What Fascism Isn’t

Coturnix has an impassioned post comparing the situation of the United States now to this of Yugoslavia in 1990, just before the fighting broke out. Like other bloggers writing about contemporary fascism in the US, he misses two crucial points. First, the new torture bill doesn’t change anything from previous American government practice; the atrocities the CIA has committed worldwide, even after the Cold War ended, show beyond any doubt that the difference between Bush and his predecessors is in the level of tact rather than in the level of harm.

And second, American democracy is structured in such a way that it can’t really be usurped by just one branch of government that oversteps its boundaries. Fascism won’t come from an imperial President; it will come from a mass movement of Dominionists, possibly but not necessarily allied with the militia movement.

Many of my friends and neighbors have not experienced, like I did in Yugoslavia of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the gradual transformation from a nice, sweet, proseprous, freedom-loving country into a bunch of thugs duking it out over land and religion. Tito was dead for ten years. Prime Minister was Ante Markovic. Thousands of small businesses were starting up every week. Small people were getting rich. There was ebullience in the air.

Then, in a manner eerily reminiscent of BuchCo, thugs like Milosevic, Tudjman and Izetbegovic hijacked the government and started a civil war, ending with a break up of one big strong country into six small, economically weak and dependent units.

That description is somewhat of an embellishment. Yugoslavia was never Switzerland. In 1990, it had been free from Tito’s grip for ten years; Weimar democracy fell after fourteen. The United States has something Yugoslavia didn’t have – a democratic tradition. It’s no coincidence that in the 1930s, the countries that resisted fascism were generally those with a longstanding democratic tradition: Britain, France, the US, Canada, and Switzerland, but not Germany, Poland, Hungary, or Austria.

Besides, in Yugoslavia there was something clear to fight about: ethnicity, and territorial boundaries. Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia had populist thugs fanning the flames against people of the wrong groups. The US has no such thing, except an amorphous enemy, terrorists. While terrorists are very useful to the government in its quest to oppress its citizens, they alone aren’t enough for a Bosnian-style genocide.

Glenn is optimistic.
He may be right, if we act right now. If not, within three years, I predict that Americans will be fighting Americans on American soil. Just a hunch. An eerie feeling of deja vu from someone who has seen the same signs fifteen years ago.

I don’t see much optimism in Glenn’s post – all I see is a more wonky explanation of my point that most Democrats don’t give a damn about civil liberties, and the unusually large contingent of no votes was exclusively the result of the exemption-for-4.6%-of-the-world amendment.

But anyway, Americans won’t fight Americans on American soil as long as there’s no internal enemy to fan the flames against. Just as Michelle Goldberg made a mistake in not tying in Dominionism to neoconservatism, so is Bora making a mistake in not properly viewing Dominionism as the main threat.

The key fact is that Bush hasn’t used terrorism to strike against atheists or gays, the two minorities Dominionists focus on. Falwell may have blamed secularism for 9/11, but Bush didn’t, and so far the Dominionists’ sole political success has been Alito (even Roberts drew negative comments from James Dobson).

I may have not lived in a country that descended to chaos or fascism, but I learned quite a lot about one. Germany’s usurpation of civil liberties began years before Hitler came to power; beginning in 1930, the Chancellor and the President had to continually use the infamous emergency power clause of the Weimar Constitution. It even violated some of the Versailles Treaty’s demilitarization clauses, though Hitler radically stepped those violations up.

The point is that Hitler didn’t come to power by winning an election and then slowly violating civil liberties in a trumped-up war. That would’ve taken too long. He used an internal enemy, communism, and made sure the people had just enough bare necessities to live and look the other way while he was building a totalitarian state.

14 Responses to What Fascism Isn’t

  1. coturnix says:

    To make my post scrisp and short, I used the word “Bush” as a stand-in for the evangelical movement. In two years, the movement will have someone else as their President who will replace Bush but it won’t matter one bit. US fascism does not rely on one-personality worship like Hitler and Stalin did – the personality worship can be switched every 4-8 years.

    Also, Serbia had a long history of parliamentary democracy before Tito, so you are innaccurate about the rest of what you say abot Tugoslavia. The ethnicity and religion were practically invented (dug out of deep recesses of national subconsciousness) in 1991 by those who wanted to break up the country.

  2. SLC says:

    Re Coturnix

    1. I will have to take some issue with Coturnix here relative to the situation in the former Yugoslavia. The fact of the matter is that the country was artifical to begin with, and was held together only by the dictatorship of Tito who ruthlessly suppressed any ethnic dissension. There were three major religious factions, the Croats, the Serbs, both Christian and the Muslims, the latter mostly in Kosovo and Bosnia, who could not get along with each other, much like the situation in Iraq relative to the Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites. Just as in Iraq where the lifting of the iron fist of Saddam Hussein allowed previously existing ethnic tensions to erupt, the lifting of the iron fist of Tito allowed previously existing ethnic tensions in the former Yugoslavia to erupt.

    2. Your assumption that the born agains will elect the president in 2008 is debatable, to say the least. I discern already a backlash agains them, as evidenced by the elections in Dover, Pa. and Kansas this year. It’s not even a given that the born agains will be able to nominate the Republican candidate.

  3. coturnix says:

    SLC:

    1. This is an often repeated misunderstanding of Yugoslavia by the West, also promulgated by the local secessionists as they vied for international recognition. The internal borders within Yugoslavia were artifical, but the country was as a whole was not, at least not for post-WWII generations. I am a Yugoslav. Being a Serb (or Croat or Slovene, etc.) never meant anything to me or any of my friends. We had to learn in 1991 what we were once those ancient divisions were dug out from history.

    2. That is my hope – which I voiced somewhere there, perhaps in the comments – that there will be a backlash within the GOP as well as in general population that will stunt the evangelicals’ plans for eternal domination of the US (and world) government. As it stands right now, they are in control of the process, which makes it easier for them to hang on to and increase their power until/unless more rational forces hijack the process away from them.

  4. Alon Levy says:

    The ethnicity and religion were practically invented (dug out of deep recesses of national subconsciousness) in 1991 by those who wanted to break up the country.

    Yeah, but there was something to dig out. I remember reading one characterization of the different groups in The Clash of Civilizations (a book that made numerous falsifiable predictions, most of which have been falsified): “Serbs were Bosnians who didn’t go to Orthodox temple; Muslims were Bosnians who didn’t go to mosque; Croats were Bosnians who didn’t go to Catholic church.”

    My point is, the thugs had something to work with. In the US, there are plenty of groups to commit genocide against, but right now the probability that it’ll happen is no higher than it was, say, 3 years ago. The sort of authoritarianism that is in power now is neoconservative rather than fundamentalist, and in fact holds the Dominionist movement in the same contempt the Democratic Party holds, say, the feminist movement.

  5. coturnix says:

    Richard Kaplan wrote a book about Yugoslavia along the lines of “Clash of Civilizations” and it is the singularly worst book about the country ever.

    Wars of 1990s were a fight between city and country, between urban European-style progressives and rural authoritarian nationalists who picked other ethnicities as targets and as scapegoats needed to instill fear.

    Breaking up the country did not do much about it – each of the six parts still has its own fight betwen city and country going on.

    The enmities between Serbs and Croats (both nominally Christian and Slavic), both in the war in Croatia and in the war in Bosnia, were much stronger and bloodier than the fights between Christians and Moslems. Croats (Catholic) and Bosnian Moslems were, throughout the war, allies.

    The Kosovo Albanians are a mix – some are Moslem, some are Catholic and some are Eastern Orthodox.

    Religion, after 50 years of communism, is a weak force there. It is much more a symbolism – what religious symbol you carry identifies you as Moslem, Serb, Croat or whatever. Thus, religious signs were used as flags and coats-of-arms in a war in which the combatants could not otherwise distinguish each other by looks or language.

    So, religion played only a symbolic part. Ethnicity was something that was apparently alive in the countryside, but not in cities, where the majority of the populaiton lived. Most urban folks were surprised by the existence of ethnic nationalism in the villages after 50 years and several generations of Yugoslavia. I sure was.

  6. Alon Levy says:

    Oh, I totally agree, hence my quote about Muslims, Catholics, and Orthodox people*. I’m not saying religion was important to anyone; I’m saying that it existed as a convenient way to split people. The American equivalent is probably something like red vs. blue, but there’s no equivalent of the Yugoslavian countryside, at least not in blue areas. What is likely to develop isn’t a civil war, but a peaceful takeover of government by Christian extremists.

    * The one downside of having no adjectival concord in English is that it’s harder to nominalize adjectives. It would be easier to get away with “Orthodoxes” if the proper adjectival forms were something like “Orthodoxes people,” “reds lights,” “blacks people,” etc.

  7. coturnix says:

    In a sense, the Yugoslav break-up was similar to red-blue, i.e., rural-urban.

    There is also a geographical fractal gradient of snobbery – going towards Southeast – with Slovenians looking down on Croats who look down on Serbs who look down on Albanians, etc. If you go in the other direction, Northwest, you realize where the erronoues framing of the Balkans by the “West” (e.g., UK and USA) comes from and why their own snobbishness (and sometimes racism) prevents them from seeing the region in its own right. The same is now happning regarding Iraq.

  8. Alon Levy says:

    Well, that’s an interesting way of looking at it… let’s see: Germans look down on Poles, the Czechs seceded from Czechoslovakia because they didn’t want to subsidize Slovakia, many EU officials view letting Greece in a mistake, Canadians look down on Americans (while Americans are often openly admitting that Canada’s doing things better)… but then again, the French think they’re the best nation in the world.

  9. SLC says:

    1. The only thing the French are good at is losing wars. As the old joke goes, French tanks have 5 gears, 1 forward and 4 reverse!

    2. Mr. Coturnix is seriously in error concerning the situation in the former Yugoslavia. The intrarmural hatreds there, like elsewhere in the Balkans, go back several hundred years. Mr. Levy is correct, the fuel for civil strife was already there, the leaders only provided the spark to set it off. As Bismarck was quoted as saying, the next European war will be started by some damn fool incident in the Balkans (this was long before the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand.touched off WW 1).

  10. Deep Thought says:

    Alon,
    You know, I like so much of what you write that I am always surprised when I see just how wrong you can be.
    That is, naturally, an opinion.
    I cannot fathom your focus on Dominionists and militias. The militia movements of the late ’80’s through mid ’90’s were never that organized, spent much more time on internal sniping and intramural disagreements, and were easily squelched by law enforcement. Heck, at one point the head of one of the attempts to re-create the Klan was an FBI informant! Those few militias that still exist make the Montana Freemen look positiviely machiavellian in comparison.
    And the term ‘Dominionist’ is about as mis-used as ‘Fascist’. The actual Dominionists in the world, the Christian Reconstructionists, are a vanishingly small group – there are probably more faithful members of a good-sized Aemrican Legion post than the total committed members of Christian Reconstructionism. Even if you toss in the Kingdom Now crowd and the weirdest fringe of the British Israelsim bunch there is no more than 40,000 nationwide, absolute max. The number of committed adherents who might actually take action is much closer to 8,000 – again, max – and they have proven unable to mount a decent Libertarian political campaign, let alone the overthrow of a county government.
    If you are claiming that people who vote their religious convictions are ‘Dominionist’, then you are in the uncomfortable position of throwing United Pentecostals, Catholics, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses into a bag and calling them homogeneous! Even within *one* of these groups the differences can be huge; Mainstream Catholics are awfully liberal economically, but anti-abortion (and anti-gay marriage, alrgely); traditionalist Catholics are like maintstream, but conservative economically, and “Latin Mass” Catholics are more socially conservative – and more economically liberal – than either.
    I’m sorry, but as a theologian who spends a lot of time studying economic and sociological outlooks of Christian groups, I cannot see any coalition of Christians ever dominating public life to the point that all opposition is quelled.

  11. SLC says:

    Re Deep Thought

    You may be correct as to numbers but you fail to consider the fiscal resources available to the reconstructionists. For instance, billioniares Howard Ahmanson Jr. and Richard Mellon Scaife provide funding for several reconstructionist organization, including the Discovery Institute. Remember, slimeball Scaife was almost personably responsible for the impeachment proceedings against former President Clinton . The Thomas More Institute which provided the defense in the Dover trial is a reconstructionist law firm.

  12. Deep Thought says:

    Akin to saying Soros is the front for a Socialist takeover of the government, I fear. Even with tons of money and tons of support from non-Reconstructionists it was a very tough row to how for Scaife and his goons to get anything done. The idea of militias backed by Reconstructionist ideology sweeping the water board elections is pretty far-fetched.

  13. Alon Levy says:

    It’s a common propaganda technique to compare anarchists like Chomsky and liberals like Soros to communists. In fact, Soros’s greatest achievements have been in democratization in ex-communist countries; his organizations have been so successful there that the communists believe he’s a neoconservative shill.

    Scaife’s thinktanks have been shifting the center to the right for 30 years now. A few months ago, Tacitus explained exactly how it worked: you publish fringe research, have your media allies legitimize it as a serious point of view, and watch as the center moves your way; then you marginalize the other side’s fringe to move the center further, and repeat the entire process.

  14. Deep Thought says:

    Alon,
    I fear you misunderstood – I meant that your claims that Scaife and his ilk are shifting the political focus of the nation in the direction they wish is like saying Soros is shifting the political focus the way *he* wants. Rarefied policy wonks like us that delve into think tank reports might notice such trends, but there is *no way* that information flow is asymmetrical enough for such high-end blather to affect the electorate! And for Scaife and the various think tanks to accomplish what Tacitus suggests would require one of two things – the Left would have to be silent. That is certainly not the case. Of the Left would have to be totally innefectual at debate. That may be true, but if it is – then the Left is not being played, they are simply losing.

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