The epithets “fascist” and “Nazi” are, in some quarters, tossed about so casually as to have lost most of their meaning. But that should not lead us to think the behaviours they might describe are things of the past. Those of us with longer memories can still scent the whiff of fascism on the wind – and we should not hesitate to say so when we do. This might be one of those moments.
What phenomena might we expect to recognise as evidence of a revival of fascism?
We would certainly expect to see a regime that exhibits an extreme form of nationalism. It would describe in grandiose terms the role of the country and its government – the Third Reich, for example, was to last “a thousand years”. It would proclaim its determination to enhance the “greatness” of the country, its readiness to be ruthless in pursuing its own interests, and its disregard of the interests of others. It would increase its spending on the military and express its disdain for helping others.
It would be led by a larger-than-life personality who – as with a Benito Mussolini or even, on occasion, an Adolf Hitler – was not afraid to appear ridiculous or buffoon-like if it meant staying in the headlines. The leader would surround himself with like-minded (and sycophantic) supporters, appointed to positions of power in the government on the strength of their subservience rather than their experience or ability.
The policy of the government would be presented, not as the product of careful consideration by a properly constituted legislature, but as emanating from the personal vision of the “leader”.
Policy would be announced in equally personal terms, directly from the lips of the leader and, as often as possible, at public events, conducted with fanfare and razzamatazz, where the leader was able to renew the tactics that had enthused his supporters in the first place. Those tactics would include the relentless repetition of slogans and catch-cries, of insults aimed at supposed enemies and non-believers, and attacks and threats against those who were seen as standing in the way.
Those supporters would be encouraged to chant their hatred of opponents of the regime and to demonstrate their enthusiasm for the leader. But they would also be encouraged to identify and express their hostility to groups within society who could be seen as different or as unwelcome minorities or as too weak to defend themselves.
The regime itself would use officers of the state to harass them, to “weed them out”, on the grounds that they could not properly be accepted as part of the host community. Religious, political or ethnic differences would be barely tolerated and carefully monitored.
Propaganda, not necessarily based on truth and fact, would be used constantly.
The regime would make it clear that it saw a legitimate role for torture as a means of maintaining its hold on power.
Foreign affairs would be conducted on a personal basis. Foreign dignitaries would be expected to show proper subservience to the leader. Smaller and neighbouring countries would be treated with disrespect and threatened with reprisals if they did not do as they were told.
The government, which would be represented as merely an emanation of the personal power of the leader, would attack other sources of power in civil society. The courts would be under heavy pressure to interpret the law to suit the government’s interests, and appointments to the bench would be made on political grounds so as to ensure that this was done.
A free press would be seen as a threat, and would be reined in, through a mixture of threats and controls.
The power of government would be allied with, and regarded as barely to be differentiated from, the interests of big business. All major activities, especially in the economic sphere, would be directed to increasing the power of the state.
Does any of this ring any bells? Is it really so unthinkable that a major modern democracy, one on which the future of the free world – and therefore of the world itself – is said to rest, could lead us back to a dreadful future? If not, should we not speak up before it is too late?