Has the United States escaped becoming a fascist country?

I cannot find the intelligent article I recently read that argued this thesis, but I think it raises all sorts of interesting questions. I should say that I am not a political theorist, and I’d love it if some who are would add more depth to this discussion.

One interesting question is whether Romney and the republicans would have taken the government in the direction of fascism. Next is whether Obama is not doing that. But perhaps first is the question of what fascism is. And the trouble with this question is at least twofold. There doesn’t seem to be any agreed upon definition of fascism, and the elements that do get mentioned seem to be matters of degree.

One source gives what seems to me a fairly weak definition:

The common elements of fascism—extreme nationalism, social Darwinism, the leadership principle, elitism, anti-liberalism, anti-egalitarianism, anti-democracy, intolerance, glorification of war, the supremacy of the state and anti-intellectualism—together form a rather loose doctrine.

For one thing, “the leadership principle” is weaker than a more common “dictatorship.” “Anti-intellectualism” seems to cover anything from a continuing dislike of higher education to a forceful physical attack on people and structures. But even if we take some of these in a quite strong sense – e.g., social Darwinism – then the threat seems to be there. Or at least any segment of the country that blames those without access to adequate medical care on those very people seems to endorse a strong sense of the survival of the fittest.

I’d be really interested in hearing what you all think.

19 thoughts on “Has the United States escaped becoming a fascist country?

  1. I think its a fair point, especially glorification of war that is something that the US is definetly guilty of. Anti democracy aswell in my opinion as the elections between 2 right wing parties does not allow for real democracy. The absence of a left wing party is robbing people of the chance to go in a new direction

  2. This notion does a disservice to public and political discourse. It is of the same intellectual quality and poisoning effect as the claim that President Obama is a socialist.

    I live in a country where I stumble across reminders of fascism everywhere – http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2012/08/12/holocaust-mass-graves-joneikiskes/ – and the United States never has been and is not anywhere close to that.

    Point by point:
    extreme nationalism – No. The US gives citizenships to children of foreigners if the child happens to be born in the US. This is a much more liberal path to citizenship that most other countries in the world have. America is patriotic, but it is a patriotism that includes Mexican, Cuban, Irish, Colombian, Persian and Indian arrivals to the US.
    social Darwinism – Not in a country with welfare, student grants,social security, Medicaid.
    leadership principle – Ask the President how much power he really has if Congress doesn’t cooperate.
    elitism – Every candidate who wants to win public office has to profess to be anything else than part of the elite. Everybody and his uncle think they know more than professors and scientists.
    anti-liberalism – Free speech, free guns, free trade, now even free drugs.
    anti-egalitarianism – Less egalitarian than Europe for sure, but I don’t see the connection with fascism, Fascists were rather egalitarian among the people of their race and ideology.
    anti-democracy – We just had thousands of elections and hundreds of referendums this week.
    intolerance – Watch cable TV or read some blogs and you will see that every crap is tolerated.
    glorification of war – The anti-war candidate won in 2008, in part also because of that. People are tired of war.
    supremacy of the state – Only if compared to 200 years ago, not if compared to other countries. Or do you mean FEMA?
    anti-intellectualism – Is there any member of Congress who doesn’t have a university degree?

    If you want to find fascism, you have to look elsewhere.

  3. I do but america see’s war as a means of profit che seen it as a means of change that would lead to peace and equality

  4. Andreas, thanks for your vigorous statement of your view. At first reading, it seems right to me, but when I look at the details, I’m less sure. You could take the version of the question that asks whether Romney would have taken us in that direction. And there are some problems that could grow worse. Actually, I don’t want to hog the discussion, so I’ll be brief:

    elections: there was a concerted effort to keep people of color from voting in a number of states. What happened in Florida was really shocking. Since people of color tend to have to go to work, it was extremely important for them to have early voting on the weekends. That was cut from 4 days to 1/2 a day.

    You say “social Darwinism – Not in a country with welfare, student grants,social security, Medicaid.” But the worry is that we’d lose some or all of that as the “social safety net” provided by “big government” was dismantled. As Ann Coulter said of the election: “we’re now a country of takers, not makers. All hope is lost.” The right-wing appears to think that getting anything from the gov’t is bad.

  5. I spent 11 of the 17 years of the Pinochet dictatorship here in Chile. There was a big debate within the Chilean left on whether the Pinochet dictatorship was fascist or not, which I will not go into here.

    However, no U.S. government, not even that of Nixon gone wild, has ever exercised political repression against its own citizens as Pinochet did nor operated torture centers (for its own citizens) nor disappeared its own citizens nor did away with political and civil rights, including free speech, due process and elections as Pinochet did. Nor, to mention social darwinism, has any U.S. government left its own citizens as defenseless in the face of unregulated capitalism and the market as Pinochet did.

    The U.S. plays very rough in the 3rd world, but that’s called “imperialism”, not “fascism”, while at home the U.S. is still a functioning, very flawed and somewhat corrupt democracy, as far as I know.

    I agree with Andreas that anyone who has known anything approaching real fascism will find that the U.S. is just not fascist.

    Maybe those on the left could think of a new word to apply to those rightwing governments, like a possible Romney government, which they disapprove of (as I do too). It’s a question of creativity, but really, does a term used to apply to rightwing European dictatorships, which arose in the 1930’s in reaction to the depression and the fear of the Soviet Revolution, have much descriptive use value today?

  6. i don’t think either romney or obama are anything close to fascist, in the historical sense referring to the movements, popularly based in the petty bourgeoisie, that flourished in europe and asia between 1922 and 1945.

    in the pejorative, polemical sense, as roughly “authoritarian”, i don’t really see how romney could be seen as all that much more “fascist” than obama. this is a guy (the president) who has declared for himself the power to indefinitely detain, and even extrajudicially execute, american citizens, after all.

  7. This is a great comment thread.
    Thanks to Andreas and swallerstein for sobering me up a bit–I think I might be guilty throwing ‘fascist’ around too freely. I have lived in other countries than the US, but never in Lithuania or Chile or any country much like either of yours. You’ve provided a nice and necessary perspective.

  8. There have obviously been regimes very much more terrible than anything we’d expect here in the States. I’m not sure that that shows the States could not move in that direction.

    I also think that we’ve had some bad episodes, such as beatings and killings of civil rights activists, and that members of some races experience imprisonment, torture and even death at the hands of the police. Not, obviously, on the scale of historical fascist regimes; however, it can be pretty awful to be a poor black person on trial in a number of states, such as Texas, whose republican governors are apparently beloved by right -wingers. (i’ve been reading today that a lot conservatives are wishing the gov of Texas, Perry, had run. He must be dimmer than Bush.)

  9. I do think some people reasonably and plausibly think that the enslaving and lynching of black men and women and the raping of black women with impunity is an episode in our history that can stand alongside the holocaust in terms of evil, hatred and atrocity. The Americas are still encountering the legacy of colonial slavery.

    That said, there is an encouraging cultural shift to the left with the recognition of legal gay marriage (and all the rights that entails), decriminalizing relatively harmless drugs, the election of the first asian-american woman senator, more women senators, and so on.

  10. Right, I mean, “Lots of really bad stuff happened” is perfectly consistent with “Definitely not a fascist country”.

  11. The really bad stuff is going on still; ask Trevon Martin’s family or, worse, ask blacks in NYC, or Texas, or presumably other states.

    Still, I agree with Jackie. I think the country is becoming socially much more progressive, but it’s unclear Romney would have encouraged that direction at all.

    As it is, it has been an incredible pleasure to see both democrats and republicans reflect on the quite deep change in the country. In part just because I don’t need to get very upset, I stay away from conservative web sites. This morning, though, I went to Red State. They see – or some of them do – that the old white guys are losing the political power.

  12. Lets remember that the question is not whether the US is fascist, but whether a republican government would take us further in that direction.

    We might stress here the contempt they often feel for scientifically endorsed research, the fact that the gov’t now have access to just about everyone’s telephones and location.

  13. You will find a tolerably comprehensive definition of fascism on Wikipedia. A rather good entry in fact, it may help.
    I don’t think the us is there yet, but it is a risk. According to some thinkers, the greatest risks now are in countries facing great hardship imposed largely from outside (such as Greece).

  14. You’re going to hard pressed to make the claim that Greece’s hardship is imposed “from the outside”. They want something, and those they want it from will only give it with conditions. That’s not imposing anything, unless you think Greece has a right to whatever unfettered loans they want.

    It’s worth noting that the the 20th century US had very little dalliance with totalitarianism on the left or right – which puts it in the minority of (so-called) western nations. Changes in the presidency move the needle very little.

  15. “Leadership principle” may be a translation of the German word Führerprinzip. Under the Nazis, this principle meant that every kind of organized activity — say, all the health care providers — should be unified into one large bureaucratic organization under a single leader — the Führer for that organization, in exactly the same sense as Hitler’s title — who had the sole authority to make binding decisions for his subordinates. Subordinate or specific kinds of activity — say, nursing — would have their own organization within the larger organization, including their own Führer, who was answerable to the Führer for the broader organization. The entire society of the Third Reich was supposed to be organized in this way; Robert Proctor describes all this for medicine in his books on Nazi science.

    If all that’s right, then “leadership principle” is very, very substantive and anti-democratic. It also clearly does not apply to the GOP. I agree with Andreas Moser, casually tossing around the term “fascism” is poisoning to public discourse.

    The philosopher Charles Mills does use the term “Herrenvolk democracy” — “Herrenvolk” is usually translated into English as “master race” — to describe liberal democracies with race-based slavery and apartheid. He would probably apply it to efforts to disenfranchise people of color in Florida and Ohio. But Herrenvolk democracy isn’t the same thing as fascism. Herrenvolk democracy is basically democratic for members of the master race; fascism is anti-democratic.

    swallerstein: The US did have that political repression, torture, denial of civil and political rights, etc., for most of its history. First we called it “slavery,” and then we called it “Jim Crow.” Granted, the US government itself didn’t do much repression directly, but it did maintain the institutions that permitted or even encouraged political repression.

  16. There’s plenty of liberal fascists. The East German Stasi were fascists, as was the Soviet Union. Both of these are generally regarded as “liberal.”

  17. Fascism gets thrown around as a word too easily and most definitions seem to describe the attributes typically seen in manifestations of countries that attempt to follow a Fascist doctrine, but fail to indicate the driving force, beliefs and intentions of Fascism. But these attributes are also common to many authoritarian countries including most Communist countries.

    I think to get the the true beliefs from which Fascism is based on you simply have to go to the source and read what the Father of Fascism, Benito Mussolini describes it as…. http://www.worldfuturefund.org/wffmaster/Reading/Germany/mussolini.htm

    Long-winded, but if I had to distill it down to a single thought it would be “Man is an animal and meaningless except in service to the State. The State is everything”

    I’m only explaining it as I read it… this is the exact opposite of my personal belief system… I’m a Libertartian/Socialist/Capitalist/Anarchist… all of those would be mortal enemies to Fascism.

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