Friday, December 03, 2004

I started thinking about the subject of fascism when I read this Bill O'Reilly-esque diatribe critiquing an Orcinus post which makes the suggestion that the Republican Party is becoming the party of fascism. This made me curious as I had never really looked into the subject of what the ideas fascism was based on were. I looked around on the Internets and I found a bunch of definitions that appeared to be aimed at Republicans. This seemed to me to be kind of unfair, and so I pressed on. Finally, I found what I consider to be a good definition of Fascism from Wikipedia, and it got me thinking.

To me, the most defining characteristic of fascism is that it places the state ahead of everything else. To quote from Mussolini "Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State" In contrast, American democracy was founded on the idea that preserving individual freedom was the most important principle of governance. That being the case the principles of fascism and democracy are directly opposed over the issue of whether the needs of the state outweigh the rights of an individual. This debate sometimes takes place under the guise of government placing limits on our liberty for "our own good."

I think that the only sense in which Orcinus is incorrect is that he is too easy on liberals. Although here are elements of the contemporary conservative movement that overtly push for what I consider to be fascist policy elements, there are also Democratic groups that wish to implement similar goals. The shame of American "democracy" is that both parties are complicit in America's drift towards fascism.

In the Wikipedia article it also talks about corporativism as being an element of fascism. Corporativism (or alternately corporatism) isn't just the involvement of corporations in government, but the idea that collective groups, rather then individuals, should be involved in making policy. This correlates with everything from the AARP to the United States Chamber of Commerce. It can also include the involvement of corporations in government, but it is broader then just that. The closest idea today might be interest groups.

I find this entire subject fascinating. If I could recommend one thing it would be to read the entire Wikipedia entry on fascism and think about how it relates to American politics today. Is fascism on the increase in America? I suspect that the increasing polarization of politics plays a part in whatever increase of fascism exists, but how does this occur? Another question would be, is there a particular group behind an increase in fascism, or is an increase in fascism an accident of the political situation? I feel that there are enough differences between the current American political situation and fascism that a different name would be appropriate, but what should it be?

I intend to spend some time adding to this post, so check back if you want to see any developments.

Added: In the comments John Ray links to this essay where he gives his point of view on the modern left as a rehashing of old fascist ideas.

What I am coming to realize is that the topic of fascism in current trends of American government is more complicated then I had at first considered. Both Orcinus and John Ray make an error by attributing quotes and ideas to a broad category of people rather then individuals. This lets them represent the entire political party they oppose as a monolithic entity. For instance Orcinus says: "A favorite conservative theme is a dread of national decline under the corrosive effects of liberalism, often identifying it with equally dreaded alien influences." There certainly are some conservatives who hold this view, but there are also conservatives who don't agree with it. Similarly, John Ray says: "Modern-day Leftists too seem to seek influence outside the normal democratic channels -- from strikes and demonstrations to often successful attempts to get the courts to make law." Again, true of some leftists but certainly not all. Both of the themes of the quotes are fascist themes, and serve more to identify fascist elements within each political party than to identify one party or the other as fascist.


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