I’ve mentioned the hooliganism being shown towards Democratic representatives at their town hall meetings. Some of the signs being hoisted by these rabble rousers equate Obama to Hitler, and the Democratic Party to the Nazi Party.
But which party is really closer to being “fascist?”
Historian Robert Paxton of Columbia University wrote a paper in 1998 titled “The Five Stages of Fascism” (pdf link). I read it, and found it eerily descriptive of what’s going on in America right now.
First-stage fascism… is the emergence of new ways of looking at the world and diagnosing its ills. In the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, thinkers and publicists discredited reigning liberal and democratic values, not in the name of either existing alternative – conservative or socialist – but in the name of something new that promised to transcend and join them: a novel mixture of nationalism and syndicalism that had found little available space in a nineteenth-century political landscape compartmented into Left and Right (though retrospect may reveal a few maverick precedents).
One could argue that the Democrats want to practice syndicalism, turning over the running of businesses to trade unions and co-opts. However that argument is specious at best.
What one should take note of is the nationalism currently being practiced by the “tea party” movement, and the re-discovery of the Constitution as a rallying point by most Republicans, despite pretty much ignoring it during the last 8 years.
But it is further back in American history that one comes upon the earliest phenomenon that seems functionally related to fascism: the Ku Klux Klan. Just after the Civil War, some former Confederate officers, fearing the vote given to African Americans by the Radical Reconstructionists in 1867, set up a militia to restore an overturned social order. The Klan constituted an alternate civic authority, parallel to the legal state, which, in its founders’ eyes, no longer defended their community’s legitimate interests.
A vocal and vociferous minority forms a group that believes a majority is no longer representative of their ideals. Sound familiar?
But let’s move to the second phase of fascism:
The second stage – rooting, in which a fascist movement becomes a party capable of acting decisively on the political scene – happens relatively rarely.
The “Tea” party? Don’t laugh until you read what Paxton says next:
Success depends on certain relatively precise conditions: the weaknes of a liberal state, whose inadequacies seems to condemn the nation to disorder, decline, or humiliation; and political deadlock because the Right, the heir to power but unable to continue to wield it alone, refuses to accept a growing Left as a legitimate governing partner.
Republicans in the House and Senate are currently just saying “no” to anything the Democrats are proposing. They are doing precisely what the bolded section above states.
But there’s more:
Some fascist leaders, in their turn, are willing to reposition their movements in alliances with these frightened conservatives, as step that plays handsomely in political power….
Republican Senator John Boehner, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, and Republican National Committee Chairman Micheal Steele have all laughed about and pretty much endorsed the hooliganism going on in the town hall meetings. “Alliances with frightened conservatives?” It’s happening now.
We learn much more if we focus our gaze on the circumstances that favor the fascists – polarization within civil society and deadlocks within the political system….
Polarization: Tea-baggers versus Progressives. Deadlocks: Republicans saying no and throwing up roadblocks when they can in order to stop Democratic legislation.
The processes to be examined in later stages include the breakdown of democratic regimes and the success of fascist movements in assembling new, broad catch-all parties that attract a mass following across classes and hence seem attractive allies to conservatives looking for ways to perpetuate their shaken rule. At later stages, successful fascist parties also position themselves as the most effective barriers, by persuasion or force, to an advancing Left and prove adept at formation, maintenance, and domination of political coalitions with conservatives.
This was written in 1998. It seems eerily prescient to today’s political climate.
But these political successes come at the cost of the first ideological programs. Demonstrating their contempt for doctrine, successfully rooted fascist parties do not annul or amend their early programs. They simply ignore them, while acting in ways quite contrary to them.
Remember the Republican “Contract with America?”
I could go on, but I won’t. It’s pretty obvious to me which party is closer to being “fascist,” and it both frightens and saddens me greatly that this party is the one I’m currently registered with.
Please read Paxton’s work and judge for yourself.