Sunday, August 29, 2004

Daniel Herriges on Facism
Stanford student Daniel Herriges has given me permission to post an email he sent to me concerning his disagreement over my characterization of the issue of facism. I disagree with him quite strongly, and maybe I'll work up the time/energy to explain why. In any event, enjoy the thoughtful analysis of somebody with a radically different perspective than me.

I believe you're the one exhibiting a "striking ignorance" about the
nature of fascist societies if you see no parallel in modern America.
You define fascism as a political phenomenon, which is true, but it is
also a social phenomenon, because it is the extension of the political
into every realm of life - the subsuming of the individual to a
collective ideology, so to speak. Your two criteria can easily describe
dictatorships which are not in the least fascist or totalitarian. I
would argue that a citizen of a dictatorship can enjoy a large degree
of individual autonomy; and a totalitarian state can in theory be
organized as a democracy. There is no full-blown example of that yet,
but I feel America is on the verge of becoming the first.

Some aspects of fascism/totalitarianism evident in American society
(especially current-day, but much of this basically applies to
post-WWII America, i.e. the age of mass consumerism and corporate

-Mass consumer culture contributing to a collective sameness, as
evidenced by fashion, popular music, the effects of mass media in
general, the whole culture industry which homogenizes American society.
You can go to almost any suburb in America and find roughly the same
social milieu; people who have roughly the same experience of the
world. Homogenization of clothing styles is harmless on the surface;
the more insidious effect of consumer culture is homogenization of

-Mass media destroying the capacity for critical judgment and
individual thought. The media report over and over again "This is what
the experts are saying" and we're expected to line up behind one
ideology or another, or at least place ourselves somewhere on a
spectrum. America experiences a real poverty of diverse political
perspectives compared to most countries. Many people state their
political ideas in terms of inane platitudes, such as "I'm a Republican
because I believe in individual freedom," or "I'm a Democrat because I
have compassion for the less fortunate."

-An observation which I think speaks for itself: recall this year's
Democratic primaries. Kerry won the first one. The news media made a
big deal of it, and said "Looks like Kerry's coming out on top." Boom.
Kerry suddenly wins almost every other state, even those in which he
was behind Dean or someone else by a substantial margin beforehand.

-The centralized power structure of American society. We pay taxes.
Federal government gives half the money to the Pentagon. The Pentagon
doles it out to huge corporations with defense contracts, like Boeing,
Lockheed Martin, GE, etc. Many corporations with defense contracts
happen to own major news media. Put two and two together. To the extent
that fascism is the presence of a national ideology, reinforced by a
steady stream of propaganda, well, we've got that. The ideology is a
curious mix of fear translating into obsession with national security;
pro-capitalist triumphalism and unfailing faith in the ability of some
mysterious thing called economic growth to make us all fitter, happier
and more productive; belief in American exceptionalism and some vague,
undefined thing called freedom which we all enjoy; and especially
troubling recently, belief in a reified "America" which encompasses the
people and the state and makes no differentiation between the two,
allowing politicians to say things like "My opponent hates America."

I could go on for a long time, but I think I've conveyed in a basic
sense how I see a pseudo-fascist collectivism operating in this


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