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10 Easy Steps to American Fascism
April 24, 2007 11:18 AM   Subscribe

Fascist America in 10 Easy Steps: a good read from The Guardian.
posted by byronimation (133 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Huh, I was all prepared to go "right, sez Naomi Wolf in The Grauniad" but it's actually a pretty analytical bit of writing.
posted by Firas at 11:30 AM on April 24, 2007


“The dark night of fascism is forever descending upon the United States, yet somehow it always lands in Europe” - Jean Francois Revel

Surveillance cameras in the UK now outnumber people by roughly seventeen to one.
posted by jfuller at 11:31 AM on April 24, 2007 [3 favorites]


Because Americans like me were born in freedom, we have a hard time even considering that it is possible for us to become as unfree

Thats double-plus-good-speak there comrade.
posted by nola at 11:33 AM on April 24, 2007


Shouldn't this article be printed in a main US newspaper? And at least discussed far and wide across the US, even if it is dimissed as a tad sensationalist?

Or will it not appear in the American press, precisely because of Step 8?
posted by Azaadistani at 11:39 AM on April 24, 2007


Interesting post, but I'm not sure that I trust Naomi Wolf to define "fascism" for me. If the title of her article were "Authoritarian America in 10 Easy Steps," well, maybe. The word "fascism" (along with the word "Nazi") is thrown around so frequently and so carelessly these days that the word loses any semblance of real meaning.

As Matthew N. Lyons has written, "I am skeptical of efforts to produce a 'definition' of fascism ... To understand what fascism has encompassed as a movement and a system of rule, we have to look at its historical context and development -- as a form of counter-revolutionary politics that first arose in early twentieth-century Europe in response to rapid social upheaval, the devastation of World War I, and the Bolshevik Revolution. "

Noami Wolf's piece doesn't really look at any of these aspects, except cursorily, as a way of scoring cheap and lazy rhetorical points.
posted by blucevalo at 11:40 AM on April 24, 2007


take that, citizen journalists!

Surveillance cameras in the UK now outnumber people by roughly seventeen to one.

cite. the population of the UK is 60 million. you are claiming over one billion cameras.
posted by 3.2.3 at 11:44 AM on April 24, 2007 [3 favorites]


Good point. I agree that Fascism was explicitly a throwback/reactionary sort of system in direct opposition to 18th Century Liberalism, in a way that a republic like the United States that's explicitly born Liberal can't easy become.
posted by Firas at 11:44 AM on April 24, 2007


Surveillance cameras in the UK now outnumber people by roughly seventeen to one.

In fact, people outnumber cameras by fourteen to one. According to Wikipedia, at least.

There's no easy way of finding out the exact number, because the overwhelming majority are privately-owned (shopkeepers, petrol stations, bus companies etc).
posted by Aloysius Bear at 11:46 AM on April 24, 2007


jfuller: got any sources for that?

As of 3 weeks ago, the bbc reckoned on 4.2 million, which is about 1 for every 14 people...
posted by nielm at 11:48 AM on April 24, 2007


agh. 2 mins too slow :) but my source is less editable :)
posted by nielm at 11:49 AM on April 24, 2007


This is bad and wrong and stupid and ignorant and so full of dumb historical analogies that I don't even know where to start. So don't ask me to start. Needs an "Iknownothingabouthistory" tag.
posted by MarshallPoe at 11:51 AM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


The word "fascism" (along with the word "Nazi") is thrown around so frequently and so carelessly these days that the word loses any semblance of real meaning.

Pointing out that:

• Corporate and federal government interests are aligned to a common cause, particularly in the energy sector;

• The current regime is dismantling civil rights and widening its surveillance infrastructure; and,

• The current regime is inciting an economically and socially disenfranchised populace to discriminate against immigrants, homosexuals, Muslims and other "terrorists"

• The private sector is profiting hansomely from locking away over a third of African-American males into a prison industry, in addition to making money from the slave labor that results therefrom

does not take anything away from the "real" meaning of Fascism.

Indeed, these very attributes, and others, define the classical Fascist state. Time to finally call a spade a spade.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:58 AM on April 24, 2007 [12 favorites]


10 steps or 14 characteristics?

I don't think she's completely offbase, but I think she's missing out on a few key ideas.
posted by briank at 11:58 AM on April 24, 2007


We can quibble about the definition of facism and we can argue how apt are her analogies. But can anyone deny that this administration has increased the capacity for tyranny? Secretive, corporate agendas--not the will of the people--is what we have at the top. Keep shopping, I hear there's a special on brown shirts at Malwart.
posted by ahimsakid at 11:59 AM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


(or, what Blazecock Pileon, just said, but with a link)
posted by briank at 11:59 AM on April 24, 2007


you know who else had 10 easy steps to fascism...
posted by jonmc at 12:05 PM on April 24, 2007 [3 favorites]


I agree that "fascism" as a term is used rather casually by Wolf, and her connections are not always solid, but it certainly stirs up good topics for discussion. I do agree with her on the point that the Bush Administration seem to look at the Constitution as a set of weak suggestions.
posted by byronimation at 12:11 PM on April 24, 2007


We're doomed! Doomed! Oh wait, his term is almost over.

The sky is falling! The sky is... oh, yeah, that was a hoax.

Whiners.
posted by ewkpates at 12:18 PM on April 24, 2007


> The word "fascism" (along with the word "Nazi") is thrown around so frequently and so carelessly
> these days that the word loses any semblance of real meaning.

For anyone who says it, it means "anything to the right of me."


> jfuller: got any sources for that?

It's a bald assertion, like "America is going Fascist." I can, however, produce evidence for it that's just as good as Naomi's: look, there's a surveillance camera. There's another one. There's three. Each one I tic off supports my bald assertion just as well as Naomi's tic-offs support hers.
posted by jfuller at 12:19 PM on April 24, 2007


Each one I tic off supports my bald assertion

Intellectual Tourette's Syndrome is BULLSHIT EAT ME no laughing matter.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 12:26 PM on April 24, 2007 [5 favorites]


Those aren't surveillance cameras . . . they're freedom cameras! Nothing to fear, nothing sinister.
posted by ahimsakid at 12:26 PM on April 24, 2007


Whiners.

You know—I'm dead sincere here, I'd appreciate feedback—I think one of the strangest things about American political culture is the wilfull amnesia that affects the political discourse here. If a term is over, the atrocities can be brushed under the carpet, and we can begin anew! Don't get me wrong, it's better than a sickly mentality that remains frozen in the grip of the past, but it's problemetic when Americans decide to go make the same mistakes all over again, and/or ignore what they did to cause a particular situation to come about when they gear up to demonize the people in the situation (eg. Iran's current regime.)

I'm not sure whether all countries do this and America's doing it is just more problematic because the effect of its foreign policy decisions is so damn outsized, or whether it's specific to America. I suppose denying certain aspects of history and trumping up other portions is common to pretty much any nation (eg. Japan denying WWII atrocities, China stirring up nationalism by making a big deal of the British-forced Treaty of Nanking, certain Arabs making a big deal of the Crusades, etc. etc.) Hmm…
posted by Firas at 12:27 PM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


Each one I tic off supports my bald assertion just as well as Naomi's tic-offs support hers.

Except, of course, that she's citing examples of the principles she sees as being in play, while you're making a quantitative claim and arguing for it anecdotally.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:28 PM on April 24, 2007


I don't think a bald assertion means what you think it means.
posted by dreamsign at 12:29 PM on April 24, 2007


This is bad and wrong and stupid and ignorant and so full of dumb historical analogies that I don't even know where to start. So don't ask me to start. Needs an "Iknownothingabouthistory" tag.

Heh. I tried composing a post and just gave up in frustration because the whole thing is so absurd. The "logic" of the article is to cite isolated anecdotes as evidence of widespread, nefarious, organized governmental strategies. The whole thing ignores the enormous gulf between, say, having one's name on a TSA list and being "detained and released" (yes, I'm sure the government was trying to intimidate Ted Kennedy by placing his name on the TSA list). But of course, if you point that out, the response is, "How do you know they're not going to send Al Sharpton or Cindy Sheehan to Guantanamo? How do you know they're not listening to your phone calls?" Well, I don't. But I also think it's not terribly persuasive to make huge claims from scant supporting evidence. Put to the Naomi Wolf test, every government is rushing headlong towards fascism.

("Angry young Republicans in identical shirts and trousers" as evidence of a thug caste. Give me a break. The uniform of the young Republicans I know is khakis and izod polos.)
posted by pardonyou? at 12:32 PM on April 24, 2007


Ouch!

I think it's fundamentally wrong to compare modern forms of Fascism always with old ones from the Hitler era.

Like Democracy all forms of government change and adapt - even the bad ones.

For example:

Today society 'exists' more in a virtual form instead of 'the street'. So you no longer need many thugs or brownshirts to push your agenda. Mental control and groupthink work today much better then 1933 - especially in a ever more complex media world and possibilities for the individual to participate and do his/her own research ...

Most people are afraid of real freedom and complexity. They love almost anything that 'makes nasty stuff and thoughts' go away. You can see this with right winger ("We are the good ones, all others are bad.") as well as Greens ("Back to nature, modern science is destroying us.").

The article forgot one essential new point: Creating an Idiocracy.

In countries like the US and Britain - even Germany - you can literally watch most of the society grow dumber and dumber. Being 'stupid' and an underdog is more of lifestyle of choice today instead of an unfair social condition people want to escape.

I don't think there was ever a golden age of an overall 'smart' and well educated masses, who were highly interested in politics and science ... but today's school systems in the US and UK certainly lag behind their potential.

And one more important element on the road to any totalitarian system: Bread & Games.

Distracting your people from important issues has always worked great to hide your true intentions. There has never been a bigger and more effective political-corporate distraction industry like today.

This goes way beyond controlling the press - it simply fills all channels with so much nonsense so that really important stuff get's lost in the noise. You don't need to controll the press when most people either miss or are unable to understand any revealing report about your nasty deeds.
posted by homodigitalis at 12:32 PM on April 24, 2007 [12 favorites]


Okay. Maybe she doesn't know her history very well. And maybe throwing around words like fascism is not particularly helpful.

But we ARE becoming increasingly intolerant of the principles required for liberty to flourish. I think that is a fact.

Maybe it's time we just admitted it. We don't really want a free society. It's too much work.

It has to support too many complicated and contradictory ideas to succeed well without constant effort. No matter which side of the political spectrum you reside on it's good bet your as lazy as the other guy.

We only want some free speech. We only really want some equality under the law. And we only want some people the freedom to protect themselves.

The net result is that rich people get all the freedom they want. And by virtue of the power we give them to exercise ALL the freedom they want, the rich people get to decide what liberties they will allow to the rest of us and what they can take on a whim. And. Since deep down we believe rich people are better than us I guess it's okay.

It's obvious we don't really embrace a free society. It may not be fascism... we don't have word for it yet.
posted by tkchrist at 12:37 PM on April 24, 2007 [7 favorites]


Put to the Naomi Wolf test, every government is rushing headlong towards fascism.

Some of your criticisms strike home, but that statement is just demonstrably wrong.
posted by dreamsign at 12:37 PM on April 24, 2007


I thought it was an interesting read. Regardless of whether or not she is using the term 'fascist' correctly, as you can easily replace that word with "a dictatorial regime with oppressive tendencies" and get the same effect.

Also: A little-noticed new law has redefined activism such as animal rights protests as "terrorism". So the definition of "terrorist" slowly expands to include the opposition.

What is this in reference to?
posted by quin at 12:40 PM on April 24, 2007


blucevalo nails it. It's not a bad article, but Wolf is stretching to jump to fascism, as opposed to more accurate terms as authoritarian, violent, hypocritical, statist, criminal, and incompetent.

Those interested in learning more about fascism could do worse than to read Paxton's Anatomy Of Fascism.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:43 PM on April 24, 2007


Another 14 characteristics of fascism (plus poetic reference!), these from Umberto Eco. Number 9 is a good one (and reminiscent of Hannah Arendt's claim, IIRC, that
posted by taliaferro at 12:43 PM on April 24, 2007


One standard reading for these debates is Eco's Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt.
posted by Abiezer at 12:45 PM on April 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


Another 14 characteristics of fascism (plus poetic reference!), these from Umberto Eco. Number 9 is a good one (and reminiscent of Hannah Arendt's claim, IIRC, that fascism must exist in a state of constant forward motion or it will perish.)

damnit. sorry about that first thing.
posted by taliaferro at 12:46 PM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


The word "fascism" (along with the word "Nazi") is thrown around so frequently and so carelessly these days that the word loses any semblance of real meaning.

You mean compared to any other time since the 1950s? Come on, people have been calling each other fascists since extermination of the Jews was just a glimmer in Hitler's eye, and certainly much more common right after the war.
posted by delmoi at 12:46 PM on April 24, 2007


Whoops!
posted by Abiezer at 12:46 PM on April 24, 2007


Also: A little-noticed new law has redefined activism such as animal rights protests as "terrorism". So the definition of "terrorist" slowly expands to include the opposition.

What is this in reference to?


I don't know which exact new law she's referring to, but there's been a push to dub property damage such as, say, setting SUVs on fire as terrorism (eco-terrorism).

It is not true that animal rights activism in general is considered terrorism, although maybe for some eco-terrorists could poison the well for all other animal rights organizations. But this is not a new notion regardless - I have fond memories of reading, as a child, from Berkeley Breathed, the saga of the Mary Kay Kommandos.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:48 PM on April 24, 2007


On April 24 1934, the Nazis, too, set up the People's Court

Judge Wapner NOOOOOO!
posted by rubyeyo at 12:48 PM on April 24, 2007 [3 favorites]


Some of your criticisms strike home, but that statement is just demonstrably wrong.

I'll concede that it may have been a bit overstated. But the point I was trying to make is that if you stretch definitions like "gulag" and "thug caste" and "detain and release" and "target key individuals" far enough, I truly believe you could find examples of isolated governmental actions in almost every country that could fit those categories.
posted by pardonyou? at 12:49 PM on April 24, 2007


The "logic" of the article is to cite isolated anecdotes as evidence of widespread, nefarious, organized governmental strategies.

Huh? Guantanamo is an "isolated anecdote"? Isolated, sure, in one irrelevant geographical sense of the word, but the Soviet gulags were isolated in that sense too. Certainly not in the sense that you intend. Guantanamo is absolutely a formal part of Administration strategy and they have defended it repeatedly as a part of their unilateral executive policy. Hardly anecdotal.

Arbitrary denial of air travel without evidence, accountability or appeal? Hardly isolated or anecdotal. Sure, it's not a full denial of internal travel as long as the freeways are still open, but it still has every hallmark of totalitarianism. There is no appeal process. There are no open records. There is no justification or rationalization available to the affected, and no recourse.

The undocumented NSA wiretapping program and the documented FISA abuses are not isolated or anecdotal, they are widespread.

Placing citizens in cages from which they may not leave, based on on-the-spot assessment of speech an political affiliation made by the officials on the scene -- under the euphemistic title "free speech zones" -- is neither isolated or anecdotal, there are countless examples.

I could go on. Some of her parallels are thinner than others, but in most cases her anecotes are illustrative examples, not unrepresentative examples which don't fit a larger pattern, which is what "anecdotal" means.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:50 PM on April 24, 2007 [8 favorites]


I didn't think the Naomi Wolf article was that strong, and I think fear of fascism in the US is overdone--public opinion appears to have turned against Bush.

That said, the level of hero worship among Bush's followers is unsettling. See also.
posted by russilwvong at 12:52 PM on April 24, 2007


homodigitalis: I think it's fundamentally wrong to compare modern forms of Fascism always with old ones from the Hitler era.

Gaack! What?!? Please tell me you worded that poorly, because one must compare (suspected) modern fascistic movements to Nazi Germany. It's the touchstone. Did you just mean that you shouldn't limit your comparison to only Nazi Germany?

Anyway, hdigitalis, I agree with the rest of what you said regarding the entertainment industry, and I am afraid that such a culture is an inevitable byproduct of unfettered capitalism.
posted by taliaferro at 12:52 PM on April 24, 2007


So does Ms. Wolf still get to fly?
posted by pwedza at 12:53 PM on April 24, 2007


"A little-noticed new law has redefined activism such as animal rights protests as "terrorism". So the definition of "terrorist" slowly expands to include the opposition"

That's odd. I remember animal rights activists being referred to as 'terrorists' well before Bush got into the White House.

Heck, back they, they were the terrorists.
posted by drstein at 12:55 PM on April 24, 2007


you know who else had 10 easy steps to fascism...
posted by jonmc


Ron Popeil?
posted by bobot at 12:56 PM on April 24, 2007


The Big Thing, as George_Spiggott touches on, is the secrecy—"black" sites, secret meetings with the energy oligarchy, lack of transparency in no-fly lists, no-bid contracts, etc. The reason Bush & friends routinely circumvent FISA is because they don't want a paper trail, they want a star chamber.
posted by Mister_A at 12:56 PM on April 24, 2007


...fear of fascism in the US is overdone--public opinion appears to have turned against Bush

Bush & Co. aren't going to warp the Republican party into a fascist regime, overthrow constitutional limits on presidential terms, and establish a New American Order...but the problem is, he's laying the legal and infrastructural groundwork for a society to continue adopting fascistic tendencies that will survive his presidency. Once he leaves, someone else will have to actively undo all the damage that he has done. Overturning the Patriot Act, or solving the Guantanamo problem, might take more political capital than a newly elected president is willing/able to spend.
posted by taliaferro at 1:00 PM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Heck, back they, they were the terrorists."

Timothy McVeigh and the abortion clinic bombers of the week were the terrorists "back then."

And fascism IMO is more a cultural phenomenon that privileges "strength" over "weakness" ("might" over "right," to put it another way) than it is a specific organized form of government. But regardless, arguing over the real meaning of the word fascist is ridiculous, and misses the point. A big part of the process of defining fascism is pointing out historical examples of it and asking "is this it?" The term itself can literally mean whatever we agree it should mean. Typically, that means right-wingers want to argue about the meaning of the word whenever the subject arises (ironic, since fascism is a term specifically used to describe a right-wing ideology--why should we let the foxes guard the lexical hen-house?)
posted by saulgoodman at 1:06 PM on April 24, 2007


the point I was trying to make is that if you stretch definitions like "gulag"...far enough, I truly believe you could find examples of isolated governmental actions in almost every country that could fit those categories.

I think the problem is that you don't have to stretch the definition of "gulag" too far in America. Unless you can think of a more apt comparison for all of our secret prisons where we torture people who haven't been charged with anything?

I'm not even sure why we're debating this. If I may repeat myself, "We have secret prisons where we torture people who haven't been charged with anything." And other than a discussion about the merits and severity of said torture, no one's denying this fact.

If that's not enough, what exactly would convince people that there's touch of the Ur-fascism afoot? Are we sitting around waiting for our hand-written invitations to Kristallnacht to arrive in the mail or something?
posted by StopMakingSense at 1:08 PM on April 24, 2007


@taliaferro: Gaack! What?!? Please tell me you worded that poorly, because one must compare (suspected) modern fascistic movements to Nazi Germany. It's the touchstone. Did you just mean that you shouldn't limit your comparison to only Nazi Germany?

Please let me rephrase my statement: modern forms of fascism will look different and use other means to achieve totalitarianism.

Nazi Germany certainly is the 'best' example, but it was simply another adaption of an old 'theme'. The original article often drags Nazi to the stage to make it's points instead of making clear what totalitarianism or fascism means - and that you can disguise it in ANY sheep's clothing.
posted by homodigitalis at 1:08 PM on April 24, 2007


We have a key ingredient for fascism here in the US: benighted, goose-stepping, bullying, hateful, racist, sexist, poltroons who will gladly kiss the ring on the hand of power for the brief taste of that power thus afforded.
posted by Mister_A at 1:12 PM on April 24, 2007


I truly believe you could find examples of isolated governmental actions in almost every country that could fit those categories.

OK, I'll play. Please stretch "gulag" far enough to give an example in, say, Canada, Australia, or Denmark, while still remaining within the general framework of "a place where people are confined against their will indefinitely without trial".
posted by Armitage Shanks at 1:18 PM on April 24, 2007


homodigitalis: sorry, I kinda freaked out for a second there. Thanks for responding.

StopMakingSense: "We have secret prisons where we torture people who haven't been charged with anything." And other than a discussion about the merits and severity of said torture, no one's denying this fact.

Exactly.
posted by taliaferro at 1:18 PM on April 24, 2007


fascism IMO is more a cultural phenomenon that privileges "strength" over "weakness"

also: majoritarianism over inherent individual rights, or even reason, for that matter.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 1:21 PM on April 24, 2007


in most cases her anecotes are illustrative examples, not unrepresentative examples which don't fit a larger pattern, which is what "anecdotal" means.

Well, I'm not sure that's exactly what it means. I can tell you that I was using the definition of "anecdotal" that means "based on personal observation, case study reports, or random investigations rather than systematic scientific evaluation." Ted Kennedy, two peace activists in San Francisco, and a Venezualan official being on a TSA list are anecdotal evidence of a targeted "detain and release" policy. But the few lame examples she can come up with are not terribly compelling, and there's no evidence of scientific rigor behind her conclusion. That's what I mean by anecdotal.

There's plenty of room to argue that this administration has taken steps that are harmful and even illegal. In many cases you won't get an argument from me. Why the need to overstate? It just makes her arguments look silly and easy to dismiss.

And if George Bush is trying to create a fascist state, he better hurry. I've been hearing since 2001 that that's where the U.S. was headed. He's had six years and still hasn't imprisoned a single prominent critic? How the hell are Chomsky, or Kos, or Maxine Waters still free? Shouldn't they be in Guantanamo by now? The guy's only got about 18 more months in office. He needs to step it up. (Oh wait, I forgot, he's not going to relinquish power).
posted by pardonyou? at 1:26 PM on April 24, 2007


Still waiting for the bird flu, but at least the shrill "me-too" evil government persecution complex is alive and well. High-risk demographic groups include those who have never experienced actual persecution, much less anything resembling a fascist state.
posted by Krrrlson at 1:31 PM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's obvious we don't really embrace a free society. It may not be fascism... we don't have word for it yet.

Social Democracy. Every illiberal aspect of it is geared towards removing a little freedom in exchange for some comfort or convenience, whereas real freedom is hard and gritty.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 1:32 PM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


High-risk demographic groups include those who have never experienced actual persecution, much less anything resembling a fascist state.

Are we including the tortured, or just those that can't make their flight to Houston? Cause I think the intellectually honest thing to do is to maybe pay attention to the stronger case being made, not the weaker.
posted by dreamsign at 1:35 PM on April 24, 2007


The fact that all the apologists only defense to this article is essentially, "Bush is not as bad as Hitler" really speak volumes about the weakness of their argument.

Of course, all the apologists were going to attack the use of the word "fascist". Upon a re-read of her article, Wolf does not call it American fascism, but "authoritarianism". She says, it must be compared to European fascism.

Conason eloquently warned of the danger of American authoritarianism. I am arguing that we need also to look at the lessons of European and other kinds of fascism to understand the potential seriousness of the events we see unfolding in the US.

Typically, an article author does not title their own piece (the only place where the term 'Fascist America' is used) in a daily newspaper. That falls to editors who have to take space and placement into account. Wolf argues that these 10 steps are antecedents to the fascist regimes that emerged in Europe in the 20th Century. She also starts her article speaking about the coup in Thailand. By doing so, she is not calling Bush a military dictator, but someone who is undermining the balance of power between the tripartite democratic structure underpinning most modern-day democracies.

That is condemnable enough.
posted by Azaadistani at 1:36 PM on April 24, 2007 [3 favorites]


Please stretch "gulag" far enough to give an example in, say, Canada, Australia, or Denmark, while still remaining within the general framework of "a place where people are confined against their will indefinitely without trial".

Well, I'll start by saying that in the context of creating this mythical fascist state, a "gulag" connotes a place where a government imprisons its own political dissidents. There's no evidence Guantanamo meets that criteria. Wolf is suggesting that is still to come. I'm not saying the people who are held there should be held there, or have the rights they should have -- I'm only suggesting that there's a qualitative difference between imprisoning "enemy combatants" and political dissidents. When Al Gore, or Kos, or Naomi Wolf get sent to Guantanamo, I'll call it a gulag.

OK, with that out of the way, I'll be happy to point you to alleged political prisoners in each of those countries, which is about as close to proof of a "gulag" as you have for the U.S.
posted by pardonyou? at 1:39 PM on April 24, 2007


much less anything resembling a fascist state.

And you know, by contrast, because you have lived in one?

Eh, screw it...

Yr a right-winger, krrrlson, so you're not entitled to make pronouncements on what is or isn't fascism. Sorry. Play again when we're labeling people "commies".
posted by saulgoodman at 1:40 PM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


Poor Ms Wolf http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/features/n_9932/
will such writings in a Brit paper hamper her income as a political consultant?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naomi_Wolf

In fact, Americans are not as dumb as the article suggests: the Dems took over Congress; lots of the nonsense via Bush now being seriously investiated and soon will be overturned...The Bush performance as dictator has hardly the national appeal (see polls) as Hitler had from his earliest days till his final day.
posted by Postroad at 1:43 PM on April 24, 2007


saulgoodman, come on, that's bullshit. I don't agree with krrrlson either, but afford the guy the opporunity to debate.
posted by taliaferro at 1:46 PM on April 24, 2007


I posted FPP this as a comment in another thread and I think smedleyman identified one of the telling phrases “In a fascist system, it's not the lies that count but the muddying. When citizens can't tell real news from fake, they give up their demands for accountability bit by bit.” It's all just smoothing the way; rather like the Guild in Dune.
posted by adamvasco at 1:51 PM on April 24, 2007


what's to debate? fascism is a term invented by the political left to describe extreme right wing politics. why should a right winger have any say in how it should be used?
posted by saulgoodman at 1:54 PM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


And you know, by contrast, because you have lived in one?

Didn't krrrlson immigrate from somewhere in Eastern Europe?
posted by Kwantsar at 1:57 PM on April 24, 2007


OK.

So.

What do we do?
posted by poweredbybeard at 1:57 PM on April 24, 2007 [4 favorites]


What was I thinking? Of course, I stand corrected.

It's sheer hysteria to say that the car is going off a cliff until it has actually gone off the cliff. And even then, you know, you were secretly cheering for it to go off the cliff, because that would legitimize your hate for the driver. And that's you, you're just a damn driver-hater. In fact, you hate the car and everything in it. Including yourself. You made the car go off the cliff by, um, encouraging the cliff and not supporting the driver. And that's just what your problem is. You give aid and comfort to the cliff.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:58 PM on April 24, 2007 [4 favorites]


We've been here before, many times. Naomi Wolf's take on it isn't that original or that convincing. So I'm a contrarian.
posted by blucevalo at 2:00 PM on April 24, 2007


what's to debate? fascism is a term invented by the political left to describe extreme right wing politics. why should a right winger have any say in how it should be used?

Paging Winston Smith...
posted by pardonyou? at 2:00 PM on April 24, 2007


pardonyou?: I'm only suggesting that there's a qualitative difference between imprisoning "enemy combatants" and political dissidents.

As I understand it, the President has claimed executive power to determine who's an enemy combatant, without review by the judicial branch. Glenn Greenwald:
The Bush administration's May, 2002 lawless detention of U.S. citizen Jose Padilla -- on U.S. soil -- was, as I recounted in my book, the first incident which really prompted me to begin concluding that things were going terribly awry in our country. The administration declared Padilla an "enemy combatant," put him in a military prison, and refused to charge him with any crime or even allow him access to a lawyer or anyone else. He stayed in a black hole, kept by his own government, for the next three-and-a-half-years with no charges of any kind ever asserted against him and with the administration insisting on the right to detain him (and any other American citizen) indefinitely -- all based solely on the secret, unchallengeable say-so of the President that he was an "enemy combatant."
The power of the executive to designate someone as an "unlawful enemy combatant" without judicial review appears to be preserved in the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (PDF): this status is to be determined by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the President or the Secretary of Defense.
posted by russilwvong at 2:02 PM on April 24, 2007 [4 favorites]


what's to debate? fascism is a term invented by the political left to describe extreme right wing politics. why should a right winger have any say in how it should be used?

Just like how "traitor" or "enemy" used by the Right to describe the Left.
posted by byronimation at 2:04 PM on April 24, 2007


That was a great short story. Are they going to make it into a movie?
posted by tadellin at 2:05 PM on April 24, 2007


paraphrase/ She doesn't know her history from a hole in the ground... She wouldn't know "fascist" if it bit her in the ass... It's not a "gulag"; it's a really bad, secretive prison with questionable practices on foreign ground, but it's not a "gulag"... /paraphrase

WTF is wrong with you people? Are you so wedded to being semantically "correct" that you're willing to deny the elephant in the parlor?

You have to be dense to argue that, because the path the US is taking is not identical to Germany, or Italy, or Spain, we can't possibly be flirting with fascism here. The abuses of our established system of government are so obvious that anyone willing to apologize for our present leaders has to be clueless or wishing for an emperor.

The Patriot Act, The Military Authorization Act, secret collusion between phone companies, ISPs, and the government, upcoming "National ID cards",rendition, approved torture, Guantanamo, miltary tribunals in lieu of open court, the "enemy combatant" label for citizens on presidential authority alone, the use of mercenaries, etc., etc., etc.

How long a list do you need before you admit that the writer has a better grasp of her subject than you do?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:05 PM on April 24, 2007


“but Wolf is stretching to jump to fascism, as opposed to more accurate terms as authoritarian, violent, hypocritical, statist, criminal, and incompetent.”

I think she’s a bit out of bounds with the definition of the term.
But you’re right, that doesn’t invalidate the more accurate criticism of the path we’re currently following.
It’s not so much an “OMG! FASCISM!” as it is an “if this keeps up...”
And indeed - secret prisons where we torture people - dead giveaway.
I think one of the most blatent abuses has been the loss of congressional check in executive war powers - that’s been eroding slowly over the past 50-odd years. At what point does it become bad enough to actually do something to change direction?
I happen to agree that we’ve crossed the “it’s bad enough” line a bit back. I don’t think we need - and I don’t think she implies - a bloody revolt to reverse the course our government is taking. But, “if this keeps up” we will have to, or suffer the consequences.
Right now we can get away with saying ‘nothing is going on’ because these kinds of injustices are not widespread.
Look at Padilla. He’s a citizen held without charge in military custory for years, allegedly tortured and isolated to the point of madness... So it’s ok for the government to totally step all over citizen’s rights because, what? It’s only one man?
As you can’t be a little bit pregnant, you can’t be a little bit totalitarian.

I don’t know how we’re going to step back from Gitmo, et.al the other abuses. But we’re going to have to or what we will have whether it’s strictly speaking fascism or not will not be a republic (“if you can keep it”).

“the rich people get to decide what liberties they will allow to the rest of us and what they can take on a whim. And. Since deep down we believe rich people are better than us I guess it's okay.”

I was thinking about this in terms of rappers not calling the police. I heard on the radio someone say if he lived next door to a serial killer he wouldn’t call the cops.
I don’t know how the hell people got suckered into this whole “don’t call the cops” subculture - or rather, I’m aware of the underlying causes such as police abuse, racism, etc. concerning calling the police, but not how people don’t get banding together as a community is better than, say, not.
The whole “mind your own business” thing as applied to criminal acts. That mindset can only benefit the wealthier folks, particularly if their wealth is predicated on criminal activity.
And there seems to be a similar mindset in the broader social context in terms of watchdogging the government. Earnest inquiry, criticism and redressing of grievences isn’t panicking.
If there is a serial killer living next door to me, I’m going to call the cops. If I don’t trust the cops I’m going to get some people together and make sure there is no longer a serial killer living next door to me. Either way, if there is something wrong, I’m not going to “mind my own business” because there are problems and if they don’t get addressed it will keep up and we will have a truly oppressive regime in power.

While I’d argue with some details and analogy in the piece, I don’t find fault with the basic assertion or the specifics concerning actions taken by this administration. I find no evidence that the new boss (if there is one) will reverse course without work done on the grassroots level.

So, it’s less Chicken Little than it is Little Red Hen.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:06 PM on April 24, 2007


I'm a little chary of the kind of facile comparisons the "I-can't-believe-it's-not-fascism" approach may lead to; largely because the kind of amoral vested interests who do appear to be dismantling checks and counterbalances to overweening power in the US will doubtless be served by better students of history than most of us; and will I expect have learned how to repackage the attempt.
We must learn from the past and spot these recurring themes, but I guess I've always thought the best approach is to identify what you're positively in favour of, and campaign for that in your polity - on the old "we push for freedom and justice; they strike for greed and uncontested power; the blow lands but is softened" thesis - otherwise we may just stand by wringing our hands as we correctly identify the signs and portents, or attempt to engage the enemy on ground they have chosen.
Then there's that whole discussion around "soft fascism."
posted by Abiezer at 2:08 PM on April 24, 2007


(russilwvong, nice grab)
posted by Smedleyman at 2:14 PM on April 24, 2007


And if George Bush is trying to create a fascist state, he better hurry. I've been hearing since 2001 that that's where the U.S. was headed. He's had six years and still hasn't imprisoned a single prominent critic? How the hell are Chomsky, or Kos, or Maxine Waters still free? Shouldn't they be in Guantanamo by now? The guy's only got about 18 more months in office. He needs to step it up. (Oh wait, I forgot, he's not going to relinquish power).

This was always a wonder to me. The right wing media was calling for the lynching of liberals, the populace was steaming with hate, and the administration gave all the rhetoric to suppress dissent. And the military has always been overwhelmingly in support of a rather violent form of right wing politics. They declared the war and imprisoned the infidels, but never went the extra mile to oppress the dissenters who really would have been powerless to stop them. Imagine if they rounded up a whole anti-war rally and jailed them all. Who would've stopped it?

But I think what's missed is that the obedience that is an inherent property of the right wing authoritarians, is one that is obedient to a superficial understanding of the culture...one which has ingrained in it a worship of democracy. When they scream about them libruls, they may have convinced themselves that they are protecting the constitution and freedom and democracy, even if it means violating these things themselves. In their speech they rail against the 'facists' that are taking away their rights even while performing seeming parallels. But by and large the right wing doesn't think they're fascist and cannot make the last few leaps of authoritarianism without undermining the principle of democracy they are doing it for.
posted by kigpig at 2:17 PM on April 24, 2007


WTF is wrong with you people? Are you so wedded to being semantically "correct" that you're willing to deny the elephant in the parlor?

Semantics doesn't begin to enter into the discussion.

By classical Fascism as it was described by Mussolini and its connections with the nihilist Dadaist movement, there are certainly many parallels between the United States today and 1920s Italy as burgeoning Fascist states: particularly with respect to the synthesis of corporativist, religious and nationalist movements afoot then and now.

There are numerous parallels of Fascism as an industrial societal response to Communism then and the response of a post-industrial societal response to fundamentalist Islam now. The apologists have some serious homework to do.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:19 PM on April 24, 2007


“but Wolf is stretching to jump to fascism, as opposed to more accurate terms as authoritarian, violent, hypocritical, statist, criminal, and incompetent.”

I think she’s a bit out of bounds with the definition of the term.
But you’re right, that doesn’t invalidate the more accurate criticism of the path we’re currently following.
It’s not so much an “OMG! FASCISM!” as it is an “if this keeps up...”
And indeed - secret prisons where we torture people - dead giveaway.
I think one of the most blatent abuses has been the loss of congressional check in executive war powers - that’s been eroding slowly over the past 50-odd years. At what point does it become bad enough to actually do something to change direction?
I happen to agree that we’ve crossed the “it’s bad enough” line a bit back. I don’t think we need - and I don’t think she implies - a bloody revolt to reverse the course our government is taking. But, “if this keeps up” we will have to, or suffer the consequences.
Right now we can get away with saying ‘nothing is going on’ because these kinds of injustices are not widespread.
Look at Padilla. He’s a citizen held without charge in military custory for years, allegedly tortured and isolated to the point of madness... So it’s ok for the government to totally step all over citizen’s rights because, what? It’s only one man?
As you can’t be a little bit pregnant, you can’t be a little bit totalitarian.

I don’t know how we’re going to step back from Gitmo, et.al the other abuses. But we’re going to have to or what we will have whether it’s strictly speaking fascism or not will not be a republic (“if you can keep it”).

“the rich people get to decide what liberties they will allow to the rest of us and what they can take on a whim. And. Since deep down we believe rich people are better than us I guess it's okay.”

I was thinking about this in terms of rappers not calling the police. I heard on the radio someone say if he lived next door to a serial killer he wouldn’t call the cops.
I don’t know how the hell people got suckered into this whole “don’t call the cops” subculture - or rather, I’m aware of the underlying causes such as police abuse, racism, etc. concerning calling the police, but not how people don’t get banding together as a community is better than, say, not.
The whole “mind your own business” thing as applied to criminal acts. That mindset can only benefit the wealthier folks, particularly if their wealth is predicated on criminal activity.
And there seems to be a similar mindset in the broader social context in terms of watchdogging the government. Earnest inquiry, criticism and redressing of grievences isn’t panicking.
If there is a serial killer living next door to me, I’m going to call the cops. If I don’t trust the cops I’m going to get some people together and make sure there is no longer a serial killer living next door to me. Either way, if there is something wrong, I’m not going to “mind my own business” because there are problems and if they don’t get addressed it will keep up and we will have a truly oppressive regime in power.

While I’d argue with some details and analogy in the piece, I don’t find fault with the basic assertion or the specifics concerning actions taken by this administration. I find no evidence that the new boss (if there is one) will reverse course without work done on the grassroots level.

So, it’s less Chicken Little than it is Little Red Hen.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:19 PM on April 24, 2007


what's to debate? fascism is a term invented by the political left to describe extreme right wing politics. why should a right winger have any say in how it should be used?

fascist
1921, from It. partito nazionale fascista, the anti-communist political movement organized 1919 under Benito Mussolini (1883-1945); from It. fascio "group, association," lit. "bundle." Fasci "groups of men organized for political purposes" had been a feature of Sicily since c.1895; the 20c. sense probably infl. by the Roman fasces (q.v.) which became the party symbol. Fascism, also 1921, was originally used in Eng. 1920 in its It. form, fascismo. Applied to similar groups in Germany from 1923.
So says the Online Etymology Dictionary. Wikipedia also points out that "Fascio" had previous use as a term to denote an extremist political group regardless of ideology.

So, no.
posted by jtron at 2:20 PM on April 24, 2007


(sorry, my machine is acting up)
posted by Smedleyman at 2:23 PM on April 24, 2007


(saulgoodman - I had a nice, long, reasoned response to your question ("what's to debate"), and then Internet Explorer crashed. I'm at work, and trying to leave soon, so shoot me an email if you really wanna hear my response. My email's in my profile.)
posted by taliaferro at 2:26 PM on April 24, 2007


"Fascio" had previous use as a term to denote an extremist political group regardless of ideology.

Okay, so now we know that one of the etymological roots of the word "Fascism" didn't mean exactly the same thing as the word "Fascism" does. Where does that get us?
posted by saulgoodman at 2:26 PM on April 24, 2007


Each one I tic off supports my bald assertion just as well as Naomi's tic-offs support hers.

Hers is an assertion, yours an ass-eruption; seeing the diiference is 'up' to you.

Sorry to hear that you're bald.
posted by jamjam at 2:27 PM on April 24, 2007


OK, with that out of the way, I'll be happy to point you to alleged political prisoners in each of those countries, which is about as close to proof of a "gulag" as you have for the U.S.

Please do. I assume that these will be people who haven't been put on trial, and whose detention is currently indefinite.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 2:33 PM on April 24, 2007


saulgoodman: well, it gets us to a place where you need to come up with a new reason for why "right wingers" should be excluded from debate, since 'fascism' was not, contra your assertion, "a term invented by the political left to describe extreme right wing politics."
posted by jtron at 2:33 PM on April 24, 2007


Sometimes we even exchange carefully phrased opinions on China’s political situation. Greetings from inside the belly of the beast.
posted by Abiezer at 2:35 PM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


You know who else stifled sedition, interned his own people and kept a tighter grip on power than precedent allowed for?

Roosevelt.

... shit, I think I screwed up the ending.
posted by EatTheWeak at 2:38 PM on April 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


You just need to look to this comment thread for an affirmation of her article. Quibbling about semantics and saying we're not as bad as we could be is just so much fiddling while the republic burns.

Just as much of the responsibility for this situation lies with the weaklings in Congress who even today refuse to do much about it and the press who receive privilege in exchange for printing lies.

Of course, they're only representatives of us, ultimately--and we'd rather see Britney's shaved snatch in a paparazzi photo than learn and do something about what's happening in DC.
posted by maxwelton at 2:41 PM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


Dang. You got me jtron. Except that in the context of post World War II American political discourse, the term "Fascism" is almost always used as a synonym for right-wing political extremism, and here we are using the word in Post-World War II America, so I just kind of figured it should mean what it means now, instead of meaning what one of the words it arose from used to mean... But that's just me, so let's say I grant your argument: Now do I get to have my argument that Mao and Stalin weren't really communists taken seriously, too?
posted by saulgoodman at 2:46 PM on April 24, 2007


saul, I'm not arguing that 'the term "Fascism" is almost always used as a synonym for right-wing political extremism,' although it really denotes a subset thereof. Just pointing out your false etymology.

Although I'd probably agree with you re: Stalin, as a power-hungry humbug like him would've clawed his way to the top (or died trying) no matter what the prevailing ideology.
posted by jtron at 2:50 PM on April 24, 2007


Please do. I assume that these will be people who haven't been put on trial, and whose detention is currently indefinite.

I will. Just as soon as you point me to a U.S. citizen who hasn't been put on trial and whose detention is currently indefinite.
posted by pardonyou? at 2:50 PM on April 24, 2007


Just as soon as you point me to a U.S. citizen who hasn't been put on trial and whose detention is currently indefinite.

What a fucking weasel.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 2:54 PM on April 24, 2007


What a fucking weasel.

Why? It was my whole point -- a "gulag," by definition, is a place for the detention of political dissidents. It's really annoying to try to make a nuanced point in this place and get steamrolled by all the "BUSH APOLOGIST!!1!" nonsense. I've tried to make the argument that Naomi Wolf's evidence in support of her "fascism" claim is weak, and that such overstatement is unnecessary and counterproductive, since it makes the argument easy to dismiss as the rantings of a crackpot. Not that the things she points to aren't wrong, just that they don't prove her thesis.

The administration's actions are bad enough. Why the compulsion to exaggerate them just to fit some inflammatory label?
posted by pardonyou? at 3:06 PM on April 24, 2007


pardonyou? writes "The whole thing ignores the enormous gulf between, say, having one's name on a TSA list and being 'detained and released' (yes, I'm sure the government was trying to intimidate Ted Kennedy by placing his name on the TSA list)."

I think your being sarcastic here but why is that so out of the realm of possibility? The whole point of the article is these things start small. And Ted being on the list, something that was more than a little inconvenient for him, is at the same time so absurd that people can laugh it off. Yet the secret lists continue to grow and multiply.
posted by Mitheral at 3:15 PM on April 24, 2007


pardonyou?, the gulag system also held "common" criminals from its inception. If you're going for a description "by definition," you might be better off saying something like "a 'gulag,' by definition, is a bureaucracy which administers a series of forced labor camps." It's the secrecy of the camps, Soviet and American, that invites the direct comparison.
posted by jtron at 3:15 PM on April 24, 2007


Didn't krrrlson immigrate from somewhere in Eastern Europe?

Gliese 581 c more like.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 3:17 PM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


“...point me to a U.S. citizen who hasn't been put on trial and whose detention is currently indefinite”

Well, ‘american’ rules out brits like Martin Mubanga. And ah, ‘currently’ there’s the rub. Hamdi - indefinately detained but released only on condition that he was stripped of his citizenship and can’t sue the U.S. government for violating his rights. Mohammad Munaf is more of a Romanian thing. Vance - detained without trail, tortured and habeus corpus rights violated, but he’s been let go.
Padilla - still in custody, beatend and isolated until he lost his mind, but y’know, technically not ‘indefinitely’ detained. Although the adminstration still asserts they can do that.
In fact, looking back at the detention of Osama Elfar, there still seems to be in place gag orders preventing lawyers from discussing or disclosing information about detainees - citizen or not.
So really, we don’t know who is locked up, nor for how long. Just the few that have come to light - like Padilla - who have been brought to light by the administration itself.

And, no real reason to jail anyone who can’t really threaten you. Gore can bitch all he wants, he can’t introduce legislation. And even if by influence he can, if that gets stalled in committee or if it dies because no one will vote for it because they’re afraid to lose corporate dollars, etc. etc. - there are myriad subtle ways - why bother with a naked excercise of power?
(para: “Best day to fire someone is on a Friday, less chance of an incident” - the two bobs)

You know who else was Hitler?
...no, wait, that’s the Jeopardy answer.

Show me...Hitler!
...no, wait....

H_tl_r
...I’d like to buy a vowel.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:24 PM on April 24, 2007 [3 favorites]


My word. Gulag. We have no gulag. Let's be serious here. Can we just drop the "g" word? I once proposed that we coin an equivalent to "Godwin" for inaccurate, tendentious, derailing analogies to Stalinist nastiness. Anyone have a good one? "To Stalin?" Suggestions welcome (not to derail...)
posted by MarshallPoe at 3:38 PM on April 24, 2007


pardonyou? writes "Just as soon as you point me to a U.S. citizen who hasn't been put on trial and whose detention is currently indefinite."

How would we know? The CIA has admitted to squirrelling people away to black sites in other countries with out any sort of due process. The whole reason these secret from everyone because of national security issue prisons are bad is because there is no possibility for over sight. Dozens of Americans could be held right now and the only way we'd find out is if someone blows the whistle (and their career and possibly freedom).
posted by Mitheral at 3:46 PM on April 24, 2007


My word. Gulag. We have no gulag. Let's be serious here. Can we just drop the "g" word? I once proposed that we coin an equivalent to "Godwin" for inaccurate, tendentious, derailing analogies to Stalinist nastiness. Anyone have a good one? "To Stalin?" Suggestions welcome (not to derail...)

Fine, can we drop the pretense that we live in democracies as well? How about just dropping the 'd' word or any word that is too emotive and hearkens back to bad old times worth remembering?

Let's then create new words to show our disdain for others who try to use events from history that may serve as warning signs. Yeah, let's be serious.
"By 2050—earlier, probably—all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron—they'll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually contradictory of what they used to be. Even the literature of the Party will change. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like "freedom is slavery" when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness"

George Orwell, 1984
I'll try not "To Orwell" ever again.
posted by twistedonion at 4:04 PM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


But the few lame examples she can come up with are not terribly compelling, and there's no evidence of scientific rigor behind her conclusion. That's what I mean by anecdotal.

This is a recurring theme whenever the subject of American authoritarianism in the Bush regime comes up. In one sense, you're absolutely right: a bunch of surly young Republicans does not at all compare to, say, Hitler's SA. A bunch of people being caught on haphazardly compiled no-fly lists is not necessarily evidence of a coordinated attempt to restrict the rights of dissenters. And when various idiots tell the publisher of the New York Times that he should be tried for treason, that's not the same as the state taking control of the media.

But the trouble with this criticism is that if there was such obvious evidence of old-school authoritarian tactics—if the Bush administration did try to seize control of the New York Times, if they did impose martial law on election days, if they started rounding up people en masse and shipped them off to Guantanamo—then not only would it be plainly obvious to everyone, but it'd also be too late. A government with that much power can effectively impose its will without the need of the people to cooperate. They can only execute those obvious actions because the game is already won.

Naomi Wolf's crucial point actually works against the premise of the article a bit, which is a shame, but it's an important point anyways:
Of course, the United States is not vulnerable to the violent, total closing-down of the system that followed Mussolini's march on Rome or Hitler's roundup of political prisoners. Our democratic habits are too resilient, and our military and judiciary too independent, for any kind of scenario like that.

Rather, as other critics are noting, our experiment in democracy could be closed down by a process of erosion.
This is where we trot out the overused canard that Hitler was elected by the people (which, of course, isn't exactly right; he was appointed Chancellor after the Nazi party won the majority of seats in two Parliamentary elections, and after a great deal of back room politics). But it's more than just that.

I can't speak to history because I'm a bad historian, but what's happening in America seems to be a case of gradually pushing the boundaries to see when they break. If you're a pessimist, you see it differently; it's a process of acclimation. Either way, what we've seen is a succession of moves that, individually, appear very small. What happens when they start to add up to a lot? What happens when you start to see more surly young Republicans outside polling booths, or people you know start getting flagged by no-fly lists? What happens when one of your activist friends is detained by police after a protest? What happens when it becomes your professor, or the next-door neighbour who'd never been to a protest in his life? At what point do you finally decide you've seen enough, and that the government needs to be stopped? And if you do get to that point, will you have any options left besides flee the country?

And that is why articles like these will always be problematic It's hard to make the case for fascism or authoritarianism because the signs are still small and it's hard to predict the future. Wolf has pointed out what has happened in previous fascist states, but that doesn't necessarily mean it will happen here; she's not a psychic. But unfortunately, it's only when the signs are still small and apparently harmless that encroaching authoritarianism can be stopped. That means anyone who tries to sound the alarm and say "hey, this is something we need to watch out for" gets painted as a Chicken Little. Figuring out just how much evidence is enough to sound the alarm is a tricky business.

Maybe when Bush passes out of office, the changes his administration has made to American governance will be rolled back and everything will be fine. Maybe they'll remain, but everyone will just act as if nothing had changed. Or maybe the next President will take the ball and push the authoritarian agenda further. But when it's your civil rights and freedoms that are on the line, I think it's better to be always vigilant and err on the side of being alarmist.
posted by chrominance at 4:06 PM on April 24, 2007 [40 favorites]


Well said, chrominance.
posted by jtron at 4:17 PM on April 24, 2007



If I may, I'd like to repeat what I said in the Citizen journalism=fascism thread:

>>The single greatest and most widespread tendency towards fascism in this country is not citizen journalism (!) or even the Republican Party (it is, however, symptomatic), but the privatization of the public sphere. From neighborhood associations to Blackwater mercenaries to private shopping malls with private security, to the corporatization of small towns and the destruction of independent economic activity and therefore the freedoms that are fought for and preserved only in societies where there is a stable, viable middle class, all these are greater indicators of fascism to me than the rise of "citizen journalism," which is a bit of a straw horse anyway (a few reputations ruined by YouTube does not a revolution make.)
posted by bukharin at 4:24 PM on April 24, 2007


well said, jtron.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 4:47 PM on April 24, 2007


“Well said, chrominance.”
2nded
(3rd?) (howard johnson is right about nathan johnson being right!)
posted by Smedleyman at 5:16 PM on April 24, 2007


(also, I wouldn’t have much of a problem with armed resistance against mercenaries. Blackwater is notable for their expertise and deserving of that rep but - upholding the constitution, not so much, sworn to do, they are. I mean U.S. government use of them just pole vaults right over the Posse Comitatus act into Hessian territory -(battle of trenton, the famous painting of Washington, all that) those Jägers were badasses hey? But y’know, still oppressors )
posted by Smedleyman at 5:29 PM on April 24, 2007


Although it usually obscures more than illuminates to argue about '-isms' and their definitions (as we can clearly see in this thread), I'm surprised nobody has mentioned corporatism as a synonym-of-sorts for fascism (in the senses in which most are using it here, I think).

One is inclined, as Ms Wolf is, I guess, to use the Scary F Word to stir the pot, but I think if one used the Not So Scary C Word instead, it would be both more accurate and less contentious.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:41 PM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


Fascism is sort of like pornography, you know when you see it. Right now we're at Maxim. It is risque for sure, but it is no Mussolini, legs spread Penthouse issue.

Besides we can probably go back to any point post-1950 and look up reasons to call the United States fascist. Does anyone remember J Edgar Hoover? I think he's still tapping phones somewhere.

Political systems are more nuanced than journalists would like to believe. Neo-conservative rule within a constitutional republic does not fascism make. Bush is incompetent, his party largely corrupt and policies misguided. The very fact we have a elected a Democratic majority in the house and the senate is prima face evidence to an antithesis of her article.

Christ, the amount of issues we have in our government and she resorts to name calling? I find the high concentration of a few elite families ruling on both sides of left/right spectrum more alarming -- but England isn't exactly foreign to that concept, is it?
posted by geoff. at 6:33 PM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


The very fact we have a elected a Democratic majority in the house and the senate is prima face evidence to an antithesis of her article.

I'm not so sure about that. That the form of democracy is followed does not mean that the functions are being adequately fulfilled. The widely held belief that there is little fundamental difference between the two major American political parties, particularly in terms of the degree to which their decisions and policies are bought and paid for by corporate interests, leads me to suspect that the pageantry of elections is not quite the indicator of healthy democracy that it may seem.

Like others have suggested, I think it may not be such a great idea to try and hammer the current mess into a nicely labelled conceptual hole, no matter how instructive the lessons of the past might be. The author of the linked article is as guilty of this as the rest of us, perhaps. It derails clear-eyed evaluation of the present situation into arguments about definition of terms even as it gives us a handle to try and grasp the problem.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:52 PM on April 24, 2007


Interesting post, but I'm not sure that I trust Naomi Wolf to define "fascism" for me. If the title of her article were "Authoritarian America in 10 Easy Steps," well, maybe.

the word "authoritarian" IMHO was popularised by people like Jeane Kirkpatrick to talk about fascist regimes that the U.S. government cultivated as proxies in places like, oh, South and Central America. This usage is so pervasive in the U.S. that you get this brilliant passage from the wikipedia definition:


For example, the Spanish government under Francisco Franco, whileto there was still some personal freedom, would be considered as authoritarian. On the other hand, USSR under eStalin would be regarded as totalitarian as it governed all sorts of things of the people.



Franco!

I hate to troll a dead thread, but Germany went from a weak isolated central european state in 1939 to a weak, utterly decimated central european state in 6 years. Russian went from backward monarchy to backward weak state in about 70 years. Neither of these examples of 'fascist' states compare to the raw and enduring power of the U.S. Fascism as we have known it in the 20th century as been a feature of ultimately weak states, the U.S. faces something very different: how can we maintain an empire into the 21th century.
posted by geos at 7:19 PM on April 24, 2007


This argument is absurd. The article doesn't say America is actually becoming Fascist but that the current government has begun to set up a political climate that may be fertile to such a growth.

The Nazi's didn't seem that bad in the beginning..."Work & Bread"
posted by mary8nne at 8:05 PM on April 24, 2007


kigpig: And the military has always been overwhelmingly in support of a rather violent form of right wing politics.

Huh? Compared to the Bush administration, the military is a bunch of hippie pinkos. Remember that (for very good reasons) they don't get to decide what they do; the decisions are made by the civilian administration. To the extent that they are allowed to express their opinion, they seem to have been eager to point out that, for example, the Iraq war is an amazingly stupid idea, even before the war started. But they have to go do it anyway. Generals have been resigning en masse in protest of Bush's policies: this is the strongest expression of disagreement you can get from a career officer, short of a coup. And I'm rather glad that the situation hasn't reached coup severity yet.
posted by hattifattener at 8:32 PM on April 24, 2007


` ` Friendly fascism portrays two conflicting trends in the United States and other countries of the so-called "free world." The first is a slow and powerful drift toward greater concentration of power and wealth in a repressive Big Business-Big Government partnership... The other is a slower and less powerful tendency for individuals and groups to seek greater participation in decisions affecting themselves and others... These contradictory trends are woven fine into the fabric of highly industrialized capitalism. ' '

From the colonial days of The Philadelphia Aurora to J. Edgar Hoover's COINTELPRO, from Karen Silkwood to Jeffrey Wigand, from Gary Webb to Pinkertons doing cover-ups at MIT, from Elena Lappin to Anne Nelson, from Al Jazeera, Reuters and other journalists in Iraq being murdered by US soldiers, to sponsorship and training of military dictators in the US Army's School of the Americas who do the same in their own countries — and on and on — the United States has a long, bloody history of placing little value on allowing dissenting speech both at home and abroad, wherever we might have economic or strategic interests.

Make no mistake, American Fascism is here, alive and well. The face it presents to you depends on what arm of the government you decide to provoke, and how much economic or political damage you might cause if you're not stopped. You might simply have your career destroyed, you might be harassed, intimidated or incarcerated unjustly, or you might get killed or disappeared into secret prisons, either in US territory or overseas, or handed over to countries with which the CIA has made prior arrangements.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:44 PM on April 24, 2007


I like Eco's notion of "fascism" as synecdoche (a rhetorical figure substituting the part for the whole, as in describing workers as "hands"):

Italian fascism was the first right-wing dictatorship that took over a European country, and all similar movements later found a sort of archetype in Mussolini's regime. . . .

Nevertheless, historical priority does not seem to me a sufficient reason to explain why the word fascism became a synecdoche, that is, a word that could be used for different totalitarian movements. This is not because fascism contained in itself, so to speak in their quintessential state, all the elements of any later form of totalitarianism. On the contrary, fascism had no quintessence. Fascism was a fuzzy totalitarianism, a collage of different philosophical and political ideas, a beehive of contradictions. Can one conceive of a truly totalitarian movement that was able to combine monarchy with revolution, the Royal Army with Mussolini's personal milizia, the grant of privileges to the Church with state education extolling violence, absolute state control with a free market?




See also "A Brief History of the State of Exception"
by Giorgio Agamben, an excerpt from State of Exception (summarized here).
posted by girandole at 8:46 PM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


I like Eco's notion of "fascism" as synecdoche (a rhetorical figure substituting the part for the whole, as in describing workers as "hands")

Me too. It's an elegant way to gesture at an idea that would take a hell of a lot of words to get to otherwise.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:52 PM on April 24, 2007


The fact that all the apologists only defense to this article is essentially, "Bush is not as bad as Hitler" really speak volumes about the weakness of their argument.

try, bush is not as bad as nixon ... or johnson ... or wilson ... or hoover or eisenhower ... or kennedy ... or, well, yeah, roosevelt ...

even clinton isn't that much better ... remember the clipper chip? ... remember waco?

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy

remember the red scare of the 10s and 20s ... the cold war?

2. Create a gulag

bush didn't create our 2 million strong prison system ... and, back in the cold war days, our "friends" were keeping a lot more of their people under lock and key for us than bush is keeping now

3. Develop a thug caste

as if america has ever lacked one

4. Set up an internal surveillance system

done constantly last century until the 80s or so ...

5. Harass citizens' groups

see 4

6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release

what do you think vagrancy and drug laws are for?

7. Target key individuals

another fine old american tradition ...

8. Control the press

there was a time when the press hardly tried to do anything that it might be controlled for

9. Dissent equals treason

again, was there a time from 1900 to 1980 or so when there weren't people saying that?

10. Suspend the rule of law

you mean like lynching them? ... sending them to detention camps?

does naomi wolf know ANYTHING about american history?

no, what's different about these times is that we know much more of what bush is up to than what the other presidents were up to

we've been fighting fascism in this country for a damned long time
posted by pyramid termite at 9:08 PM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


By classical Fascism as it was described by Mussolini and its connections with the nihilist Dadaist movement

Minor niggle, it was the Futurists who were the Fascists. Marinetti and that crowd. Brilliant artists, political idiots. The Dadaists however, were anti-war and certainly, especially the Berlin Dadaists, strongly anti-Nazi. And calling them nihilists is also wrong. They were very much for life, it's just that they're way of being pro-life (if you will) differed from that of others, such as the Nazis, who hated Dada.

Oh, and as to the subject at hand, I'm a Green Card-carrying Resident Alien, I'm not touching that with a ten-foot pole.
posted by Kattullus at 9:14 PM on April 24, 2007


we've been fighting fascism in this country for a damned long time

Perhaps, but not very effectively, which would be half the point here, I think.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:21 PM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


hmmm ... well, stravos, i think people make a big mistake when they single out bush ... in 2008, we'll have someone else, and it wouldn't do to be complacent about our new president ...
posted by pyramid termite at 9:44 PM on April 24, 2007


Aye.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:47 PM on April 24, 2007


Dear jfuller - please don't post stupid knee-jerk over-generalisations about Britain; South London doesn't cover the entire island.

It's hard enough living here during the oughties without Americans like yourself making us ALL look like a bunch of fucking knuckle-dragging, gun-loving 'Loyal Bushies'.

Cheers.
posted by chuckdarwin at 1:20 AM on April 25, 2007


The sad part is that they're incompetent fascists, and can't figure out how to get the trains to run on time.

I thought it was a good article. That there is anybody at all left to defend the Bush Government astonishes me.
posted by theora55 at 7:46 AM on April 25, 2007


Firas - you asked for it -

Nothing is ever swept under the rug. Something things that this administration has done will be undone by those with contrary agendas when someone new shows up. Some things will be abandoned as new attitudes make them less relevant. Some things will become infamous historical knowledge, like Nixon, that change the political culture forever.

The capacity to forget is an essential trick of the human psyche. It helps us imagine we are good people, a requirement for self sacrifice. Forgetting also helps us forgive, because we forget what $#%$#$@ our enemies were.

There is no doubt that there is a march of progress toward greater human dignity and more humane rule of law. Forgetting is part of this march. We forget what Japan did to us, what we did to Germany. We forget that women and blacks couldn't vote once, we forget that the Supreme Court upheld slavery. We forget to visit our national memorials for those who died in the name of liberty, whether or not they understood it, whether or not it was won.

We forget how tired we are of marching toward progress, and tomorrow we get up and march a little more. Here's to forgetting.
posted by ewkpates at 11:21 AM on April 25, 2007


That’s the Little Red Hen thing. You do the work of fighting fascism and you reap the rewards. Part of the problem is the rewards are often occluded or evidence of them are made circumspect such that we also forget the blessings of freedom.
We forget there’s more to life than sex and money over the din of those enticements constantly being blared at us.
It is the doom of men that they forget.


“...even as it gives us a handle to try and grasp the problem.”
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken

Well said btw.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:06 PM on April 25, 2007


2 pieces i would like you'd all read:

1. interview with Chris Hedges on Democracy Now! (listen, read, or watch)

2. Stephen Lendman on the book by Chris Hedges
posted by Substrata at 2:46 PM on April 25, 2007


Substrata: the Chris Hedges interview is great. Previously. A lot stronger than the Naomi Wolf article, IMHO.
I think it’s a mistake to think that George Bush somehow embodies the [Christian dominionist] movement. I think there’s a great deal of frustration with Bush, remember, on the issue of immigration, and there is a tension, an uneasy alliance between these corporate interests and this radical movement, and I think, you know, we should also say, as Robert Paxton points out in his book, Anatomy of Fascism, that fascist movements always build alliances with conservative or industrial interests, and oftentimes these alliances are not seamless. But on the issue of immigration, Bush sided with the corporations, who want illegal immigrants for cheap labor. There’s a huge nativist element, a huge hostility towards immigrants within the movement, and that angered the Christian right.

I think they’re going to go searching for another candidate -- maybe Brownback, I don't know -- who they feel -- I mean, it boils down to the fact that they feel Bush was not radical enough. And they’re going to go searching for a candidate that is going to swing further right, further towards the radical agenda that they have at their core.
pyramid termite: try, bush is not as bad as nixon ... or johnson ... or wilson ... or hoover or eisenhower ... or kennedy ... or, well, yeah, roosevelt ...

If you think the Bush Administration is just business as usual in American politics, you haven't been paying attention at all. Mark Danner, writing in 2005:
When Alberto Gonzales takes his seat before the Senate Judiciary Committee today for hearings to confirm whether he will become attorney general of the United States, Americans will bid farewell to that comforting story line. The senators are likely to give full legitimacy to a path that the Bush administration set the country on more than three years ago, a path that has transformed the United States from a country that condemned torture and forbade its use to one that practices torture routinely. Through a process of redefinition largely overseen by Mr. Gonzales himself, a practice that was once a clear and abhorrent violation of the law has become in effect the law of the land.
Also see Andrew Northrup. Aren't you amazed that three years after Abu Ghraib, 35-38% of Americans still approve of the job Bush is doing?
posted by russilwvong at 3:13 PM on April 25, 2007


russilwvrong - it's nothing new ... operation phoenix ...
posted by pyramid termite at 8:25 PM on April 25, 2007


I never knew in the course of all those operations any detainee to live through his interrogation. They all died.

the difference being, of course, that now the government has to justify it publicly ... back then, they didn't
posted by pyramid termite at 8:37 PM on April 25, 2007


OMG, all this time I was thinking of Naomi Klein as the author. Why is third-waver Wolf writing about politics? (kidding. kinda.)
posted by Firas at 9:01 PM on April 25, 2007


pyramid termite: I know about the Phoenix Program. It was a secret program to assassinate enemies of the South Vietnamese government. Like other assassinations authorized by past Presidents and carried out by the CIA, it was revealed as part of the post-Watergate Church Committee hearings in 1975. But it follows the narrative described by Mark Danner:
At least since Watergate, Americans have come to take for granted a certain story line of scandal, in which revelation is followed by investigation, adjudication and expiation. Together, Congress and the courts investigate high-level wrongdoing and place it in a carefully constructed narrative, in which crimes are charted, malfeasance is explicated and punishment is apportioned as the final step in the journey back to order, justice and propriety.
That is to say, once the program became public, everyone condemned it; nobody, as far as I know, tried to justify or defend it.

In the case of Abu Ghraib, on the other hand, the White House and its supporters argue that it should be able to continue torturing people. There's a popular television series in which the hero tortures people on a regular basis. Something's gone very wrong here.

On preview: yes, that's a big difference. What I find astonishing is that a substantial number of people--more than 30%--appear to accept the government's justification of torture.

By the way, there's some discussion of K. Barton Osborn's reliability--Osborne being the source of the "They all died" quote--in this H-DIPLO post by Edwin Moise.
posted by russilwvong at 9:09 PM on April 25, 2007


The facts here are not in dispute. Everyone agrees that Guantanamo Bay has become a place where "detainees are abused, and kept indefinitely without trial and without access to the due process of the law." You can either respond to those facts, or you can reassure yourself with NABA-NABA, desperately latching onto Wolf's use of the word "gulag" and indulging in the comforting distraction that, as bad as it may be, Gitmo is NABA the Soviet gulags.

That's true. It's also not the point.

posted by EarBucket at 5:30 PM on April 26, 2007


Fighting Fascism: The Americans - Women and Men - Who Fought In the Spanish Civil War
posted by homunculus at 1:23 PM on April 30, 2007


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