Republicanism vs. Fascism: A Simple Test

I recently made a little crack about there being little difference between the current incarnation of the Republican party and fascism. And while I’m certainly not averse to making generalizations for purposes of humor (“never let the truth get in the way of a good story”), I decided to test my assertion. Using Dr. Paul M. Johnson’s on-line Glossary of Political Economy Terms (just because it happened to be readily available) for a working definition of fascism, I decided to do a little comparison. Johnson recognizes several differences in the various fascist movements, but points out nine common features, which I’ll paraphrase below with my own annotations (in most cases, hyperlinks are to Johnson’s own definitions).

One, “militant nationalism,” ardent belief in the inherent superiority of one’s own race and culture. Hello! This one’s pretty much a no-brainer. Combine implicit (or explicit) racism and hyper-Americanism (or at least their brand of Americanism) and you’ve pretty much got the definition of the Republican ideal.

Two, the elevation of a single national leader to near-superhuman status. True, little George is touted as the greatest thing since sliced bread, but can you say “Reagan”?

Three, the assertion of the overriding importance of absolute national unity, with the use of secret police and censorship without regard to constitutional restrictions, that unity — naturally — to be subject to the dominion of the leader (or leaders). Anyone who’s listened to all the recent garbage about America having to “speak with one voice” and observed the flagrantly illegal treatment of so-called “detainees” (including American citizens) of late can attest to the veracity of this one.

Four, extreme anti-Communism. Granted, the alleged Communist threat is no longer what it once was, but they’ll still bring it up as a fallback bogeyman (with little or no distinction made between the political ideology of Communism and the largely dictatorial states that claim to practice it).

Five, the denigration of socialism, democratic capitalism, and liberalism, to the point of assertion that they are severely detrimental to the good of the nation. Well, the socialism and liberalism digs are obvious (even left-leaning Democrats won’t call themselves “liberals” anymore), and if we accept “democratic capitalism” as capitalism based on broad participation by the people in the capitalist process — as opposed to “plutocratic capitalism,” in which the already wealthy are advantaged in the capitalist system — then I think we’ve got another winner.

Six, the idealization of strength, unquestioning loyalty and military readiness. “Strength” in the purely physical sense might be open to question, but the last two are clear: It seems nobody’s willing to criticize the military anymore, and no matter what, “we must all support our president.”

Seven, widespread use of propaganda via the manipulation of mass media, which are “totally monopolized by the regime.” Hmmm... strictly speaking, the mass media haven’t been monopolized, but the relaxation of the rules on corporate ownership of media outlets (amusingly satirized by Art Buchwald) sure as hell points in that direction. I think for all practical purposes, this one’s a go.

Eight, the pursuit of “a militaristic and aggressive foreign policy.” Let’s see... the alienation of Europe, the illegal invasion of a foreign nation... done.

And nine, the “regulation and control of the economy” through economic planning, subjecting both workers and capitalists to strict government scrutiny, but still preserving private ownership. The idea is that the interests of the regime are superior to those of the people, and markets tend to favor cartels or monopolies. Now on this last point I can see substantial, legitimate argument. Strictly speaking, the Republicans usually favor competitive markets over strict government controls. And economic planning and control is exercised pretty much across the board. Then again, one need only look at the whole Microsoft fiasco to see that — at least in some cases — monopolies are treated with much more sympathy than under the preceding administration. I’ll have to concede that the jury’s still out on this one.

So according to (my interpretation of) Dr. Johnson’s criteria, the Republican party is 8/9 (approximately 89%) synonymous with fascism (I know, I know, that’s not statistically accurate, given that we have no relative weighting of the characteristics, but see my first paragraph above). According to another evaluation being tossed around the ’net lately, that of Dr. Laurence Britt, who enumerates 14 defining characteristics of fascism in his article Fascism Anyone?, the G.O.P.’s 14 for 14 (though to be fair, Britt makes a more generalized argument about the state of the nation as a whole, rather than singling out the Republicans). Unlike many of the ’net pundits out there, I won’t parrot Britt’s points here; I believe the article stands on its own.

One of the strongest — and most valid — criticisms that can be leveled against a writer is the excessive use of hyperbole to make a point. To anyone with two brain cells to rub together, the validity of the argument is severely undermined by the exaggerated nature of the assertions. I don’t claim to be a great political thinker; off the top of my head, I can list several of my own readers who are eminently more qualified on that front.

But believe me, I’m probably the most surprised of anyone to discover that I really wasn’t exaggerating at all.

“Classic” reader comments:

Not a left-wing propagandist · Tue, Jun 3rd 2003, at 2:37AM

While I'm not responding to your nine points specifically, I had already written a detailed response to Britt's "Fascism, Anyone?", and I thought that since you had linked to it on your site, I'd post my response on your site as well. I think Britt's piece is far off base, and here's why:

It is clear, from the beginning where the author states, "fascism's principles are wafting in the air today," that his is no mere disinterested discourse on fascism. In making these fourteen points, he words them explicitly to draw parallels with contemporary America, regardless of the mitigating factors that must be weighed against every single "characteristic." He states this plan himself, when he writes that exposing the modus operandi of generalized fascism is necessary to "shed needed light on current circumstances."

Let's look at each "characteristic":

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism -- Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

What he doesn't say is that overt nationalism is often required of the populace by the fascist regime - patriotic displays are the law, and there are legal penalties for noncompliance. In the U.S., people put out flags because they want to show support for and belief in their country, not because of some government demand or master plan that they do so. In fact, public flag burning is LEGAL, and occasionally occurs in the U.S., and despite numerous attempts over various administrations to work an anti-flag-burning amendment into the Constitution, it has never passed.

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights -- Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need". The people tend to 'look the other way' or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

This claim, that the current administration has a disdain for human rights, is absolutely preposterous. How else can one explain the military's surgical precision in Iraq, not bombing hospitals or other non-Saddam buildings, giving food and water to the Iraqis, fattening up emaciated POW's in U.S. military prisons, and the rest? How does one explain a fifteen BILLION dollar international U.S. investment in AIDS prevention and treatment in Africa? This is the most pro-human rights administration in recent memory.

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause -- The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

1. al Qaeda destroyed the World Trade Center and a section of the Pentagon, killing three thousand Americans, and took gleeful responsibility for those acts.

2. Saddam employed poison gas to quell uprisings in his own country, and is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of his own people, to which the continually discovered mass graves give awful testament.

3. Time Magazine just did a horrendous exposé on the barbarity of Saddam's sons. It is hard to stomach.

These are the facts. They are not in dispute. It is logical to conclude, then, that Al Qaeda and Saddam & Sons are truly evil. Their actions are testament to this, and if we claim to be a country built on the values of goodness and truth, we must speak the truth and work to unseat evil.

4. Supremacy of the Military -- Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

The underlying assumption here is one of a "domestic agenda;" that is, that the government should be required to fix everything, to serve every need, pamper every person. In fact, the constitution's preamble contains specific references to courts and police, to "establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility," and to the military, to "provide for the common defence," but speaks only vaguely about a "domestic agenda" wherein the government will "promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity". In my reading, the assumption seems to be that once the systems of justice and defense are in place, they will ensure liberty, whose blessings will most certainly promote the general welfare. Hence, the military is always a primary duty of a national government - to defend one's borders and keep one's citizens safe, and to safeguard the liberty which provides dignity and frees energy for daily living.

5. Rampant Sexism -- The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Opposition to abortion is high, as is homophobia and anti-gay legislation and national policy.

These are hard points to make. There are large numbers of pro-abortion representatives in Congress, for example, and 30 years of chipping away at Roe v. Wade has had little legal effect (alas!). With the numbers of women Reps and Senators, and with Condoleeza Rice, Christine Todd Whitman, Elaine Chao, Gale Norton, and other women in top administrative positions, the charge of sexism is also very difficult to defend.

6. Controlled Mass Media -- Sometimes the media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or through sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in wartime, is very common.

Controlled Mass Media? Do you ever read the New York Times or watch CBS or CNN? These people regularly editorialize against almost every aspect of the administrative agenda, from the war to tax cuts to law enforcement. The mainstream media is clearly no friend of the current White House.

7. Obsession with National Security -- Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

We weren't afraid until we were attacked. The government didn't engender that fear; al Qaeda did.

8. Religion and Government are Intertwined -- Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions.

Bush speaks of God, of truth, and of justice; no monothestic religions are opposed to these concepts. Americans tend to be deeply religious people, and explaining difficult decisions by using concepts close to most people's individual conceptions of life seems common sense to me.

9. Corporate Power is Protected -- The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

While businesses can support political action committees and individual candidates, who then make advertisements pushing a particular candidate or issue, it is still the individual voters who, upon entering the voting machines, select government leaders. Business "aristocracy" does not choose national leaders; in fact, how many leaders of that very "aristocracy" have recently been deposed of their leadership positions? Would a government that had been chosen by business leaders willingly let so many of its "allies" depart their posts, and in such disgrace?

10. Labor Power is Suppressed -- Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely or are severely suppressed.

Labor unions have been declining in power and relevance in this country for decades, due in part to their well-documented history of resorting to violence to keep away nonunion replacement employees. In fact, one of the few places where labor unions are still firmly entrenched is in government! Almost every kind of government employee is belongs to a union of some sort, which is not unrelated to the quality of service one receives at most government offices.

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts -- Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts is openly attacked, and governments often refuse to fund the arts.

An underlying assumption here is that government has a duty to fund the arts. It does not. Free expression in the arts is certainly not being attacked - there were thousands of poets who emailed anti-war "poems" to the White House, for instance, and there were no arrests for that. In fact, it is higher education, in this country, which harbors the open hostility to this administration, and not the other way around.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment -- Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses, and even forego civil liberties, in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

There is no national police force here. The National Guard may be the closest thing we have, but Guardsmen do not have regular patrols, don't "walk a beat," like cops do. (There are Guardsmen out in airports and train stations these days, but they are certainly not disseminated throughout the entire country. Their current employ is as a site-specific security precaution, not as a national overseer.) There have been huge shake-ups in major police forces, over the last decade or so (think NYC and LA) over perceived abuses of police power. Even the modest increases in anti-terrorist law-enforcement technology signed into law by John Ashcroft have been excoriated in the press and subject to lawsuits. Limitless police power? No way.

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption -- Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions, and who use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

This sounds a lot more like Bill Clinton, who pardoned 140 people (friends, contributors, and fellow lawbreakers) right before he left office and then stole a bunch of the White House furniture on his way out.

14. Fraudulent Elections -- Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against (or even the assassination of) opposition candidates, the use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and the manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

This is an old rehashing of the Bush v. Gore debate of 2000. Of the over 40 lawsuits filed in the aftermath of that election, only 2 of them were initiated by the Bush campaign. The rest of them were filed by Gore, who was trying to bend the rules any way possible in order to win Florida. For an excellent detailing of Bush v. Gore specifically, see this column.

William R. Coughlan · Wed, Jun 4th 2003, at 5:49PM

First of all, thanks for contributing feedback, all the more welcome in that it’s clear you didn’t just randomly post your response without reading the context in which it was placed. That said, I must add that first, your response doesn’t really address my contention — which, biased though it surely is — was at least intended to be a little more objective in its supporting material (one of the reasons I didn’t focus on Britt’s essay, but tried to produce my own). And second, while you make several valid points, I must respectfully disagree on several others.

In your commentary on Britt’s first point, you mention repeated efforts — which, though not exclusively Republican in origin, are gladly claimed by that party — to pass laws (up to and including a Constitutional amendment) which would outlaw flag-burning as a means of free expression. I would argue that the fact that they have not yet succeeded in their efforts does not make the efforts any more palatable. (Note also that Britt contends — though perhaps not explicitly — that America has already become a de facto fascist state, whereas I argue that the Republican party has become fascist in nature, and under the current regime, we are well on our way to becoming such a state.)

Under Britt’s second condition, I have to laugh. To call this regime "the most pro-human rights administration in recent memory” is absolutely preposterous — unless, I suppose, your definition of “recent memory” is “since Bush assumed the office of president.” The “fattening up” of POWs — or other, illegally held “detainees” (a repugnant euphemism if ever I’ve heard one) — can in no way justify their unlawful retention. I’ll allow that, at the time of your writing, you were unaware of the release of the OIG report (a recap of which is available here) of the rampant abuses of those detainees.

Regarding condition three: Al Qaeda is bad. Saddam is bad. Ergo Al Qaeda = Saddam. I figured out the fallacy there well before I’d even taken a basic logic course; apparently, you haven’t quite reached that point yet. If Saddam is evil, the case must be made — independently — for action against him. Attempting to justify an invasion by drawing a connection between him and “the terrorists” is reprehensible.

Point four: Your bias shows in your use of anti-“liberal” buzzwords (“fix everything, to serve every need, pamper every person”). And I don’t think anyone is arguing that a strong military force is a fundamental governmental duty. But I would also argue that the Constitution does not — and, under modern-day interpretation, need not — mandate every societal priority (there’s a states-rights case to be made here, but you don’t appear to be making it). But now, hell, nobody’ll even question the military, let alone question their objectives. No matter what, we must all “support the troops.” (Not that that’s all a bad thing, but I do think it’s a gross overcompensation for the abuse the military suffered after Vietnam.) And if anyone doubts Bush’s glorification of the military, one need only witness little George’s latest photo op on board the USS Abraham Lincoln.

Five: Again, your stripes are showing (alas). And while, practically speaking, sexism is declining, to imply that the Republican party is open-minded about deviation from traditional gender roles is patently absurd.

Six: Have you read a newspaper during the past few weeks? Despite token allowance of “alternative views,” the dismantling of FCC restrictions regarding media outlet ownership play directly into the hands of pro-Republican über-corporations. Just last week, Donald Rumsfeld was given a radio show which preempted regular programming on CBS radio affiliates? Why? ’Cause CBS is kissing Republican ass, that’s why.

Point seven: You’re simply spouting empty catch-phrases rather than actually making an argument; it sounds like a tag line from a bad action movie. The Bush regime has used the legitimate fear engendered by the events of September 11 to trample decades of civil rights accomplishments. I’m sorry, but Britt is dead-on right on this one.

As to point eight: Ah, the old “God is on our side” rhetoric. Sure, it’s shrewd strategy — the one way to make sure everybody wants what you want is to convince them that it’s God’s will. Invoking God as frequently as Bush does is deliberate manipulation on his part. He’s as base as those who would invoke any deity... oh, say, Allah, just to pick an example... to justify their actions.

Nine: Even the most rigid of autocratic regimes must have scapegoats. In this case, it was simply a matter of weighing the costs and benefits: Protecting their “allies” would have simply cost too much in terms of recovery costs. They weren’t worth the damage control. And anyone who thinks that the unadulterated will of the people is what elects our leaders is woefully naive.

Ten: The legitimacy or benefit of labor unions is not at issue. The current administration is overtly anti-labor, and has made every effort to destroy the very governmental labor unions you point to (particularly in the formation of the Homeland Security department). Britt’s point hasn’t been refuted.

Condition eleven: Bush was able to garner enough votes to steal the election largely on the basis of his anti-intellectualism; hell, he’s the anti-intellectual poster boy. And the Republican party regularly engages in censorship attempts (e.g., Giuliani vs. The Brooklyn Museum of Art) — pointing out one instance in which censorship didn’t happen hardly proves the inverse. I’d also add that “open hostility” toward this administration — particularly among those smart enough not to be taken in by Bush’s “aw, shucks” routine — is absolutely warranted.

Twelve: “Modest increases in anti-terrorist law enforcement technology”? Are you out of your mind? Have you read the relevant sections of the USA PATRIOT Act or “Patriot II”? And the FBI, NSA, ATF, and other arms of the Justice Department may not be de jure national police forces, but they sure as hell act like it.

Thirteen: Let’s see... handing a bunch of Iraqi reconstruction contracts to your VP’s old comrades at Halliburton. Or, hell, starting a war with the express purpose of having Iraq withdraw from OPEC, thereby crushing that organization’s barganining power (oh, we’ll make up some crap about “al Qaeda” and “weapons of mass destruction” to sell it, of course). That’ll make your oil buddies happy...

And finally, point fourteen: Bush was handed the election by a Republican-stacked Supreme Court, in a state governed by his brother, with an attorney general who was his former campaign co-chair. Yes, Gore used the legal means at his disposal under Florida law to ensure an accurate result; Bush pulled out the bigger guns. As far as I’m concerned, this can’t be rehashed enough. And providing a link to an overtly partisan critique — not of the election itself — but a book about the election, hardly constitutes supporting evidence. Even so, I’d argue this is more a reference to the weasel Tom DeLay’s unapologetic attempts to gerrymander districts in Colorado and Texas.

Do I think Britt’s essay is completely accurate? No. But unfortunately, I don’t think you’ve made as effective a counter-argument as you’d intended.


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