In the 2001-2003 period, I was the first person anywhere to consistently apply the framework of fascism to try to understand unfolding events. Some among the commentariat dumped on me for using the term when clearly, according to them, we were in no such condition.
In those years the publisher of a well-known progressive press responded to my proposal for a book on emergent fascism by wanting me to interrogate—in person, in their own lairs no less!—John Ashcroft, Viet Dinh, Donald Rumsfeld, and other leading Bush administration figures at the forefront of introducing fascism. The standard for veterans of the progressive press turned out to be considerably less rigorous; they continued their armchair reporting, using the same discredited old framework. The publisher’s absolute condition for the book was that I must not, under any circumstances, use the term “fascism”—I could call it anything else, just not that; presumably it would upset armchair revolutionaries.
Naomi Wolf—always quick on the mark, she, as in recently discovering The Vagina—wrote several years after the fact a book called The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot (2007), in which she listed the major symptoms of the fascist tendency, borrowed particularly from the Nazi model, elements of which I too had applied earlier in the decade. The problem is, Nazism is not as universal a model as Italian fascism, so the standards are too narrow. By the time Wolf wrote, fascism in America had shifted to an insidious corruption of bureaucratic institutions. It was evident that tanks weren’t going to march on the streets, and there wasn’t going to be a violent militia to enforce fascism. So Wolfe’s work was too little, too late, and in fact counterproductive because it distracted from the actual threat.
Immediately after 9/11, when I started using the surprising vocabulary to explain events, I was repeatedly admonished to qualify that it wasn’t classical fascism I was talking about—that scared the hell out of everyone! It was a form of corporatism, perhaps, or friendly fascism, as many advised me, anything but the associations recalled by the classical form. Late in the decade, Sheldon Wolin came to the help of yes-but sympathizers when he offered, in what I think is an unsustainable convolution, the idea of “inverted totalitarianism”—America was saved, it might be fascism, but it came from the people, which made it sting less than jackbooted thugs or out-of-control Gestapos.
I moved to Texas in the late 1990s at the height of Governor George W. Bush’s popularity. To go straight from Cambridge, Massachusetts to Texas was a shock. I seemed to be living my life in a reverse movement toward authoritarianism, earlier having moved from the libertarian California of the 1970s and 1980s to New England, which seemed to me puritan and stiff enough. But I wasn’t prepared for Texas. I detected then the beginnings of the police state. The poor and minorities were subjected to continuous low-level harassment, and surveillance and discipline were inescapable if you fell into the wrong classification. The right of the poor to be themselves and carry on with their eccentricities and foibles was being denied, having become a matter of crime and punishment. Neighborhoods were patrolled by vicious busybodies taking it upon themselves to monitor activities (a forerunner of Bush’s Operation TIPS, and the Trayvon Martin incident), and the only way for a poor person to stay out of trouble was to maintain a low profile. This radically different way of self-disciplining was unlike anything I’d experienced on the West Coast. Today when I travel to more relaxed southern states like Louisiana, or even Mississippi and Alabama, the contrast with authoritarian Texas remains shocking.
It was possible to remain in some form of denial even after the Gingrich Revolution of 1994. One could compartmentalize politics from personal life, act as if the calamity was far in the distance. The Clinton impeachment upended the false equilibrium for me. The effortless orchestration of media hysteria heralded for me the possibilities of totalitarianism, and I began to get very worried. Reality was being severed from perception. It was becoming clear that latent anxieties could be mobilized by a demagogue for nefarious purposes. It only remained necessary for a ruthless leader to show up and monopolize the instruments of manipulation for purposes other than the carefree market worship of the Clinton years.
Such a leader showed up right on schedule. The moment I heard nasty nasal-voiced Amazonian Karen Hughes advocating for “the guv’nor” on Meet the Press in mid-1999, I was convinced that the next President was perched in Austin at that moment and predicted that he would start a war in Iraq in 2003 (I didn’t predict the terrorist attacks, although the steady drumbeat of terrorism anxiety in the media should have been a red flag). I told everyone who listened that America would not survive four years of George W. Bush. I was never in any doubt about the outcome of the 2000 election (or even 2004, when many liberals felt that John Kerry had a chance). When Bush was declared president in 2000 it felt apocalyptic, and I used that language in notes I took on election night. Remember that protestors were livid at Bush’s first inauguration, pelting his motorcade and disrespecting him as the illegitimate thief he actually was. African Americans in particular were enraged at the outcome; their instincts were right. The ground had shifted, and a new powerlessness was legitimized. The Texas model was being nationalized.
Fascism always comes into play when certain elites are threatened by erosion of power. Versions of fascism were the preferred means of holding on to illegitimate privilege throughout the twentieth century. This mode is convenient because of the rise of mass media, which blend so well with the psychology of fascism, as opposed to different forms of monarchy and dictatorship before the twentieth century.
So we have to ask which elites started feeling threatened in the late 1990s, what was the source of their anxiety, and how did they propose to quell these anxieties and push the populace toward a new form of political imagination.
My proposition is this: Fascism (in its current form) is the result of social dislocations caused by the present stage of globalization, manifested most strongly in the most globalized nation, the U.S. Social anxiety is being redirected to global militarist aspirations rather than idealization of a humane economic system.
My own understanding of fascism has continuously evolved, as I examine the historical cases in more depth, as my frame of reference changes, and as events impose themselves. Early on, like most people, I relied on the Nazi model, since that seems to be the commonest recourse for analysis. In those early days I was writing a novel—I’m glad it never got published!—whose lead character, while sitting in jail, composes an essay on the relevance of Nazism to contemporary events. I later cannibalized that section (there was also one on witchcraft) and got it published, when I gave up on the novel.
The Nazi case is obviously the most extreme one, but Italian fascism is actually a more relevant comparison, because of the bumbling, hesitant nature of what transpired in the decade following September 11, and in the studied incompleteness of the American project. I’ve been studying fascism thoroughly again, in preparation for a novel about Italy in the mid-1930s, at the peak of Mussolini’s power. This time I hope to reverse my earlier luck, by setting out some essayistic thoughts beforehand and having the novel published later.
Recall that the defining event in politics preceding the 2000 election was the Seattle riots, the anti-WTO, anti-globalization movement that rocked the establishment and forced Bill Clinton to start making concessions to protestors. It looked like the globalization agenda was up in the air, after relentless forward movement in the 1990s.
The anti-globalizers (whose most prominent face was Naomi Klein) seemed to me to lack a coherent critique that would preserve the best of international cosmopolitanism while getting away from the neoliberal version of globalization. The anti-globalizers seemed to me nationalist, parochial, reactionary, and patronizing toward developing nations. It’s revealing that in the late 1990s, thiswas the force—not, say, economic disparity within the U.S.—that caught on with privileged disaffected whites. Ralph Nader’s presidential run in 2000 came out of this quixotic enterprise.
But recall too that in that same period debt forgiveness, unprecedented amounts of aid to poor countries, and a powerful international criminal court were also on the global agenda. The positive side of globalization was beginning to kick in, the human welfare counterpart to the consumer choice dimension already in place. Domestically, reparations to African Americans were a big issue. Capitalism was being pushed, in all sorts of ways and around the globe, in a humane direction, if ever so slightly. This was different than the hipster protest against globalization. Later in the decade the professional protestors would take up the cause of dismantling NAFTA and returning manufacturing jobs to the blighted industrial Midwest.
In the absence of Bush and 9/11, consider the possible directions a movement for social justice could have taken in a freely globalizing world. The mind boggles at the possibilities. The internet, when at last it came into its own, would have had a positive agenda to hang on to, instead of liberals fighting a rearguard action.
In the wake of our own dalliance with fascism, countries like China got a free pass on human rights and social welfare, as they proceeded pell-mell on the hypercapitalist path. Dubai—that corporatized, segregated city-state—has become the paradigmatic urban space, distilling the essence of the desired shift on the part of elites. It’s all the more ironic that Lou Dobbs orchestrated a successful anti-Dubai Ports World campaign to halt their acquisition of American ports on the grounds of terrorism fears. While China’s rise was a probability in 2001, it was a done deal a decade later; but the way China has evolved, while global discourse took its eyes off equality and justice, is the essence of the story.
Elites were not necessarily threatened by the anti-globalization movement’s extempore tactics, but it was possible to see the frustrations evolving into a broader social justice platform. Along with globalization’s maturity it was possible to imagine erosion of illegitimate privilege.
If we think of fascism as the extreme manifestation of class war, then Bush’s most important domestic agenda items—massive tax cuts for the rich, moves toward privatization of education and welfare, and conversion of the immigration system from family reunification to something more in line with the direct needs of capitalism—make a lot of sense. The philosophical repositioning was fully achieved.
The late-1990s protests, in the midst of prosperity, were fueled by an outburst of cultural elitism. But now that globalization has become a darker force, the class anxieties caused by it have no real outlet—an outcome that is bound to please the elites. We are exactly where it was clear we would end up when the massive tax cuts for the wealthy went into effect a dozen years ago: large deficits leading to reactionary calls for slashing “entitlements.” Class war has entered its latest phase of permanent disempowerment of the working majority.
Remember that in the first nine months of 2001, Bush aggressively demolished the emerging cosmopolitan global agenda by opposing the international criminal court, unilaterally exiting from international treaties, violating Chinese sovereignty, and proposing military dominance in space. He shifted the terms of the discussion 180 degrees, so that domestic social anxiety was at first challenged and mocked (even basic environmental rules like arsenic in the water were thrown out), then suppressed and humiliated, and finally redirected toward nationalist aims (this took place after 9/11).
In short, class anxiety was reformulated, turned inward and against some of the most deserving members of the potentially emergent solidarity, i.e., immigrants, who became equalized over the course of the decade with terrorists. At the beginning of the decade, the discourse was about giving full citizenship rights to undocumented people who had established roots in the community, and inaugurating a more open, humane, and rational system; by the end of the decade, the option was off the table, as many millions of people considered self-deportation. Award-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas’s story is not uncommon, though the public perception of the undocumented is mostly of menial workers.
When Attorney General John Ashcroft implemented his registration policy for residents from certain countries, hundreds of thousands of people either disappeared into the shadows or left the country. We will never have a full accounting of what happened. When thousands of Iranians in Los Angeles showed up to register, many of them were arrested and put in jail, despite having documentation. Immigrant populations in many cities became decimated (especially non-Mexican immigrants) and have never recovered. Yet the debate continues to become more surrealistic. The Obama administration deported 800,000 people in the last two years (2009-2011), and an unknown number of children who came to this country at a young age and went to public school and college have no recourse to normalize their status. The imbalanced law-and-order perspective toward the human issue of immigration is one of the visible signs of fascism’s ascendancy.
There is much economic self-destructiveness, from the elites’ point of view, in the narrative I’ve outlined. I’m not convinced that the financial collapse occurred entirely for the reasons we believe it did; financial capitalism is always at root a pyramid scheme, but it can continue indefinitely, as long as it’s moderated from time to time. Could it be that incipient fascism redirected the nation’s attention from innovation to (false) security, and therefore threw sand in the gears of the economy, hardened the normal flows of the market and slowed it to the point of negative growth?
If security rather than freedom is the ultimate objective, then at some point the whole apparatus collapses. The myth of perfect immunity becomes too hard to sustain, and greater and greater sacrifices are demanded from the populace to support more militancy, more violence, more state-sponsored terrorism, as has been the experience of every country on the path of fascism. Companies directly invested in homeland security benefit, and some of the wealth trickles down, but war and homeland security have their limits as propellants of economic growth, and this may ultimately be the cause of up to a decade of economic decline.
What compels the elites, then, to bring in a fascist leader, despite uncertainties for the economic order? Only if they perceive a danger greater than the risks involved in legitimizing a force that may exceed their own powers of control will they put the endgame into motion.
The Italian example teaches us that the two years of red anarchy (1919-1920) were a key factor in convincing industrial capitalists, large landowners, and monarchists that Mussolini could be trusted to check the spread of socialism and that, despite the discomfort his own squadristi caused the squeamish among liberals, there was no alternative but to bring him to power. Hence the monarch Victor Emmanuel III invited Mussolini to form the government. Until the murder of socialist opposition leader Giacomo Matteotti in 1924, Mussolini’s power was not complete. After that, however, the state extended its reach even into the realms of cultural activity, assumed a militant posture capped by the invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, and eventually aligned with Hitler’s despicable anti-Semitic laws (for which there was little taste in Italian culture) just before the start of World War II.
Mussolini was the elites’ consensual alternative to what was then perceived as the failed two decades of Giolittian liberalism (associated with the dominant politician of his era, Giovanni Giolitti, prime minister for much of the duration). This was the period the policy of transformismo (transformation)—i.e., the conversion of one faction into another, in order to facilitate parliamentary maneuvering and deal making—ruled the day, rather than any principled policy of national greatness, which offended right and left.
In retrospect, to me at least, Giolittian accommodation seems to have been an acceptable way to balance the interests of capital and labor; but hotheads and rebels, which in Italy’s case included the Futurist F. T. Marinetti and the decadent aesthete Gabriele D’Annunzio, are always discontent with the apparent (and sometimes real) evidence of shadiness in insider deals.
Sooner or later, the fascist hydra head always swallows its creators, who hope to control and moderate it once it’s accomplished their designated goals in power; this is a vain hope, as certain capitalists must no doubt have realized during the Bush years. They wanted class war to intensify, they didn’t want the economy to collapse. They wanted panic toward external enemies, they didn’t necessarily want the state to reorient itself to security as the foremost goal. But capitalists of the Ivy League provenance never seem to read enough history, and so it goes. Fascism couldn’t have thrived here without the active collaboration of a broad range of elites.
Fascism, we might say, is romanticism gone haywire, unable to accept the accommodations of daily life. In the contemporary American case, the counterculture mutated over time into therapy culture, and its parallel manifestations—victimization, grief, and self-belief—provided the cultural foundations for the political shift.
Fascism bears close affinity with forms of aesthetic reaction like victim literature (such as the grief and addiction memoir), New Age thinking, and the Oprahfication of social problems. The therapy mode realizes a depoliticized subject, which then becomes susceptible to fascism. Therapy has been our dominant emotional vocabulary for the last forty years, and particularly so since the crash of the capitalist-communist faux ideological battle nearly thirty years ago.
Hollywood—like the rest of the culture industry—helped prepare the ground for fascism. In movies like The Matrix, it trained the audience (for the emerging political spectacle) to expect unreality as a matter of course, to desire an inscrutable fight to the end between good and evil, and to be resigned to an omnipresent darkness without any trace of political ideology.
When fascism came on the scene, self-declared guardians of culture like Christopher Hitchens and Andrew Sullivan—and recently David Mamet—were eager converts to the cause, sensing the way the wind was blowing. It’s ironic that both Hitchens and Sullivan had pretensions to being the true inheritors of George Orwell, when in fact their convoluted justifications for empire were precisely the kind of doublethink Orwell condemned.
Among people who grew up in the 1990s and 2000s, I detect a greater vulnerability to fascistic disciplinarian tendencies than among the previous generation who experienced what it was like not to live under a terrorizing state, the seamless alliance of corporations and military and media crushing traditional ideas of freedom. It’s sad to say but young people know little better than what has been described to them as “reality”—the reality of extreme insecurity and uncertainty. They accept violation of privacy in a way that people of my generation never did. They’re the product of the regimentation of middle-class life around disciplinary activities that has grown manifold in recent years.
Leisure—free time to experiment and explore—is in short supply. Play has been converted to sport, and organized sport is to play as organized religion is to compassion. Mussolini’s Italy was a trend-setter in monopolizing the leisure time of the masses in various organized leisure activities; the nationalist (or regionalist) hysteria generated by modern sports is a helpful supplement to fascist politics. Children’s leisure time is scheduled to a degree unthinkable a few decades ago. Soccer moms, complicit in disciplinarianism, drive their children all over town at ungodly hours, as children submit to so-called habits of character (early assimilation of school and workplace regimentation) under the guise of sports.
If we look at the adherence of the broad middle-class to such norms of internalized discipline, we get a good measure of the strength of fascist support. Sports fanaticism is an example of an activity that goes well with a certain brand of humorlessness, bodily self-punishment, spectatorial authority, anti-intellectualism, martial (and marital) values, and capitalist “teamwork,” culminating in qualification for inclusion in the fascistic school and workplace—and politics.
Fascism is always a reaction against the (perceived or real) weaknesses of liberalism, and this was certainly the case with the Bush ascendancy, as the regime promised vigorous leadership after Clintonian dealmaking. Fascists loathe parliamentary maneuvering, and Clinton’s enormous success at this mode of governance was anathema to the partisans of “national greatness” (the Weekly Standard cabal under Bill Kristol, the Straussian PNAC faction led by the likes of Richard Perle, and the new militarists exemplified by Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld). The 2012 Republican presidential contender most loathed by elite opinion-makers was Newt Gingrich, who after all concluded some major agreements with Clinton and is a consummate dealmaker.
It’s worth remembering that the essential characteristic of fascism is the search for organic unity over liberal interest-group machinations. Violence serves the purpose of purging the impure elements in the national arena and clearing the grounds for external projection of the power of the regenerated, purified, organic national folk. The Tea Party movement very much fits into this organic conception of politics, and some version of it looks likely to remain a durable feature of American politics, again testifying to the depths at which the fascist tendency has taken hold.
Obama is perceived to be a “socialist,” despite being a prototypical neoliberal, often to the right of Bill Clinton. Sarah Palin stands for the good folk in small towns, while Obama’s comment on gun and religion clingers was a major strike against him in the 2008 election. New York, as the most degenerate city, periodically deserves the wrath of God, as do homosexuals, immigrants, and any others who are not really Americans, whatever calamity befalls them. It’s all part of the divine plan for elevating the organic folk against the enemies.
Fascism is always racist. Obama’s elevation to the presidency served as expiation for past and present sins against minorities, even as it gave theoretical license to proceed unchecked, and sometimes at even greater pace, with racist policies internally and externally—which is precisely what Obama has done, with his rampant deportation policy and his drone wars.
Fascists always pick both internal and external enemies—sometimes but not always connected—to misdirect class anxiety toward unsatisfiable goals. There was a great deal of hand-wringing in the late 1990s about America becoming a majority non-white nation by 2050. With the de facto block on immigration, and the exclusion of many, an attempt was made to alleviate the anxiety, even if the cost was the collapse of the economy. The primary claim of minorities in the 1990s was for greater dignity. This turned out to be even more threatening than the demand for economic equality. California Governor Pete Wilson’s anti-immigrant policy had backfired, Hispanics were a growing political force, and the terms of the debate needed to be radically altered before popular demands for dignity started translating into shifts in political power. The violent suppression of egalitarian ideas is exactly what was accomplished with the surge of fascism.
The hysteria over the tame, corporate-approved, depoliticized 1990s multiculturalism—driven by culture warriors like Rush Limbaugh, Allan Bloom, E. D. Hirsch, Lynne Cheney, William Bennett, and Jesse Helms—needs to be viewed in the same context. That was the preparatory stage, while the nationalist violence, evangelical resurgence, and mass deportations were the active stage. The internal enemy is immigrants, Mexicans, terrorists, Muslims, Arabs, subversives, anti-Americans of every kind, while the external enemy is terrorists, primarily Muslims—or Muslim countries, since any number of these conveniently correlate with geostrategic goals as and when necessary.
Internal repression always goes with external aggression in fascism; the two cannot be separated. This is the major reason why it’s taken so long to bring the wars in the Middle East to definite closure; disbandment would require relief on the domestic front as well, and the unwinding of fascist power on the whole.
What form did violence in the Bush era take in the domestic realm? It’s a mistake to presume—as Naomi Wolf did—that tanks will show up on the streets. Modern technology allows more efficient ways of excluding and punishing large numbers of people. Bureaucratic edicts can be enforced with a thoroughness inconceivable in the past.
Proposals were floated in the last years of the Bush administration to make millions of people unpersons, by retroactively declaring their crime of undocumented presence an unforgivable felony. No authority figure needed to show up at their doors to capture and imprison them; their normal lives would have ceased functioning with the passage of the law. Something of the same low-intensity bureaucratic enforcement was accomplished with the passage of the Real ID law, which states initially hesitated to implement but which has now become the law of the land. It requires proof of residency to get a driver’s license; undocumented persons may continue to stay in this country, but if they can’t drive, if they can’t get jobs, and if they can’t travel, then their lives become not worth living anyway.
Something similar—but more ominous—came close to reality when the Bush administration proposed that the entire nation should be vaccinated against smallpox. No one knows how many fatalities would have resulted among AIDS patients or those with weakened immune systems. It’s hard to believe that this policy was implemented on a small scale and seemed on its way to national implementation. This is the form fascist activity takes these days, not tanks on the street.
What is the quality of life if for all intents and purposes civil liberties remain permanently suspended, the Bill of Rights is always vulnerable to extreme hypotheses like the ticking time bomb scenario, and if movement and speech are monitored in real time (the total information awareness fantasy, which has more than a basis of truth to it)? Torture, black sites, rendition, illegal wiretapping, and extrajudicial executions have all become established as normal ways of doing business. All of these would have been unthinkable a decade ago. E-Verify, Real ID, the proposed secure internet ID program, NSEERS and its follow-ups, FISA violations, and the Patriot Act are all fascist impositions we’ve learned to make peace with.
Under the sign of terrorism, we inhabit a permanent state of hyper-surveillance, and there seems no end to it—short of a definitive defeat on the battlefield, or an economic collapse of even greater magnitude than occurred in 2007, and neither of those two things is going to happen. What I saw happening in Texas on a small scale in the 1990s has been elevated to national and international policy, with every technology at the disposal of the security experts who aim to make us live in perpetual fear.
Absolute polarization is also an essential part of fascism. We heard of the irreconcilable red state-blue state divide for the first time during the 2000 election. The North-South, Blue-Red schism is essential to fascist mobilization; the media’s relentless propagation of this concept makes it self-fulfilling. Fascism desires political culture to be split this way. A decade ago, this was only a project in the making; for instance, the country as a whole remained open to immigration, even through the peak of the wars. Aside from Southern conservatives, there was mass opposition to Bush’s stolen election, until the issue receded after 9/11. But the media was soundly behind the kind of polarization Bush presumed in his early rhetoric: the virtuous organic community (given to Christian charity, for example) versus Godless secular humanists. In a more virulent form, this leads directly to Sarah Palin’s “real America,” and that’s where the country remains, except that the economic emergency has to be managed first.
But make no mistake about which ideology will rule the day, if the elites want it, and especially if fears of terrorism become real again. The discourse that has become pervasive is that of organic vitalism, rather than secular democracy. The conservative right, the radical right, and the fascists are united over this discourse. Were there a potent conservative right that took issue with, for example, the civil liberties violations of fascism, then course correction might be imagined; but dissidents on the conservative right were marginalized, outcast, and destroyed during the course of the 2000s (hence the demise of the Northeastern “moderate” Republicans). The distinctions among the three categories—the conservative right, the radical right, and the fascists—are important, and it’s a mistake to mix them up; confusing the spectrum only leads to the very polarization which is the basis of fascism.
What, again, is fascism? It is the militant mobilization of a resentful population against perceived internal and external threats, deploying mass propaganda under the leadership of a charismatic ruler and supported by a militia, the effect of which is to convert the resentful population into the instrument of nationalist hegemony using all the resources at the disposition of the state.
These elements of fascism have been firmly in place—most strikingly in the early hothouse 2001-2003 phase when previously unimaginable developments occurred daily—with the caveats that the militia has never been there, and the truly charismatic leader has never appeared either.
I’ve thought about these two qualifications. It seems to me that violence orchestrated through bureaucratic/technological means makes the militia redundant (though there were attempts during the Bush years to overcome the Posse Comitatus limitation, and the normalization of military presence in response to man-made calamities or terrorism was much discussed). The increased reach and power of mass media make the charismatic leader less important. In Italy at least, there was quite a bit of room for private life to proceed along normal lines (this was much less true in Germany), and fascist leaders have tended to be inept and clownish, much like Bush; their charisma looks empty and illusory in retrospect.
Mussolini was brought in by scared conservative elites, and the same was true of Bush. This is also true of the polarization that has followed. It’s a way of keeping the masses in check, by continually escalating the war against the working class, throwing into doubt the smallest guarantees of social stability. This is a struggle whose future elements are always clearly visible. The terms of discourse with respect to globalization, the distribution of income, and the treatment of different races were vastly perverted during the decade of fascism. In that respect, even if the country was driven to near-bankruptcy, fascism was a success for its propagators.
I wondered in the middle of the last decade if perhaps after the end of the Bush regime the country might suddenly awaken one day and dismiss the hysteria as a momentary blunder and move on. But this hope has been crushed. There’s no sign that anything like this will happen. Fascism has become bureaucratic and systematic, reinforcing class privilege and income inequality, offering a terrible model for the world to follow.
My estimate is that in our dalliance with fascism we never reached Nazi Germany levels, but that for a while we were probably parallel with the terror and violence of the early Mussolini regime. In the red hot 2001-2003 period, we were probably ahead of the terror Mussolini managed to orchestrate, and aspired to Nazi Germany-like violence on a national and global level, though that never came to be.
For the rest of the decade, we tracked closely with Mussolini’s fascist index on some measures. Had it not been for the anarchy of the internet, the conditions of censorship and weakened discourse would have made things much less bearable. The situation remains highly fluid, with little certainty as to where we go next. The new intellectual framework is hegemonic, and fissures have been rare among elite circles. For anyone not part of the privileged elite, it remains a no-win situation.
This essay, originally written in 2011, is excerpted from the book Confronting American Fascism: Essays on the Collapse of the Democratic Order, 2001-2017.