04 February 2011

Fascism and Democracy

Since I've been discussing fascism, and since it is topical, at least round here, because of the imminent arrival in Luton of the English Defense League, I will look at it in more detail.

I don't mean to imply that the EDL actually are fascists — I don't know what they are, and it really doesn't matter at all. Their enemies, who control the media, all political parties, and every arm of government, will call them fascist, so any discussion of them is a discussion of fascism, whatever it is that they really believe.

I side with the fascists against many liberals in that I don't see dispersed political power as a desirable end. It's not that I'm in favour of concentrated political power as an end — I would happily accept dispersed power as a means if it advanced good ends, but I don't think it does. Concentrated power, for me, is a means towards government that will protect peace, prosperity, security, freedom etc.

I think many fascists, possibly including Schmitt, would not have listed peace as a good end, as I have done. So on that score I oppose the fascists: other things being equal, peace is better than war.

The bad things associated with fascism are excessively aggressive foreign policy, persecution of selected minorities, economic collectivism, omnipresent dishonest propaganda, and a clampdown on opposition.

The belligerence, persecution, collectivism and propaganda all derive from the requirement for a broad popular base. This differs slightly from a democracy: democracy requires the acquiescence of a large majority, fascism requires the active support of at least a large minority. The similarities are close enough, however, that in the last 60 years the democracies have taken on levels of collectivism and propaganda that are indistinguishable from those of 1930s fascism. (George Street is still strewn with the purple streamers of "Luton in Harmony", a fairly typical government propaganda exercise). Collectivism is part of the mix because it enables the government, by controlling economic activity, to reward support and punish dissent in a subtle but sustainable way that a laissez-faire government cannot.

The direction of the democratic propaganda is of course opposite to that of fascism; this reflects the difference between the popularity requirements of democracy and fascism. Luton in Harmony is supposed to generate a diffuse low-level hostility to opponents of the regime across as wide a base as possible, whereas Fascists need to stir active fear and hatred among a a smaller group who will maintain the regime in power — what Dsquared elegantly paints as "arseholes". That is the reason why democracies are generally less unpleasant to live under than fascist parties. The ability of the regime to survive on no more than passive acquiescence of the population is the real advantage of democracy, though it only exists because people believe other good things about democracy that aren't true. It is the feature of democracy that needs to be held onto through a transition to a better system.

Comparisons between democracy and fascism on the foreign policy side are interesting. Britain has operated an aggressive foreign policy over the last decade, but that appears on the face of it to have arisen despite the demands of democracy rather than because of them — it does appear to have been driven by the personal convictions of Tony Blair. But just possibly that is missing the point. The link between war and popularity is not necessarily that war is popular; it is that the people are more inspired by a leadership personality who displays the characteristics that are likely to lead him to war. Hitler and Blair, then, were popular not because they had war policies, but because they had the conviction and charisma of crusaders. That conviction is what then produced the war policies.

Or maybe Blair was just weird. After all, many other democracies are less belligerent. I'm not really convinced either way on this question.

As for the curbing of opposition, I have no problem with it. The reason why it is generally considered proper for a government to tolerate opposition is that it is generally believed that the need to compromise and satisfy opponents pushes government policy in a beneficial direction. I believe the exact opposite: that nearly all governments, good or bad, are made worse by opposition. All competent governments treat sedition as a crime. Politics in the real world is a matter of life and death, and those who perpetrate it must accept the risks.

That is not to say that opposition to any government is bad: even if all governments become worse when they are opposed, they may be replaced by something better if they are actually overthrown. But I don't expect bad governments to cooperate in their own overthrow.

Concretely, if the current events in Egypt result in regime change, that could possibly be beneficial (though I would be surprised). But if they don't, any "reforms" that the current regime is driven to will make things worse. True revolutionaries understand this — they want concessions not for their own value, but because concessions further weaken the regime, bringing its fall nearer.

So to strengthen my earlier post, which was slightly equivocal, I reject fascism. It relies on mass popularity, and therefore fails to improve on democracy, but going further, because it has to win more positive support from the population than democracy does, it has the problems of democracy in a stronger and more dangerous form. One of the worst things that can be said about democracy is that, particularly in it's young form, it has a tendency to devolve into fascism. A young democracy is little more than a battle between competing fascisms — each party is the active street-fighting kind, rather than the passive tick-in-the-box democratic kind.

That actually explains a mystery that troubled me in the past: why it is that there is such an exaggerated fear of fascist or near-fascist organisations like the BNP, despite their appearing laughably weak and incompetent. At some level, the regime must recognise that in intellectual terms fascism is the obvious response to democracy, however irrelevant a particular party might be. I think it's fair to say that if fascism had newly appeared twenty years ago, without the baggage of history, it would by by now be popular enough across Europe that it would probably have taken over most of it.

2 comments:

DL3 said...
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