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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:

  1. "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"
  1. 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."

  1. 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?
  1. 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.
  1. "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.

Originally posted to benvautier on Thu Aug 13, 2009 at 05:14 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

    •  this was diaried already, and it's kind of dumb (8+ / 0-)

      I'll just repeat what I said in the earlier diary:

      Robinson's piece is either a sloppy or deliberate distortion of the academic paper by Paxton,

         he said, mature democracies turn fascist by a recognizable process, a set of five stages that may be the most important family resemblance that links all the whole motley collection of 20th Century fascisms together.

      She makes it sound like Paxton shows that there's some well-established pattern that has been proven time and again. but Paxton says nothing of the kind.

      First, Paxton's paper goes to great lengths to discuss how difficult it is to even define fascism, and how hard it is to draw any generalizations about it.

      Second, Paxton only examines three cases of fascism, Germany, Italy, and France (where it did not succeed), and it would be absurd to try to generalize from the two cases of Germany and Italy in the 1930s to the United States, or any other healthy democracy, in the 2010s -- and, probably because he recognizes the absurdity, Paxton does not attempt to do so.

      Germany and Italy were not "mature" democracies in the 1930s, not in any way that you could possibly equate to the United States of today. Paxton in fact implies that young democracies, not mature ones, are the ones that are susceptible to fascism.

      Finally, Paxton says that stage 2, where fascist wingnuts begin to acquire actual power as a political party, is rarely successful, and that's in the case of parliamentary democracies -- we can conclude that it would be even more exceedingly unlikely in our non-parliamentary system.

      Overall, Paxton's analysis is very limited in its scope and its conclusions. Robinson distorts his paper to an nearly unbelievable extent.

      Read Paxton's article, if you feel like it, but you can safely ignore Robinson's.

      •  thanks (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Clem Yeobright

        i appreciate the corrections -- i should look up paxton's original piece, of course. And equally of course, i did pause a bit when i read the "mature democracies" thing -- clear even to an amateur student of history (as I am) that the German and Italian democracies of the 30s were not what one might call "mature."

        so much for finding the "serious article about US fascism I've been waiting for."
        tho i still find the identification of a transition in the moment when elected officials publicly ally with the extremists instructive.

      •  Was Spain or any South American countries (0+ / 0-)

        mentioned in Paxton's analysis?

      •  I agree with much of your (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        criticism but still think it is worthwhile to discuss this topic.

        What was the earlier diary you refer to? Is it better?

      •  Mann's work on this subject (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        is a better examination of the subject. He works from a broader set of cases and tries to explain why some countries turned to fascism and others don't. Mature democracy seems to be an inoculation against these movements becoming very powerful.

        And I think you're right about drawing parallels between Italy and Germany and the US today - the similarities just aren't there yet.

        To me, the reaction we're seeing looks more like the end of Jim Crow than incipient fascism.  

        Sponge Bob, Mandrake, Cartoons. That's how your hard-core islamahomocommienazis work.

        by Benito on Thu Aug 13, 2009 at 06:33:40 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  have now read the Paxton (0+ / 0-)

        and I have to say, I don't think Robinson is quite as muddled as you make her sound.
        Paxton doesn't say anything about "mature democracies," it's true. But neither does he say anything about "young democracies." He only writes that a precondition of the fascist movements he's looked at is an experience of democracy.

        And yes, he does say stage 2 is rarely successful.  And whatever stage-2-like trends we can observe are unlikely to be successful. But I think his ideas, let's agree to say HIS ideas (not Robinson's) are worth thinking about.

  •  Yep.. accuse the enemy (6+ / 0-)

    of the very things you're doing yourself.. never play defense..  then blame the deficit, economy, corporate welfare, ect all on liberals.. forget that W gave us this deficit when he left office.

    Sunshine on my shoulders...

    by pkbarbiedoll on Thu Aug 13, 2009 at 05:19:00 AM PDT

  •  We've been here before (6+ / 0-)

    in the '30's, when economic times were hard. Let's see if we are as smart today as we were then, and turn back from the brink.


    •  Who knows what would have happened w/o WW II? (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Cassandra77, radarlady, Norbrook

      We might not have been smart as much as lucky.

      Though, obviously, having the South on board probably did a lot to diffuse the situation.

      •  A very good point. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I find it amusing that the South, which basically escaped developing-world type poverty as a result of the New Deal (TVA, electricity, hello?), is so against the federal government today.

        Of course, there was that small issue called Jim Craw in the '60s....

        Sponge Bob, Mandrake, Cartoons. That's how your hard-core islamahomocommienazis work.

        by Benito on Thu Aug 13, 2009 at 06:36:11 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The South didn't "escape" third world poverty (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Benito, radarlady, Floande

          with the New Deal. During the late 50's I worked in tobacco fields for $4 a day picking tobacco. Many farmers still worked small 2-4 acre farms with mules and horses. Many Mill hands hadn't seen $1 an hour wages yet. And so on. I don't take issue with you, but I firmly believe the Civil War destroyed the Southern economy for over a century.

    •  We sort of had a free press (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sawgrass727, radarlady, Floande

      the MSM is part of the corporate state. It is showing just what they want us to know.

      How many people blog for the truth?  A good 10% I would say.  Is that enough to stop the forces of reaction?  I do not think so!

      Did we have right wing Christian nuts running the Armed Forces? No... We do now!

      It is really scary now.  Not the same I fear.  

      I fear the complacency, we've seen it before.  I do not think this is the same...this is not the same America.  We have been robbed, raped, and shocked.  People are ready to accept anything, as long as they can get a decent job.  It is not like old times at all!  The wrecking crew did an outstanding job.  Read The Nation this week, a very interesting article about the state of the States... not very good I fear.  

      •  You must be very young (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Brought up in the 50s under McCarthyism, coming of age in the 60s with the Vietnam War, living through the absurdity of Nixon/Agnew, the Reagan recessions of the 80s, Iran/Contra and on and on. Tell me...What was so great about the "old times?"

        Let the pastors, rabbis and mullahs mutter their mumbo-jumbo in private and leave the rest of us alone.

        by detler on Thu Aug 13, 2009 at 07:42:44 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Really scary (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Knarfc, Floande, benvautier

    really real.

    I have known it since the Bush years. Dissent was stifled, protest was unpatriotic.  They would have loved to put Michael Moore, and Al Gore in jail for speaking their minds about the war, and making their pitch to the people.  

    They are still banned from the news... for the most part they do not appear on TV with their messages.

    Not fascism you say?  But is damned close to it!

  •  This "new" threat is a continuation... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ybruti, Mother of Zeus, loftT, benvautier

    A quick look will show a similar plot to seize the White House in the 1930's, that was revealed by ret. Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler (one of the most highly decorated servicemen in American history).

    The group involved - ALL - "dissolved" in 1940, but was IMHO reborn as the foundations that even now seek to carry out the ALL agenda.

    •  and the rise of the KKK just after the civil war (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mother of Zeus, loftT, Floande

      just after the civil war. I think she writes that Paxton considers the KKK the first genuine fascist movement. Born of similar conditions.

      •  The "second" clan also rose from social tensions (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Not sure how many people realize that there were effectively two Klan movements, with the second one providing the basis of the movement that still lingers today. The first movement had become nearly defunct until....

        In 1915, the second Klan was founded. It grew rapidly in a period of postwar social tensions, where industrialization in the North attracted numerous waves of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe and the Great Migration of Southern blacks and whites. In reaction, the second KKK preached racism, anti-Catholicism, anti-Communism, nativism, and anti-Semitism. Some local groups took part in lynchings, attacks on private houses, and other violent activities. The Klan committed the most murders and violence in the South, which had a tradition of lawlessness. link

        One aspect that I think works against a strong resurgence of fascism today is that those whom the fascists target have more power than they've had before. e.g., Consider the backlash in the voting booth that has occurred against the Republican's anti-immigration movement.

  •  It is incredible that these far-out positions are (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mother of Zeus, loftT, benvautier

    receiving credence and blessing by elected officials. It's easy to laugh at people who align themselves with theories as laughable as the Birthers and the Deathers but it is frightening when our Congress people sign on to those beliefs.  It does make it harder to change the tone and dismiss their claims.

    I'd be interested to know what role the media has played in countries that have succumbed to fascism.  Obviously, they acquiesced and refused to take a role in stopping the process but I'd be interested in knowing more about how the breakdown occurs.

    I'll be waiting for Sara Robinson's next article. Thanks for a very thought-provoking diary.  

  •  Start with trying the decaf (0+ / 0-)

    Having credibility when making an argument is the straightest path to persuasion.

    by SpamNunn on Thu Aug 13, 2009 at 05:47:44 AM PDT

    •  Be fair, now. This is a reasonable (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      loftT, Floande, benvautier

      take on the article.  It's one thing to mock people who insist that we are literally in a moment of fascism right now notwithstanding considerable evidence to the contrary.  It is another thing entirely to refuse to consider even sober analysis of the possibility that a nascent fascist threat could exist.  After all, one point Paxton makes is that by the time the populace at large recognizes that a fascist takeover is imminent, it is generally too late to stop it.

      I don't see this diarist as alarmist.  I think it is foolish to refuse to consider the possibility and keep tabs on the strength of these forces.

      The GNOP: "We take the bi out of bi-partisanship"

      by Mother of Zeus on Thu Aug 13, 2009 at 05:58:42 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  A fair point. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Mother of Zeus, benvautier

        The best disinfectant is sunshine.

        I just see a lot of knee jerk diaries around here lately, primarily reactions to the free exercise of speech by idiots.   That's part of democracy.   Frankly, I want them all over TV, so that we can see how stupid they sound.  

        There will always be extremists, on both ends of the political spectrum, just to show the rest of us where the equilibrium point of rational thought is located.  

        Having credibility when making an argument is the straightest path to persuasion.

        by SpamNunn on Thu Aug 13, 2009 at 06:09:37 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Absolutely. Something that has been (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Floande, benvautier

          bothering me a lot since yesterday has been Grassley's endorsement of the extreme position of these mobs.  THAT really kind of freaked me out a bit.  This diary presents one theoretical framework in which to place that which is very, very disturbing to contemplate.

          Of course, another possibility exists, which is that Grassley is an Arlen Specter-like tool (which I've long thought anyway) and that he is looking for a way to separate himself from this "bipartisan" farce in the Senate which he has realized will not yield anything like a successful bill and which will not therefore be to his political advantage to be part of.

          The GNOP: "We take the bi out of bi-partisanship"

          by Mother of Zeus on Thu Aug 13, 2009 at 06:13:33 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Following up on my comment. (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Benito, Floande, benvautier

            As I thought about it, it occurred to me that these two possibilities are in no way mutually exclusive or incompatible and the "other possibility" can also fit within Paxton's theoretical framework without tension.  This would, in fact, be precisely the way that the transition to stage 3 would occur, no?  The extreme position of the conservative/right wing side of the spectrum would become so polarizing that no mutually governance was possible.  Choices would have to be made.  Many politicians would make the choice to align themselves with the growing movement, not because they necessarily believed in its tenets themselves, but for their own political expedience.  But the act of doing so legitimizes the extremism and fosters its continued growth.

            The GNOP: "We take the bi out of bi-partisanship"

            by Mother of Zeus on Thu Aug 13, 2009 at 06:24:43 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Good point (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Mother of Zeus, loftT

              It also strikes me that folks are missing the point that fascism, insofar as it tries to articulate founding nationalist myths, will therefore differ in what it looks like from country to country.

              We're not going to get a distinct 'fascist' party here for a number of reasons - partly traditional, partly due to how the institutions of our democracy look like. It's far more likely to emerge as a polarizing element within one of our two national parties that then slowly takes it over.

              Sponge Bob, Mandrake, Cartoons. That's how your hard-core islamahomocommienazis work.

              by Benito on Thu Aug 13, 2009 at 06:42:39 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  I am pretty skeptical of this, but not (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Benito, sawgrass727, Floande, benvautier

    entirely closed to it.  In other words, worth thinking about and considering seriously.  Very much possible to overstate the similarities, however.

    I will say this: IF (and it's a big IF) she is right and if we were to travel further down the road to fascism, the name Charles Grassley will play big in the history books.  If she and you are right, diarist, it is highly significant that Grassley chose to affiliate himself with these mobs.

    The GNOP: "We take the bi out of bi-partisanship"

    by Mother of Zeus on Thu Aug 13, 2009 at 05:53:57 AM PDT

  •  Steady as We Go (0+ / 0-)

    Wing nuts are reactionary, as we can observe. They buy into alarmist talk and accusations with little analysis of factual data. We need to remain free of those traps and maintain our equilibrium. Wingnuttery is nothing to emulate. Calm deliberate focus on reality should be the hallmark of progressive Americans.

  •  Can you tie that definition into... (0+ / 0-) authoritative source?  Or did he just make that up?

    Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former. -- Albert Einstein

    by dov12348 on Thu Aug 13, 2009 at 06:04:17 AM PDT

    •  I believe this is his formulation, yes. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I haven't read the Paxton, just looked for it online, and didn't see it.  I'll update when i find it.

      •  I just skimmed Wikipedia... (0+ / 0-)

        ...and while Paxton is cited, many other views are cited as well.  It turns out to be quite vague to the point it probably should be discarded, because practically speaking no one really knows what it means anyway, and with good reason.

        You don't like somebody's politics - boom -- they're a fascist.

        Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former. -- Albert Einstein

        by dov12348 on Thu Aug 13, 2009 at 07:12:29 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Wikipedia is infinitely editable (0+ / 0-)

          so I wouldn't take it as a final word.

          And words do have meaning. This is a discussion of how that word may apply what we witness today, including a media that is misleading and corporate controlled.

        •  have now read the Paxton (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          He gives a thorough and reasoned explanation of how he defines the term and why we should still use the term, despite its degradation through overuse.

          It's a specific term which describes a specific political process. It doesn't mean the same as dictatorship, authoritarianism, or any other variant.

    •  did he just make that up? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      loftT, benvautier

      Welcome to the world of social science. Paxont, BTW, is considered an authoritative source.

      Sponge Bob, Mandrake, Cartoons. That's how your hard-core islamahomocommienazis work.

      by Benito on Thu Aug 13, 2009 at 06:44:23 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Paxton is the pre-eminent scholar on fascism (0+ / 0-)

      He is the source because he studied it and published his findings. The original writing referenced is from 1998 so it was not specifically reactionary to what we are witnessing today. It was more a set of conditions to be vigilant around.

  •  I don't understand all the naysayers here (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    How can one not see that America is a petri dish for emerging fascism? We have the corporatocracies hooking up with the angry downtrodden mobs and the corrupt politicians tying up the whole package.

    What's more, it seems we are too cowed by the rightwing to even be able to discuss the possibilities on DailyKos.


  •  link to the follow up article (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    7 Ways We Can Fight Back Against the Rising Fascist Threat by Sarah Robinson

    Writing about fascism for an American audience is always a fraught business.

    Invariably, a third of the readers will dismiss the topic (and your faithful blogger's basic sanity) out of hand. Either they've got their own definition of fascism, and whatever's going on doesn't seem to fit it; or else they're firm believers in a variant of Godwin's Law, which says (with some justification) that anyone who invokes the F-word is a de facto alarmist of questionable credibility.

  •  I'm virually speechless from teh stoopid here.... (0+ / 0-)

    This is one of the most ignorant, idiotic things I've read, in quite some time. I truly feel dumber for having read it.

    What is fascism?
    The word has been bandied about by so many people so wrongly for so long that, as Paxton points out, "Everybody is somebody else's fascist." Given that, I always like to start these conversations by revisiting Paxton's essential definition of the term:
    "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.

    The astounding goofiness of this definition just floored me; A complex system, reduced to generalities, where the opposition is accused of causing societies problems. I can't begin to point out the ignorant broadness of this, as it's virtually the definiton of every political system ever created. I could say, for instance....

    Communism is a system of political authority and social order intended to reinforce the unity, energy, and purity of communities in which Monarchy stands accused of producing division and decline.

    To prove this, I spew some drivel about the October revolution, as my proof.

    Autocracy is a system of political authority and social order intended to reinforce the unity, energy, and purity of communities in which a Republic stands accused of producing division and decline."

    Here, I fire off Roman history to back my wild, broad assertions.

    People who feel the need to redefine words, really push my pacifist nature. I feel like cracking this idiot in the head with a spiky club, and I really abhor the sensation...

    •  So if you don't like the way the word is (0+ / 0-)

      described, please give it a shot yourself instead of trying to shut down discussion by calling anyone stoopid and calling it a day.

      •  ...Redefining well defined words... (0+ / 0-)

        Some jerks redefined torture not too long ago. They also redefined the term unlawful, along with our current Attorney General, who said warrantless wiretapping was unlawful before he got his job, and now calls it 'inconsistent with statute.'

        You have a problem with the other side, redefining the word socialism. But you don't have a problem with not a broad brusn, its a frigging paint roller redefinition.

        If you commonly accept idiots redefining things, you get what you deserve - that's anarchy. If I say justice means whatever the fuck I want it to mean, that's what you're going to get.

        This isn't enlightenment, it's spin based inanity.

        Take a word, redefine it, and spew anecdotal nonsense to prove your point.

        Are you telling me, this isn't a problem? You haven't seen it lately?

    •  actually... (0+ / 0-)

      Unity, energy and purity are NOT particularly important ideas for Communism, at least if you mean Marxism. Or for that matter, even if you mean Leninism, Trotskyism or Stalinism.

      Monarchism was never to my knowledge accused of producing division and decline. It was accused of other things, but not those things.

      The Robinson article, which i have taken great pains to point out, takes a questionable interpretation of Paxton's original article. I would recommend reading Paxton's article itself.

      •  ... And the revolution that formed this country, (0+ / 0-)

        was what, exactly?

        Whigs and torries were slugging it out over what, now?

        •  not over purity, that's for sure (0+ / 0-)

          I'm not really sure you deserve a thoughtful answer, but...

          The US revolution, like the French, was a product of Englightenment thinking -- among other things, philosophers like our friends Hobbes and Locke, Diderot and Voltaire, the whole gang of Anglo-French thinkers of the 18th century, were trying to sweep away superstition, to create a basis for governance in rational thought, rather than in mythology, divinity or heredity. Democracy was an idea borne from the Enlightenment -- reason and logic would prevail, tradition and mystification would be vanquished.

          Of course, these abstract ideas weren't always the explicit war-cries, in either the French or the US case. Questions of self-governance, taxation, religious tolerance, and so on were usually the specific issues. But our founding documents, and the ideals put forth in them, are coming from those thinkers.

          When Paxton writes that fascism fights for a return to "unity, energy, and purity," and against "division and decline" -- he is pointing to a call to RETURN to, in some sense, a pre-Enlightenment age, a return to a mythical original nation-hood defined by unanimity, ethnic and religious sameness, and "virility" -- which is used in a lot of 19th and 20th century writing as a code for certainty and physical force as opposed to the "weak" qualities of compromise, self-doubt and skepticism. These ideas were a huge part of Nazi mythology, and became equally significant to Mussolini's followers at a certain point.

          Religious tolerance, diversity of opinion, tolerance of dissent, diversity of ethnic background, etc etc etc, all the bases for what we think of as liberal society -- these are the things fascism is against, according to Paxton. And according to, you know, reality.

          Liberal revolutionaries of the 18th century were making entirely different, some might say even opposite, arguments against monarchism.

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