Fascism is subtler than you think

Brent posits a possible nightmare scenario for religious totalitarianism to take root in the US:

An ultra-religious sitting President casts the current war in terms of “Good vs. Evil”. At the end of his constitutionally-limited two-term Presidency, he declares martial law and suspends the Constitution in order to stay in office to fight his Holy War. Chaos reigns. Jackbooted government stormtroopers walk the streets of America “detaining” citizens deemed “un-patriotic” by their neighbors. Political dissenters and religious unbelievers are rounded up and sent to prison camps. The end.

This isn’t how it is going to happen. First, it’s surprisingly difficult to use a limited war to advance fascism, and Bush has done everything to portray the War on Terror as a limited war that doesn’t require any sacrifice, let alone full-scale mobilization.

Second, fascism generally doesn’t arise out of war. Rather, it arises out of political instability, and then wages war. Some totalitarian ideologies manufacture that instability, but Western fascism generally capitalizes on existing instability. Hitler and Mussolini added to the instability of German and Italian democracy, but their systems were unstable already. Latin fascism is typically based on military coups, which have yet to occur in a country with a streamlined, civilian-controlled military; even Israel, where the military is a state within a state, is immune to coups.

And third, homegrown American fascism is subtler than Brent thinks. It can’t suspend the Constitution; to the average American, it’s like suspending the Bible. Even Hitler didn’t suspend the Weimar Constitution – he only had the Reichstag pass a small number of amendments authorizing the Chancellor emergency powers.

Here’s a more plausible scenario, which my yet-unpublished novel Eternal Night is based on. A Dominionist President wins the election based on appeals to religious values; his opponent in the election is another Dominionist, making secular governance a fringe position. Once elected, the Dominionist passes the anti-civil liberties laws everyone likes – indecency, establishment of Christianity, sodomy, anti-abortion – and the opposing party acquiesces, preferring to concentrate on economics.

Then, after his domestic power is entrenched, and only then, he turns outward. By this time, China’s vying for superpower status, the USA’s oil suppliers are screwing it economically, and Jihadi Islamism has established itself in the Middle East. There is no shortage of enemies to start a real total war on. This doesn’t require any suspension of the Constitution or a military coup or canceling elections. Indeed, with the right judicial appointments, there’s no need for a single Constitutional amendment.

One Response to Fascism is subtler than you think

  1. gordo says:

    I have to think that a Mexican-style authoritarian oligarchy is the most likely scenario for the end of democratic government in the US. It doesn’t make sense to suspend the constitution in order to re-elect a figurehead, when you can always use intimidation, propaganda, and vote fraud to elect another figurehead to take his place.

    And while I don’t think that the US is yet unstable enough collapse into such a state, let alone into fascism, I think that Bush and the GOP are pressing hard to speed us in that direction.

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