implicitly mean my ability and willingness to make the “tough decisions”—a code word for killing people) is a problem. That elections are more about manipulating public opinion than listening to it has naturalized propaganda as a form of public discourse. Which set of lies do you choose to believe? Additionally, there has been a growing siege mentality in the US—we are under siege from outside from Muslim terrorists, internally from Mexican immigrants. Although rarely is any connection posited between the two (except the occasional point that Muslims might get in through Mexico), the internal/external enemy issue is present.

In summary, I would say the US contains many of the traits of a fascist state. Thankfully, we don’t have a movement which can be designated as fascist. The closest we have are a few disparate groups which could provide the basis of a movement. Namely, anti-immigrant groups like the Minutemen, some religious right organizations, and hyper-nationalist individuals and groups which seek to maintain American cultural purity. These groups are in part motivated by “Golden Age” perfection myths—if we only went back to the “old days” of the Revolutionary generation we would have the Christian, slaveholding, genocidal nation that our founding fathers wanted, right? If these groups coalesced around a particular leader, or more likely, against a particular leader or party, it is possible to imagine an American fascism. Ironically, it seems like political right in the US is so hostile to populism of any sort (even right wing populism) that it is reluctant to attach itself too closely to any populist leader. The recent experience of Mike Huckabee is case and point. After his win in Iowa, neo-cons very quickly “vetoed” him, exposing the rift between the neo-cons and the theo-cons. It wasn’t obvious before, it certainly is now--neo-conservatives want theo-con votes, but not their input. From a neo-conservative perspective, his saving grace is that he supports the Iraq war, but I think Huckabee’s only chance is that he tones down is populist rhetoric and takes a backseat to a more trustworthy economic conservative.

In other words, Ron Paul is right in that the slide towards fascism has been “soft”—meaning that it is not associated with any particular party, nor with any definable political program. It has occurred “from above,” gently and gradually with multiple explanations for the drift—terrorists, drugs, illegal immigrants, crime, economic necessity, etc. Klein also wonders if it would be possible to have fascism and still retain elements of democracy—meaning that many Americans would be effectively insulated from the effects of fascism. I think this is quite possible. My biggest fear for America is that we will trade in our civil liberties, because we lose faith in the notion of individual liberty and popular rule, for the promise of cheaper gas, plastic shit from China, and the knowledge that a brown person is cleaning our toilets out of fear of being deported. It may not be fascism, but it certainly would be horrible—and very American.

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