Saturday, August 06, 2016

On fascism, neoliberalism and poorly defined terms.

I've noticed a recent trend to redefine neoliberalism away from concepts of laissez faire, minimal government, trickle down effects, the market as purpose towards more social capitalist ideals (a combination of socialism and capitalism) including redistribution mechanism, limits on inequality and the market as a tool. Does that mean the neoliberal ideal is changing? You have to be careful here because some ideologies do change over time but more often than not, the "change" is simply a way of sowing confusion in any opponents to the ideology. The Nazis infamously co-opted some socialist ideals (for a time) causing confusion in their opponents. So effective was this propaganda that even today you see people confuse the anti-democratic, anti-workers, righteous, intolerant, elitist Nazis (along with mass murdering) as being some sort of extreme left wing.

The reason why it's possible to do this and to redefine terms like neoliberalism is those concepts are poorly defined or at least difficult to clearly define. Like many political and economic ideals, it has some fluidity and supporters of such ideals will always try to present the best possible light. This behaviour of redefinition is how many have argued that quantitative easing is somehow a Keynesian concept where it's far from the directed approach of investment proposed by Keynes.

I mention this because I was recently asked what is Fascism? Again, it's a difficult concept to precisely describe despite the horrors it has caused. At best when examining Fascist regimes in history there are certain defining characteristics they have in common. This is not an exhaustive list but these are the most common properties I find to be associated with such regimes.

Identity - fascism tends to make extensive use of symbolism, iconography, art and architecture with a strongly defined and permanent group using an identifying concept which believers are rallied around. Though there is this strong identity, such regimes also heavily rely upon propaganda hence there's often lots of confusion for what this identity actually means outside of the scope of the rallying concept. "We believe in a united world and opportunity" can go hand in hand with a political-industrial complex that dismantles trade unions, workers rights and democracy.

Superiority - the belief that supporters are somehow better and more important than others. It often uses some form of enemy or population group as a scapegoat. That group tends to be identified as inferior and lacking the characteristics of supporters i.e. they are sub-human, less intelligent, less capable, less righteous. There also exists a belief that supporters have more valid rights and opinions than others which in extremes forms manifests itself into a willingness to sacrifice human rights on the grounds of security in order to protect the ideology against enemies (e.g. non supporters).

Righteousness - the belief that supporters are right and morally so. This verges on absolutism with the "inferior" often accused of some historical or current injustice against the supporters. There exists an unwillingness to compromise and a view that unity can only be achieved through acceptance of the supporters ideals.

Undemocratic - a belief in a righteous purpose often develops into a disdain of democratic process especially when those who do not support this purpose vote against it. Often claims are made that only the supporters (being "superior") should vote and that those who are inferior should not qualify - they lack the intellect, they are uneducated, they do not understand what they are voting for.  Whilst these movements might grow through democratic means by exploiting events and sowing confusion through propaganda they usually evolve into the antithesis of democracy including extensive use of appointments to position of power including cronyism and nepotism governed under some form of patriarchy.

Elitism - a strong image on the virtues of the elite. This is often maintained through the close relationship between the elite and any government & media structures including the creation and use of an industrial complex to benefit its supporters. Protection of this elite is paramount and this includes a variety of mechanisms where the individual is diminished in subservience to a "greater goal" of unity. 

Suppression - it is generally considered that the largest threat to such regimes comes from organisation of common individuals and hence there tends to be ridicule, suppression and removal of all forms of labour unions under the guise of being subversive, revolutionary or having other undesirable characteristics. Often it is associated with excessive use of corporate and technocratic power over the individual.  

Control - symbolism and presenting the image of superiority are key instruments of such ideologies and hence this tends to be protected. This is usually achieved through numerous mechanisms from compliant or sympathetic media to direct control and regulation. The main mechanism of control over the population tends to be a mix of righteousness and fear.

Hostility - it is important for fascism to maintain the argument of its own superiority and dissenters (particularly in academic circles) are openly attacked or sidelined or ridiculed. 

Force - a willingness to use force against others including the desire to create a strong army with a disproportionate spend on military concerns (including national security) over more social issues. In the most extreme forms this is combined with ideas of righteousness and superiority to create the citizen soldier.

Now many of these characteristics are equally true of other political ideals or regimes. However, this is the problem with negating fascism. In history it has developed from ideologies that at first were seen to be progressive (mainly due to propaganda) before the true horror became clear.  The most important factors in defending against it appear to be democracy, the organisation of common labour into unions, the freedom of academic speech, the importance of the individual and an independent and strong media.