A Blast From the Past on Fascism--Part 1: Sheldon Wolin.

With all the recent talk about fascism, I thought I'd reprise this July 2003 Newsday essay by Professor Sheldon Wolin of Princeton:

A Kind of Fascism Is Replacing Our Democracy

Sept. 11, 2001, hastened a significant shift in our nation's self-understanding. It became commonplace to refer to an "American empire" and to the United States as "the world's only superpower."

Instead of those formulations, try to conceive of ones like "superpower democracy" or "imperial democracy," and they seem not only contradictory but opposed to basic assumptions that Americans hold about their political system and their place within it. Supposedly ours is a government of constitutionally limited powers in which equal citizens can take part in power. But one can no more assume that a superpower welcomes legal limits than believe that an empire finds democratic participation congenial. . . .

Like previous forms of totalitarianism, the Bush administration boasts a reckless unilateralism that believes the United States can demand unquestioning support, on terms it dictates; ignores treaties and violates international law at will; invades other countries without provocation; and incarcerates persons indefinitely without charging them with a crime or allowing access to counsel.

The drive toward total power can take different forms, as Mussolini's Italy, Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union suggest.

The American system is evolving its own form: "inverted totalitarianism." This has no official doctrine of racism or extermination camps but, as described above, it displays similar contempt for restraints.

It also has an upside-down character. For instance, the Nazis focused upon mobilizing and unifying the society, maintaining a continuous state of war preparations and demanding enthusiastic participation from the populace. In contrast, inverted totalitarianism exploits political apathy and encourages divisiveness. The turnout for a Nazi plebiscite was typically 90 percent or higher; in a good election year in the United States, participation is about 50 percent.

Another example: The Nazis abolished the parliamentary system, instituted single-party rule and controlled all forms of public communication. It is possible, however, to reach a similar result without seeming to suppress. An elected legislature is retained but a system of corruption (lobbyists, campaign contributions, payoffs to powerful interests) short-circuits the connection between voters and their representatives. The system responds primarily to corporate interests; voters become cynical, resigned; and opposition seems futile.

While Nazi control of the media meant that only the "official story" was communicated, that result is approximated by encouraging concentrated ownership of the media and thereby narrowing the range of permissible opinions.

This can be augmented by having "homeland security" envelop the entire nation with a maze of restrictions and by instilling fear among the general population by periodic alerts raised against a background of economic uncertainty, unemployment, downsizing and cutbacks in basic services.

Further, instead of outlawing all but one party, transform the two-party system. Have one, the Republican, radically change its identity: . . .

From one that maintains space between business and government to one that merges governmental and corporate power and exploits the power-potential of scientific advances and technological innovation. (This would differ from the Nazi warfare organization, which subordinated "big business" to party leadership.) . . .

In institutionalizing the "war on terrorism" the Bush administration acquired a rationale for expanding its powers and furthering its domestic agenda. While the nation's resources are directed toward endless war, the White House promoted tax cuts in the midst of recession, leaving scant resources available for domestic programs. The effect is to render the citizenry more dependent on government, and to empty the cash-box in case a reformist administration comes to power.

Americans are now facing a grim situation with no easy solution.

A Blast From the Past on Fascism--Part 2: Nazification of Bush

Here is a John Leo column from late 2003 on the Nazification of Bush. Unfortunately, it lumps together the criticisms of serious people and organizations with those of isolated internet commenters:

The hard left decided long ago that George W. Bush is Hitler. In maddened corners of the Internet and at swastika-choked antiwar marches, Bush is shown with a Nazi uniform or a Hitler mustache. But does everyone on the far left believe this? Not at all. Some think that Dick Cheney is the real Hitler (he commands America’s “storm-trooper legions,” said former right-wing crackpot and current left-wing crackpot Lyndon LaRouche). Others think Don Rumsfeld is Hitler (both men favored mountain­top retreats, the Action Coalition of Taos points out). These comparisons are still being argued. Air Force veteran Douglas Herman, writing an op-ed piece in Florida, says Rumsfeld is more like Goering, since both men were fighter pilots, while LaRouche decided that Cheney isn’t just Hitler — he’s Lady Macbeth as well.

Many on the left believe that either Ari Fleischer or Karl Rove is Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. Or maybe Richard Perle is related to Goebbels. The September issue of Vanity Fair suggested that Perle could be Goebbels’s twin (side by side photos, headlined “Separated at birth?”).

Another vexing question about Rove: Is he Goebbels or Josef Mengele? Goebbels is the top choice among antiwar commentators, but a writer to the MetaFilter site said: “Karl Rove made up stories about John McCain, just as Josef Mengele conducted medical experiments on children in Auschwitz.”

One Internet site referred to Tom Ridge as Heinrich Himmler; another calls him head of “Homeland Security, the new Gestapo.” Colin Powell is Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, according to a posting on the Democratic Underground site. And Frank Rich of the New York Times managed to work a famous Nazi filmmaker into the mix. He wrote that the recent Showtime docudrama, DC 9/11: Time of Crisis, was so pro-Bush that it is “best viewed as a fitting memorial to Leni Riefenstahl.”

The common charge that Bush is Mussolini is controversial — many leftists insist that the Mussolini role is reserved for Tony Blair, the junior partner of Bush’s Hitler. . . .

Paul Wolfowitz is a challenge to lefty analysts, some of whom think his intellectual background is fascist (Jeffrey Steinberg in Executive Intelligence Review), while others believe he has Bolshevik roots (he is Trotsky’s ghost, according to Canadian journalist Jeet Heer).

Anyone who calls the Bush people fascists will get no argument from Princeton Prof. Sheldon Wolin, who says, “We are facing forms of domination that exceed the old vocabulary.” So if you feel like calling somebody a fascist, go right ahead. Historian Eric Foner of Columbia compared Bush to the Japanese warlords of World War II who launched a pre-emptive war at Pearl Harbor. Since other name-callers on the left are so Nazi-minded, this qualifies as a fresh idea.

By last fall, most of the outstanding villains of history had been pressed into service as forerunners of George Bush. Napoleon is a heavy favorite. . . .

Bush is Dr. Frankenstein, according to the cartoon “Bushenstein” featured on the Democratic National Committee Web site. Anti-Bush columnist Paul Krugman apparently disagrees. The cover on the British edition of his current book of columns shows Bush as Frankenstein’s monster, not as Frankenstein himself. The frontier for Bush insults keeps shifting. One day the president is Attila the Hun, the next day he is Ted Bundy. A posting on The Unknown (an apparently unhinged news site) said that Bush is a charming lunatic, just like Hitler, Ted Bundy, Mussolini, and Hannibal Lecter. One lefty said Bush is Caligula, while another insists he is the new Nero (“Nero burned Rome, Hitler burned the Reichstag, Bush burned the World Trade Center”). Don’t you love the way these people argue?

A Blast From the Past on Fascism--Part 3: The 2005 NY Times Ad.

Remember this New York Times ad from December 2005, comparing Bush to Hitler and accusing Bush of remaking "society very quickly . . . in a fascist way":

YOUR GOVERNMENT, on the basis of outrageous lies, is waging a murderous and utterly illegitimate war in Iraq, with other countries in their sights.

YOUR GOVERNMENT is openly torturing people, and justifying it.

YOUR GOVERNMENT puts people in jail on the merest suspicion, refusing them lawyers, and either holding them indefinitely or deporting them in the dead of night.

YOUR GOVERNMENT is moving each day closer to a theocracy, where a narrow and hateful brand of Christian fundamentalism will rule.

YOUR GOVERNMENT suppresses the science that doesn't fit its religious, political and economic agenda, forcing present and future generations to pay a terrible price.

YOUR GOVERNMENT is moving to deny women here, and all over the world, the right to birth control and abortion.

YOUR GOVERNMENT enforces a culture of greed, bigotry, intolerance and ignorance.

People look at all this and think of Hitler —- and they are right to do so. The Bush regime is setting out to radically remake society very quickly, in a fascist way, and for generations to come. We must act now; the future is in the balance.

Note the combination of statements that evoke NAZI policies (wars of aggression, torture, jailing people without trial) with some statements that are strongly contrary to NAZI policies (promoting religion, promoting a culture of greed) and with still more statements that are at least as much opposed to NAZIism as in favor of it (opposing abortion, opposing science).

To understand the modern analogues of fascist policies, people need to study fascist literature more carefully.

Among the signatories to the 2005 ad were:

  • James Abourezk
  • Tom Ammiano, SF Board of Supervisors
  • Edward Asner
  • William Ayers, professor and author
  • Russell Banks, writer
  • Ed Begley, Jr.
  • Harry Belafonte
  • Dave Berenson, US Green Party, Cleveland
  • William Blum
  • Gabriel Byrne
  • Campus Anti-War Network (CAN)
  • Tim Carpenter, dir., Progressive Democrats of America
  • Chicago ADAPT
  • Margaret Cho
  • Ward Churchill
  • David Cobb, 2004 Green Party Presidential Candidate
  • US Rep John Conyers Jr.,
  • Barry Crimmins, writer/correspondent, Air America Radio
  • Code Pink: Women for Peace
  • Culture Clash

  • DC Anti-War Network
  • Democrats.com
  • Carl Dix, Revolutionary Communist Party
  • Tom Duane, NY State Senator
  • Michael Eric Dyson, author, Is Bill Cosby Right?
  • Steve Earle
  • Edwin Ellis, president, Veterans for Peace, LA*
  • Daniel Ellsberg, author of The Pentagon Papers
  • Christian Ettinger, exec. producer, The Weather Underground
  • Jodie Evans, Code Pink
  • Jane Fonda
  • Global Justice & Peace Ministries, Riverside Church, NYC
  • Senator Mike Gravel
  • Andy Griggs, Exec. Board, United Teachers of LA*
  • Paul Haggis, film director/producer, Crash
  • Impeach Bush Coalition
  • Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA Relief USA)
  • Islamic Association of America
  • Abdeen Jabara, past pres., American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee*
  • Rev. Jesse L. Jackson
  • Bianca Jagger, actress & activist
  • Mumia Abu-Jamal, political prisoner, journalist
  • Rickie Lee Jones, musician
  • Casey Kasem
  • Robin D.G. Kelley, Columbia University
  • M. Ali Khan, American Muslim Council
  • Margot Kidder
  • C. Clark Kissinger
  • Ron Kovic, author, Vietnam Veteran
  • Jonathan Kozol
  • Ray Laforest, organizer, DC 1707, AFSCME; member Pacifica National Board
  • Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor, Tikkun magazine
  • Bruce Lincoln, prof., History of Religions, Univ. of Chicago
  • Gregory Maguire, author, Wicked
  • Lucinda Marshall, founder, Feminist Peace Network*
  • Bill Martin, philosopher
  • US Rep. Cynthia McKinney
  • Bill Mitchell, co-founder, Gold Star Families for Peace*
  • Viggo Mortensen
  • National Lawyers Guild
  • Armando Navarro, chair, Ethnic Studies, UC Riverside
  • Northwestern College Feminists
  • Not in Our Name
  • Bertell Ollman, prof., Dept. of Politics, NYU
  • R. Tomás Olmos, Pres., Mexican-Amer. Bar Found., LA County
  • Jose Padilla, exec. dir., CA Rural Legal Assistance*
  • Grace Paley, writer
  • Patrick Henry Democratic Club
  • Sean Penn
  • Rosalind Petchesky, prof., Hunter College & Grad Center, CUNY
  • Jeremy Pikser, screenwriter, Bulworth
  • Harold Pinter, playwright, 2005 Nobel Prize winner
  • Frances Fox Piven
  • Progressive Democrats of America
  • Michael Ratner, Center for Constitutional Rights*
  • Scott Ritter, former UN weapons inspector
  • US Rep. Bobby Rush
  • San Francisco Bayview Newspaper
  • Susan Sarandon
  • John Sayles, filmmaker
  • Richard Serra
  • Cindy Sheehan
  • Martin Sheen
  • Gloria Steinem
  • Lynne Stewart, lawyer
  • Studs Terkel
  • Gore Vidal
  • Kurt Vonnegut
  • Alice Walker
  • US Rep. Maxine Waters
  • Wavy Gravy
  • Leonard Weinglass, lawyer
  • Cornel West, Princeton University
  • Standish E. Willis, Nat. Conference of Black Lawyers
  • Ann Wright, former US diplomat, resigned in protest of Iraq war
  • Peter Yarrow
  • Leland Y. Yee, Speaker pro Tem, CA State Assembly
  • Juanita Young, leader, October 22nd Coalition*
  • David Zeiger, filmmaker, Sir, No Sir!
  • Howard Zinn, historian, A Peoples' History of the United States

The New Meme: Fascism.

Last week, I was sensing an emerging meme, journalists arguing that opponents of big government should not talk about fascism — or as Jon Stewart put it: "drop the F-bomb." I saw CNN making a big deal about it in several stories. If this meme were being spread by the White House or by Journolist (and perhaps even if it weren't), I expected to see a lot more about it in the mainstream press this week.

Thus, on Saturday, I posted three reminders of similar rhetoric used in recent years to criticize George Bush.

As if on cue, the New York Times today published a fairly low-key online column by CNBC's John Harwood (who has been very sympathetic to the Obama agenda) on the dangers of the right using the term fascist:

“Rhetorically, Republicans are having a very hard time finding something that raises the consciousness of the average voter,” said Saul Anuzis, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party who recently lost a bid to became national party chairman.

Workaday labels like “big spender” and “liberal” have lost their punch, and last fall, Senator John McCain of Arizona and Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska gained little traction during the presidential campaign by linking Mr. Obama’s agenda to socialism.

So Mr. Anuzis has turned to provocation with a purpose. He calls the president’s domestic agenda “economic fascism.”

“We’ve so overused the word ‘socialism’ that it no longer has the negative connotation it had 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago,” Mr. Anuzis said. “Fascism — everybody still thinks that’s a bad thing.”

Whether fellow Republicans think that is factually appropriate or strategically wise is another question.

Meanwhile, Jonah Goldberg evaluates the Treasury Department's efforts to control the banks without actually nationalizing them: "It's not socialism. It's corporatism."

It is interesting that Harwood depicts the choice to use the word fascist as a strategic choice to pump up the volume, which it may be for some. For other commentators, such as perhaps Larry Kudlow, they might be straining not to deem as "fascist" proposals that they would call fascist if that term were not so politically charged.