How Fascism Works
by Jason Stanley 2018
Book Review by Ray Herrmann
Fascism is defined by the author as: Ultranationalism of some variety (Ethnic, Religious, and Cultural) with an authoritarian ("strong man") leader. It is characterized by its reference to a mythic past of "Law and Order", grouping people into "us" vs. "them" and nostalgic appeals to "the Heartland".
Our world is increasingly threatened by the affects of inequality, exacerbated by Climate Change and by an increasing population all seeking betterment in a finite world. So as fears rise, Fascist politics sprouts as a false solution to our woes, followed by an authoritarian leader who misdirects our sentiment to gain popularity and take office. It is false because it gets its power by marginalizing one group with the blame, thus leading to retaliations eventually becoming genocidal.
Characteristics of Fascism as noted in the book: Taken separately, some seem benign however a preponderance of matches points to Fascism. As you read through these attributes, it is easy to see how one supports the other, thus forming a seemingly attractive solution.
- Division is the most telling symptom of fascism.
- Groups people into "us" vs."them" with "us" being exceptional and "them" being scorned (scapegoats to our plight).
- Fascism thrives on inequality because inequality fosters resentments and fears of loss.
- It is the politics of Hate (an overwhelming emotion), setting citizens against one another.
- Evokes a pure mythic past (a longing for "The Good Old Days").
- Often appeals to the Heartland.
- A misuse of terms to distort one's interpretation: Someone who commits a crime is not necessarily a "criminal" in the same sense that someone running for a bus is not a "runner" (The term "criminal" should not apply the same for a serial killer as for a traffic violator).
- Seeks to put blame for "our" plight on other groups (Muslims, Arabs, Jews, Immigrants, Mexicans …).
- Strong appeal to "Law and Order". Those who don't fit perceived roles are declared in violation and persecuted.
- Seeks to undermine trust in the Press ("Fake News") and in Universities ("Elites"). Once these experts are de-legitimized, fascists are free to create their own realities.
- Imposes a hierarchy of politics, where members realize their rightful place and the leader reigns supreme.
- Features a Hierarchy of Power (a Patriarchy where women know their place, as in the "Good Old Days").
- Fascist politics seeks to undermine the credibility of institutions that harbor independent voices.
- Often refers to "them" as Lazy, allowing government to force a cure by cutting social programs.
- Movements share the view of Social Darwinism ("Survival of the Fittest" or "Law of the Jungle"). Those who do not compete successfully do not deserve the goods and resources of society. Disabled persons are seen as "worthless" thus not deserving. In contrast, Liberal Democracy grants worth, independent of victory or struggle.
- Seeks to break Unions so its people become more dependent on the Party ("Right to Work" is an Orwellian name for legislation that attacks workers ability to collectively bargain).
- Uses subtle ways to breach Freedom and Equality without explicitly appearing to do so.
Notes supporting our vulnerability to Fascist Politics:
- People are ripe for fascist bias. A 2013 study showed that people tend to forget negative historical events.
- Plato noted that people are not naturally led to self-government, preferring instead, a strong leader to follow.
- Reasoning does not attract, Emotion does. In politics, words are used for their emotion.
- A War for Power becomes a "War for Freedom" (even though we yield our freedom to a strong man).
- The function of conspiracy theories is to impugn or malign their targets, not to convert their audience.
- What dictator, King or Emperor has not suspected he was chosen by God for his role.
- Steve Bannon (Feb 2018) said: anger and fear is what gets people to the poles.
- Fascists evoke Nature as an example supporting their right to lead and purge the weak ("Survival of the Fittest"), noting that Nature supports Inequality. For them, the principle of equality is a denial of Natural Law. Their thinking supports slavery. But compare it to life under Liberal Democracy, which grants worth independent of victory or struggle.
- Studies show that incarceration itself leads to an increase in crime (so beware of those who propose to be "tough on crime").
- Fascist movements have been "Draining the Swamps" for centuries.
- A common misperception is that Blacks are "Welfare Queens" however most welfare recipients are White.
- Our suffering seems more bearable if we know that those who we look down upon are made to suffer more.
- Distortion of "normalcy": Our sense of what is "Statistically Normal" and "Ideally Normal" is varying and changing. So what led us to outrage yesterday is now seen as tolerable, moving the extraordinary into the ordinary, so we soon learn to live with atrocity.
Fascism is so popular (and thus so contagious) because:
- It plays on our emotions of fear of loss. Studies have consistently shown that two-thirds of humans resort to Emotion over Reason to make decisions whereas only one-third of us rely predominately on Reason.
- It plays on our nostalgia for a mythic past (“Good Old Days”) where things were better
- It diverts actions from ourselves to a strong man leader.
Some Examples of Fascism:
- India's nationalist party "Bharatiya Janata Party" (BJP) called for a return to a fictional patriarchal and harshly conservative past (its leading politicians regularly praised Hitler and Mussolini).
- Poland's "Law and Justice" Party (PiS): After winning a majority in 2015, granted government ministers the power to hire and hire broadcasting chiefs (media control). In a call to a return to the conservative "Christian social traditions" of rural Poland, they also tried to ban Abortion and Homosexuality.
- The Hutu movement in Rwanda rose to power in 1990 and published the "Hutu Ten Commandments", which declared as a traitor anyone who married a Tutsi woman (thus polluting the pure Hutu blood line). This pursuit of ethnic purity led to the 1994 genocide.
- Hungary elected Victor Orban prime minister in 2010. In 2011 he introduced "the Fundamental Law of Hungary" as their new constitution. Its goal was expressing pride in their (false) heritage: Centuries of defending Europe, stating "the role of Christianity in preserving nationhood" and and a promise of "an abiding need for spiritual and intellectual renewal" to "make Hungary great again". Patriarchy was declared to be a virtuous past practice whose protection from liberalism must be enshrined in the fundamental laws. Abortion was banned.
- In Myanmar, since 2017 the government as been trying to erase any trace of the Rohingya (Muslim) people.
- Turkey's Article 301 of its penal code outlaws insulting "Turkishness" or mentioning the Armenian genocide of World War 1
- Excerpts from Hitler (mostly taken from his Mein Kamph):
- "The relative ability of the masses is limited to a few points, so their understanding is small. They have a great power of forgetting." So confine propaganda to a few points.
- The aim of propaganda is to replace reasoned argument in the public sphere with irrational fears and passions.
- In true Germanic Democracy, dictatorship by a single individual is genuine democracy.
- Hitler was driven by "scientific reason" to the view that life is a merciless struggle for dominance.
- The Strong should rightly rule the weak.
- Fascist politics preys on the human frailty that makes our own suffering seem tolerable if we know those below us suffer more.
- All that we admire on earth (Science, Art, Technology, Inventions) is the creative product of only a small number of nations
- It was the Jews who brought the Negro to the Rhine with the clear goal of destroying the White race through bastardation. …that purulent herd in which the maggots of the Jewish community flourish and cause ultimate decay of the people.
- Hitler denounced welfare for robbing individuals of their capacity for economic independence.
- Hitler also denounced Unions, claiming they hinder efficiency in business and called for Unions to be repurposed to serve the nation.
- Notes on Donald Trump:
- He gave support white supremacists.
- Some of Trump's tactics were to blame immigrants, especially Mexicans and Muslims.
- Trump often mocked the weak.
- He became famous for his stream of lies to the point that we started counting them.
- Trump pressed for Law and Order while praising a killer and promising to pay for the defense of followers who pummeled his enemies.
- Some goals of his administration were to disparage scientific enterprise and eliminate social welfare.
There are a lot of references there to the statements and actions of former President Donald Trump. I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to determine if Trump is a fascist.