Over seven years ago, troubled by the issues of the day, and by the past century, I decided to jot down some of my thoughts on what was then the gathering storm of what I considered the great philosophical and political issue of the day, the dichotomy between fascism and liberalism. In short, my answer was that fascism was a system that valued only strength and unreflectivity, while liberalism valued weakness and self-paralyzing reflectivity. A lot has happened since then, both for myself and for the country. In some ways, although I think my basic idea was sound, it also seems to be sketched out juvenalia, and isn't really conductive towards discourse. And yet part of the idea keeps on gnawing on my mind, so I feel like I should write out some more, even if they are in part, half-formed ideas.
One of the biggest problems that cropped up in my understanding of the basic worldview of a fascist or protofascist is that for cultures where strength, certainty and victory were constantly worshipped, that many fascist or protofascist cultures also had a very pronounced cult of defeat and persecution. Nazi Germany had a great faith in the power of blood and iron and the physical superiority of the Master Race. Yet they also were alone, fighting against a Jewish conspiracy that stabbed them in the back at the end of World War I. Arab countries have a culture of militarism and are mostly ruled by strongmen, yet for sixty years, they have also been like wet paper in the hands of Israel, a tiny country with a small population that they surround on each side. And the American South, a region that prides itself on the virility and masculinity of its pursuits, and looks backwards to its heyday as a racist, hierarchal society is persecuted by its seemingly more effete neighbors. Oh, and also, in the rubber stamped words of Ron Paul,
That's true for most people, but black males age 13 who have been raised on the streets and who have joined criminal gangs are as big, strong, tough, scary and culpable as any adult and should be treated as such.
Most Americans are familiar with the South's long standing obsession with the sexual intrusiveness and physical power of the black male
, although most of us are probably incapable of quite understanding it.
Again, I don't want to sound inflammatory, and I don't want to lay down a blanket condemnation of a culture, but only to analyze the parts of a culture that lend themselves to fascism. In any case, anyone who has studied fascist cultures will see that victimization is something they all have in common, much more than supposedly weak, liberal cultures.
At first I just thought this was a quirk, and was just a simple matter of propaganda and emotional engineering on the part of fascist regimes. However, as I noticed it being more and more prevalent and deep-seated, I started to take it more seriously. After all, it was somewhat begging the question to say that fascist regimes would use tales of persecution as propaganda. Why would a society that informs its citizens with an idea that they are strong and unassailable use narratives of persecution to get to that point?
Originally, I had thought that fascist cultures hated the idea of introspection and reflectivity because the person involved in these things was being weak and passive. And over the years, I was to change half of that: fascist cultures do hate those things, but the reason they hate introspection is not because it makes a person passive, it is because it makes a person active. The person who reflects on what they are doing, and what they are, is not passive, they are very active, since they are assigning value to things, and setting themselves off and above, where they must realize their own responsibility to bring meaning to the world.
And this is where the metaphysics, or more properly, ontology of the matter comes in. A fascist society is one where people's Being is described by a series of inflictions, both in the sense that people are seen as soft wax imprinted by a series of external patterns: the ruler, the past, tradition, the land, the blood, the sacred language, etcetera. And along with infliction in this sense, a fascist culture also must be inflicted in the sense that it must be hurt. A fascist culture must always, even when fighting aggressive war or torturing its outcastes, be a victim. A fascist culture, with all its power, can never make choices, make decisions.
And this is where my crude intuition of last decade is still, I feel, correct. Fascism isn't a political system. Fascism is a cultural system, a way for a people to shut up what they fear. And what they fear is existence: a perfect fascist society strives to erase people's existence, by turning them into nothing but the nexus of various inflictions: the infliction of tradition, and the infliction of persecution. And like all forms of nihilism, while this might seem incomprehensible to outsiders, once it has set in, it is very hard to break out of.
In short, the basic defining characteristic of a fascist society is not its sadism, but its masochism.