Fascism – America’s DNA

On the show this week, Chris Hedges talks to Gabriel Rockhill about the undercurrents of fascism in America’s DNA, and the US role in internationalizing fascism after World War II through clandestine activities such Operation Paperclip and Operation Gladio. Rockhill is a Franco-American philosopher and the founding Director of the Critical Theory Workshop and Professor of Philosophy at Villanova University. His books include Counter-History of the Present: Untimely Interrogations into Globalization, Technology, Democracy, Interventions in Contemporary Thought: History, Politics, Aesthetics, Radical History & the Politics of Art and Logique de l’histoire.


Madeleine Albright writes in Fascism a Warning that fascism has become fashionable in public discourse. The world is experiencing a resurgence in alt-right extremism leading to fascism in many countries, including Canada which, is not immune.

My journey into the study of fascism originated with an interview given by Professor Richard Wolff and his guest Professor Noam Chomsky in January 2021. I hold both men in high esteem and as mentors.

Chomsky concludes from subject expertise and personal experience that the current capitalistic system is broken. He asserts there are two ways out, social democracy or fascism. World governments and corporations’ inability and limited monetary incentive to deal with inequality and climate change are not conducive to the current capitalistic system. He adds they are existential threats and emphatically states climate change must be resolved in the next ten years, or all else is moot.

Also, he states the working class and disenfranchised on all sides of the political spectrum feel disillusioned and cheated by governments, opposition parties, and representatives of all stripes. The status quo is coming to an end as it has no solutions. The current system offers the same old repeated rhetoric that favours the rich and the elite.

Without substantial change, grassroots ideals and conspiracies will sprout and lead to activism and revolution. The grassroots will rise and, a winner will be declared. The warriors, symbols and colours of social democracy and fascism are organizing and ready to take their place once more in history.

The primary references in this publication come from the leading professors of academia and intellectuals of the 20th and 21st century including, Robert Paxton, Jason Stanley, Madeleine Albright, Umberto Eco, Chris Hedge, Noam Chomsky, Richard Wolff, and Cornell West.

Adorno on the Far-Right 1967

The words of Theodor W. Adorno from 1967 are haunting for all who have experienced the last five years of the MAGA Fascist criminal and wannabe dictator and his followers. I welcome all who want to have a deeper understanding of fascism and how it takes hold within society.

Below is a transcript from the video using voice dictation. Accuracy may not be completely perfect, and punctuation is wanting.

See Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/adorno/

right laying extremism or the potential for such a right-wing extremism is explained by the fact that the social conditions for fascism continues to exist

despite the collapse of fascism the conditions for such movements are still socially if not politically present

These groups still tend towards a hatred of socialism or what they call socialism

That is they lay the blame for their own potential downgrading not on the apparatus that causes it but on those who were critical of the system in which they once had a status

In that sense, fascist movements can be described as the wounds the scars of a democracy that to this day has not yet fully lived up to its own concept

If one is unable to see anything before them and does not want to change the social foundation one has little choice but to say like Richard Wagner’s Wotan:” Do you know what Wotan wants? The end.”

From their own social situation, they long for demise though not the demise of their own group but as far as possible the demise of all

One shouldn’t underestimate these movements due to their low intellectual level and lack of theory

I think it would be a complete lack of political vision to conclude from this that they are unsuccessful

What is characteristic of these movements is rather an extraordinary perfection of certain methods primarily propaganda’s methods in the broadest sense combined with blindness indeed abstruseness of the ends they pursue

And I think that precisely this constellation of rational means and irrational ends, if I can’t put it in such an abbreviated form, corresponds in some ways to the overall tendency of civilization which leads to such a perfection of techniques and means while the overall social purpose falls by the wayside

The propaganda of these parties and their movements is especially brilliant in that it balances out the difference the unquestionable difference between the real interest and the insurer aimed they in espouse

It is the very substance of the matter just as it was with the Nazis

Which means increasingly become substitutes for ends One can almost say that in these extreme right-wing movements propaganda itself constitutes the substance of politics

What is fundamental about this ideology is its fragmentary nature

How many planks such as the eastward expansion imperialism in the true sense have fallen away willy-nilly

The prospect of tomorrow the whole world is entirely missing which gives the whole thing a bit of a lack of impetus and makes it rely even more on desperation than what was already present subliminally in Nazism

but let me say again that there was never a truly fully developed theory in fascism

It always implied that what mattered was power conceptless praxis ultimately unconditional domination and that spirit of the kind that expresses itself in theory was secondary by comparison

And in turn, gave these movements that ideological flexibility that can be observed so often

This is also part of the zeitgeist The predominance of a conceptless praxis and it also has consequences for propaganda

Let me finally say a few things about propaganda which as I suggested before I actually consider the center even the matter itself in a certain sense

This propaganda is less concerned with spreading an ideology which as I told you is far too thin to draw into the masses

So propaganda is primarily a technique of mass psychology

It is based on the model of the authority bound personality today exactly as in the time of Hitler or in the movements of the lunatic Fringe in America or anywhere else

The unity lies in this appeal to the authority bound personality It is said again and again that these movements all promise something and that is true as a characteristic of the lack of theory

But it is false in the sense that in this appeal to the authority bound character there’s a very specific and empathetic unity

You’ll never find a single utterance That does not correspond to the schema of the authority bound personality

These unconscious tendencies which feed the authority bound personality aren’t thus made conscious by this propaganda but on the contrary they are pushed even deeper into the unconscious They are kept artificially unconscious

consider the excessive significance of the so-called symbols which is characteristic of all such movements

There is a whole array of designated enemies One of these is the image of the communist

Then another bete noire is obviously the intellect s who are especially hated. The term left-wing intellect is another one of those boogeymen.

Of course in spite of everything anti-Semitism continues to be a plank of the platform

Now of course there has been official legislation to make these things taboo

But even the taboo about mentioning the Jews becomes a means of anti-semitic incitement with a wink and a nudge We are not allowed to say it but we all understand each other We all know what we mean

And The mere mention of a Jewish name is already sufficient for this technique of illusion to create certain effects

Psychoanalysis is hated most of all of course and here is anti-intellectualism The fear of the unconscious becoming conscious and the authoritarian character which form a kind of syndrome together

The propaganda technique relates to certain formal features and two more or less isolated individual topics.

It has long been my conviction that there are a relatively small number of recurring standardized and completely objectified tricks which are very poor and thin in themselves but by their constant repetition gain a certain propaganda’s value for these movements

As far as this ideology goes the law prevents it from fully expressing itself

It can be said that all ideological expressions of right-wing extremism are characterized by a constant conflict between not being allowed to say something and what as one agitator recently described it is intended to bring the audience to a boiling point

People now had the feeling That with this movement that seeks precisely to abolish freedom they are now regaining their freedom of decision and spontaneity

One needs to be warned about the cult of a so-called order that doesn’t answer to reason especially the concept of discipline which is present as an end in itself without asking a discipline for what

Also, the fetishization of everything military has expressed in such lovely phrases as solitary man clearly belongs in this context

Right-wing extremism isn’t a psychological and ideological problem but a very real and political one

But the factually wrong untrue nature of its own substance forces it to operate with ideological means which in this case is propagandistic means

And that is why aside from the political struggle by purely political means one must face it in It’s very own domain

But do not fight lies with lies Do not try to be just as clever as it is but counteract it with the full force of reason with truly non-ideological truth

The Anatomy of Fascism

What is fascism? Many authors have proposed definitions, but most fail to move beyond the abstract. The esteemed historian Robert O. Paxton answers this question for the first time by focusing on the concrete: what the fascists did, rather than what they said. From the first violent uniformed bands beating up “enemies of the state,” through Mussolini’s rise to power, to Germany’s fascist radicalization in World War II, Paxton shows clearly why fascists came to power in some countries and not others, and explores whether fascism could exist outside the early-twentieth-century European setting in which it emerged.

Robert O. Paxton, Mellon Professor Emeritus of Social Science, specializes in the social and political history of Modern Europe, particularly Vichy France during the World War II era. Paxton has worked on two issues within the general area of modern European history: France during the Nazi occupation of 1940-1944; and the rise and spread of fascism. He was the first in the 1960s and 1970s to establish, on the basis of German archives, the active collaboration of Vichy France within Hitler’s Europe, a finding received coolly at first in France and now largely accepted. He continues to speak, write, and research in these fields. In 2009 he served as guest curator for an exhibition at the New York Public Library entitled “Between Collaboration and Resistance: French Literary Life Under Nazi Occupation.”

Robert O. Paxton on The Anatomy of Fascism and Trump

The Story of Fascism

In this one-hour special, Rick travels back a century to learn how fascism rose and then fell in Europe — taking millions of people with it. We’ll trace fascism’s history from its roots in the turbulent aftermath of World War I, when masses of angry people rose up, to the rise of charismatic leaders who manipulated that anger, the totalitarian societies they built, and the brutal measures they used to enforce their ideology. We’ll see the horrific consequences: genocide and total war. And we’ll be inspired by the stories of those who resisted. Along the way, we’ll visit poignant sights throughout Europe relating to fascism, and talk with Europeans whose families lived through those times. Our goal: to learn from the hard lessons of 20th-century Europe, and to recognize that ideology in the 21st century.

The Story of Fascism

Ur Fascism

Umberto Eco Makes a List of the 14 Common Features of Fascism

This abridged list (available in full at The New York Review of Books) comes to us from Kottke, by way of blogger Paul Bausch, who writes “we have a strong history of opposing authoritarianism. I’d like to believe that opposition is like an immune system response that kicks in.”

  1. The cult of tradition. “One has only to look at the syllabus of every fascist movement to find the major traditionalist thinkers. The Nazi gnosis was nourished by traditionalist, syncretistic, occult elements.”
  2. The rejection of modernism. “The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.”
  3. The cult of action for action’s sake. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.”
  4. Disagreement is treason. “The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge.”
  5. Fear of difference. “The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.”
  6. Appeal to social frustration. “One of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.”
  7. The obsession with a plot. “Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged.”
  8. The enemy is both strong and weak. “By a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.”
  9. Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. “For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.”
  10. Contempt for the weak. “Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology.”
  11. Everybody is educated to become a hero. “In Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death.”
  12. Machismo and weaponry. “Machismo implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality.”
  13. Selective populism. “There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.”
  14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. “All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.”
Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco[a] OMRI (5 January 1932 – 19 February 2016) was an Italian medievalist, philosopher, semioticiancultural critic, political and social commentator, and novelist. In English, he is best known for his popular 1980 novel The Name of the Rose, a historical mystery combining semiotics in fiction with biblical analysis, medieval studies, and literary theory, and Foucault’s Pendulum, his 1988 novel which touches on similar themes.[2]

Eco wrote prolifically throughout his life, with his output including children’s books, translations from French and English, and a twice-monthly newspaper column “La Bustina di Minerva” (Minerva’s Matchbook) in the magazine L’Espresso beginning in 1985, with his last column (a critical appraisal of the Romantic paintings of Francesco Hayez) appearing 27 January 2016.[3][4] At the time of his death, he was an emeritus professor at the University of Bologna, where he taught for much of his life.[5]

Understandings of Fascism

These lecture videos are part of my series in Introduction to Comparative Politics, but are specially uploaded for my students at Long Island University Brooklyn, who because of the COVID-19 virus have to complete their coursework for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester online.

The material is open to all subscribers and those interested in the subject, but all graduate and undergraduate students of mine are required to view them for their course.

Comments are currently moderated for internal use only.

Introduction to Comparative Politics Lecture 06:
Theories of Authoritarianism

Part II – Understandings of Fascism

In this lecture, we examine the phenomenon of fascism, an extreme form of authoritarianism that often is associated with totalitarianism, but in reality has a special place within the authoritarian spectrum on its own in that it relies on mass mobilization of the public for political authority and legitimacy.

While most examples of fascism reside in history, there is a growing interest in the causes and conditions of its rise in popularity; especially in knowing that fascism grows out of the dying husk of a failed democracy. Indeed, there is a notable “democratic” character to fascism’s establishment that necessitates a separate distinction from more general theories of authoritarianism.

Material is largely drawn from Robert Paxton’s work The Anatomy of Fascism.