Friday January 28, 2022

Fascism’s global spread

May 10, 2021

The United States, India, Brazil, and the Philippines were four of the seven biggest democracies in the world just nine years ago. Today, three of them are led by fascists who are determined to complete their transformation into non-liberal democratic systems. The other barely survived a fascist’s determined effort to hold on to power.

With 11 million more Americans voting for Trump in 2020 than in 2016, 70 percent of the Republican Party believing against all evidence that he won the election, white supremacy emerging as the guiding ideology of the Republican Party, and a coalition of angry extremists open to violent means of seizing power emerging as the party's driving force, who can deny that American democracy is in intensive care, despite the passage of the presidency to Joe Biden?

I would like to stress three things at this juncture. First, the features of fascism come together in unique ways. If we are waiting for the ideal-type fascist to make his appearance, meaning a spitting image of Adolf, then we will be waiting forever.

Second, the key features of fascism do not become prominent all at once. They may, in fact, be institutionalized only late in the day, such as Mussolini’s eliminationist policy towards Jews, which he only made law in 1938, 16 years after he came to power.

Trump’s true willingness to openly overthrow the cornerstone of democracy – the peaceful succession of power via majority decision of the electorate – was not on full display until he lost the November 2020 elections. Modi and the BJP’s incendiary views of Muslims were dismissed by many as simply rhetorical excesses until the BJP came to power in 2014. Then began the lynching of Muslims falsely accused of being cattle traders, followed by mob attacks on Muslim ghettos, and the legalization of the social subordination of Muslims.

The third point is that the closer fascists come to power, the more some of them feel they must put on a pretense of respecting democratic processes and values to lull the electorate into believing they're really not as bad as the liberal and progressive press make them out to be and evince horror at being branded as fascists.

Leaders of the Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) in Germany have been trying hard to cultivate the image of responsible politicians who can be trusted to behave in a coalition with the Christian Democratic Party, the country's main traditional conservative party. Fortunately, just when they think they've succeeded, someone from their ranks lets the cat out of the bag – like Christian Lueth, formerly the press spokesperson of AfD, who recently slipped and publicly assured a right wing blogger on the question of migrants, “We can always shoot them later, that’s not an issue. Or gas them, as you wish. It doesn’t matter to me.”

How can one deny that there is a fascist resurgence if one were to do even just a brief survey of today's Western and Central Europe, which birthed fascism in the first half of the 20th century and has again become its fertile soil in the second decade of the 21st century?

From having no radical right-wing regime in the 2000s, except occasionally and briefly as junior partners in unstable governing coalitions as in Austria, the region now has two solidly in power – one in Hungary, the Orban government, and one in Poland, the Peace and Justice Party. The region has four more countries where a party of the far right is the main opposition party. And it has seven where the far right has become a major presence both in parliament and in the streets.

It would be myopic to judge fascism's resurgence only in terms of its political success. The spread of fascist ideas is much faster than the pace of its electoral successes and, indeed, seeds the ground for its eventual political success. Racism, white supremacy, promotion of violence, conspiracy theories – such as Muslims seducing Hindu girls “in love jihads” to change the demographic balance in India – all spread fast online, become normalized in the echo chambers of the internet, and eventually are legitimized.

Especially alarming for people in the West who think liberal democratic beliefs are too solidly entrenched in their polities to be eroded should be the fact that holocaust denial is now more widespread in Europe than three decades ago, and that in the United States, surveys suggest broad ignorance about the Holocaust among millennial and Gen-Z respondents.

Excerpted: ‘Fascism’s Global Spread Is as Real as the Pandemic’s’