Head Stomping and the Road to Fascism

Fast-forward to 1984, and a boot stamping on a human face forever. Yesterday a protester outside the last debate in the Kentucky Senate race was thrown to the ground and had her head stomped on. It wasn’t quite a curbing — no teeth were broken — but it seems sufficiently violent to wonder how far away we are from right-wing goon squads forming their own paramilitaries to serve as enforcers for their government takeover. With that in mind, these essays (via mefi) by Sara Robinson about the stages of fascism (which draw on this Journal of Modern History essay by Robert Paxton) are worth reading.

Paxton posits five stages on the road to fascism, and in Robinson’s estimation, we are at the second, with this election promising to bring us into the third:

The second stage “depends on certain relatively precise conditions: the weakness of a liberal state, whose inadequacies condemn the nation to disorder, decline, or humiliation; and political deadlock because the Right, the heir to power but unable to continue to wield it alone, refuses to accept a growing Left as a legitimate governing partner.” He further noted that Hitler and Mussolini both took power under these same circumstances: “deadlock of constitutional government (produced in part by the polarization that the fascists abetted); conservative leaders who felt threatened by the loss of their capacity to keep the population under control at a moment of massive popular mobilization; an advancing Left; and conservative leaders who refused to work with that Left and who felt unable to continue to govern against the Left without further reinforcement.”

And more ominously: “The most important variables…are the conservative elites’ willingness to work with the fascists (along with a reciprocal flexibility on the part of the fascist leaders) and the depth of the crisis that induces them to cooperate.”

That description sounds eerily like the dire straits our Congressional Republicans find themselves in right now. Though the GOP has been humiliated, rejected, and reduced to rump status by a series of epic national catastrophes mostly of its own making, its leadership can’t even imagine governing cooperatively with the newly mobilized and ascendant Democrats. Lacking legitimate routes back to power, their last hope is to invest the hardcore remainder of their base with an undeserved legitimacy, recruit them as shock troops, and overthrow American democracy by force. If they can’t win elections or policy fights, they’re more than willing to take it to the streets, and seize power by bullying Americans into silence and complicity.

When that unholy alliance is made, the third stage — the transition to full-fledged government fascism — begins.

Obviously the bullying has already begun in Kentucky. Can one reasonably call Tea Party thugs brownshirts? Would they even reject the label? Robinson writes:

This is the sign we were waiting for — the one that tells us that yes, kids: we are there now. America’s conservative elites have openly thrown in with the country’s legions of discontented far right thugs. They have explicitly deputized them and empowered them to act as their enforcement arm on America’s streets, sanctioning the physical harassment and intimidation of workers, liberals, and public officials who won’t do their political or economic bidding.

This is the catalyzing moment at which honest-to-Hitler fascism begins. It’s also our very last chance to stop it.

Even if the idea-less Republicans have made common cause with the Tea Party fringe and they succeed in the upcoming elections, it still seems as though we are far from “the full-fledged use of violence and intimidation tactics, the mass rallies” that signify a Fascist nation in full flower. Plutocracy? Sure, seems like we’ve been there for years. But fascism? Still, I think part of the reason for that, and part of what is so scary about the situation, is the apparent leaderless nature of the Tea Party. With no cult of personality driving it, the Tea Party seems not the instrument of a madman but of an entire mad people, a networked multitude that can only think to prove the power of its elaborate connectivity through oppression, the end in itself that appears as the redemptive vision for the anomie that each member of the multitude had endured in isolation.