Last week, this blog received something of a challenge: A debate on “who the fascists actually are in modern American society”. \
But one of the key tenets of a meaningful debate is to make sure you agree on your terms.
…well, let’s start with the state that each side in American politics accuses one another of – “Fascism”, “Communism”, “Naziism”, “Socialism” – all of which have much in common, all of which are subtly different in some contexts and utterly indistinct in others.
The left’s self-indulgent rhetoric has denuded terms like “Fascist”, “Nazi”, “Racist” and “White Supremacy” of much of their meanings, and usefulness as debate yardsticks. The right did the same with “Socialist” (although the left has played its part in sapping that term of its zing as well).
So I’m going to try to settle on one of two terms to use as yardsticks; “Authoritarian” and “Totalitarian”. They are more pedestrian and academic than the list above – no mortal enemy of our nation has rallied behind either of them, so (let’s be charitable) neither side has seen fit to devalue them yet.
And yet, America – or parts of America – seems to be turning into an authoritarian society.
- Authoritarian: one who seeks to have their government control society
- Totalitarian: One who seems to have one’s rule become indistinct from society
So – how do we define either of ’em?
John Miltimore has a decent start in this blog post; he defines “totalitarianism” with fourteen criteria. It works as a matter of . I borrow and adapt them below:
Once we have the definitions nailed down, we’ll debate each point. Then, victors, losers and maybe even draws will be declared.
So I started with Miltimore’s list, added and rewrote a few things, and reorganized them:
Co-option of Institutions
Society’s formal institution are convinced to support the goals of the regime, or gotten out of the way, willingly or not.
- Media is controlled, directly or indirectly, by the state
- State police (and the laws and processes that guide its actions) protect the regime, not the people
- Power is concentrated in inner ring of elite institutions and people
Co-option of Society
An authoritarian society co-ops the institutions, not only of government, but of society itself. Government deploys carrots and sticks to create a society that complies – willingly or not. .
- Dissent is actively demonized (e.g., equated to violence)
- Mass conformity of beliefs and behaviors is demanded
- The ruling caste leverages divisions in society to multiply their power
Eroding Rule of Law, Uplifting Rule of Men
Free peoples laws observe a process over a goal. Authoritarians laws have goals – not always stated clearly in the text.
- The legal system is co-opted by the state
- State exerts power to quash dissent
- Rights—financial, legal, and civil—are contingent on compliance
Perverting Society’s Norms
While the institutions squash dissent, the co-option of society gradually makes dissent not only too costly, but unthinkable.
- Private and public levers of power are used to enforce adherence to state dogmas
Creating Official Boogeymen And Enemies
A state of war hysteria keeps peoples minds from what they’ve lost to the regime – it even makes them happy to sacrifice wealth, freedom and autonomy. Authoritarians need enemies.
- Entire classes singled out for persecution
- Harsh legal enforcement against unfavored classes
- Extra-legal actions are condoned against internal regime opponents
- Semi-organized violence is permitted (in some cases
So what needs to be added or removed?