Democracy as Participatory Fascism

by Hogeye Bill

Apr 1, 2015
As the US imperialist machine rolls on, creating new enemy bogeymen in the Middle East and possibly igniting WWIII in the Ukraine, and as its increasing domestic plunder shoves more people into poverty or servitude, the subject of fascism is coming to the fore. Since “fascism” is a word loaded with connotation, it’s a good idea to define it clearly before commencing analysis. After all, the term has been used simply as a pejorative by some, such as Henry Wallace in his patriotic diatribe “The Danger of American Fascism.” We are looking for a more intelligent rendering. Also note that some use “fascism” to mean “anti-democracy,” such as Abel Tomlinson seems to do in his recent piece “Tom Cotton and American Fascism.” This is not correct, since fascists have been elected fair and square, and fascist policies can and are enacted with popular consent. Democracy is merely a tool, a decision-making process. It can be applied to various ideologies. Thus, just as we see democratic socialism in some countries, we also find democratic fascism in others.

FDR did a little better, defining fascism as “ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.” This is in one sense too broad, since any authoritarian State has this property, whether it be communist, socialist, monarchist, or arguably even democratic. Many of us, myself included, who hold an elitist theory of political power, believe that all governments have this oligarchic characteristic, with rituals such as voting and “participation” largely a con job to achieve the acquiescence of the masses. The ruling elite make the political decisions, in both dictatorships and democracies. In another sense relating to ideology, FDR’s definition of fascism is too restrictive. The core characteristics of fascism, as we shall see, do not depend on “private” control. Fascist control can be, and in our times generally is, projected through democratic means. 21st century fascism is what Robert Higgs calls “participatory fascism,” and Jack Wheeler called “democratic fascism.”

Two notable attempts at defining fascism come from Naomi Wolf (“Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps”) and Dr. Lawrence Britt (“Fourteen Characteristics of Fascism”). We will combine these two lists of characteristics, weed out the accidental characteristics, and see what essential characteristics remain.

Naomi Wolf’s 10 Steps:

  1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy
  2. Create a gulag
  3. Develop a thug caste
  4. Set up an internal surveillance system
  5. Harass citizens' groups
  6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release
  7. Target key individuals
  8. Control the press
  9. Dissent equals treason
  10. Suspend the rule of law
Dr. Lawrence Britt 14 Characteristics:
  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 is noteworthy that Wolf, considered “left wing,” and Britt, considered “right wing,” basically agree about what fascism is. Wolf, writing much later and addressing Bush the Younger’s rulership, no doubt utilized Britt’s list in creating her 10 steps. Since Britt’s formulation is more general and less polemic, we use his descriptions, with Wolf’s analogous “step” in parentheses.

The combined list:

  1. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause. (Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy.)
  2. Obsession with Crime and Punishment. (Create a gulag)
  3. Obsession with National Security. (Develop a thug caste, set up an internal surveillance system, harass citizens' groups, engage in arbitrary detention and release, target key individuals.)
  4. Controlled Mass Media. (Control the press.)
  5. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights. (Dissent equals treason, suspend the rule of law.)
  6. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism
  7. Supremacy of the Military
  8. Corporatism - Economic production serves the State, the ruling elite. It is regulated and cartelized by the State. Corporate power is protected for cronies, while labor power is suppressed except for cronies.
The characteristics omitted were accidental in the sense that they are not necessary to a fascist system. Racism is not a characteristic of fascism; Mussolini’s Italy was not particularly racist or anti-semitic, whereas Hitler’s form of fascism was ardently racist. Similarly, sexism is not a characteristic; one could envision (and perhaps find in history) women fascists, and feminist forms of fascism. Also, things like fraudulent elections and corruption are common to various political systems. They are not necessarily linked to fascism, nor are they necessary for fascism to exist.

Observing our shortened list, we can see that Naomi Wolf’s dire warnings about fascism under George Bush II were not heeded. Obama has proved to be every bit as fascist as his predecessor, and added drone assassination to the US repertoire of aggression, and created several new “terrifying external enemies” as Naomi Wolf would put it. And the next fuhrer will likely be Bush III or the arch-warmonger Hillary Clinton, a strong supporter of domestic spying. It’s easy to see that both major parties are but factions of a fascist warfare-welfare State Party.

The final item, corporatism, is very important to understanding fascism. When discussing economics and the effects of political power on production, it is necessary to understand the fascist approach. Unlike statist socialism which seeks to nationalize the major industries (“the means of production”), fascism seeks to control industry through regulation. In the past century, this strategy of leaving capital with nominal ownership by private entities has worked much better than outright nationalization for two reasons. First, governments are generally incompetent compared to private firms in producing the things society needs and desires. Outsourcing production to private entities allows for production and innovation and efficiency to continue, more or less, through the controlled quasi-market. Secondly, if the private firms fail or become unpopular, the blame can be shifted to the private entities’ greed, lack of patriotism and purity, or whatever. See the “scapegoat” characteristic above. Thus, after FDR’s fascist New Deal and its corporatist “industrial boards,” we saw most of Europe and more recently China adopt the corporatist participatory fascist model.

Robert Higgs, in his essay “Once More, with Feeling: Our System Is Not Socialism, but Participatory Fascism,” wrote:

This [participatory fascism] is a descriptively precise term in that it recognizes the fascistic organization of resource ownership and control in our system, despite the preservation of nominal private ownership, and the variety of ways in which the state employs political ceremonies, proceedings, and engagements—most important, voting—in which the general public participates. Such participation engenders the sense that somehow the people control the government. Even though this sense of control is for the most part an illusion, rather than a perception well founded in reality, it is important because it causes people to accept government regulations, taxes, and other insults against which they might rebel if they believed that such impositions had simply been forced on them by dictators or other leaders wholly beyond their influence.
This idea of a crowd-pleasing “please rule me” fascism can be seen in an otherwise unnotable partisan speech made by Jack Wheeler published as “None Dare Call It Fascism.” After noting that American people have been the “frog in the pot,” not noticing the cumulative increase in US fascism, he notes:

We could call it Democratic Fascism whereby a people´s freedom is not taken away from them by dictatorial force, but is voluntarily surrendered. Just as a socialist government can be an unelected dictatorship (like Cuba) or a freely elected democracy ( like Sweden ), so can a fascist government.  Democratic fascism, or a fascist democracy is not more of an oxymoron than democratic socialism or a socialist democracy.  Instead, it is the most accurate description of what America´s political system has become.  By a patient Fabian strategy taking many years, the American people have been persuaded, unwittingly and almost unconsciously, to voluntarily chain themselves to their colonial masters in Washington.
Abel Tomlinson is quite right when he says that “Tragically, many Americans unknowingly support fascism.” What worries me, and Abel, is that people will not recognize fascism when they encounter it - that they won’t realize that they live under a predominantly fascist State. Not understanding the essential characteristics of fascism, they tell themselves that, since there are no concentration camps or dictators, it can’t be fascism. It’s like the snippet from South Park:
Kyle's dad: “You see Kyle, we live in a liberal-democratic society, and democrats make sexual harassment laws, these laws tell us what we can and can’t say in the work place, and what we can and can’t do in the work place.”

Kyle: “Isn’t that Fascism?”

Kyle's dad: “No, because we don’t call it Fascism.”

Part of the problem is that Americans have generally revered the ruler primarily responsible for enacting fascism in American - Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR’s National Recovery Act was essentially American flavored fascism.

[Mussolini] organized each trade or industrial group or professional group into a state-supervised trade association. He called it a corporative. These corporatives operated under state supervision and could plan production, quality, prices, distribution, labor standards, etc. The NRA provided that in America each industry should be organized into a federally supervised trade association. It was not called a corporative. It was called a Code Authority. But it was essentially the same thing. These code authorities could regulate production, quantities, qualities, prices, distribution methods, etc., under the supervision of the NRA. This was fascism. - John Flynn
But as Anthony Gregory laments in “America is Fascist,” most Americans just don’t see the fascist forest for the democratic trees.
American fascism is one of a kind. Its economic system is neither free enterprise nor pure egalitarian socialism, but more akin to a buffed-up, modernized, globally dominant Mussolinian corporate state. Its militarism rivals and in many senses exceeds any of history's fascist regimes, in power, uninterrupted belligerence, and sheer size. Its presidency is the most revered and powerful Fuhrer in world history, despite and actually due to its democratic nature. America's racial nationalism is unusual but very real, combined with pretensions of anti-racism. Its police state enslaves and punishes, at home and abroad, in ways that would make Franco or Perón envious, even as it allows for a relatively wide range of social liberty.
Until Americans can see the fascist nature of using anti-racism as an excuse to ramp up police power and violate individual freedom, until Americans can acknowledge that the State which rules them is the brutal perpetrator of mass murder and military aggression throughout the world, until Americans stop singing patriotic hymns to the glory of their fatherland, until they cease seeing a powerful regulatory State as being for the common good and individual rights as State defined privileges, fascism will continue to thrive in America.


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