Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Fascism and Failures of Democracy

One of the subjects I intend to give a lot of emphasis is fascism.  Famously, fascism is one of the ways that democracy can fail, but only one.  One of my great inspirations here is a comment to one of my blog posts on the Tea Party and fascism.  The commenter said that just because the Tea Party is not fascist does not mean that it is not dangerous.  Why can't American fascism be different from classic European fascism.  So I intend to compare a lot of failures of democracy to that great iconic failure in fascism and see -- how many traits of fascism are generally common to failures of democracy in general and how many are unique.  Or put differently, have there been other, semi-fascist movements that usually go unnoted.

So what is fascism?  I intend to go over its traits as set forth by professionals, but also to address some of its other traits as well.

Fascism is a middle class populist movement.  Like populist movements in general, it does not fit easily on the right-left spectrum.  It both punches up and kicks down.  But like middle class populist movements in general, it was driven first and foremost by fear of displacement from below, and therefore focused more on the kicking down.  Furthermore, in no country did a fascist party ever gather enough votes to win a majority and come to power entirely on its own.  In most countries, this prevented true fascists (as opposed to more broadly generic right wing dictatorships) from coming to power.  When fascism did come to power, it was by cutting a deal with entrenched, powerful interests to protect them from revolution from the Left.  As such, it had to curtail the punching up.

Fascism is driven by both fear and ambition, but fear predominates.  This is closely related to the previous point.  Clearly, Mussolini and Hitler were charismatic leaders of overweening ambition.  They also attracted some lower class followers (particularly as street thugs) by appealing to their ambition for a better life, and an opportunity to tear down people above them.  But first and foremost, they appealed to middle class fear of revolution from the Left.  Ambition gave fascism its leaders and its street followers, but its success as a mass movement and at the ballot box came from fear.  All of this should point up something important.  The middle class is typically fairly content with the social order and not driven by ambition to pull down the class above them and take their place.  It is driven far more by the fear of being pulled down from below.  This is (presumably) why the danger lies mostly on the right.

As for professional historians, this one describes the concrete institutions of fascism as, "a paramilitary party that has taken over the state and claimed an effective monopoly of political activity, the abrogation of the procedures of liberal democracy, the actual militarization of society, the successful penetration of the state into the everyday life of the individual, and a very significant degree of actual state regulatory control over the economy."  All but the first are traits of fascism after it has seized power, and I am more interested in how fascism seizes power than what it does when it gets there (except as a continuation of how it seized power).  Even before fascism comes to power, it is characterized by a paramilitary party that aspires to take over the state and claim an effective monopoly of political activity.  But an out-of-power fascist party is not just any paramilitary.  It is an association between a paramilitary and a political party.  In other words, the rebels in the hills seeking to overthrow the government outright are not fascists.  A fascist paramilitary is associated with a political party that competes in a democratic process.  But it does not play fair.  It uses violence to intimidate its opponents.  Nor paramilitaries that are simply hired guns for the powerful fascists.  The Pinkerton Detectives or a Latin American death squad are not fascists.  A fascist paramilitary is a populist paramilitary outside the control of either the state or the powerful.  This understandably makes powerful interests extremely leery of fascists unless they are able to cut a deal behind the scenes.

So, middle class populist movement, driven primarily by fear, but also by ambition, and a combination of political party and populist paramilitary.  These are traits I will hold up for comparison in seeing how much various anti-democratic movements resemble true classical fascism.

And now for the old standbys.

From Stanley Payne, in Fascism: Comparison and Definition (1980):

A. The Fascist Negations:
-- Anticommunism.  I will amend this to anti radicals who threaten the social order.  This is something I expect to see very commonly in right wing anti-democratic movements in all times and places.
-- Antiliberalism.  I will amend to add inability to distinguish between radicals and liberals, and as a result, gross exaggeration of the dangers posed by even moderate reformers.  This is another trait I expect to see a lot of in right wing anti-democratic movements.
-- Anticonservatism (though with the understanding that fascist groups were willing to undertake temporary alliances with groups from any other sector, most commonly with the right).  I do not expect to see this in most right wing anti-democratic movements.  I expect most to range somewhere from conservative to reactionary.

B. Ideology and Goals:
-- Creation of a new nationalist authoritarian state based not merely on traditional principles or models
-- Organization of some new kind of regulated, multiclass, integrated national economic structure, whether called national corporatist, national socialist, or national syndicalist
-- The goal of empire or a radical change in the nation’s relationship with other powers
-- Specific espousal of an idealist, voluntarist creed, normally involving the attempt to realize a new form of modern, self-determined, secular culture.

Based on what I have seen of dangerous right wing movements in the US and (to a lesser extent) in other countries, I do not expect to see these traits very often.  Most right wing anti-democratic movements are driven by a desire to protect existing structures of power and privilege.  Most left-wing anti-democratic movements are driven by a desire to pull down the powerful and rise up to take their place.  These (rather vague) goals may very well prove to be unique to classical fascism.

C. Style and Organization:
-- Emphasis on esthetic structure of meetings, symbols, and political choreography, stressing romantic and mystical aspects.  No idea whatever how common this will be.
-- Attempted mass mobilization with militarization of political relationships and style and with the goal of a mass party militia.   I expect to see a lot of this in anti-democratic movements, right and left, overall.
-- Positive evaluation and use of, or willingness to use, violence.  Ditto.  I fully expect private armies and political violence to be a major symptom of failure.
-- Extreme stress on the masculine principle and male dominance, while espousing the organic view of society.  I don't have a good sense of this one.
-- Exaltation of youth above other phases of life, emphasizing the conflict of generations, at least in effecting the initial political transformation.  This, I suspect, will be a trait mostly limited to classical fascism and not much seen in any other anti-democratic movement.
-- Specific tendency toward an authoritarian, charismatic, personal style of command, whether or not the command is to some degree initially elective.  Well, yes authoritarianism is sort of inherent in all anti-democratic movements and I expect to see it quite regularly.  As I have said before, the charismatic, personal style is something I expect to see primarily on the left, though it may exist somewhat on the right as well.

Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism, and the "nine mobilizing passions":

-- a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solutions;  I expect to see this in all anti-democratic movements, but would expect it to be stronger on the right than the left, because the right is apt to be more fear-based.

-- the primacy of the group, toward which one has duties superior to every right, whether universal or individual, and the subordination of the individual to it;  to be honest, I don't have any sense how often we will see this.

-- the belief that one's group is a victim, a sentiment which justifies any action, without legal or moral limits, against the group's enemies, both internal and external; this is another one I expect to see a lot of, right and left.  The difference will be that it will be more justified  in a situation of punching up than one of kicking down.

-- dread of the group's decline under the corrosive effect of individualistic liberalism, class conflict, and alien influences; ignore the part about "individualistic liberalism, class conflict and alien influences."  I don't know how much we will see of this.  But dread of one's group's decline, like the sense of overwhelming crisis, is something I expect to see a lot of in right wing anti-democratic movements.  Fear, often grossly exaggerated, will be their defining trait.

-- the need for closer integration of a purer community, by consent if possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary; tough to say.  On the one hand, this sounds like a sort of reactionary desire to turn back change that one would commonly see in right wing movements.  On the other hand, it sounds a lot like Payne's ideology and goals of fascism -- a trait largely restricted to classical fascism.  I guess we will see.

-- the need for authority by natural leaders (always male), culminating in a national chief who alone is capable of incarnating the group's destiny;  I expect the emphasis on charismatic leaders to be more characteristic of left-wing anti-democratic movements than right wing.

-- the superiority of the leader's instincts over abstract and universal reason; ditto.

-- the beauty of violence and the efficacy of will, when they are devoted to the group's success; yep, I imagine we will be seeing a whole lot of this from all sides.

-- the right of the chosen people to dominate others without restraint from any kind of human or divine law, right being decided by the sole criterion of the group's prowess in a Darwinian struggle.  This is a bit extreme, and I don't expect to see it much outside of true classical fascism.  But I do believe that there is a strong tendency among right wing anti-democratic movements to confuse the interests of the elite with the common interest, and threats to their domination (seen as natural and right) with madness, anarchy, Bolshevism, or whatever.  In other words, I expect to see a lot more of this when driven by fear than when driven by ambition.

In short, while I emphatically do not accept the Liberal Fascism hypothesis that fascism is a movement of the left, I do expect it to differ in a number of ways from the typical right wing anti-democratic movement and even to have traits more typically characteristic of the anti-democratic left.  Typical right-wing traits of fascism are its deep-seated basis in fear, especially middle class fear of displacement from below, its fondness for kicking down, and its hatred and fear of radicals and liberals and inability to distinguish between them.  But it also has some traits more characteristic of the anti-democratic left, particularly its dependence on charismatic leaders of insatiable ambition, its willingness to punch up, and its desire to transform society, albeit not in the way the left would wish to transform it.  

So, I will be running the various anti-democratic movements through these criteria to see how much they resemble classical fascism.

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