Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook

Thursday, April 07, 2011

America's March Toward Fascism: Characteristics (1)

As I read Dr. Lawrence W. Britt's article Fascism Anyone? I couldn't help but compare his 14 characteristics of fascism with the events over the past few years and, most especially, since the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives and numerous state governments in January of this year.

Published in June 2003, Britt writes in his introduction, "fascism’s principles are wafting in the air today, surreptitiously masquerading as something else, challenging everything we stand for." If he thought fascism was in the air during George W. B. Bush's presidency, I wonder what he's thinking now. That we've arrived? That "everything we stand for" is being rapidly destroyed by the push from, not only the far-right, but from the entire Republican establishment as well?

Britt used as his models seven fascist and protofascist nations: Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal, Papadopoulos’s Greece, Pinochet’s Chile, and Suharto’s Indonesia. While these regimes are a "mixed bag of national identities, cultures, developmental levels and histories, they show remarkably similar characteristics," writes Britt.

The similarities between these regimes to what is occurring in the United States today should ring alarm bells for anyone who wants to preserve our democracy and "everything we stand for."

Following are Britt's 14 characteristics of Fascism in his own words:

1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism. From the prominent displays of flags and bunting to the ubiquitous lapel pins, the fervor to show patriotic nationalism, both on the part of the regime itself and of citizens caught up in its frenzy, was always obvious. Catchy slogans, pride in the military, and demands for unity were common themes in expressing this nationalism. . . .

2. Disdain for the importance of human rights. The regimes themselves viewed human rights as of little value and a hindrance to realizing the objectives of the ruling elite. Through clever use of propaganda, the population was brought to accept these human rights abuses by marginalizing, even demonizing, those being targeted. When abuse was egregious, the tactic was to use secrecy, denial, and disinformation.

3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause. The most significant common thread among these regimes was the use of scapegoating as a means to divert the people’s attention from other problems, to shift blame for failures, and to channel frustration in controlled directions. The methods of choice—relentless propaganda and disinformation—were usually effective. Often the regimes would incite “spontaneous” acts against the target scapegoats, usually communists, socialists, liberals, Jews, ethnic and racial minorities, traditional national enemies, members of other religions, secularists, homosexuals, and “terrorists.” Active opponents of these regimes were inevitably labeled as terrorists and dealt with accordingly.

4. The supremacy of the military/avid militarism. Ruling elites always identified closely with the military and the industrial infrastructure that supported it. A disproportionate share of national resources was allocated to the military, even when domestic needs were acute. The military was seen as an expression of nationalism, and was used whenever possible to assert national goals, intimidate other nations, and increase the power and prestige of the ruling elite.

5. Rampant sexism. Beyond the simple fact that the political elite and the national culture were male-dominated, these regimes inevitably viewed women as second-class citizens. They were adamantly anti-abortion and also homophobic. These attitudes were usually codified in Draconian laws that enjoyed strong support by the orthodox religion of the country, thus lending the regime cover for its abuses.

6. A controlled mass media. Under some of the regimes, the mass media were under strict direct control and could be relied upon never to stray from the party line. Other regimes exercised more subtle power to ensure media orthodoxy. Methods included the control of licensing and access to resources, economic pressure, appeals to patriotism, and implied threats. The leaders of the mass media were often politically compatible with the power elite. The result was usually success in keeping the general public unaware of the regimes’ excesses.

7. Obsession with national security. Inevitably, a national security apparatus was under direct control of the ruling elite. It was usually an instrument of oppression, operating in secret and beyond any constraints. Its actions were justified under the rubric of protecting “national security,” and questioning its activities was portrayed as unpatriotic or even treasonous.

8. Religion and ruling elite tied together. Unlike communist regimes, the fascist and protofascist regimes were never proclaimed as godless by their opponents. In fact, most of the regimes attached themselves to the predominant religion of the country and chose to portray themselves as militant defenders of that religion. The fact that the ruling elite’s behavior was incompatible with the precepts of the religion was generally swept under the rug. Propaganda kept up the illusion that the ruling elites were defenders of the faith and opponents of the “godless.” A perception was manufactured that opposing the power elite was tantamount to an attack on religion.

9. Power of corporations protected. Although the personal life of ordinary citizens was under strict control, the ability of large corporations to operate in relative freedom was not compromised. The ruling elite saw the corporate structure as a way to not only ensure military production (in developed states), but also as an additional means of social control. Members of the economic elite were often pampered by the political elite to ensure a continued mutuality of interests, especially in the repression of “have-not” citizens.

10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated. Since organized labor was seen as the one power center that could challenge the political hegemony of the ruling elite and its corporate allies, it was inevitably crushed or made powerless. The poor formed an underclass, viewed with suspicion or outright contempt. Under some regimes, being poor was considered akin to a vice.

11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts. Intellectuals and the inherent freedom of ideas and expression associated with them were anathema to these regimes. Intellectual and academic freedom were considered subversive to national security and the patriotic ideal. Universities were tightly controlled; politically unreliable faculty harassed or eliminated. Unorthodox ideas or expressions of dissent were strongly attacked, silenced, or crushed. To these regimes, art and literature should serve the national interest or they had no right to exist.

12. Obsession with crime and punishment. Most of these regimes maintained Draconian systems of criminal justice with huge prison populations. The police were often glorified and had almost unchecked power, leading to rampant abuse. “Normal” and political crime were often merged into trumped-up criminal charges and sometimes used against political opponents of the regime. Fear, and hatred, of criminals or “traitors” was often promoted among the population as an excuse for more police power.

13. Rampant cronyism and corruption. Those in business circles and close to the power elite often used their position to enrich themselves. This corruption worked both ways; the power elite would receive financial gifts and property from the economic elite, who in turn would gain the benefit of government favoritism. Members of the power elite were in a position to obtain vast wealth from other sources as well: for example, by stealing national resources. With the national security apparatus under control and the media muzzled, this corruption was largely unconstrained and not well understood by the general population.

14. Fraudulent elections. Elections in the form of plebiscites or public opinion polls were usually bogus. When actual elections with candidates were held, they would usually be perverted by the power elite to get the desired result. Common methods included maintaining control of the election machinery, intimidating and disenfranchising opposition voters, destroying or disallowing legal votes, and, as a last resort, turning to a judiciary beholden to the power elite.



  1. I didn't think I could get more upset about the country today...until now. We're 14 for 14 and I don't think you've stretched the point one bit.

    Excuse me. I gotta go turn on MSNBC.

  2. @Nance: I've amended the article to show that these are Britt's words - not mine. I wish.

  3. Leslie,
    Yep---we've arrived there. But keep in mind, every previous fascist government no longer exists. So too will it be here, if we on the left redouble our constant effort to throw off the shackles! I'm doing my part and so are you. Darkness cannot overpower light---light ALWAYS finds a way to break through. Blog on, sister!

  4. For some reason Google has blocked my profile info. I can't get in to change it. The comment above is by Jack Jodell, and my website is GRRRR!!!

  5. @Jack: They did a horrendous amount of damage before they became non-eistent though. Yes, we'll keep blogging and raising hell.

    Here's a link to a very brief but interesting study comparing brain structure differences in conservatives and liberals.

  6. Not to echo Jack's words but all ages, good and bad eventually end. This corporate/fascist age we live in will end like it did in other countries but my concern is will it be peacful or bloody?
    I have a strong idea that it will be bloody.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Leslie,
    That site you mentioned wasn't hyperlinked so I'll check it out later and coment then.

    Beach, I fear you're correct---monumentous change usually doesn't occur unless caused by bloody uprisings or all-out war.

  9. Tnlib,
    A few words about this post that ties into the budget crisis and pending shutdown of the government.

    About those Title X provisions such as funding for Planned Parenthood, the national news media has cast this political argument as another example of the Culture Wars ... specifically abortion.

    I offer another interpretation. I believe it is also about the women's vote, an important constituency for Obama and the Democrats. If Obama abandons Title X funding, he risks alienating an important source of support in advance of next year's election.

    This also ties in with union-busting and Republican efforts to push voter ID cards in state legislatures. In other words, these measures in combination conspire to undermine all traditional sources of Democratic support in advance of 2012. If the Republicans succeed in destroying these sources of support for Democrats, then what we have left is essentially a one party system with only token opposition. In other words: Protofascism.

    Here is another source that ties into your discussion: Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism by Professor Sheldon Wolin of Princeton university. A shorter article from the same author is available on the Internet (here).

  10. @Jack: Sorry, luvvy. I'm totally technically deficient and don't know how to add hyperlinks to Blogger comments - or how to do much of anything else for that matter!

    @Octo: Thanks for all the info. I am working on Part II which will illustrate the characteristics in Part I. Your pointers will come in handy. I also agree with the Protofascism theory. Frankly, I wouldn't want to be in Obama's shoes at the moment.

  11. Another excellent post.

    Without being alarmist, I wrote last week about Republicans being facists.

  12. @Tom: Thanks. Here's the link to your very excellent post on Extremism:

  13. It is interesting that these 14 characteristics, with only a couple of possible exceptions, are republican/teaparty traits.

  14. Thanks tnlib,
    Here's my link to my Facists post

  15. JC: You got it. That's exactly why I posted this and more will follow.

    Tom: Oops - I'm sorry. Got the wrong article.

  16. "We're 14 for 14"
    "Yep---we've arrived there."
    "Another excellent post."

    I just want to echo everyone else's comments. I'm appalled that our country has reached such a state. And to think, it all happened under Democrat rule.

  17. @Heathen: Well, I intend to prove otherwise in Part II but it's up to you to decide whether you want to believe fact or fiction. Like most righties, I think I already have an idea what you will decide, so why bother to come back?

  18. "I just want to echo everyone else's comments. I'm appalled that our country has reached such a state. And to think, it all happened under Democrat rule."

    Going back to Nixon's presidency [and not including Obama's 2 years], the GOP were in charge of the presidency 28 out of 40 years, and recently, under GWB, had complete control of the government for six out of his 8 years. [Obama, OTOH, had complete control for only two, and inherited this country's worst financial disaster since The Depression, as well as 2 unfunded wars. And perhaps you've forgotten HR, that it was GWB who left an $11 trillion debt and passed the TARP bill?]

    No honest person could say that where we are now is ALL the fault of Democrats.

    For you to posit that opinion shows that you're more interested in scoring political gotchas! than in discussing facts.

    "It took the U.S. government 191 years – from 1791 until 1982 – to run up its first trillion dollars in debt. The second and third trillions got on the scoreboard much more quickly – each in just four years.

    By the time George W. Bush was inaugurated in 2001, the National Debt stood at $5.7-trillion. He ran up more debt faster than nearly all of his predecessors combined: just under $4.9-trillion.

    The National Debt stood at $10.6-trillon on the day Barack Obama took office. But if his budget projections are accurate, he'll run up nearly as much government debt in four years as President Bush did in eight."


  19. "For you to posit that opinion shows that you're more interested in scoring political gotchas! than in discussing facts."

    Perhaps you can forgive me for trying to have a little fun.

    "No honest person could say that where we are now is ALL the fault of Democrats."

    If I understand the comments so far, an honest person COULD say that it's all the fault of Republicans, though.

    "why bother to come back?"

    Because I found the 14 points very interesting. Like everyone else here, I read them and drew parallels to our country, which was obviously the point of the post.

    I would've found the 14 points that define fascism more credible had they come from some scholar in the '30s or '40s. Having been written in 2003 makes me think Mr. Britt was scoring his own political points against President Bush.

    Oh, and because I don't like only to talk to people who agree with me.

  20. @Heathen: Britt is a professor of history and whether he wrote about the characteristics of Fascism in the 30s, 40s through to the present really belabors the point. Some things are timeless. Here's an excellent article written by Professor Hofstadter called, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics." It was written in 1964 and is probably even more relevant today than it was back then.

    I, on the other hand, am a mere student of history. I don't pretend to be a scholar but have always had a deep interest in the period leading up to and during WW II in Europe. I am also a student of McCarthyism and the John Birch Society.

    I don't believe I've seen anything like those movements or what we're seeing today from the "Republicans" from Democrats. In using the term "Republicans" I include Tea Party because they are one and the same. The Republican Party of Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and Nelson Rockefeller - or even Nixon - doesn't exist today. It has been raped and murdered by the extremists.

  21. And sometimes the historical perspective of 70 or 80 years is important.

  22. JC: Of course it is. When you're right in the middle of things you can't always see the big picture.

    JACK: Your message with your link went into Spam for some unknown reason. I thought I was publishing it but I must have done something wrong because it seems to have disappeared. I'm sorry - but would you publish again?

  23. TN.... nice post. If anyone would like a good read about the rise of Fascism... William Shirer, "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" is still a good comprehensive read. And he was in the middle of it.
    Oh, and I linked you, too. Thanks for the nice note& stuff.

  24. okjimm: Read it when it first cam out. Also read his Berlin Diary which he wrote while living in and covering Germany as Hitler came to power. Glad you stopped by.

  25. Is fascism rearing it's ugly head? Of course, it usually does in any country where people are scared (even though it was the fascists to begin with who made it scarier than it needed to be). We on the left need to remember, though, that it is also possible for another Stalin to rise up. Due diligence of both sides is always warranted.

  26. @Shaw: Yikes. I saw you great comment, but got a bit sidetracked! Anyway, I always appreciate your comments because they come backed with facts. Thank you.

    @Bee: Thank you as well. Very astute and very wise words of advice.

  27. I am so depressed. I never thought I would live to see this. Sometimes I'm glad I'm old and won't live to see the total destruction of our country. Then I notice how rapidly it's happening and I am no longer grateful for being old because they are after my Medicare.

    Of course, the real ones who will suffer are my children and grandchilden's generations.

  28. Characteristic # 15 PRACTICALLY NOWHERE TO TURN
    When the Democratic leader (Pres Obama) cuts education, Pell grants, medical care to the poor and a variety of other vital programs and then brags that both parties were able to work together to reap this pile of crap you begin to wonder whether he's suffering from the Stockholm Syndrome & taking on the cause of his captors. I invite everyone to explore the Green Party within your state. When we register Green we let the Democrats think twice about talking liberal and voting crazy-right.

  29. @Darlene: I feel the same way about my age - and my children and everyone else's children. Ha. The Republicans yap about the future generation but they're already screwing heck out of them.

    @Ivan. I'm mad as hell but I'm not ready to jump ship quite yet. I was thinking of making #15 about the corrupt Supremes.

  30. Very well written and thought provoking. You are right on the mark.