Fascism is a dirty word; but it is also a political ideology. Like most, it developed as a mixture of philosophical tracts and practical experience, and like many, it became fractured into competing strands of thought. The ideology is most frequently thought of in conjunction with the Nazis, and with their extreme racism; but the Nazis are just one fascist party, and racism is just one aspect of the belief system.
Racism, like the Nazi’s anti-semitism, is typically an extreme expression of the nationalism which is core to fascism. That nationalism frequently takes the route of emphasising the racial connections within a nation, while denigrating outsider groups as weak and intrinsically unassimilated due to their inability to share those connections; but it can just as easily be tweaked to emphasise other links beyond just the racial, as when modern neofascists insist that there is a shared culture or heritage which includes past waves of migration while differentiating more recent immigrants.
Similar complexities are evident in fascist treatments of totalitarianism. Even more than racism, the concept of the fascist state as all-encompassing is key. Mussolini wrote, in the Doctrine of Fascism, that:
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.
Yet that all-pervasive state isn’t what we think of as “big government” these days; instead, it is more like an anti-liberalism, a denial of the rights of the people to disagree with the views of the state. The actual apparatus of government can be small – except, of course, for the security wing, both internal and external.
That mixes in with the fascist approach to economics, which is more corporatist than capitalist. The philosophy embraces the natural conflict inherent in capitalism, and its tendency to promote the strong; but it dislikes the individualist nature of a capitalist economy, and the indifference in engenders to the state.
All of which is to say that fascism is more complicated than just wearing swastikas and denying the holocaust; and that, as an ideology, it is less far from what is deemed “acceptable discourse” than many might think. So please, don’t dismiss me out of hand when I say:
The modern Republican party is dangerously fascist.
I do not mean it as an insult, I am not using it as a synonym for “right-wing” or “evil”, though I do mean it to be negative, and to be a warning.
The Republican state is totalitarian in its attitude to the bodily autonomy of women. The values it holds dear brook no dissent, and allow no exclusions. It leads to campaigns to ban abortion in every situation; it leads to redefinitions of the very meaning of rape to lessen the strength of an invasion of a body; it leads to branding women who want contraception “sluts”.
The Republican state attacks gay people, their lifestyles and their relationships; it attacks scientific literacy, and scientific practice; and it attacks the very bedrock of American self-image when it tramples on free speech to continue these assaults.
This totalitarianism is religiously influenced, there is no doubt. But to call it fundamentalism would be to ignore its necessary co-mingling with the other aspects of proto-fascism that the party has adopted.
The Republican establishment is grossly nationalist. It brands the 11 million undocumented immigrantsr0) [as tantamount to terrorug/); it used the flag of patriotism –or [PATRIOAct) – to enact some of the most authoritarian controls on its population seen since Abraham Lincoln outright suspended habeas corpus; and of course, it repeatedly, unceasingly questions whether a black man with a Kenyan father can even be American, let alone president.
And to argue that the Republican party – a party whose very leader, the respectable face of the organisation, thinks that telling a campaign rally that “corporations are people” – is anything but corporatist is nonsensical.
Not every Republican holds these views. In fact, it is probably the case that not even most Republicans hold these views, and that they are all expressions of an extreme fringe. But time and again, the party has shown that the tail wags the dog, and that that extreme fringe, far from being an embarrassing coterie of out-of-touch right wingers, is the valued grassroots – the people who decide the primaries, who motivate turnout, and who fund the party. You can differentiate yourself from them in public, but go too far, and you will be ejected.
In our leader today, the New Statesman makes the positive case for Barack Obama to win re-election. But there are many for whom this positive case is – understandably – tarnished.
But that tarnishing has led a few to adopt an attitude that they are “all as bad as each other”.
That is not true. The modern Republican party occupies a unique position in 21st century Western politics, and it is not a pretty place to be.