Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Fascism And Bushism

One instance of the current Republican attempts at election fraud by voter disenfranchisement give me the opportunity to expound on this matter a little.

Many people even among Bush-haters discount comparisons between fascism and Bushism. I would in general distinguish two groups. One of those who, in reverse wishful thinking, just don't want to consider the possibility - be it because it is frightening, contradicts their view of the USA, or because they are generally tired of illicit comparisons to fascism in public discourse. The other is more reasonable, making arguments about devaluing the moral outrage of fascism - for example, that Guantanamo et al isn't anywhere near Auschwitz.

There is certainly much overdone hyperbole. But still I will take issue with the latter here. First I have a general consideration: more important than 'devaluing' the moral outrage of fascism is to learn from history - and by restricting the lesson of the developed world's experience with 20th Century fasicm[*] only to what can be characterised as a 100% re-emergence by whatever standard, we effectively give up learning from this history.

Then, of course, there is the German saying that is surprisingly sparsely known and used outside Germany: wehet den Anfängen, that is, 'fear the beginnings'. You should not wait for fascism to show itself full-blown to fight it, fascism must be stopped before it takes over - and this kind of pre-emption is worthwile even if you err in thinking that the attacked social-political misdevelopment would have led to full-blown fascism.

On a more specific note: just what constitutes full-blown fascism? When I ask people who object to Bushism-fascism comparisons, it is usually clear that their image of fascism is death camps, invasion of the Soviet Union, burning cities.

However, these horrors are constrained to the last four years of one fascism, German Nazism. But Nazism was in power for a decade before that, Italian fascism two decades, and Spanish and Portuguese fascism was in effect in power for decades to follow.

Thus, in a way, those who decry the devaluing of the moral outrage of fascism devalue it themselves: fascism as it was for most of the time in most places, and as it was known to and hated by contemporaries for long years, is implicitely deemed not horrific enough in itself - not to mention foreshadowning worse things to come.

I personally do think that what we are facing in the USA, also because of the alternative on offer, is another crisis of the core values of the developed world. Some gloating Chinese leaders already declared the failure of the model of Western democracy. (I am definitely more sceptical than some Kerry sceptics who think Bush is actually the lesser evil, arguing from Bush's hypocrisy that he would probably pull out of Iraq soon and direct rhetorical horses elsewhere. These last believers in Bush's rationality should read this piece of spoof history, a journo in an alternative universe hypothetising about what if Bush had been president instead of Gore. Even in case Kerry will make things worse in Iraq than Bush, a still greater danger I see in what comes after Kerry.) And it does remind me of Germany, in the first half of the thirties, not later.

The latest parallel in a long line I observed is in the Ohio voter disenfranchisement the Republicans planned. The idea is to prohibit voters from casting provisional ballots in neighbouring precints (even tough a judge repeatedly ordered the Ohio version of Katherine
Harris, J. Kenneth Blackwell, to lift that rule), then show confusion with robo-phones to get voters into the wrong precints, who will be awaited by Republican 'volunteers' looking out for them, or indeed looking out for any Democrat-looking voter to test and intimidate. E.g., as the NYT laudably thematises (via Steve Gilliard):

In the name of fraud prevention, the Republicans plan to use 3,600 challengers in Ohio, a pivotal state where the race is dead even and there has been a big surge in first-time registrations for Democratic voters. There is no telling how many partisan challengers there will be nationwide next week because many states do not require them to be identified in advance. If challengers behave properly, they can help make elections better. But partisan challengers acting in bad faith can do considerable damage. Aggressive challengers have been known to bully poll workers, many of whom are elderly and have only limited knowledge of election law.

'Defending' the Elections, November 1933

[*] Fascism was a crisis of Western values, thinking, culture and civilisation, not unprecedented levels of horror and barbarity. Those at the receiving end of colonial rule, pre-modern Western and non-Western conquests and violent country reforms faced horrors of similar or higher magnitude (relative to the total population). It is the implosion of humanist moral ideas and our self-image of benign enlightement, at the very centre of our civilisation, and its source within this civilisation - worse: in no small part within the progressive streams of this civilisation - what makes it special to us.


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