Saturday, March 08, 2008

Friendly Fascism

While Bertram Gross's Friendly Fascism: The new face of power in America (M. Evans, 1980) leaves a lot to be desired as piece of writing, its vaguely flarfy title concept is worth thinking about. Here's my version of it.

Fascism (on this view) has four essential components: it encourages violent action, it glorifies personal leadership, it dissolves the difference between business and government, and it denigrates the distinction between private and public affairs. The first two, the cult of violence and the cult of personality, may be considered, precisely, the "cultural" aspect of fascism or simply "cultural fascism". The third and fourth constitute its "organizational" aspect, which, in turn, have a social mode (business = government) and a subjective mode (private = public).

Friendly fascism is organizational fascism, i.e., fascism without the cultural characteristics it is commonly associated with. Now, a friendly fascist society will, of course, have to retain some of the cultish elements; it will still cultivate violence and leadership throughout the social order. But it will not do so "officially", as it were.

In fact, the most workable way of doing it is probably to cultivate these things as entertainment rather than policy. Thus, the friendly fascist state produces imagery that activates our desire for violence and greatness, but it does not openly propose itself as the model of such images.

A rigorously non-fascist society would tolerate no collusion among business people and government officials; it would maintain a clear distinction between private and public concerns; it would acknowledge the strength of the people over that of the leader; and it would pursue peaceful solutions over the use of force. We don't, obviously, live in such a society.

If kulchural studies is a science to support what Wyndham Lewis called "the art of being ruled" then it must take seriously "the spectre of friendly fascism".

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