POSTED AUGUST 30, 2003 --
Is fascism an obsolete term? Even if it resurrects itself as a significant political threat, can we use the term with any effectiveness?
My friend John McKay, discussing the matter at his Weblog archy, wonders if the degraded state of the term has rendered it useless. After all, it has in many respects become a catchall for any kind of totalitarianism, rather than the special and certainly cause-specific phenomenon it was. Anyone using the word nowadays is most often merely participating in this degradation.
Nonetheless, I think Robert O. Paxton has it right in his essay "The Five Stages of Fascism":
We cannot give up in the face of these difficulties. A real phenomenon exists. Indeed, fascism is the most original political novelty of the twentieth century, no less. ... If we cannot examine fascism synthetically, we risk being unable to understand this century, or the next. We must have a word, and for lack of a better one, we must employ the word that Mussolini borrowed from the vocabulary of the Italian Left in 1919, before his movement had assumed its mature form. Obliged to use the term fascism, we ought to use it well.
The following essay is devoted to that idea. Its purpose is, if nothing else, to give the reader a clear understanding of fascism not merely as a historical force but a living one.
The essay originally appeared as a series of posts at my Weblog Orcinus, sparked by an erroneous report of something Rush Limbaugh reportedly had told his radio audience. The error was soon corrected, but the remarks had in any event stirred me to write about my concerns about the way the political climate in America is heading, based on material and information I'd been gathering on a variety of issues pertaining to the radical right and its increasing ideological traffic with mainstream conservatism.
Because Orcinus is generally intended as an actual journal -- a place for me to work out writing ideas and to post original source material on news stories and events that interest me -- much of what appeared on the blog was in many ways a rough draft. Moreover, since it is a public enterprise, I obtained much feedback during the course of writing it, some of which affected the content and nature of the essay and appears in the current text.
The version that appears before you is, of course, considerably edited and rewritten. There is a good deal of new material that did not appear anywhere on the blog. Whole sections have been rearranged and edited down, and the order of the argument is not exactly what appears on the blog. In this respect, it may be an instructive exercise for anyone interested in the writing process to compare the two; but in any event, this version is the definitive edition, since a number of errors and repetitions, as well as logical missteps, can be found in the rough draft, naturally.
While I establish early in the essay that this is an attempt at a "scholarly" discussion of fascism, I should however clarify that I am in fact merely a journalist, not a scholar, nor do I pretend to be one. The following essay is more in the way of a journalistic survey of the academic literature regarding fascism, and an attempt at a kind of lay analysis of the literature's contents as it relates to the current political context. However, none of the ideas regarding the core of fascism, nor its many accompanying traits, are my own. "Rush" is mostly drawn from a body of scholarly work on fascism that's broadly accepted as the important texts on the subject, and I'll urge anyone interested in examining the matter seriously to read them. There's a bibliography at the end.
The core of my interest in fascism is closely connected to my work in trying to understand the motivations of right-wing extremists, because my experience was that in most regards many of these folks were seemingly ordinary people. And I was furthermore intrigued by the historical phenomenon of the Holocaust, particularly the problem of how a nation full ordinary people could allow such a monstrosity to happen. I'm interested in fascism as a real-world phenomenon and not an abstract and distant concept.
As such, I'm hoping this essay if nothing else helps advance a wider understanding of fascism in the general public, because I've come to understand that this awareness is essential if we are to combat it.
I'd like to thank the many people who have contributed to "Rush" both in the collection of material beforehand as well as during the writing process:
Next: I: Projecting Fascism.
*. David Neiwert is a freelance journalist based in Seattle. His reportage for MSNBC.com on domestic terrorism won the National Press Club Award for Distinguished Online Journalism in 2000. He is the author of In God's Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest (1999, WSU Press), as well as the forthcoming Death on the Fourth of July: Hate Crimes and the American Landscape (Palgrave/St. Martin's Press, 2004) and Strawberry Days: The Rise and Fall of the Bellevue Japanese-American Community (publisher pending, 2004). His freelance work can be found at Salon.com, the Washington Post, MSNBC and various other publications. He can be contacted at Orcinus.
|Rush, Newspeak and Fascism: An exegesis|
|I. Projecting Fascism|
|II. Understanding Fascism|
|III. The Core of Fascism|
|IV. Tracking Fascism|
|V. Proto-Fascism in America|
|VI. Crossing the Lines|
|VII. The Transmission Belt|
|VIII. Official Transmitters|
|IX. Media Transmitters|
|X. Reaching the Receivers|
|XI. Dualist Receivers|
|XII. Divine Transmissions|
|XIII. Fascism and Fundamentalism|
|XIV. The War on Liberals|
|XV. Waiting for Godwin|
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