Countering the Rise of the Rhetoric of Fascism

Nietzsche rightly foresaw that people need to identify some source of meaning and value in their lives, and if they could not find it, they would turn to aggressive nationalism and other such salves as xenophobia. Mussolini’s fascism tends to promote and exploit the grievances of ‘the common man’ portraying society as the theatre of ceaseless conflict – a class war – between oppressor and oppressed, victimizer and victim. Consequently, victim politics is central to fascism. Pre-occupied with community decline, more and more whites now choose to unite around their racial identity – human rights are now at risk of unravelling under unprecedented pressure, while the rhetoric of fascism is being normalized. Our intuitions about values are formed by history, so we can only understand them by historical investigation. Fascism is an ideology, not a natural law of science rather a conscious attempt to reshape human life and shift the locus of power.

The fin-de-siècle mindset saw civilization as being in a crisis that required a massive and total solution. This supported an ideology based on a revolt against materialism, rationalism, positivism, bourgeois society, and democracy. Social Darwinism, which gained widespread acceptance, made no distinction between physical and social life, and viewed the human condition as being an unceasing struggle to achieve the survival of the fittest. Social Darwinism challenged positivism’s claim of deliberate and rational choice as the determining behavior of humans, focusing on heredity, race, and environment. Its emphasis on biogroup identity and the role of organic relations within societies fostered legitimacy and appeal for nationalism. New theories of social and political psychology also rejected the notion of human behavior being governed by rational choice, and instead claimed that emotion was more influential in political issues than reason. This thinking supports survival of the fittest and preservation of tradition as best for society.

Robert Paxton says that fascism is “a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.”1 The original fascist ideology was developed in Italy – rooted in Italian nationalism and a desire to restore and expand Italian territories deemed necessary for a nation to assert its superiority and strength and avoid succumbing to decay. The rise of fascism unleashed an unprecedented attack on minority populations and communities. They promoted a national syndicalism movement that would be able to solve Italy’s problems, led by elitist aristocrats and anti-democratic believers who shared a revolutionary commitment to direct action through a commitment to fight.

Mussolini consolidated control over the Fascist movement in 1919. He declared opposition to socialism not because it is socialism, but because it has opposed nationalism. During the 1920 strike Mussolini aligned with industrial businesses in attacking workers and peasants in the name of preserving order and internal peace in Italy. The Fascists reoriented their policies – committing to secure law and order – to appeal to both conservatives and syndicalists. In 1921 the Fascists, who believed in the rule of elites, easily aligned themselves with the mainstream conservatives, increasing membership exponentially. Under a coalition government the Acerbo Law guaranteed a plurality of seats in parliament to any party or coalition list in an election that received 25% or more of the vote, which allowed many seats to go to the Fascists. When Mussolini came to power in 1922 he pursued liberal economic policies (in coalition with the Centre Party) that included balancing the budget through deep cuts to the civil service.1

Ernst Nolte argues that fascism arose as a form of resistance to and a reaction against modernity that consists of questioning or rejection of tradition – the prioritization of individualism, freedom, and formal equality; faith in inevitable social, scientific, and technological progress and human perfectibility. The Fascists accommodated Italian conservatives and the Catholic Church. They promoted family values including policies designed to reduce the number of women in the workforce by limiting women’s role to that of a mother. During this period literature on birth control was banned, and increased penalties for abortion were introduced – in 1926 declaring both crimes against the state. In 1929 the Roman Catholic Church received cash payment along with 109 acres in Rome to create a new papal state – the Vatican. The pope was allowed a small army, police force, post office, and rail station. With this accommodation with the church, Mussolini’s popularity was at its highest.

Charles Murray claims there is a class structure in the US based on IQ. In his book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, Murray promotes a trickle-down value system. Rather than explain social problems in economic terms, he explains social problems in moral terms. The gap that Murray has identified is illustrated by the fact of a marriage rate of 83% in upper middleclass neighbourhood compared to 48% for working class contemporaries. So instead of contributing economically, the wealthy should be contributing morally to healing a culture gap which began with the disintegration of family values by the counter culture of the 1960s. This theme finds support within conservative groups who believe the poor receive too many entitlements and are better off if left to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. The attack on women by conservatives in the US is the claim that working women weaken the family and its adherent social values.

Steve Bannon became executive chairman of Breitbart News and proceeded to turn the website into a platform for the alt-right. The site is known for publishing conspiracy theories as well as intentionally misleading stories. Under Bannon’s leadership the site whipped up frenzy amongst nationalist groups by accusing President Barrack Obama of importing ‘more hating Muslims’ and waging an incessant war against the purveyors of ‘political correctness.’ Breitbart voiced support for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Then Trump tapped Bannon, a veteran propagandist, to lead his presidential campaign, along with Breitbart Media anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican messages. Bannon described the website’s ideology as ‘nationalist’– like the identity movements that currently exist in Europe. However, Bannon has stoked racist themes by accusing the ‘Left’ of a ‘plot to take down America’ by fixating on police shootings of black citizens. Bannon takes credit for fomenting ‘this populist nationalist movement’ long before Trump came on the scene.

Donald Trump was hugely successful in harnessing white identity politics and the politics of white resentment. Trump ran on a promise of restoration, a nostalgia for a time gone by, and the sense that America, particularly white America, is losing and has been losing for years. He promises to bring back the kind of greatness that once existed, but has been taken over by the politically correct that is too focused on diversity to recognise and support the forgotten white man. Donald Trump’s campaign promises included building a wall along the US southern border and making Mexico pay for it, and temporarily ban most Muslims from entering the US, as well as bringing jobs back to America from Mexico and China, and providing more funding for police training. Trump feasts on social divisions and has perfected harnessing the rage of the workers driven by the failure of neoliberal market fundamentalism.

The paranoia of white identity politics fueled Donald Trump’s rise in politics. He adopts policies to ensure the support of the evangelical wing of the Republican Party. President Trump privately signed a bill in April 2017 that allows states to withhold federal money from organizations that provide abortion services, including Planned Parenthood. The bill reverses an Obama-era regulation that prohibited sates from withholding money from facilities that perform abortions arguing that many of these facilities also provide other family planning and medical services. In October 2017 the Trump administration moved to expand the rights of employers to deny women insurance coverage for contraception and issued sweeping guidance on religious freedom that critics say could also erode civil rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The main hook is Trump’s promise to appoint judges who reflect evangelical conservative values such as pro-life, and address threats to American security, customs and values.

President Donald Trump promotes full employment through nationalist economic policies, and to counter the status quo by promising to put an end to evils like corruption and tolerance and restore the nation to mythological greatness. Trump’s legitimacy has nothing to do with the sudden appeal of new right populism, but from their legitimisation by mainstream politics. It is necessary to challenge Republicans at the ballot box beginning at the local level. When Fukuyama declared the ‘end of history’ he was talking about ideas rather than events. He believed the rapidly expanding ideology – neoliberalism – appeared to be providing a balance of liberty and equality post cold war, that could not be bettered. In reality, neoliberalism enabled rampant creeping authoritarianism and the hollowing out of democracy. To counter the rhetoric of fascism it is necessary to redirect or transform popular outrage into a potent challenge of regulations and legislation that support the neoliberal elite.

1 Mussolini and Fascist Italy. Lumen: Boundless World History

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