Former Vice President Wallace's initial discussion of American Fascism in the 1940s has certainly been influential in the current debate. And it is newsworthy by itself that Americans in 2005 are tossing around the words of a New Deal era...

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Jeffrey Feldman, Editor-in-Chief
Frameshop, 03/09/2005

Former Vice President Wallace's initial discussion of American Fascism in the 1940s has certainly been influential in the current debate.  And it is newsworthy by itself that Americans in 2005 are tossing around the words of a New Deal era Vice President--a great American that most people probably do not even remember. 

Beyond Wallace, the current debate is also being driven by a check-list of fourteen "basic characteristics"  of fascism, first generated by political scientist Laurence Britt ("Fascism Anyone?", Free Inquiry 23:2), that entered national debate when cited in Davidson Loehr's sermon Living Under Fascism

What are these 14 points? How have they defined the current debate?

More importantly:  Is it helpful for Americans to be searching for a generic definition of fascism or are there other, more productive--indeed more urgent--approaches that we might pursue as we consider this important topic?

Frameshop is open...

A Generic Definition?
Whether or not a generic defintion of fascism is helpful in the current debate is questionable at best.  It is certainly interesting to consider fascism as having general and recognizable characteristics.  But it certainly isn't a very empowering exercise.  In fact, the more one thinks about these general definitions, the more afraid one becomes.  That is because generic definitions of fascism tend to be so general--in order to encompass all of the different forms of fascism that have happened in the world--that they include to much. 

Frameshop does not endorse the "14 Point" definition of fascism that is now circulating the internet, nor do I accept it as anything other than an interesting list of ideas.   It's not wrong, per se, but it's just much too broad.  In all fairness, Davidson Loehr never really suggested that the 14 Points be used as a generic definition, but only that they would lead one to think critically about current politics.  Nonetheless, the 14 Point list is being used as a definition and as such it is generating incredible amounts of debate. For that reason alone, it's important to know what it says.

Here's the 14 Point list as Loehr included it in his Living Under Fascism sermon:

  1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism
  2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights
  3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause
  4. Supremacy of the Military
  5. Rampant Sexism
  6. Controlled Mass Media
  7. Obsession with National Security
  8. Religion and Government are Intertwined
  9. Corporate Power is Protected
  10. Labor Power is Suppressed
  11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts
  12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment
  13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption
  14. Fraudulent Elections

It's a compelling list precisely because each of the elements can be considered on its own. As it is presented, readers have picked up on invidiual elements and "seen" in the definition a description of various aspects of Republican politics since George W. Bush was elected. 

But therin lies the big problem with this list:  no single aspect of this definition constitutes fascism.  Instead, each one of these items allows readers to "see" fascism in the making.

And this, I believe, is what is so problematic.  Rather than providing people with clear, concrete tools to understand the question fo fascism in America, it attracts people who are already afraid of fascism in America and exacerbates their fear.   The 14 Point list, in fact, doesn't help us understand fascism in America at all.  It just makes us more afraid. 

The reason why this 14 Point list is making us more afraid is subtle.  It has to do with the argument that it implies as opposed to the points it lists.  Specifically, the implicit argument in this 14 Point list is:  Fascism is already here, but most people just can't see it yet.  As such, the real dangers are not upon us...yet. But those dangers are inevitable unless we concince others that the system is already fascism and that they need to respond accordingly.

Wait a minute!   I believe very deeply that citizens of Democracy should always be concerned about the rise of radical authoritarianism, but there's something missing from this 14 Point list. 

For example, has there ever been a fascist movement that hides the fact that it is a fascist movement?  Not to my knowledge.

Also, isn't there a difference between a fascist movement and a fascist regime?   There have been many fascist movements, only a few that have become full-fledged or even fledgling regimes.

Finally, isn't it true that a fascist movement has been present in every society since the start of the 20th Century, America included?   Fascism has only taken over certain countries at certain times, but it is an ever present factor, like many other political ideas. 

Something is amiss with the 14 Points.  They just don't get us where we need to be.

And more than that:  they seem to result in online discussions that are so contentious, so full of fear and anger, that I just don't see what they are accomplishing as such. 

So, if the debate on American Fascism is important, but a generic 14 Point definition is not the best way to go about it, how should we proceed?

Starting the Debate Again:  September 11, 2001
First off, there are many, many good discussions--great discussions--of fascists unfolding on the larger blogs.  I will not name them, but they are there and I have learned a great deal from them.   

But by and large, even the great discussions of fascism in America have overlooked a crucial, crucial point: unless Democrats talk about the fascists that killed Americans on September 11, 2001, there is no reason why America will listen to Democrats when they talk about the fascists threat they see mounting since November, 2004.  

And America would be right.  Why hasn't the discussions of fascism that have unfolded since Davidson Loehr first posted his 14 Points included discussions of Al Qaeda?  Is it that Democrats don't see Al Qaeda as a fascist movement that threatens Americans? 

Actually, I don't think that's the reason.  Democrats like other Americans understand Al Qaeda as a fascist threat.  The Davidson Loehr sermon simply seems to have excluded the Al Qaeda part of the discussion--by accident, I belive, but nonetheless it excluded it.

And so, despite how powerful and important the debate on American Fascism has been up to this point--and  my gratitude extends to everyone who started this important debate--it is necessary to start all over again--it is necessary to return to September 11.

Since the attacks of September 11, Americans have been deeply concerned over the presence of fascists in our country.  It was fascists in America who killed our relatives and friends by crashing planes into buildings.  They were hidden fascists, true, but they were fascists nonetheless.

Since September 11, the President has chosen to call these fascist revolutionaries who follow Osama Bin Laden "terrorists."   Perhaps that is an appropriate word, perhaps not.  As a word that describes the type of violent crime these men committed, "terrorism" is appropriate.  But as a description of a movement that threatens Americans, terrorism is woefully inadequate.  The word we should be using to describe Al Qaedia is "fascism."   

Al Qaeda is a fascist movement that uses terrorist methods, but not terrorism alone.  And Americans are not just concerned about the terrorism of the Al Qaeda fascist movement.  We are also concerned about the revolutionary nature of that movement.  Even if Osama Bin Laden were to stand up tomorrow and publicly denounce terrorism, Americans would still be deeply, deeply concerned about the threat of Al Qaeda fascism. 

The real threat in Al Qaeda is not just the potential for more car bombs--although that danger is not something that should ever be taken lightly.  The bigger threat is the potential for Al Qaeda fascism to spread as a revolutionary movement giving rise to new dictatorships. 

But here's the catch:  exactly how real and how urgent the threat of Al Qaeda fascism is to Americans is difficult to assess.  As a nation, we never had the chance to discuss this topic of Al Qaeda fascism that was so important to all of us after September 11.  Rather than leading Americans in that discussion, the Bush White House made a series of bad choices that distracted all of us from that critical topic.   What were those choices?

The first bad choice was that the Bush White House called Al Qaeda a terrorist movement rather than a fascist movement.   This confused Americans because it was never clear from the start exactly what a terrorist movement was.  We all understood from the start that "terrorism" was a tactic, not a movement.  Al Qaeda was a radical authoritarian movement headed by a charismatic revolutionary leader: fascism.   If President Bush had used the word "fascism" to describe Al Qaeda from the start, it would have been clear.  There still would have been plenty of room to talk about terrorism.

The second bad choice was that the Bush White House transformed the topic of terrorism into an election issue.  In doing so, the Bush White House divided rather than led the country on the question of Al Qaedia fascism.  In fact, following September 11,  the entire country was  ready to sit down together and ask:  How many fascists are there living in America, right now?   We were united for the first time in a long while.  Crime rates plummeted.  People spent time in public spaces talking to neighbors.  Americans were literally and figuratively standing together.  But instead of leading that unified America in a discussion of how to deal with the presence of fascism in America--President Bush let us all down by forcing the country to take sides on whether or not Al Qaeda wanted Republicans or Democrats elected.  Honestly...that's not what Americans cared about!   Americans wanted to stay united after September 11, they wanted to continue standing together and use the power of that unity to learn about and deal with the Al Qaeda fascists who had hidden themselves in our cities and towns. 

The third bad choice was that the Bush White House took advantage of the trust and good will of the American people after September 11 to persue a reckless invasion of Iraq--a proosal had been sitting for years in a pile of "REJECTED" foreign policy papers.  In fact, the Iraq invasion did not go according to plan because it was never a plan in the first place.  It was a theory, a hypothetical--the foolish pipedream of big talkers who suddenly found themselves at the head of the class after a lifetime of being told to sit down and be quiet.   So far, 1,500 American soldiers have lost their lives because the Bush White House chose to use the military to make a theory into reality, rather than discussing the theory with the American people to see if a good, workable plan could be devised. 

The fourth bad choice was that the Bush White House--while spending this country into unimaginable debt in Iraq--also decided that it was time to radically change the relationship between the American government and the American economy   While American soldiers were dying in an uncertain war in Iraq, while American soldiers were worried about having their tours extended without notice, while we all worried if the Bush White House would be able to cope with the threat of Al Qaeda fascism against Americans--in this moment of troubling military and economic uncertainly--the Bush White House decided that it was time to radically change the American tax code, to heap massive debt on the Social Security program, to change the bankruptcy laws so they favor credit card companies, but harm ordinary Americans.  Why now?  Why would President Bush launch these programs when Americans are still uncertain about the threat of fascism on this country?

Which leads us to the fifth and final bad choice:  the decision to persue a Constitutional Amendment that would turn our country back into a Democracy that descriminated against a particular class of citizens.  The entire march of American history has been in the direction of eliminating forms of descrimination from the Constitution.  Our entire purpose in invading Afghanistan and Iraq was to topple regimes that descriminated against people.  So, why did President Bush choose this exact moment to suggest that the Constitution should be amended so that it excludes homosexuals from the full rights and privileges of American citizenship?  It makes no sense.  After September 11, we were a unified country determined to figure out exactl how fascism threatened our way of life.   We were standing in unity to conquer that concern.  And our President let us down.

Fascists in America
Now, one of the implications of restarting this debate on September 11, 2001 is that before we can have a discussion about whether or not the current administration has flirted with policies or tactics that resemble or reproduce forms of fascism, it will be necessary to first consider the clearly identifiable fascist movements that should have been part of a general inventory of American Fascism following September 11:

  1. Al Qaeda: Fascist Islamicist movement, calls for death of Americans, has succeeded in acting on these threats.
  2. Westboro Baptist Church: Fascist anti-Gay movement, calls for death of gay Americans, gaining popularity.
  3. KKK:  Fascist racist movement, calls for death of blacks, Jews, Catholics, popularity unkown.
  4. National Alliance:  Fascist racist movement, calls for white separatism, gaining popularity.
  5. Christian Identity: Fascist racist movement,  calls for crimes against Americans, gaining popularity.
  6. The Militia Movement:  Fascist separatist movement, calls for crimes against Americans.

There are more of these movements, but one thing is for certain: these movements are a concern to all Americans.  Long before September 11, these groups called for the deaths of Americans and committed crimes against Americans. 

They are the fascists in America.

Are they a threat that controls the system?  No.  Thank goodness.  But exactly  how do we relate to them?  How do we as a nation treat these groups in America that call for the deaths of other Americans?

How Americans Treat Fascism

An important question to ask at this stage:  is there a distinct way that Americans have treated these fascist groups in the past?

By and large, there is. 

While not without flaws, we are not a nation that is ruled by radical authoritarian groups.  We have them in our midst, but we have for most of our history as a nation, moved in the direction of disabling and limiting the impact of these movements on American society.

There have been historic moments in American history when this has not been the case.  And for much of American  history, our very own Constitution was a flawed document that descriminated against African-Americans and women. 

Is this still the case?  Are we still a nation that turns back these fascist movements in our midst.

This is a difficult issue, but one worth considering at length.  It is fair to say that after September 11, 2001, we were very concerned as a nation with the presence of Al Qaeda fascism in America.  But we also became a nation that seemed, in both overt and subtle ways, to empower such groups as the Westboro Baptist Church.  In particular, even as the Bush White House was engaged in a battle against radical authoritarian Islamic fascism, it seemed oddly supportive of radcial authoritarian anti-gay fascism.  Supportive, that is, because it actively sought to change the Constitution so that the actions of The Westboro Baptist Church would not be illegal. 

When a White House administration makes America more friendly to one of the fascist groups in our midst, and less friendly to another, it is not surprising that Americans begin to express concern.


Next in Jeffrey Feldman's American Fascism Series

Broadcast Brownshirts
When I was a child, my grandmother told me stories about Father Coughlin--America's so-called "radio priest" who incited violent hatred against Jews from his Detroit pulpit.   When I am old, I will tell my grandchildren about the Reverend Fred Phelps, who uses the internet to incite violence against homosexuals from his Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka.  But I will also tell them about the broadcasts of Osama Bin Laden.  What defines these political groups that use religious themes and broadcast technology to incite violence against Americans?

The War on Teachers
The other day I awoke to story on NPR about a controversy unfolding in the Middle Eastern Studies department at Columbia University.  The story included a recording of a phone message left on the voice mail of a professor.  This voice message was so full of anti-Arab hate that it startled me.  If a group of Americans stands in a public square to protest the War in Iraq, this would not be America unless there was a second group standing in support of the War in Iraq.  Dissent is the heart of America. But when did America become a country that issues death threats to college teachers?

Frameshop is open...

© Jeffrey Feldman 2005, Frameshop

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