Monday, August 20, 2012

Laurence W. Britt, "Fascism Anyone?"

The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 23, Number 2.

Free Inquiry readers may pause to read the “Affirmations of Humanism: A Statement of Principles” on the inside cover of the magazine. To a secular humanist, these principles seem so logical, so right, so crucial. Yet, there is one archetypal political philosophy that is anathema to almost all of these principles. It is fascism. And fascism’s principles are wafting in the air today, surreptitiously masquerading as something else, challenging everything we stand for. The cliché that people and nations learn from history is not only overused, but also overestimated; often we fail to learn from history, or draw the wrong conclusions. Sadly, historical amnesia is the norm.

We are two-and-a-half generations removed from the horrors of Nazi Germany, although constant reminders jog the consciousness. German and Italian fascism form the historical models that define this twisted political worldview. Although they no longer exist, this worldview and the characteristics of these models have been imitated by protofascist regimes at various times in the twentieth century. Both the original German and Italian models and the later protofascist regimes show remarkably similar characteristics. Although many scholars question any direct connection among these regimes, few can dispute their visual similarities.

Beyond the visual, even a cursory study of these fascist and protofascist regimes reveals the absolutely striking convergence of their modus operandi. This, of course, is not a revelation to the informed political observer, but it is sometimes useful in the interests of perspective to restate obvious facts and in so doing shed needed light on current circumstances.

For the purpose of this perspective, I will consider the following regimes: Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal, Papadopoulos’s Greece, Pinochet’s Chile, and Suharto’s Indonesia. To be sure, they constitute a mixed bag of national identities, cultures, developmental levels, and history. But they all followed the fascist or protofascist model in obtaining, expanding, and maintaining power. Further, all these regimes have been overthrown, so a more or less complete picture of their basic characteristics and abuses is possible.

Analysis of these seven regimes reveals fourteen common threads that link them in recognizable patterns of national behavior and abuse of power. These basic characteristics are more prevalent and intense in some regimes than in others, but they all share at least some level of similarity.

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. It was usually coupled with a suspicion of things foreign that often bordered on xenophobia.

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.

Does any of this ring alarm bells? Of course not. After all, this is America, officially a democracy with the rule of law, a constitution, a free press, honest elections, and a well-informed public constantly being put on guard against evils. Historical comparisons like these are just exercises in verbal gymnastics. Maybe, maybe not.


1. Defined as a “political movement or regime tending toward or imitating Fascism”—Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary.


Andrews, Kevin. Greece in the Dark. Amsterdam: Hakkert, 1980.
Chabod, Frederico. A History of Italian Fascism. London: Weidenfeld, 1963.
Cooper, Marc. Pinochet and Me. New York: Verso, 2001.
Cornwell, John. Hitler as Pope. New York: Viking, 1999.
de Figuerio, Antonio. Portugal—Fifty Years of Dictatorship. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1976.
Eatwell, Roger. Fascism, A History. New York: Penguin, 1995.
Fest, Joachim C. The Face of the Third Reich. New York: Pantheon, 1970.
Gallo, Max. Mussolini’s Italy. New York: MacMillan, 1973.
Kershaw, Ian. Hitler (two volumes). New York: Norton, 1999.
Laqueur, Walter. Fascism, Past, Present, and Future. New York: Oxford, 1996.
Papandreau, Andreas. Democracy at Gunpoint. New York: Penguin Books, 1971.
Phillips, Peter. Censored 2001: 25 Years of Censored News. New York: Seven Stories. 2001.
Sharp, M.E. Indonesia Beyond Suharto. Armonk, 1999.
Verdugo, Patricia. Chile, Pinochet, and the Caravan of Death. Coral Gables, Florida: North-South Center Press, 2001.
Yglesias, Jose. The Franco Years. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1977.

Laurence Britt’s novel, June, 2004, depicts a future America dominated by right-wing extremists.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Another great Langston Hughes poem


I am God—
Without one friend,
Alone in my purity
World without end.

Below me young lovers
Tread the sweet ground—
But I am God—
I cannot come down.

Life is love!
Love is life only!
Better to be human
Than God—and lonely.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Blowing It

Here is Romney's new ad:

And this is what the president actually said:
But you know what, I’m not going to see us gut the investments that grow our economy to give tax breaks to me or Mr. Romney or folks who don’t need them. So I’m going to reduce the deficit in a balanced way. We’ve already made a trillion dollars’ worth of cuts. We can make another trillion or trillion-two, and what we then do is ask for the wealthy to pay a little bit more. . . .
There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me -- because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t -- look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.
So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That’s how we funded the GI Bill. That’s how we created the middle class. That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That’s how we invented the Internet. That’s how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for President -- because I still believe in that idea. You’re not on your own, we’re in this together.
Which is a less artfully stated version of this argument from Elizabeth Warren:

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory, and it turned into something terrific or a great idea: God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.” ---Elizabeth Warren

Slate's David Weigel calls the sound bite from Obama's speech
a magic word gaffe—a statement that reveals not what a politician believes, but what you already feared, in your bone marrow, that a politician believes. Democrats still can’t understand why Obama’s speech is supposed to offend anyone. Republicans know that he’s a closet socialist, and that this sentiment only comes out when his energy is flagging. 
So, here's the deal: any intelligent voter is going to figure out that Romney has taken this quotation out of context with the intention of misleading voters. And while Republicans believe that the quotation confirms what they already believe about the president, Romney is wasting his time talking to them. Those republicans will suffer from temporary idiocy and eagerly take the quotation out of context and pretend that the rest of the speech doesn't exist. They wouldn't vote for Obama in a million years. Romney should be trying to reach independents. But Romney can't count on independents to share Republicans' preexisting beliefs about the president. And I'm sure that most of them don't like being manipulated by a deceptive politician. So I don't know how this ad is going to do the job.

Hey, Republicans: why should I vote for your candidate when he has to mislead me and resort to fiction to get me to vote for him?

Republicans: your terrible candidate is blowing it.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Smarter than you think

I can't believe that I'm making the time to write this.

Dana Stevens is a film critic for Slate. I like her reviews. But I have a problem with something she said in her review of Katy Perry: Part of Me. And no, I haven't seen the movie and I don't plan to. Anyway, here's what she said, first about the movie, and then about one of Perry's hits:
There’s no mention of Brand’s well-documented struggles as an alcoholic and drug addict—in fact, there are no unwholesome substances anywhere on view in Part of Me, with the exception of the you-go-girl blackout drinking Perry espouses in her mega-hit “Last Friday Night.”

About “Last Friday Night.” Not to sound like a scold, but I agree entirely with the comedian Rob Delaney’s brilliant line-by-line breakdown of this song, in which he takes the unnamed protagonist (and by association, Perry) to task for glamorizing a nightlife that includes unprotected sex with strangers, drinking to the point of amnesia, and possibly sexual assault. Why do I care whether a pop singer I never voluntarily listen to hits it big with a cute ditty about how awesome it is to spend your Friday nights doing stupid, dangerous shit? Maybe because I have a daughter who’s a born ham, someone who, like the younger Katy Perry we see in old home video footage in Part of Me, has dreams of standing on a stage one day doing something—singing, dancing, playing an instrument—in front of a cheering crowd. If and when that time comes, I want her to know she has options besides spraying whipped cream out of her bra.
I am a casual fan of Perry, but it's not because of her above-average looks. I like her music. I don't love it. It's not good enough to love, and her albums are too goddamned loud. I just listened to "Last Friday Night" again, and like too many casualties of the loudness war, it really does sound like dogshit. But I don't think that's Perry's fault. Anyway, I know a little something about this.

Stevens should tell us why we should assume, as she does, that a songwriter who sings about a morally objectionable lifestyle thereby approves of it or espouses it or glorifies it. If Stevens had taken the time to listen to the lyrics of "Last Friday Night," she would have heard the following:
Yeah, I think we broke the law
Always say we're gonna stop
But this Friday night
Do it all again
That doesn't sound like glorification to me. That sounds like an indictment of the meaninglessness and pointlessness of the lifestyle Stevens finds so morally objectionable. And isn't that what one might expect from a songwriter who still considers herself to be a Christian? Stevens writes that she "left the film with a slightly higher opinion of Perry as a singer and songwriter." Then why not give Perry some credit and consider the possibility that the song has more than one layer of meaning? And by the way, why not teach your child to think, creatively and critically, about the music she consumes?

I grew up listening to the Dead Kennedys. On the surface, some of their songs appear to glorify horrible things. But of course their intention was to condemn those things, not glorify them. A perfect example is their song "Riot." Jello Biafra seems to celebrate the joys of rioting in the song as he describes the riot in detail:
Now you can smash all the windows that you want
All you really need are some friends and and a rock
Throwing a brick never felt so damn good
Smash more glass
Scream with a laugh
And wallow with the crowds
Watch them kicking peoples' ass
But a closer look at the lyrics reveals that he actually has contempt for the rioters. Here's the chorus:
Riot - the unbeatable high
Riot - shoots your nerves to the sky
Riot - playing into their hands
Tomorrow you're homeless
Tonight it's a blast 
At the end of the song, we can hear the rioter's high wearing off as he realizes that he's destroyed his own neighborhood, and perhaps it wasn't worth it after all.

So it's not difficult for me to imagine that Perry is ridiculing the lifestyle she describes in "Last Friday Night," and ridiculing those who enjoy that lifestyle and who also believe that Perry has expressed her approval of them in the song. And I suspect that she's a lot smarter than most of us think.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Crook or a Liar

From "Obama Campaign Says Mitt Romney Is Either A Crook Or A Liar," a Time Magazine story by Michael Scherer:
Mitt Romney wants you to know that both of these things are true: 1. He remained the “controlling person” in a number of Bain Capital investments between 1999 and 2002, when he left to work on the Salt Lake City Olympics. 2. He had no actual personal control over those investments during that time. . . .
Statement number one comes in several contemporaneous SEC filings, which the Obama campaign has been sending around to reporters. Statement number two comes from Mitt Romney and Bain Capital, and was certified on a federal financial disclosure in 2011, when Romney said he left active management of Bain Capital to work on the Olympics in 1999. That means that Romney’s position is he was both the “controlling person” and had no active management responsibilities.
This does not surprise me. For Romney, the truth is to be crafted rather than acknowledged.

But think about it: Romney, the sole stockholder of Bain Capital, had no control over its investments? I'm not buying it.

But I wonder how much this story could possibly hurt him with the base and Republicans in general. Look, Romney was a venture capitalist, and many conservatives will tell you that the only thing a capitalist should be concerned about is making a profit. I think that view is not only false but at least slightly insane. But that's what they believe. Anyway, a lot of Republicans won't care that Romney outsourced American jobs, because they believe that capitalists can do whatever they want as long as it increases profits.

The Boston Herald broke this story. Read it here.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Courting the White Racist Vote

I guess Mitt doesn't like the subsidy that would allow poor black people to purchase health insurance. Perhaps the white racist doesn't realize that it would also allow poor white people to purchase health insurance. I think Mitt just doesn't want to be bothered with thinking about poor people. He did say, "I'm not concerned about the very poor," after all. I say we take his word for it.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Mitt tells us where to go

Have you seen Romney's new ad?

It only confirms that my decision not to vote for Mitt is sound. (I'm not thrilled about voting for the other guy, because he didn't veto the NDAA. But that's a different story.)

Anyway, that ad inspired the following response from Democratic Underground:

I have my own response, and it contains more profanity:
  • Approve Keystone pipeline = tell Nebraskans who are worried about the Ogallala aquifer to go fuck themselves
  • Tax cuts that reward job creators = either make deep cuts to government programs that benefit the poor and middle class, or increase the tax burden on the middle class to make up for lost tax revenue, and tell the poor and middle class to go fuck themselves
  • End Obamacare = reward the freeloaders who refuse to insure themselves and who expect those of us to are insured to continue to pay for their visits to the emergency room while we are told to go fuck ourselves
Mitt, I'm so sorry you had to sell your soul to get the nomination, just like McCain before you. But now that you sound like you are completely out of your mind, you can't expect me to take you seriously, much less vote for you. So why don't you go fuck yourself?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Here's some music I've been listening to lately

Here's some progressive rock for a Friday.



IQ, "Frequency," Frequency:

Subsignal, "Beautiful and Monstrous," Beautiful and Monstrous:

Steve Hackett, "Shadow of the Heirophant," Voyage of the Acolyte:

Dream Theater, "Root of All Evil," Octavarium:

Friday, May 4, 2012

Americans for Mendacity

Here's an ad from Americans for Prosperity:

Here's a story about the ad from Chris Cillizza
. Cillizza notes, "Our Factchecker deemed this ad false, [since it relies] on since-debunked claims about the stimulus."

Here's the Obama administration's response to the ad:

And here's Politifact's file on AFP which, by the way, completely supports the President's response. Five statements by AFP: two mostly false, one false, and two pants on fire. That's not a good record.

If you're a Tea Partier, demand that Americans for Prosperity (and the Koch brothers?) stop bullshitting and have respect for the facts.

Your political views are supported by actual facts, right?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Dispatch from Post-Racial America

Rebecca Landry, originally from Lumberton, Texas, comments on Yahoo! news stories:

You can find her on Facebook here.

Monday, March 26, 2012

"What's in it for me?"

In Book II of Plato's Republic, Glaucon presents an argument that justice is good only for the sake of what comes from it, and not for its own sake. That is, those who have a reputation for being just are rewarded, and that's the only thing that makes justice worth doing.

I agree with Socrates that justice is good both for its own sake and for the sake of what comes from it.

I believe Glaucon's argument is based on the following claim:
If a person is motivated to perform an action, then that person must believe that performing that action is in her own self-interest. 
I believe that there are plentiful counterexamples, i.e., cases in which a person is motivated to perform an action, and yet the person does not believe that the action is in her self-interest. Doing what morality requires is often not in our self-interest, and yet those of us who are not sociopaths are strongly motivated to do what morality requires anyway. But most people I talk to can't seem to understand how it could be possible that a person is motivated to do something that is not in her self-interest. Why is that?

Here's a quick and rough speculation. Most people around here are Christians, and Christians are taught to believe that human beings are intrinsically and necessarily flawed creatures. No matter how virtuous we become, we will always be sinful. Sin is turning away from God, and God requires that we love our neighbor. Human beings are incapable of doing God's will perfectly, so even the most virtuous among us will succumb to what Kant called self-love when given a chance to help our fellow human beings. Christianity is so cynical about human nature that it holds that human beings must be bribed to be virtuous. But the promise of heaven merely appeals to self-interest. Christians are taught from the very beginning to wonder about any action, "What's in it for me?"

This might explain how the Republican Party succeeded in uniting certain libertarians and fundamentalist Christians. Because libertarian followers of Ayn Rand ask the very same question: "What's in it for me?" They have the same dreary view of human nature, but they worship it as the pinnacle of human virtue. For them, our only moral obligation is self-interest, and altruism is morally perverse. Since they share this view of human nature, it's not surprising that they are often allies.

This is one area in which atheism does better. An atheist does not do the right thing in the hope that she will be rewarded in the afterlife. Many atheists do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, and that's it. There's nothing really mysterious about this to me. It is actually unremarkable. I do not need to be bribed, and I do not need to be rewarded. The mere fact that it is morally wrong to perform a particular action is itself sufficient reason not to do it, and that's that.

P.S. Lesli, I'm disappointed that I can't read your blog anymore. Can we make some kind of arrangement? If the character of your blog has changed and we cannot, that's all right. Please let me know. Thank you.

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It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. ---W.K. Clifford

Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear. ---Thomas Jefferson