Police state : Harper’s Magazine : “We Now Live in a Fascist State”


Richard Moore


Harper's Magazine:  We Now Live in a Fascist State 
by Lewis H. Lapham

Date: Tue, 11 Oct 2005  13:34:38 -0700 

    "But  I venture the challenging statement that if American
    democracy ceases to move  forward as a living force,
    seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the  lot
    of our citizens, then Fascism and Communism, aided,
    unconsciously perhaps,  by old-line Tory Republicanism,
    will grow in strength in our land."
    - Franklin  D. Roosevelt, November 4, 1938

In 1938 the word "fascism" hadn't  yet been transferred
into an abridged metaphor for all the world's unspeakable 
evil and monstrous crime, and on coming across President
Roosevelt's prescient  remark in one of Umberto Eco's
essays, I could read it as prose instead of poetry  -- a
reference not to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse or
the pit of Hell but  to the political theories that regard
individual citizens as the property of the  government,
happy villagers glad to wave the flags and wage the wars,
grateful  for the good fortune that placed them in the
care of a sublime leader. Or, more  emphatically, as
Benito Mussolini liked to say, "Everything in the state. 
Nothing outside the state. Nothing against the state."

The theories  were popular in Europe in the 1930s
(cheering crowds, rousing band music, splendid  military
uniforms), and in the United States they numbered among
their admirers  a good many important people who believed
that a somewhat modified form of fascism  (power vested in
the banks and business corporations instead of with the
army)  would lead the country out of the wilderness of the
Great Depression -- put an  end to the Pennsylvania labor
troubles, silence the voices of socialist heresy  and
democratic dissent. Roosevelt appreciated the extent of
fascism's popularity  at the political box office; so does
Eco, who takes pains in the essay "Ur-Fascism,"  published
in The New York Review of Books in 1995, to suggest that
it's a mistake  to translate fascism into a figure of
literary speech. By retrieving from our  historical memory
only the vivid and familiar images of fascist tyranny
(Gestapo  firing squads, Soviet labor camps, the chimneys
at Treblinka), we lose sight of  the faith-based
initiatives that sustained the tyrant's rise to glory. The
several  experiments with fascist government, in Russia
and Spain as well as in Italy and  Germany, didn't depend
on a single portfolio of dogma, and so Eco, in search of 
their common ground, doesn't look for a unifying principle
or a standard text.  He attempts to describe a way of
thinking and a habit of mind, and on sifting  through the
assortment of fantastic and often contradictory notions --
Nazi paganism,  Franco's National Catholicism, Mussolini's
corporatism, etc. -- he finds a set  of axioms on which
all the fascisms agree. Among the most notable:

The truth  is revealed once and only once.

Parliamentary democracy is by definition  rotten because
it doesn't represent the voice of the people, which is
that of  the sublime leader.

Doctrine outpoints reason, and science is always suspect.

Critical  thought is the province of degenerate
intellectuals, who betray the culture and  subvert
traditional values.

The national identity is provided by the nation's 

Argument is tantamount to treason.

Perpetually at war, the  state must govern with the
instruments of fear. Citizens do not act; they play  the
supporting role of "the people" in the grand opera that is
the state.

Eco  published his essay ten years ago, when it wasn't as
easy as it has since become  to see the hallmarks of
fascist sentiment in the character of an American
government.  Roosevelt probably wouldn't have been

He'd encountered enough  opposition to both the New Deal
and to his belief in such a thing as a United  Nations to
judge the force of America's racist passions and the
ferocity of its  anti-intellectual prejudice. As he may
have guessed, so it happened. The American  democracy won
the battles for Normandy and Iwo Jima, but the victories
abroad  didn't stem the retreat of democracy at home,
after 1968 no longer moving "forward  as a living force,
seeking day and night to better the lot" of its own
citizens,  and now that sixty years have passed since the
bomb fell on Hiroshima, it doesn't  take much talent for
reading a cashier's scale at Wal-Mart to know that it is 
fascism, not democracy, that won the heart and mind of
America's "Greatest  Generation," added to its weight and
strength on America's shining seas and  fruited plains.

A few sorehead liberal intellectuals continue to bemoan 
the fact, write books about the good old days when
everybody was in charge of  reading his or her own mail. I
hear their message and feel their pain, share their 
feelings of regret, also wish that Cole Porter was still
writing songs, that Jean  Harlow and Robert Mitchum hadn't
quit making movies. But what's gone is gone,  and it
serves nobody's purpose to deplore the fact that we're not
still riding  in a coach to Philadelphia with Thomas
Jefferson. The attitude is cowardly and  French,
symptomatic of effete aesthetes who refuse to change with
the times.

As  set forth in Eco's list, the fascist terms of
political endearment are refreshingly  straightforward and
mercifully simple, many of them already accepted and
understood  by a gratifyingly large number of our most
forward-thinking fellow citizens, multitasking  and safe
with Jesus. It does no good to ask the weakling's
pointless question,  "Is America a fascist state?" We must
ask instead, in a major rather  than a minor key, "Can we
make America the best damned fascist state the  world has
ever seen," an authoritarian paradise deserving the
admiration  of the international capital markets, worthy
of "a decent respect to the  opinions of mankind"? I wish
to be the first to say we can. We're Americans;  we have
the money and the know-how to succeed where Hitler failed,
and history  has favored us with advantages not given to
the early pioneers.

We don't  have to burn any books.

The Nazis in the 1930s were forced to waste precious  time
and money on the inoculation of the German citizenry, too
well-educated for  its own good, against the infections of
impermissible thought. We can count it  as a blessing that
we don't bear the burden of an educated citizenry. The
systematic  destruction of the public-school and library
systems over the last thirty years,  a program wisely
carried out under administrations both Republican and
Democratic,  protects the market for the sale and
distribution of the government's propaganda  posters. The
publishing companies can print as many books as will
guarantee their  profit (books on any and all subjects,
some of them even truthful), but to people  who don't know
how to read or think, they do as little harm as snowflakes
falling  on a frozen pond.

We don't have to disturb, terrorize, or plunder the

In  Communist Russia as well as in Fascist Italy and Nazi
Germany, the codes of social  hygiene occasionally put the
regime to the trouble of smashing department-store 
windows, beating bank managers to death, inviting
opinionated merchants on complimentary  tours (all
expenses paid, breathtaking scenery) of Siberia. The
resorts to violence  served as study guides for free,
thinking businessmen reluctant to give up on  the
democratic notion that the individual citizen is entitled
to an owner's interest  in his or her own mind.

The difficulty doesn't arise among people accustomed  to
regarding themselves as functions of a corporation. Thanks
to the diligence  of out news media and the structure of
our tax laws, our affluent and suburban  classes have
taken to heart the lesson taught to the aspiring serial
killers rising  through the ranks at West Point and the
Harvard Business School -- think what  you're told to
think, and not only do you get to keep the house in
Florida or  command of the Pentagon press office but on
some sunny prize day not far over  the horizon, the
compensation committee will hand you a check for $40
million,  or President George W. Bush will bestow on you
the favor of a nickname as witty  as the ones that on good
days elevate Karl Rove to the honorific "Boy Genius,"  on
bad days to the disappointed but no less affectionate
"Turd Blossom."  Who doesn't now know that the corporation
is immortal, that it is the corporation  that grants the
privilege of an identity, confers meaning on one's life,
gives  the pension, a decent credit rating, and the
priority standing in the community?  Of course the
corporation reserves the right to open one's email, test
one's blood,  listen to the phone calls, examine one's
urine, hold the patent on the copyright  to any idea
generated on its premises. Why ever should it not? As
surely as the  loyal fascist knew that it was his duty to
serve the state, the true American  knows that it is his
duty to protect the brand.

Having met many fine people  who come up to the corporate
mark -- on golf courses and commuter trains, tending  to
their gardens in Fairfield County while cutting back the
payrolls in Michigan  and Mexico -- I'm proud to say (and
I think I speak for all of us here this evening  with
Senator Clinton and her lovely husband) that we're blessed
with a bourgeoisie  that will welcome fascism as gladly as
it welcomes the rain in April and the sun  in June. No
need to send for the Gestapo or the NKVD; it will not be
necessary  to set examples.

We don't have to gag the press or seize the radio

People  trained to the corporate style of thought and
movement have no further use for  free speech, which is
corrupting, overly emotional, reckless, and ill-informed, 
not calibrated to the time available for television talk
or to the performance  standards of a Super Bowl halftime
show. It is to our advantage that free speech  doesn't
meet the criteria of the free market. We don't require the
inspirational  genius of a Joseph Goebbels; we can rely
instead on the dictates of the Nielsen  ratings and the
camera angles, secure in the knowledge that the major
media syndicates  run the business on strictly corporatist
principles -- afraid of anything disruptive  or
inappropriate, committed to the promulgation of what is
responsible, rational,  and approved by experts. Their
willingness to stay on message is a credit to their 

The early twentieth-century fascists had to contend with 
individuals who regarded their freedom of expression as a
necessity -- the bone  and marrow of their existence, how
they recognized themselves as human beings.  Which was
why, if sometimes they refused appointments to the
state-run radio stations,  they sometimes were found dead
on the Italian autostrada or drowned in the Kiel  Canal.
The authorities looked upon their deaths as forms of
self-indulgence. The  same attitude governs the agreement
reached between labor and management at our  leading news
organizations. No question that the freedom of speech is
extended  to every American -- it says so in the
Constitution -- but the privilege is one  that musn't be
abused. Understood in a proper and financially rewarding
light,  freedom of speech is more trouble than it's worth
-- a luxury comparable to owning  a racehorse and likely
to bring with it little else except the risk of being made
 to look ridiculous. People who learn to conduct
themselves in a manner respectful  of the telephone tap
and the surveillance camera have no reason to fear the
fist  of censorship. By removing the chore of having to
think for oneself, one frees  up more leisure time to
enjoy the convenience of the Internet services that know 
exactly what one likes to hear and see and wear and eat.
We don't have to murder  the intelligentsia.

Here again, we find ourselves in luck. The society is  so
glutted with easy entertainment that no writer or company
of writers is troublesome  enough to warrant the
compliment of an arrest, or even the courtesy of a sharp 
blow to the head. What passes for the American school of
dissent talks exclusively  to itself in the pages of
obscure journals, across the coffee cups in Berkeley  and
Park Slope, in half-deserted lecture halls in small
Midwestern colleges.  The author on the platform or the
beach towel can be relied upon to direct his  angriest
invective at the other members of the academy who failed
to drape around  the title of his latest book the garland
of a rave review.

The blessings  bestowed by Providence place America in the
front rank of nations addressing the  problems of a
twenty-first century, certain to require bold geopolitical
initiatives  and strong ideological solutions. How can it
be otherwise? More pressing demands  for always scarcer
resources; ever larger numbers of people who cannot be
controlled  except with an increasingly heavy hand of
authoritarian guidance. Who better than  the Americans to
lead the fascist renaissance, set the paradigm, order the
preemptive  strikes? The existence of mankind hangs in the
balance; failure is not an option.  Where else but in
America can the world find the visionary intelligence to
lead  it bravely into the future -- Donald Rumsfeld our
Dante, Turd Blossom our Michelangelo?

I  don't say that over the last thirty years we haven't
made brave strides forward.  By matching Eco's list of
fascist commandments against our record of achievement, 
we can see how well we've begun the new project for the
next millennium -- the  notion of absolute and eternal
truth embraced by the evangelical Christians and  embodied
in the strict constructions of the Constitution; our
national identity  provided by anonymous Arabs; Darwin's
theory of evolution rescinded by the fiat  of "intelligent
design"; a state of perpetual war and a government
administering,  in generous and daily doses, the drug of
fear; two presidential elections stolen  with little or no
objection on the part of a complacent populace; the
nation's  congressional districts gerrymandered to defend
the White House for the next fifty  years against the
intrusion of a liberal-minded president; the news media
devoted  to the arts of iconography, busily minting images
of corporate executives like  those of the emperor heroes
on the coins of ancient Rome.

An impressive  beginning, in line with what the world has
come to expect from the innovative  Americans, but we can
do better. The early twentieth-century fascisms didn't
enter  their golden age until the proletariat in the
countries that gave them birth had  been reduced to abject
poverty. The music and the marching songs rose with the 
cry of eagles from the wreckage of the domestic economy.
On the evidence of the  wonderful work currently being
done by the Bush Administration with respect to  the trade
deficit and the national debt -- to say nothing of
expanding the markets  for global terrorism -- I think we
can look forward with confidence to character-building 
bankruptcies, picturesque bread riots, thrilling
cavalcades of splendidly costumed  motorcycle police.

- END - 

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