Accusing people of fascism seems to be all the rage nowadays. A popular jingle puts it this way:
No Trump! No K.K.K! No fascist U.S.A!
Getting the meter right is a little tricky at first, but as this jingle is almost always a mob chant, newbies seldom have to go it alone. If you try it at home, I suggest that it is most fun to really dig into the three K’s, so that they sound like the rat-tat-tat of a pistol firing, and then stress the first syllable of the word Fascist in what the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins called sprung rhythm. Don’t repeat the rat-tat-tat effect with the U, S, and A., though, since this trips up the meter.
No Trump! No K.K.K! No fa-scist U.-S.-A!
Moving from the sound to the sense of this chant, you can see it is an incantation that conjures up what Thomas Bertonneau (following Eric Voegelin) calls a gnostic “dreamworld,” or “second reality” (see here). The first two lines are, more specifically, anathemas or death hexes. Unless we read the first line as meaning “no (to) Trump”—which to my ear would scan better—we must read it as a hex that aims to abolish the reality of Trump and the Trump presidency. As Voegelin explained, this sort of verbal “sorcery” is the means whereby the proponents of a gnostic second reality negate unwelcome facts in the “first,” which is to say actual, reality (see here).
We see the same negation of reality, and the same verbal conjuring of a dreamworld, in the popular slogan “Not My President.” This can only be taken as an expression of what psychologists call “denial,” for outside of the gnostic dreamworld, Trump undoubtedly is the sloganeer’s President (unless he (the sloganeer) is an undocumented citizen, of course). That this first line is an incantation of a dreamworld is also clear from the fact that a person who simply opposes Trump, but is determined to live in the world that actually exists, and in which Trump actually is president, could with the exact same meter chant “Trump Sucks!” or (if literary) “Fie Trump!” or (if an elderly pop singer) “F*#@ Trump!”
A person who is simply unhappy with the reality that Trump is president is still living in reality; a person struggling to sustain the fantasy that Trump is somehow not really president, is living in a dreamworld. The difference is like that between the man who wishes he were a woman, and is therefore unhappy that he is, in fact, a man, and the man who wishes he were a woman, and therefore falls into a dreamworld where he is, in the dream, a woman.
The second line of the chant also reflects a gnostic dreamworld, since there already is, in reality, no K.K.K. This assertion is not disproven by the existence, here and there, of rag-tag covens that use the name and symbols of the Klan, because these rag-tag covens in no way constitute the fearsome “Invisible Empire” that the chant invokes in order to anathematize. Nowadays the “Invisible Empire” of the K.K.K is, for all practical purposes, nothing but a boogyman in this gnostic dreamworld. The irony is that these imaginary Klansmen of the gnostic dreamworld serve, like their corporeal, night-riding prototypes, as a means to frighten and control Blacks. The old Klan was made up of men pretending to be ghosts. The Klan of our day is made up of ghosts pretending to be men.
My real concern today is, however, the last two lines of the chant: “No fa-scist U.S.A.!” This is of a piece with the overall incantation of a dreamworld, since Fascists (upper case) of the sort who roister and plot in the subterranean beerhalls of that dreamworld scarcely exist to roister and plot in the subterranean beerhalls of the world we actually inhabit. To the extent they do exist, it is in numbers so limited, and with intellects so modest, and with aspects so repulsive, as to pose no threat to the political order.
There are, however, in this and every other country, a great many potential fascists (lower case), by which I mean more or less normal people who would come to favor what might be called fascist policies under the right conditions. In fact, I submit that almost all people have the potential to become this sort of conditional fascist, and that what we might call absolute Fascists are so rare as to be inconsiderable.
It is, I trust, sufficiently obvious that all humans do not possess the same level of tolerance for disorder, diversity, and novelty (DDN). They are, instead, ranged on a scale, with those to the left side of the scale having relatively lower levels of tolerance for DDN, and those to the right side, relatively higher levels. It is reasonable to suppose that populations show a normal distribution on this scale, with the extremists (i.e. absolutists) at both ends forming small minorities. Now virtually everyone on this scale is a potential fascist, because almost everyone has some limit to their tolerance for DDN; and as a first approximation we may define a conditional fascist as a person whose tolerance for DDN has been exceeded. Persons to the left side of the scale, who have the lowest tolerance for DDN, will be the first to complain about DDN, and therefore the first to be accused of fascism by those whose limit of tolerance has yet to be reached; but even these early complainers to the left side of the scale are conditional fascists. Unlike a communist, who advocates communist policies under all conditions, and who is therefore an absolutist, the conditional fascist supports fascist policies only when, and only so long as, such policies are necessary to return DDN to a tolerable level.
We can see the truth of this way of understanding fascism if we consider the casual and half-serious use of the word to describe a person who complains about some level of disorder in a house. If this person complains about the endless pile of dirty dishes in the sink, or tacks up a scheduled rotation for cleaning the bathroom, his more relaxed housemates may very well grumble about his “fascism,” or call him a “nazi.” What should be obvious is that this relatively fastidious person is not attempting to impose a new rule on the house, such as that everyone in it shall henceforth attend church every Sunday, but only to impose stricter enforcement of an existing rule. Presumably everyone in the house agrees that there must be some level of order, but as their level of tolerance for disorder has yet to be reached, they as yet feel no need to call for stricter enforcement. Presumably the “fascist” for neatness will himself tolerate some level of disorder, and would stop complaining and “bossing others around,” if only disorder were held below that level. The “neatness nazi” of the house is, in other words, what I have called a conditional fascist. His attitude towards housekeeping might be “liberal” under different conditions.
The same may be said of almost everyone who is nowadays branded with the label of “fascist.” Very, very few of them are absolute Fascists who would seek to dominate other people under any conditions. Almost all of them are simply people with a relatively low limit of tolerance for DDN. And DDN is something for which very few if any people have limitless tolerance. A man who opposes the novelty of same-sex marriage is not, for instance, opposed to all novelty. The man who calls him a “fascist” for opposing the novelty of same-sex marriage is not himself (most probably) open to every imaginable novelty. A man who believes that the population is growing “too diverse” is not thereby guilty of opposing any amount of diversity, but only the amount of diversity that has actually come to be. The man who calls him a “fascist” for discomfort with the existing level of diversity almost certainly has his own limit to tolerance of diversity, whether or not he admits it.
Because there are very few if any people for whom there is no limit to the amount of DDN they will tolerate, almost everyone is a potential fascist, by which I mean a person who will support fascist policies under the right conditions. Whether they are tipped into the “basket” of conditional fascist will depend on their perception of DDN.
With this normal distribution of tolerance for DDN in mind, we can see why a “fascist mood” can seem to “come from nowhere” and then appear to grow at an “alarming rate.” As the perceived level of DDN increases, or slides rightwards across the normal distribution of tolerance for DDN, it converts potential fascists into conditional fascists at an exponential rate. Until the level of DDN reaches the limit of tolerance of half the population, this means that each marginal increase in the number of conditional fascists will be larger than the previous marginal increase.
This model also helps us to understand why hysterical outcries against a “fa-cist U.S.A.” are likely counterproductive. Such outcries mostly serve to raise consciousness of DDN, and therefore tip potential fascists on the margins into the “basket” of conditional fascists. I would add that berating these conditional fascists as if they were the absolute Fascists of liberal nightmares most likely hardens those conditional fascists in the opinion that things are really getting out of hand.
Finally, this model shows why the cure for fascism is actually fascist policies that reduce the perceived level of DDN, and thereby reduce the number of people whose limit of tolerance for DDN has been exceeded. When this occurs, conditional fascists on the margin revert back to merely potential fascists
Thus, the cure for fascism is almost always more fascism.
It may well be objected that there remains a higher fascism that cannot be reduced to the grumbling and political agitation of persons whose relatively low tolerance for DDN has been exceeded, and that the cure for this higher fascism is not more fascism. I agree that there is a higher fascism, but believe that the cure may once again be more fascist policies. Widespread alarm over DDN is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the appearance of this higher fascism. But for this disquiet to coalesce into higher fascism, there must also be a perception that this DDN constitutes or contributes to an existential crisis for the society at large. We may imagine a room in which the temperature is rising, and the occupants of which, one by one, join the party that is clamoring that the thermostat should be returned to a tolerable level. This is a party of conditional thermostat fascists in the simple sense described above. For this group to become a high fascist movement, they must begin to clamor that, failing the return of room temperature to a tolerable level, everyone in the room is going to die.
It is this sense of existential crisis that gives high fascist political movements their unique energy, ruthlessness, and attraction to the Führerprinzep. This is evident in the way that the enemies of incipient high fascist political movements attempt to belittle the perception of existential crisis with mockery of “fear,” “scares,” “paranoia,” and “phobias.” We can admit that such mockery is sometimes justified, and that existential crises are indeed sometimes “manufactured” by designing and unscrupulous men, but only if our interlocutors also admit that a society can enter upon a real existential crisis. I submit that any healthy society (indeed any healthy social organization) that perceives itself to have entered upon an existential crisis will naturally take on a high fascist character, since a high fascist society is nothing more than a society on a war footing, a society organized to survive an existential crisis.
Consider a family relaxing at home on a Friday evening. No one’s limit of tolerance for DDN has been exceeded (or at least not greatly exceeded). There is no horrible music blasting from the children’s wing, no horrible boyfriend lounging on the sofa, and no horrible parlor games being proposed. Within these limits the order is, we might say, liberal. Family members are free to do more or less as they please: to ransack the refrigerator for snacks, to withdraw into a sulk, to provoke an argument, to taunt and tease. None of these things threaten the existence of the family, and it is of the essence in relaxing at home on a Friday evening that more distant threats are, for the moment, forgotten.
Now imagine that this picture of tranquility is shattered by a home invasion—indeed a home invasion that is announced by a flaming Molotov cocktail crashing through the front window. Suddenly there are armed men at the door, flames in the living room, and choking smoke throughout the house. Suddenly there is an existential crisis.
If the family is to survive this crisis, it must immediately become a high fascist organization. The father must, for instance, immediately assume dictatorial power and issue commands. There is no time for polite requests in an existential crisis. Should one of the children prove refractory—by, for instance, questioning why it is that he, rather than his sister, who must run and fetch a bucket of water—the father’s emergency powers would justify enforcement of the command with a ruthless blow. Ruthless blows would be likewise justified to rouse any laggard child who continued to fiddle with her phone. Such blows would be unnecessary in any functioning family, however, since a family that comes under attack naturally assumes a war footing and becomes a fascist family.
That this is the nature of high fascism should be obvious from the symbol of the fasces, from which the word fascism is derived. The fasces is a symbol of unification in which sticks are bound round the handle of an ax to maximize the strength of that handle. My imaginary family in its relaxed and liberal mode is like an an ax carelessly tossed on top of a pile of sticks, but that naturally binds itself together like a fasces under the stimulus of the existential crisis of the home invasion. A society in a relaxed and liberal mode is like the family relaxing at home on a Friday evening—few members’ limits of tolerance for DDN have been exceeded, and everyone is more or less at liberty to do as he or she pleases, because there is no existential crisis. If this society enters upon an existential crisis, however, it will (if functional) naturally bind itself like a fasces and take the form of a fascist society.
A society (or social organization) puts itself on a war footing by organizing itself around the single purpose of surviving the existential crisis, since failure in this single purpose would be failure in all subordinate purposes. If we look at historical examples, we see that this organization often involves control over the financial and industrial sectors, control over the press, control over dissidents, and control over unassimilated minority populations. These controls are often ruthless, and no doubt they are sometimes excessive, but it is not at all clear that they are altogether avoidable. This is what people mean when they say liberalism is not a suicide pact. If the existential crisis is, indeed, an existential crisis, and not a phony “panic” manufactured by unscrupulous and designing men, it would seem that there is only one way through it, and that is by the fascist road.
There are, so far as I can see, three basic arguments against a society passing through an existential crisis taking the fascist road. The first is the argument of the absolute liberal who believes that a free or open society is always stronger than a fascist society, and that men should therefore resist their natural impulse to band together in the face of an existential crisis. The absolute liberal holds that full parliamentary debate is always more effective than emergency executive powers, that public support for government policies is strengthened by a critical and dissenting press, that unharnessed free enterprise is the surest staff of public order, and that there is in the midst of society no “fifth column” that cannot be coopted by flattery, toleration, and good will. He will almost certainly point to the outcome of the Second World War, omitting to mention that the Soviet Union had an extremely fascist character, and that the United States and Great Britain both became more fascist under duress.
The second argument is that of the conditional liberal who denies that the crisis is existential, who keeps denying that it is existential until it is too late, and who then rationalizes the disaster with evolutionary talk of “transformation” and “change.”
The third argument, which almost always comes disguised as the first or second argument, is that the society should be defeated by the existential crisis, and then swept from the earth in a tsunami of DDN. Men who make the third argument against taking the fascist road are, needless to say, in complete agreement with everything I have written here. That’s why they want to “smash fascism.” That’s why there’s one chant in which bankers join with communists, and deviants join with the disaffected:
No Trump! No K.K.K! No fa-scist U.-S.-A!