The atrocious Second World War left behind lasting damage by lowering our standards for what is marginally acceptable. War is bad; but if it is not nuclear, the limit has not yet been reached. Fascism is bad; but if it does not come with dictatorship and the elimination of a category of people, the limit has not yet been reached. Hiroshima, Hitler, Auschwitz are deeply rooted in our minds, distorting them.
Hiroshima makes us disregard the state terrorism against German and Japanese cities, killing citizens of any age and gender. And Hitler and Auschwitz make us disregard fascism as the pursuit of political goals by means of violence and the threats of violence. It takes two to make a war, by whatever means. But it takes only one to make fascism, against one’s own people, and-or against others.
What is the essence of fascism? A definition has been given: coupling the pursuit of political goals and of massive violence. We have democracy exactly to prevent that, a political game for the pursuit of political goals by nonviolent means, and more particularly by getting the majority, as demonstrated by free and fair elections or referenda, on one’s side. A wonderful innovation with a logical follow-up: the use of nonviolence when the majority also oversteps lines or limits, for instance as written into the codes of human rights.
The strong state, able and willing to display its force, also as capital punishment, belongs to the essence of fascism. That means absolute monopoly on power, also the power that does not come out of a gun, including nonviolent power. And it means a view of war as a normal activity of the state, normalizing, and even eternalizing war. It means a deep contradiction with an omnipresent enemy, like Aryans against non-Aryans, or Judeo-Christianity against Islam, glorifying the former, demonizing the latter. Fascism anywhere builds dualism, Manicheism and the final battle, Armageddon, into a consistent whole.
That it means unlimited surveillance of one’s own people and others comes without saying; postmodern technology making it possible, or at least credible. What matters is fear; that people are afraid and abstain from protests and nonviolent actions lest they are singled out for the ultimate punishment: extrajudicial execution. Less important than really checking everybody’s email, web activity and listening to telephone calls is people believing that it is happening.
The trick is to do so indiscriminately, not focusing only on suspects but making people feel that anyone is a potential suspect; making them play safe out of fear, turning all potential activists into governable passivists. Leaving politics to the Big Boys, with muscles at home as well as abroad.
The even more basic trick is to make fascism compatible with democracy. A piece of news comes to the attention: “Admitting that British forces tortured Kenyans fighting against colonial rule in the 1950s–the government would compensate 5,228 victims.” (IHT 07 June 2013). A staggering number, more than 5,000–for sure there were more. Where was the Mother of Parliaments during this display of fascism? One senses a formula, “for the security of Britons in Kenya”, security being the bridging word between fascism and democracy, sustained by that academically institutionalized paranoia “security studies”.
There are other ways. First, a reductionist definition of democracy to multi-party national elections. Second, making the parties close to identical in matters of “security”, ready to use violence internationally or nationally. Third, privatizing the economy under the heading of freedom, the other bridging word, leaving to the Executive Power essentially the judiciary, the police and the military–issues on which there is already manufactured consent.
To arrive at a permanent crisis with a permanent enemy ready to hit is useful, but there are other approaches.
Just as a crisis defined as military catapults the military into power, a crisis defined as economic catapults capital into power. If the crisis is that the West has been outcompeted in the real economy, then it is the finance economy, the huge banks, handling the trillions under the formula of freedom. To corrupt some politicians by banking their campaigns is peanuts, and may not even be needed given the consent.
There is a way out, and sooner or later it will be traveled. People pay around 20 percent, half in the USA, in tax to the state when they buy goods or services in the real economy–for end consumption–but the finance economy effectively lobbies against even 1% or .1%. Even a compromise like 5 percent would solve the problem of Western states that the real economy does not generate a surplus sufficient to run a modern state beyond force; one day not even that, at current levels.
If freedom is defined as the freedom to use money to make more money, and security as the force to kill the designated enemy wherever he/she is, then we get a military-financial complex, the successor to the military-industrial complex in deindustrializing societies. They know their enemies: peace movements and environmental movements, threats to security and freedom respectively by casting doubts not only on killing, wealth and inequality but also seeing them as counter-productive. Both movements say that you are in fact producing insecurity and dictatorship. Both operate in the open, are easily infiltrated with spies and provocateurs, thereby eliminating badly needed voices.
So, here we are. Torture as enhanced investigation, de facto concentration camps as Guantánamo, habeas corpus eliminated. And a US president up front for the gullible, telling progressive tales he never enacts, whether he is a hypocrite or is put up by somebody as a veil over fascist reality. Those who pull the veil aside, an Ellsberg, an Assange, a Manning, a Snowden are criminalized; not those building fascism.
The old adage: when democracy is most needed, abolish it.
Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He is author of over 150 books on peace and related issues, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.