It is a profound question with a myriad of answers and few solutions: What makes people so susceptible to fascism? Who are those flag-waving throngs cheering on their proud leader? And why do they cheerfully support a figurehead and system that works against their own self-interests? Are they gullible, naive to the point of complete self-chosen ignorance? Are they maniacal narcissists bent on proving their superiority to the world? Or are they scared of acting like they don't agree with the mob? Because, as Ronnie James Dio sings, the Mob rules. But fascism and it's various philosophical and psychological faces rule the Mob. Fear is the ultimate tool of control and fascist leaders know it and use it well. But in order to understand why people fall prey to fascism's spell, we must understand the nature of the beast. Governments, religions and cults use fear as a tool of control because when humans are scared, they are easy to control and manipulate. Fear is the ultimate weapon for it works on your own people as well as your enemies.
A little history: Benito Mussolini invented the term fascism in the 1920s and the philosophy it was built on was based in controlling people with fear and repression. Mussolini's own words:
"The Fascist conception of the State is all-embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism is totalitarian, and the Fascist State -- a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values -- interprets, develops, and potentiates the whole life of a people."
Ah yes, the State. The State which rules supreme against socialism, liberalism, democracy and individualism. The connection to religion is strong too. Again, Benito's words:
"Fascism is a religious conception in which man is seen in his immanent relationship with a superior law and with an objective Will that transcends the particular individual and raises him to conscious membership of a spiritual society. Whoever has seen in the religious politics of the Fascist regime nothing but mere opportunism has not understood that Fascism besides being a system of government is also, and above all, a system of thought."
Fascism models itself on one of the best sales pitches in the world, that of organized religion. Fascism needs it's followers to engage in docile servitude to the all-powerful State. They model it on organized religion's ability to control its followers en masse via fear (of the all-powerful God) and repression (of human nature, needs and rights). When you witness religious conflicts you see people on both sides who are under control. None of them is fighting for true justice, liberty, freedom or democracy. They are fighting each other due to simple dogmatic differences that are inflamed by their leaders with hate, fear and repression. They are fed this rhetoric from day one and they simply know no other way to act out. And this is how their leaders want it or it would truly be over. Take the Taliban in Afghanistan. They are certainly set on controlling society under the strictest Islamic Sharia law and they could be referred to as authoritarian, fundamentalist and/or totalitarian. But a totalitarian or authoritarian government is not necessarily a fascist one. Those characteristics only play a part in what makes a government or ruling power fascist. Add to the mix some flag-centric nationalism, some uber-macho militarism and a corporatist hierarchy that puts all the "right" people in power and you've got the makings of a top notch fascist regime. Now take your message to the airwaves and fill it with fear because fear leads to control (talking to you, Fox News). And if you control the airwaves, all the better. Fear is a powerful weapon because it works. It works on people individually but also collectively, such as a crowd panicking and trampling those in their midst.
President Franklin Roosevelt, in his inaugural address, stated simply:
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified, terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."
And then in 1942, Roosevelt had this to say:
"The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism -- ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power."
In America, our controlling private powers are corporations. Powerful, rich and globally connected, the corporations that privately control us do it in a myriad of ways. And as in most capitalistic societies, they benefit enormously. This is not a call to socialism or a a screed against the elite; you need not dig deep or at all to see the corporate ownership of all things in our society. Ownership of media companies connected to Defense companies connected to consumer product companies (talking to you, General Electric), multi-headed hydras that all breathe from a central command and control. And that command and control owns our government. By Roosevelt's definition, we are under a state of fascism in this country. Or as Cindy Sheehan so eloquently put it "a fascist corporate wasteland." But it takes two sides of the equation and for fascism to work, let alone exist, it needs people under its spell.
For those of us who see fascism for what it is, we are not cowed by the party line, we are not blind to the naked emporer and we know that if we don't stand up and point that out, we are headed for disaster. But how do we point that out to people under control? How do you convince people under the spell of a grand illusion that it is, in fact, not real? Though I don't have an answer, I yearn for one because I see the danger of a mob under control. I see it in the arms raised to salute Hitler. I see it in the suicide bombings across the Middle East. I see it in fundamentalist churches, in street and prison gangs, in the listeners of the right wing bigots and hatemongers (yes, Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, I'm talking to you.) Do you ever wonder why people still listen to Rush Limbaugh or tune in to Bill O'Reilly? Why Bush still has any approval rating at all? Do you wonder why those people can't see they are being rooked, duped, manipulated and used?
The larger point I'd like to make is that when you look at the principles and philosophies of fascism, you can clearly see their presence in the last six years of American society. There are three sources I'd like to reference that put this fact into perspective and illustrate how America has become Fascist.
1.) Powerful and Continuing Nationalism
2.) Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights
3.) Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause
4.) Supremacy of the Military
5.) Rampant Sexism
6.) Controlled Mass Media
7.) Obsession with National Security
8.) Religion and Government are Intertwined
9.) Corporate Power is Protected
10.) Labor Power is Suppressed
11.) Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts
12.) Obsession with Crime and Punishment
13.) Rampant Cronyism and Corruption
14. Fraudulent Elections
The second is Naomi Klein's excellent April 2007 article entitled "Fascist America in 10 Easy Steps", in which she describes Fascism as follows:
1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy
2. Create a gulag (Guantanamo will do)
3. Develop a thug caste
4. Set up an internal surveillance system
5. Harass citizens' groups
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release
7. Target key individuals
8. Control the press
9. Dissent equals treason
10. Suspend the rule of law
The third is an illustration not of fascism's tenets but of how fascism is used to start a war, much like it was used to start our Iraq debacle. On the excellent "George Washington's Blog" is a piece called "Introduction to False Flag Terror" which shows how flag-waving nationalism is used to support an pre-approved agenda via a national tragedy, an incident that is seen as an attack on the country which could then be countered by military retaliation. (It helps that you retaliate against the right country, of course.) But the truth is this: when fascism is used to justify a war with a particular country or race, that is a situation with some sort of definition of an enemy. But when fascism is used to justify a war with a vague enemy ("terrorists") or a noun ("terrorism") it has no end, no definition of success and enough vague grey areas that it makes a perfect target for fascist regimes. A War on Terror or Terrorism never ends because it constantly creates more of the enemy it is "trying" to defeat. The defense industry practically encourages the cycle because it's good for business. No enemy, no business.
It takes three components to make fascism work: government, corporations and people. We all know how governments and corporations can be corrupt and we certainly have seen how large populations of people can succumb to the sway of nationalism and fear. But what we haven't figured out is how to inoculate people against this disease, how to give them a bullshit detector that works and doesn't allow any attempt at fascist control to attain even a modicum of success. At this low point in American history, we should have riots in the streets calling for the impeachment and/or arrest of the Bush/Cheney cabal but instead, we have a large majority of the population sitting idly, waiting for someone else to step in and do something about it. "Why doesn't somebody do something?" they ask. But until you realize that somebody is YOU, this shameful situation will persist. History will not judge this generation kindly. It seems the Me Generation has turned into the Anybody But Me Generation, waiting for a revolution that somebody else starts up, waiting for a bandwagon they can jump on to say "Look! I too care about this travesty!" Where are your guts, people? Where are your balls? Have you traded them for iPods and Starbucks, proverbial fingers in your ears and nose down in your latte until it all blows over? It is long past the time to wake up and act and it doesn't have to take money and politics to create big change. It just has to take knowing what is at stake and acting with conviction. Think of Ghandi. Think of Martin Luther King. Think of Guy Fawkes - remember, remember the Fifth of November! One individual can make all the difference in this world. Why can't that person be you?