By T Navin
Jason Stanley in the book titled ‘How fascism works: The politics of us and them’ describes fascist politics as characterized by ten aspects. The different headings under which it is discussed include: The mythic past, propaganda, anti-intellectual, unreality, hierarchy, victimhood, law and order, sexual anxiety, sodom and gomorrah and arbeit macht frei.
The mythic past:
Fascist politics seeks to build on the idea of a mythical past, which it claims was destroyed with the advent of liberal cosmopolitanism or universal values such as equality. The mythical past which was glorious was characterized by uniformity – religious, racial, cultural, linguistic or all of it. It calls for returning back to this state of glory and uniformity. In the process of glorifying the imagined past – it justifies a patriarchal, authoritarian and hierarchical ideology in accordance with what it calls natural law. The fascist leaders call for replacing history and rewriting history in lines of glorious past.
Fascist politics relies on propaganda. Propaganda is used under the garb of virtuous ideals behind objectionable ends. The end could be racial, religious, ethnic dominance, and supremacy. It uses the idea of freedom and democracy to create spaces for misogynist, racial or communal forces. Once in power, they are put to an end as they feel that they are the greatest to have arrived. It is concerned with bringing back traditional order. It attempts at destroying rule of law and replacing it with dictats of individual leaders or party bosses. In the name of rooting out corruption of culture, fascist politics attacks and diminishes institutions that might check their power. The fascists reject enlightenment ideals and claim that they want to replace it with natural law.
Fascist politics undermines public discourse through attacking and devaluing education, expertise, and language. Intelligent debate requires all the three. Fascist politics believes that there is only one legitimate viewpoint, that of the dominant nation. Liberal education is seen as a threat and sought to be replaced with education which glorifies the mythical past. Universities are the centers of dissent and intellectual discourse and it is seen as coming in the way of creating a glorious nation. Hence universities come under attack by fascists. Perspectives, which run counter to fascist notions are attacked. It removes the requirement for sophisticated debate.
Fascist politics does not believe in a reasoned debate. It relies on lying and invoking a sense of fear and anger. The information spaces are captured and reality is manipulated. Conspiracy theories are floated and form an integral part of its politics and used to create divide of ‘us’ vs ‘them’. It discredits free media as it does not provide space for conspiracy theories. Propaganda on conspiracies is based on imagination and through its repetition, it is sought to be made real. Through propagating conspiracy theories, it seeks to create and widen divides.
Contrary to ideas of liberal citizenship and equality before law, fascist ideology imposes hierarchies of power and dominance inconsistent with values of equality. It aims to organize society hierarchically. In its principles, equality goes against natural law. In the name of bringing natural law, it seeks to create hierarchy – men over women, members of chosen few of nation over other groups. To create the hierarchy, it uses the language of ‘deserving and undeserving’, ‘hardworking and lazy’ to create distinction between the two. It exploits the anxieties of dominant groups and point’s minority groups as posing threat to their existence. The beneficiaries of traditional hierarchy are convinced that liberal equality is a source of their victimization. This myth is propagated to an extent that those benefiting from hierarchy come to believe in the myth of their superiority. It justifies inequality contrary to ideas of equality which emerged from enlightenment
In fascist politics, equality and discrimination are both mixed with each other. Equality of the minority groups is seen as discrimination against the dominant groups. Representation of minority groups is seen as threatening by the dominant groups. Dominant groups are depicted as victims of growing equality, whereby they need to share citizenship and power with minorities. There are movements of both oppressors and oppressed, one justifying inequality and the other fighting for equality. Fascist agenda tries to build on the feeling of loss of dominant status and aggrieved victimhood among dominant groups and use it to create dominance over minority groups. Majority are made to feel victims.
Law and Order:
Fascist politics creates a divide of chosen few who are lawful and those who are not as lawless. The minority groups are sought to be seen as a threat to law and order. The other is categorized as ‘criminals’ with permanent character traits that are frightening to most and they position themselves as protectors. The criminalized group is portrayed as a threat to the fascist nation and a threat to its purity. Rape by lawless is pointed as a thing which can pollute the purity of the dominant group. Hence it calls for protecting the nation’s manhood through maintaining purity.
Fascist propaganda sexualizes the threat from the other to the manhood of the nation. The other is represented as those who corrupt the blood of a pure nation through an ‘inferior blood’. It could be racial, religious or sexual minorities. It appeals to patriarchal masculinity. Fascist politics heightens male economic anxiety into fear that one’s family is under existential threat by those who reject structure and traditions. It uses the weapon of threat of sexual assault by the minorities. Through politics of sexual anxiety, it tries to point that equality and freedom can be threats to the dominant majority.
Sodom and Gomorrah:
Cities in fascist imagination are seen as places of corrupted culture and rural areas as places which protect purity. They preserve pure blood by preventing intermixing by outside. Hardworking rural people are depicted as supporting lazy urban dwellers. Urban centers as locations of religious and racial diversity, diversity of customs and lifestyles are rejected. Urban centers are seen as a threat to fascist ideology. Minorities in cities are depicted as parasites who live off the hard work of rural populations. Laziness of minorities in cities is to be cured according to them by pushing them to hard labor. Hard labor could according to fascists purify lazy race.
Arbeti Macht Frei:
In times of crises, fascist politics reserves support for members who according to it represents ‘us’ and not ‘them’. The justification given is that the other is ‘lazy’, lack work ethic and cannot be trusted with state funds as they seek to live off state largesse. The ones lazy are depicted as reaping without sowing. It calls for preventing redistributing wealth of hardworking citizens to ‘undeserving’ minorities outside the dominant ethnic or religious communities. The idea of hard work is weaponized against minority populations. It seeks to cultivate stereotypes to propagate its myth of persons belonging to certain races, classes, or ethnic groups as being lazy.
The book provides a typology to understand fascism with examples from democratic and authoritarian societies, both from history and contemporary examples. The typology drawn in the book also helps to understand the Indian version of fascism.
T Navin is a writer and works with an NGO.