the word fascist is an oddly mercurial term. it can mean anything in modern-day parlance from a demanding authority figure (boss, parent, teacher) to just someone you vehemently disagree with.
in her book FASCISM: A WARNING (HARPER, 2018), former CLINTON ADMINISTRATION SECRETARY OF STATE MADELEINE ALBRIGHT sets the task of defining and articulating what the term means and how it used to describe the philosophies, behaviors and techniques of regressive regimes from the early 20th century to present day. this is not some high-minded academic thought experiment for her as her family were refugees twice having fled CZECHOSLAVAKIA during WWII and during its post-war COMMUNINIST takeover. she intimately understands scope and dangers of the rising tide of fascism worldwide. she knows the plight of those under its thumb.
but she is also careful to explain that the term does not denote a particular ideology but rather "someone that who claims to speak for a whole nation or group, is utterly unconcerned with the rights of others, and is willing to use violence or whatever other means are necessary to achieve the goals he or she might have." in essence this cancer can happen anywhere. and does.
leaders she profiles in this book include that of textbook examples like BENITO MUSSOLINI (ITALY), ADOLF HITLER (GERMANY), JOSEPH STALIN (USSR) and the KIM JONG-UN/KIM JONG-IL/KIM IL-SUNG lineage (NORTH KOREA) as well as recent examples that exhibit fascist tendencies such as NICOLAS MADURO/HUGO CHAVEZ (VENEZUELA), SLOBODON MILOSEVIC (SERBIA), RECEP ERDOGAN (TURKEY), ROBERT MUGABE (ZIMBABWE), GURBANGULY BERDIMUHAMEDOW (TURKMENISTAN), VICTOR ORBAN (HUNGARY), ABDEL FATTAH EL-SISI (EGYPT), HUN SEN (CAMBODIA), JAROSLAW KACZYNSKI (POLAND), VLADIMIR PUTIN (RUSSIA), YOWERI MUSEVENI (UGANDA), ILHAM ALIYEV (AZERBAIJAN), DANIEL ORTEGA (NICARAGUA), RODRIGO DUTERTE (PHILIPPINES), ROBERT KAGAME (RWANDA) and, yes, DONALD TRUMP (UNITED STATES), the first "anti-democratic President in modern U.S. history."
what comes across forcefully is that term fascism covers a wide spectrum of socioeconomic, religious and political philosophies, yet its effect of limiting individual expression is the same.
part of the book addresses the set of circumstances that led to societies being susceptible to the message of despots and totalitarians. ultimately week economies where major short-term challenges and long-term structural issues went unaddressed by an inept system flooded with incompetent politicians led to an opportunity for the public to seek alternatives. also, often issues regarding immigration and national identity, as most countries are based initially on the bonds ethnic groups, come to further heighten an already explosive political environment. NATIONALISM here is not the cause but rather a tool used to manipulate.
essentially the mass psychology involved in supporting fascism is pretty straightforward: this leader will do what needs to be done. in a democracy there is a deliberate effort to guard and protect the interests of the political minority, which often is forgotten by most. it is this key constituency that is lost in the shuffle when the masses make the turn towards a dictatorship. the process is often gradual and similar to that of plucking a duck as MUSSOLINI once explained. unfortunately i have seen such a process in progress during my stints in NIGERIA under SANI ABACHA, VENEZUELA under NICOLAS MADURO, ALBANIA under SANI BERISHA and now the UNITED STATES under DONALD TRUMP.
for me it is easy to pass judgements on pat and current supporters of these movements, especially the ones i have encountered during my lifetime, whether they be CHAVISTAS or TRUMPISTAS. what is more difficult is to look inside and consider how i am adding to the situation. for me this is the most damning anecdote in the whole book: ALBRIGHT makes the argument that our modern digital on-demand culture has created a situation where we expect more from our government than at any point in the past. we expect results without paying the cost. locally-sourced food produced cheaply and ethically. security without loss of privacy. government services without taxation. essentially we are spoiled. we expect simple answers to complicated questions. and that tendency leads us to become cynical and ultimately disengage. this disengagement is an opportunity for change. and change can go both ways.
the path to fighting fascism, especially here in AMERICA is being mindful of others and becoming active in CIVIC ENGAGEMENT: VOTING, VOLUNTEERING, BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS and INVESTING in our communities. complacency and adopting a myopic mindset focused on your self-interest is what will collectively do us in as a nation. we need to reestablish our sense of mutual connection and responsibility to each other as AMERICANS.
if you don't know how to get engaged look here for ways:
FASCISM: A WARNING is definitely a worthwhile read and an excellent introduction to the topic that is straightforward with unadorned language that is easily understood and deftly constructed for maximum impact.
THE ROAD TO UNFREEDOM: RUSSIA, EUROPE, AMERICA (TIM DUGGAN BOOKS, 2018) by YALE HISTORY PROFESSOR and celebrated writer of ON TYRANNY (review linked HERE), TIMOTHY SNYDER is without doubt one of the most consequential and depressing books I have ever read. at its core it deals with the philosophical underpinnings that have guided the development and exportation of the concept of UNREALITY as a weapon by the RUSSIAN government on their geopolitical foes the EUROPEAN UNION and the UNITED STATES.
the two main concepts SNYDER utilizes to explain this scenario are the politics of both INEVITABILITY and ETERNITY.
essentially the post-WWII period has seen the UNITED STATES believe implicitly that market capitalism leads to institutions that secure democracy. this belief was beyond reproach and essentially gospel to which resulted in the assumption that such was inevitable. provide new markets and the corresponding political infrastructure will organically appear given time, it was inevitable. the politics of inevitability basically follow a narrative that a nation tells itself about how it got to where it is, that "the future is just more of the present, that the laws of progress are known, that there are no alternatives, and therefore nothing really to be done" according to SNYDER.
VLADIMIR PUTIN and basically all totalitarian dictators deal with the politics of eternity, where "eternity places one nation at the centre of a cyclical story of victimhood. Time is no longer a line into the future, but a circle that endlessly returns the same threats from the past." in this situation there is no history. icons and events of the past are merely collapsed into the present at the behest of the leader. the body politic is infallible and pure, all problems are the result of foreign influence.
this is book is basically the history of how PUTIN took his particular brand of RUSSIAN politics of eternity based on the writings of IVAN ILYIN and imposed them first on his people before testing it on the UKRAINE and later WESTERN EUROPE and the UNITED STATES.
for me the most captivating takeaway of this book is just the brazen disregard for factuality in the lies RUSSIAN propagated worldwide during their invasion of UKRAINE. its dizzying to keep up with them which is essentially the point. the success of the RUSSIAN media echo chamber to define the situation to such an extent that foreign journalists from both the left (THE NATION, THE GUARDIAN) and the extreme right (FRENCH NATIONAL FRONT) bought in is truly devastating. the truth is that the UKRAINE was a democratically-elected sovereign nation that was seeking entry into the EUROPEAN UNION as a way of modernizing its infrastructure and ridding its body politic of corruption, but RUSSIA was able to convince governments and though-leaders worldwide that this was a regional civil war.
domestically there was the lie that broadcast on state media that they were fighting fascism, when in fact they were fighting on behalf of a fascist. that UKRAINE wasn't a nation but part of a mythological NOVOROSSIYA, a "NEW RUSSIA. that foreigners were behind the deaths of RUSSIAN children and sought to promote their decadent values on the RUSSIAN populace.
the weaponization of a fictional UNREALITY was later used in AUSTRIA, HUNGARY, FRANCE and ITALY to varying degrees but found its next prime target in the BREXIT referendum. it is still ironic that regions in the UNITED KINGDOM that garnered the most financial assistance from EUROPEAN UNION were the ones that voted to leave it, but that is the power of cyber-warfare and the creation of narratives to people that don't know their own history. its tragic. the weakening of the EUROPEAN UNION is a continuing geopolitical goal of RUSSIA and the UNITED KINGDOM played right into it.
which bring us to TRUMP and the 2016 election. the story from here on out is familiar to anyone that paid attention to the MUELLER REPORT, but again what interested me was how this idea of promoting UNREALITY worked so well. that sense of purity and eternal victimhood played seamlessly into the conservative GOP worldview in the wake of a GLOBALIZED ECONOMY. it almost worked too well relative to other countries. our "exceptionalism" being defined by our own hubris at believing our own hype. and our collective gullibility in a weakened, corporate, un-diversified media culture that has been overturned by FACEBOOK and its lack of editorial principles. essentially in both form and function, our collective experience as AMERICANS has devolved more and more to the level of RUSSIA each of the past three years since TRUMP came to office. white rural TRUMP voters are okay with shorter, worse lives given that a minority somewhere in he country has it worse. its a shame what he has achieved by stoking AMERICA's unchecked legacies regarding inequality and racism.
and speaking of which, this book puts the anti-historical and anti-science histrionics and narrative manipulations of TRUMP into a useful, comprehendible context. i recommend his book whole-heartedly as a must-read for any concerned citizen of western civilization. my hope is that it isn't too late and that we vote the bastard out.
in the proud tradition of THOMAS PAINE's influential late 18th-century think-piece "COMMON SENSE," TIMOTHY SNYDER, a HISTORY professor at YALE and member of the COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS, offers offers twenty insights with historical context from last century into staying vigilant now in the age of TRUMP in his thoughtful call to action ON TYRANNY (TIM DUGGAN BOOKS, 2017).
now being a period where our political and civic guardrails are continually debased, diminished and dismissed by a homegrown FASCIST leader, these lessons provide hope and a game plan of sorts for how to go about as MARIO SAVIO once term it, "put[ting] your body upon the gears" of the machine.
these lessons include (from the book):
my sense of this publication is that yes, as individuals we can be manipulated. yes we can be gaslit and primed through language, symbols and other mass media techniques at the disposal of the state.
but what we can do as individuals is TAKE RESPONSIBILITY and EMPOWER OURSELVES AS INDIVIDUALS by not rely on others (talking heads on TV, far right-wing politicians) to determine what we feel and think when confronted with fascism.
make no mistake, that is what we are living through right now. as SNYDER put it "post-truth is proto-fascism." read books, inform yourself, be critical of your news diet and where it comes from, engage in your community, talk to people, make connections with your neighbors, support print journalism, learn new words and challenge yourself. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY. the time of disaffected hipsterism is dead or we all will bear its wrath when others step in and think and make decisions on your behalf.
and for fuck's sake, register to vote. if you don't know how click HERE to a website (vote.gov) that will guide your through the process in your state. let's vote this bastard out.