UPDATE: here is a link to Robinson's source, an article by the historian Robert Paxton, "The Five Stages of Fascism." I apologize for posting a diary without checking the original source first, but hope that linking to Paxton's piece will provide a corrective. I'll leave the rest of the diary as I originally wrote it -- no fair otherwise.
I would recommend everyone take a few minutes to read Sara Robinson's thoughtful and utterly necessary article "Is the US on the brink of fascism?" The question of where this right-wing mob of protestors is headed has been more than troubling me lately. I've been on the lookout for a piece written by someone with some deep knowledge about what constitutes fascism, where the US is now, and whether there are legitimate dangers of a truly fascist movement developing.
This is that article.
It's easy to scream fascism -- it's such an undefined term, and it's been obfuscated by so much overuse, on both the right and the left. That's why I was so amazed to find this article today: it starts with a clear definition of fascism, then discusses each of the phases all fascist movements go through, and analyzes how these phases correspond to the situation in the US.
Robinson uses the work of historian Robert Paxton for guidance. In an article originally published in 1998, Paxton identifies key steps on the road towards fascism, compiling data from various countries and periods to find their common threads.
First, his definition of fascism:
"Fascism is a system of political authority and social order intended to reinforce the unity, energy, and purity of communities in which liberal democracy stands accused of producing division and decline."
Now the steps, as he identifies them:
- "a rural movement emerges to effect some kind of nationalist renewal." -- an emphasis on ideas of traditional myths and values, a fixation with the present as a moment of national decay, a desire for "unity, order, and purity"
- the rural movement gains legitimacy from acting as informal goon squads for official political parties.
The crucial paragraphs:
Paxton wrote that succeeding at the second stage "depends on certain relatively precise conditions: the weakness of a liberal state, whose inadequacies condemn the nation to disorder, decline, or humiliation; and political deadlock because the Right, the heir to power but unable to continue to wield it alone, refuses to accept a growing Left as a legitimate governing partner." He further noted that Hitler and Mussolini both took power under these same circumstances: "deadlock of constitutional government (produced in part by the polarization that the fascists abetted); conservative leaders who felt threatened by the loss of their capacity to keep the population under control at a moment of massive popular mobilization; an advancing Left; and conservative leaders who refused to work with that Left and who felt unable to continue to govern against the Left without further reinforcement."
And more ominously: "The most important variables...are the conservative elites' willingness to work with the fascists (along with a reciprocal flexibility on the part of the fascist leaders) and the depth of the crisis that induces them to cooperate."
- some kind of public, more formal alliance between the goon squads and the right-wing political leaders. When the right-wing elites ally with the uneducated, rural extremists. Sound familiar?
- The pairing seizes power in the country - this stage marked by fights within institutions between the allies -- do conservative elites maintain control of institutions, or do the party faithful gain more influence. This stage defines the character of the emerging fascist government, NOT whether there will be one.
- "Radicalization or entropy." Briefly, will the emerging fascist government look more like 30s/40s Germany or 30s/40s Italy. Will it define itself through "expansion and large-scale social engineering" or will it "degenerate into incoherence."
I hope I've done an accurate job summarizing the main stages. Robinson has promised her next post will concern how to prevent traveling further down this road.
What I find so significant about this piece is the description of the 3rd stage. This is what I've been feeling is different this time, what's been troubling me so much. There's something different going on now from previous scary right-wing movements. The militia movement of the 90s did NOT have spokespeople in Congress. The teabaggers do. We have entered a new situation.
UPDATE: Please read the comment from RationalThoughtProcess!!!! it's up top. very important!! RTP's read the original Paxton article, and debunks Robinson's interpretation/distortion/misuse of it.