Sunday, March 16, 2008

Will the real fascists please stand up?

In a squib called The Danger of Misidentified Dangers I criticized the neologism “Islamofascism” that is used in some circles these days. There is no need to repeat here what was written there, except to say that the word misuses the word “fascism”. Properly used, that word refers to a cluster of characteristics, especially, authoritarian government, patriotism/nationalism, militarism, corporatism and opposition to political liberalism. Some of those terms require futher discussion.

This term is used to refer to a political system in which power is given to corporations. Corporations are hierarchical structures made up of unelected officials that are formed with the purpose of controlling or strongly influencing people's behavior. Typically corporations foster more of a collectivist than an individualistic approach to what kind of conduct is acceptable. Corporations can be of any kind, but a familiar type is the kind formed for the purpose of conducting business and maximizing profit. A fascist form of government tends favor the efficient operation of corporations considerably more than it favors the well-being of individuals.

Political liberalism is a policy that favors the freedom and well-being of individuals over the collective interests of collectives such as the nation, religious organizations or economic corporations.

Given these understandings, it is not difficult to see that Fascism—a form of government that promotes the interests of the state and its economic corporations over the interests of individuals—would be diametrically opposed to liberalism and might even see any kind of liberalism as dangerous. (Who cannot have noticed how the word “liberal” has become in American political discussions a label that no one can wear without suffering automatic disapproval in many quarters?)

When certain politicians and political commentators pin the label “Islamofascism” on real or imagined enemies of democracy who are also often called “terrorists”, it is not difficult to suppose that at least part of their plan is to deflect attention from the genuinely fascist forces that truly are undermining democratic governments and terrorizing all those who have liberal leanings. The people called Islamofascists, in other words, could well be a smokescreen behind which the true enemies of the United States and other constitutional democracies are hiding. The most dangerous enemies of democracy may not be those hiding in caves halfway around the world, but those people, both unelected and elected (or at least supposedly elected), who are wielding power in our own governments and waging a war of attrition against the governed citizens.

In an informative and insightful article in the March 16, 2008 issue of The New York Times Magazine, Jeffrey Rosen writes in “Supreme Court Inc: How the nation's highest court has come to side with business” how all but one of the supreme court justices appointed by George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George Bush are strongly pro-business and have consistently made decisions that have limited the degree to which major corporations can be sued for damages by private citizens or have their enterprises regulated by state and federal regulations. David Souter (appointed by G.H.W Bush), Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer (appointed by Clinton) and John Roberts and Samuel Alito (appointed by G.W. Bush) have consistently made pro-corporate decisions that have limited their accountability to consumers. Many of the most important legislation protecting consumers passed as a result of the efforts of Ralph Nader and his colleagues have been overtuned or severely muted by the Supreme Court during the past two presidencies. The Supreme Court has joined the Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush II presidencies in championing the interests of the economically powerful over the interests of relatively powerless private citizens. Since 1980, when Reagan was elected, Americans have conspired with the major corporations and the government to erode many of the important protections of individual rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. Fascism is alive and well, with no help at all from Islamic forces.

Aaron Russo, in a film entitled America: Freedom to Fascism produced in 2006, offers interesting food for thought. While most people will probably agree with me that the film goes over the top in drawing many far-fetched conclusions and uncritically endorses a libertarian ideology, it also offers sobering chonicles of many of the successful tactics carried out by the Bush administration to expand presidential powers, diminish congressional powers, expand corporate and military powers, and dramatically shrink the powers of ordinary citizens. It is worth watching with an open mind and a critical eye.

If the idea of living in a fascist nation with undisguised imperialistic aspirations is no more appealing to Americans than it is to those who are portrayed as enemies of freedom, it may be time for those who love the liberty of individuals as protected by the American Constitution to consider what we all—whether we are Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Unitarians or Quakers—have to offer one another in our common spiritual resistance to systems of government that consistently favor the wealthy, the powerful and the oppressive over the poor, the weak and the oppressed.