Each act of ex­trem­ism in Western so­ci­eties a symp­tom of fas­cist ten­den­cies

The Woolwich Observer - - COMMENT - / STEVE KANNON

THE SHOOT­ING AT A Pitts­burgh syn­a­gogue is not a unique dis­play of the trib­al­ism in­fect­ing our so­ci­ety, but it is a very stark ex­am­ple of the danger­ous path we’re tread­ing. Of all the hor­rific acts car­ried out by the Nazis, the anti-Semitism and killing of Jews is the most vivid re­minder of the evils of fas­cism.

There’s been much talk of fas­cism in re­la­tion to the rise to power and in­flu­ence of the ex­trem­ists, from Trump to, just this week, Jair Bol­sonaro in Brazil. In may sound like hy­per­bole, but there’s ev­ery rea­son to heed the warn­ings. We’ve en­tered a pe­riod where the very no­tion of a civil so­ci­ety is in peril, and there are signs we could slide into a si­t­u­a­tion we’ll cer­tainly re­gret.

The rise of ex­trem­ist el­e­ments is a symp­tom, not the cause of our cur­rent woes. The trib­al­ism and grasp­ing at straws with sup­port for dem­a­gogues is an off­shoot of a de­clin­ing sense the fu­ture will be bet­ter. Things are get­ting worse pre­cisely be­cause those mak­ing the de­ci­sions and those pulling the strings are con­cerned about them­selves, not the vast ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion, the planet, the fu­ture or any­thing beyond im­me­di­ate lust for money and power.

Peo­ple are an­gry and afraid, which is a per­fect recipe for tribal di­vi­sions, with power and money go­ing to those stir­ring the pot. Or com­bin­ing matches and gaso­line, as it were. That peo­ple are an­gry and afraid in large part due to the in­se­cu­rity of dereg­u­lated, fi­nan­cial­ized, ne­olib­eral cap­i­tal­ism – to use lan­guage rem­i­nis­cent of the time of Euro­pean fas­cism and com­mu­nism – goes largely un­no­ticed. It’s a sys­tem that is gutting the mid­dle class and the al­ready long be­lea­guered lower classes.

Peo­ple have good rea­son to be an­gry, as mil­lions have seen their com­fort­able mid­dle class lives stolen from them over the last few decades as jobs have gone over­seas, wages have stag­nated and good jobs are dis­ap­pear­ing .

Like mak­ing scape­goats of “the other,” di­vi­sive rightleft bat­tles on the fringes prove both a great dis­trac­tion and a way to chan­nel more pub­lic money from those who have lit­tle to those who have a lot.

To counter the vi­o­lence of fringe right-wing ex­trem­ist with vi­o­lence from the left just en­hances the po­si­tion of those who want con­trol. And those in power have a much greater fear of move­ments that would make so­ci­ety fairer, more eq­ui­table and demo­cratic than they do of racist thugs who have bought into the sta­tus quo.

Right now, anger makes it easy to find scape­goats, a re­ac­tion that feeds on our in­her­ent prej­u­dices and racism. These are times that bring out the worst in us. Dem­a­gogues and those who would feast on the di­vi­sions are more than happy for the dis­tracted masses. It’s from that mire that fas­cism emerges – with Re­mem­brance Day on the hori­zon, we have to look no fur­ther than the hor­rors of the early and mid-20th cen­tury for some ter­ri­ble ex­am­ples.

It’s a scary time for many who see echoes of 1930s Europe and the rise of fas­cism led by charis­matic lead­ers who prom­ise bet­ter days ahead to an­gry and fear­ful pop­u­laces.

The par­al­lels aren’t ex­act, but with grow­ing num­bers of dis­en­fran­chised and dis­en­chanted vot­ers, along with long-sim­mer­ing grievances, there is a pos­si­bil­ity anger will trump good sense. If the lid blows on the ra­cial, gen­der and class re­sent­ments, things will get messy.

For those with the levers of con­trol, the plan is go­ing off without a hitch. The caus­tic en­vi­ron­ment ev­i­dent to­day is al­most in­evitable given the course we’re on, be­set by fas­cist ten­den­cies.

“The symp­toms of fas­cist think­ing are col­ored by en­vi­ron­ment and adapted to im­me­di­ate cir­cum­stances. But al­ways and ev­ery­where they can be iden­ti­fied by their ap­peal to prej­u­dice and by the de­sire to play upon the fears and van­i­ties of dif­fer­ent groups in or­der to gain power. It is no co­in­ci­dence that the growth of modern tyrants has in ev­ery case been her­alded by the growth of prej­u­dice. It may be shock­ing to some peo­ple in this coun­try to re­al­ize that, without mean­ing to do so, they hold views in com­mon with Hitler when they preach dis­crim­i­na­tion against other re­li­gious, ra­cial or eco­nomic groups. Like­wise, many peo­ple whose pa­tri­o­tism is their proud­est boast play Hitler’s game by re­tail­ing dis­trust of our Al­lies and by giv­ing cur­rency to snide sus­pi­cions without foun­da­tion in fact.”

Those aren’t the words of a left­ist ide­o­logue, nor even those of an ob­server of to­day’s morass, though they could have been ut­tered for the first time this week and been on mes­sage.

In­stead, they were penned by U.S. vice pres­i­dent Henry Wal­lace in the New York Times on Apr. 9, 1944.

Peo­ple at that time were very much aware of the danger­ous com­bi­na­tion of so­cial un­rest, dem­a­goguery, fas­cism and the scape­goat­ing of “oth­ers.” In his com­ments, Wal­lace could eas­ily have been pre­scient about what we’re see­ing to­day.

“A fas­cist is one whose lust for money or power is com­bined with such an in­ten­sity of in­tol­er­ance to­ward those of other races, par­ties, classes, re­li­gions, cul­tures, re­gions or na­tions as to make him ruth­less in his use of de­ceit or vi­o­lence to at­tain his ends. The supreme god of a fas­cist, to which his ends are di­rected, may be money or power; may be a race or a class; may be a mil­i­tary, clique or an eco­nomic group; or may be a cul­ture, re­li­gion, or a po­lit­i­cal party,” he wrote.

“Still an­other dan­ger is rep­re­sented by those who, pay­ing lip ser­vice to democ­racy and the com­mon wel­fare, in their in­sa­tiable greed for money and the power which money gives, do not hes­i­tate sur­rep­ti­tiously to evade the laws de­signed to safe­guard the pub­lic from mo­nop­o­lis­tic ex­tor­tion.”

With the rise of au­thor­i­tar­ian/fas­cist move­ments – of­ten a re­ac­tion to eco­nomic fail­ures and de­mo­graphic changes – the very na­ture of democ­racy is at risk, in large part due to our own ig­no­rance and lack of vig­i­lance. That’s some­thing worth re­mem­ber­ing.

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