In the spring of 2003, ex-corporate executive and political scientist Lawrence W. Britt published an essay in Free Inquiry magazine entitled “Fascism Anyone?” In his work, Britt examined the traits of the two governments that formed the original historical model for fascism, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, and five other protofascist regimes that imitated that model, Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal, Papadopoulos’s Greece, Pinochet’s Chile, and Suharto’s Indonesia. He identified 14 characteristics that were common to all of them.
These traits have since been widely accepted as the 14 defining characteristics of fascism.
Nearly three generations removed from the horrors of Nazi Germany, all of these regimes have been overthrown, but fascism’s principles can still be found in many nations. History tends to repeat itself because many leaders and nations fail to learn from history, or they draw the wrong conclusions. Sadly, historical amnesia is the norm in the world today.
In the U.S., leaders, teachers, media and citizens proudly claim that America is a democratic society with certain freedoms and rights guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution, Bill of Rights and rule of law. But is that really the case?
A close look at the 14 characteristics of fascism in light of what has changed in America in the past few years may raise some questions as to whether or not Americans truly live in a democratic society.
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 xenophobia.
Drive down any street in suburban or small-town America and witness the amount of flags flying, flag stickers on mailboxes, ribbon stickers on vehicles and patriotic tee shirts. Then-Senator Obama was criticized during his 2007 campaign for not wearing the ubiquitous flag lapel pin that many politicians wear. Nearly everyone has heard catchy slogans such as “Freedom isn’t Free,” “God Bless America” and “Support the Troops.” Borderline xenophobia is exemplified when french fries were renamed “freedom fries” in D.C. cafeterias. The fear of “illegals” taking scarce jobs has been written into legislation in states such as Arizona, where failure to carry immigration documents is a crime. Your papers, please?
This characteristic may be the most innocuous one of the 14. Americans have always had a strong sense of patriotic nationalism and there is nothing inherently wrong with that. But patriotic symbolism and nationalistic legislation have been taken to a new level in the years since the first Gulf war when the first yellow ribbons were placed on trees.
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.
The use of extraordinary rendition, military tribunals instead of public trials, the refusal to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” are good examples of human rights violations. Many were done in secrecy until the information was leaked to the press. Capturing people and imprisoning them without charges is repeatedly called “extraordinary rendition” in the media, simulated drowning is called “waterboarding,” refusing the right to a fair trial a “military tribunal” and torture “enhanced interrogation.” All are good examples of the use of propaganda to make these practices palatable to the American people.
Disdain for human rights in the U.S. has never been more apparent than in recent years. The rights of free speech and assembly obviously do not apply to the over 6700 citizens that have been arrested and the many that have been beaten and pepper-sprayed since the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement began last September.
These practices would probably have caused public outrage at any time in U.S. history before the new millennium, but now are accepted by many Americans as necessary tools in the “War on Terror,” (itself a slogan). Ask anyone present at recent OWS demonstrations how “free” they think Americans are now.
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.
The most readily identifiable scapegoats for Americans now are Muslims. Saddam Hussein was the ultimate scapegoat. It was easy for the Bush administration to rally the American people behind the invasion and occupation of Iraq by suggesting Saddam Hussein had ties to Al Qaida, which Bush later denied, and by repeatedly stating that Iraq had WMDs, which were never found.
There is a difference, however, between fascism today and the right-wing ideology that it embodied under Hitler and Mussolini. Modern fascism uses the left-right dialectic to maintain control over a divided populace. American politicians, citizens and media on both sides of the political spectrum continually use scapegoats to shift blame for failures and misdirect anger: liberals, conservatives, socialists, capitalists, bible-thumpers, atheists, blacks, welfare queens, tree-huggers, etc., etc. The list of labels used in name-calling and blaming goes on and on. Meanwhile, few if any real solutions are offered for problems such as unemployment, inflation, corruption on Wall Street and government spending.
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.
The U.S. government spends more on defense than anything else and more than the next 14 largest defense-spending nations combined. When the need for budget cuts are debated, politicians usually take aim at “entitlement” programs and social programs, while expressing concern that “military spending cuts are a risk to our national security.”
While Americans pay for the military to invade and occupy sovereign nations, millions of Americans lack access to affordable healthcare. The U.S. is the only country in the “developed” world that does not have a tax-payer funded healthcare system. Infrastructure is literally crumbling. Students in other industrial nations are outperforming U.S. students in math, science and reading. Yet all other departments, including Health and Human Services ($71.7 billion), the Department of Education ($69.8 billion), and Housing and Urban Development ($35.3 billion), must operate with the remaining $410 billion of discretionary spending. Read on...