Monday, March 10, 2008

More Friendly Fascism

In late 1970, Bertram Gross published a paper with the ominous title “Friendly Fascism: Model for America”, which he later expanded into a book called Friendly Fascism: The new face of power in America (Evans, 1980). In 1975, in an (as far as I can tell) independent analysis, Joseph Holland also predicted that the US would see the rise of a new and “friendly” form of fascism. Nancy Bancroft took up the idea again in 1982, calling for Marxist scholars to keep an eye on things.

Holland's forecast specified downward social mobility for most Americans; high unemployment; decreased purchasing power; economic scarcity; bitter geographic and racial tensions; social unrest leading to repression of labor and leftist movements; limited, if any, electoral choice; and the orientation of the economy toward global management and defense production. In the seven years since Holland described American fascism, part of his prediction has become reality. The rest does not look out of the question. (Bancroft 1982, p. 155)

That’s more or less Gross’s point as well. While he is by no means a Marxist himself, he would agree with Bancroft’s way of putting it:

Marxist interpretations of fascism differ from non-Marxist ones chiefly by suggesting that fascism is a form of capitalist class rule. In the Marxist view, fascists do not take over or subvert a democratic government. Rather, the existing democratic government itself becomes fascist, to meet new needs of the dominant class. Prior to fascism, democratic forms and ideology partially hide capitalist rule. With fascism, democratic restraints disappear and the class rule of a small elite becomes vastly more exploitative. (Bancroft 1982, p. 155, my emphasis)

The essence of fascism, as Gross puts it, is close ties between big government and big business, through which all real decision-making takes place, under the cover of the meaningless spectacle of popular politics.

The prospect of fascism is actually a perennial theme among commentators on American democracy. Tocqueville intuited the threat of “a new physiognomy of servitude” in the power of the majority. Much of Norman Mailer’s work, starting with The Naked and the Dead in 1948 and intensifying in the 1960s railed against what Simone de Beauvoir (in The Mandarins) had called the “nascent fascism” of American politics, foreign and domestic. Indeed, in his commentary on 9/11 and the War in Iraq, Mailer suggested that fascism is “the natural government for most people” and that the “spreading democracy” might easily “encourage more fascism at home and abroad”. Noam Chomsky, speaking before 9/11, said that “the United States has been in a sort of pre-fascist mood for years … Now, we haven’t had the right person yet … but sooner or later somebody’s going to fill that position.” Bancroft, similarly, talked of “proto-fascism”. All of these people are careful to point out that an “American version of fascism” will differ from the despotism of a Hitler or a Mussolini.

Sources (very rough)

Bancroft, Nancy. "American Fascism: Analysis and Call for Research". Phylon (1960-), Vol. 43, No. 2. (2nd Qtr., 1982), pp. 155-166.

Chomsky, Noam. Understanding Power.

Holland, Joseph. "Marxist Class Analysis in American Society Today" in Sergio Torres and John Eagleson, eds., Theology in the Americas. Maryknoll, N.Y.: brbis Books, 1976)

Mailer, Norm. Why Are We at War.


Kirby Olson said...

Marxism is fascism since the government effectively controls business (what little there is) in Marxist countries, according to your definition.

Government swallows both the economy and the church: that's Marxism in a nutshell (at least in praxis).

What really frightens me in America is the possibility of a Marxist takeover. they need to destroy two more generations of minds, though, and I don't think they are going to hold the universities here for that long.

Marxists are much more likely to take over business. But in communist countries you would have the government nationalizing businesses.

The other direction is corporations taking over the government (which is what I think leftists fear). And that is what they are calling fascism. But did this happen in Muscle-weenie's Italy? I think again it was government taking over business. Corporations don't have the kind of army necessary to take over government. And they get voted out in democracies if they try to use cash. Gnome is nuts.

But in either direction it's bad, even if it is always or almost always government that seizes the businesses. That's bad business. It's very important to keep them separate, and to keep the church separate, too.

In communist China the government controls the writers. They just locked up 43 more (Silliman says that Pen is protesting). But they are also against Christians. They keep locking them. But 143 million Bibles were sold in China last year.

At any rate, I'm more worried about communism. Fascism only happened in Italy and didn't last very long, even if your pal Pound did his best to keep it going.

Thomas Basbøll said...

I think I'm trying to distinguish varieties of totalitarianism. Communism and Fascism are two different kinds; they can be distinguished by how the "fasces" and "soviets" are run in practice. I.e., by how the socius is "gathered".

Wyndham Lewis was pretty good on this difference.

These kinds of totalitarianism must, then, be distinguished from democracy, which can also go totalitarian in its way. I think totalitarian democracy is probably a close approximation of friendly fascism. (That's what Tocqueville was worried about.)

I'm not very worried about communism, mainly because its such a different system from what we've got. There is something going on right now which is more worrying.

I don't think "takeover" is the right model for what's happening. "Collusion" would be more accurate.