Sunday, October 27, 2013

Afterword and Foreword

This post is both an afterword to my last post and a foreword to a series I want to post in a very slow and meandering fashion.  I been obsessed for some time with how democratically elected governments fail. I only know much detail about two examples -- Germany and the United States.  (And let's face it.  When democratic politics fail to resolve the foremost issue of the day, resulting in a civil war with 600,000 dead, that has to be considered a failure of democracy).

At the same time, it is inspired in large party by a comment to a prior post in which I measured the traits professional historians associate with fascism against the Tea Party to see how they match up.  My conclusion:  The Tea Party has several of fascism's mobilizing passions but lacks a charismatic leader.  If it adopts charismatic leader like Ted Cruz, it would meet most of the mobilizing passions.  It has two out of three fascist negations, i.e., it is anti-radical and anti-liberal, but not anti-conservative.*  But it is not fascistic in its methods (although its methods are alarming in other ways) and it shares none of fascism's ideology and goals.  My commenter believed that the Tea Party, although not classically fascist, was still alarming, and that American fascism might not take the same form as classical European fascism.

This brought to my mind my earlier analysis of the Ku Klux Klan and its resemblance to fascism.  My conclusion:  The Klan shared most of fascism's mobilizing passions except for lacking a charismatic leader; it was also anti-radical and anti-liberal, but not anti-conservative; it was fascistic in its methods except that it lacked a charismatic leader; but it had none of the classical fascist ideology and goals.

Going by my very cursory knowledge about the failure of democracy in countries other than the US and Germany, I have several preliminary hypotheses:

  1. Democracies fail as a result of extreme, out-of-control polarization and strife;
  2. Simultaneous a cause and a symptom of such polarization are parties that abandon all respect for the rules of the game and democratic fair play and pursue victor at all costs;
  3. Political violence is a very bad sign;
  4. Although violent revolution from the Left is a real danger under authoritarian governments, the danger to democracy is usually from the Right.
Qualifying this last statement, I would add that a radical anti-democratic Left can certainly exist and add to the polarization, but it is usually the Right that emerges dominant.  I would further add that one sign that a right-wing party is dangerous is that it loses its ability to distinguish between the radical Left and the moderate Left that respects democratic fair play.  I will further add that sometimes the radical Left does bring down democracy, but most examples I know of fall under two main categories.  One is Eastern Europe following WWII, when democratically elective governments fell to the Communists.  But whether that would have happened in the absence of the Red Army is an open question.  The other is that governments that are formally democratically elective, but have informally degenerated into cozy little oligarchies are vulnerable to left wing, populist dictators, like Julius Caesar, Huey Long, or Hugo Chavez.

Looking at the two examples I know most about, I would say that both the secessionists and the Nazis are properly characterized as right wing.  But they are right wing in very different ways.  The secessionist of the 1850's (or the Tea Party today) are right wing in the sense of being reactionaries, standing athwart history, yelling stop!  The Fascists and Nazis were something different altogether -- right wing, but emphatically not conservative.  They won the alliance of conservatives with a promise to crush the Left, but they also aspired to major changes and transformations of society that were not conservative (the fascist ideology and goals).  

So I want to look at various democracies that have failed and see both what went wrong and how well the various fascist traits apply to democracy's enemies.  It may turn out that the mobilizing passions, negations, and methods of fascism are common among enemies of democracy, but the fascist ideology and goals are an anomaly.  Or it may turn out that fascism is more widespread than we realize.  I don't know.  But I hope to learn a lot.

*I imagine some conservatives would disagree with me and say that making opposition and conflict ends in themselves, shutting down government, and threatening a debt default with untold consequences are not conservative at all.  Point taken.

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