At any given moment, I am probably part-way through a half dozen books or so. I tend to fill many of the hours that I don’t spend working or writing with reading, and always have.
Lately there is one book that I keep going back to, though. It’s called Defying Hitler. It’s a memoir by Sebastian Haffner, who was a boy in Germany during World War I and the chaos that followed in that country, and who grew to manhood over the time period when Hitler was rising to power.
The book, or at least large portions of it, was actually written during just prior to the start of World War II. It starts with a look back over the Germany of the author’s childhood and young adulthood, focusing on the conditions in German society and the German psyche that ultimately allowed a madman like Hitler to come to the fore. It’s a fascinating read, and I highly recommend it.
It’s been said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Reading through this book and others, one cannot help but be struck by the parallels that exist between our world here today in the United States and pre-World War II Germany. Certainly, some aspects of it are different, but the similarities are there for those who would see them:
- The increasingly authoritarian central executive who keeps stealing away our civil liberties in the name of protecting our “freedom”.
- The demonization of liberals by pundits and in the press.
- The mindless nationalism and bigotry, in which the immigrants who made this country what it is today are shunned as dangerous outsiders, and in which true patriotism and loyalty to the founding principles and laws of our nation are replaced by mindless loyalty to the flag and the president.
I could go on, but it’s late and I’m tired.
The point is, that the parallels are there for those who wish to see them. Oh, they take a slightly different flavor here in America – certainly the positive emphasis on Christianity, particularly of the evangelical variety, rather than the more blatant negative emphasis on hatred of Jews and other minority groups that was seen in Germany, is one example (though one cannot help but infer at times that the fanatic proclamation of one’s love for Jesus is really a thinly – or even not so thinly – veiled expression of disdain for those of other faiths, or of no faith).
All of it has me wondering, as I look at current events, is it fascism yet?
I’m not alone in raising this possibility. In Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here, he famously suggested that, “When fascism came to America, it will be wrapped in the flag, carrying a cross.” More recently, Joe Conason’s It Can Happen Here (another book I am halfway through) points out the troubling rise in an authoritarianism that is based in corporate power and and religion. Chris Hedges makes a similar case in American Fasicists: The Christian RIght and the War on America (yet another book on the partially read list). And earlier this year, Keith Olbermann called our alleged president a fascist, subject-verb-object.
Is it fascism yet?
I don’t know the answer to this question. Part of the trouble is coming up with a good working definition of what constitutes fascism, what its defining characteristics are. There seem to be as many definitions as there are authors writing on the subject – witness the laughable Liberal Fascists by Jonah Goldberg if you doubt me on this. Perhaps this is the inevitable result of too many years of labeling one’s opponents as fascists or Nazis in arguments and debates: the terms have lost any real concrete meaning.
Is it fascism yet? Will we recognize it when it is?
Perhaps I will explore the subject a little more fully another day, or at least at a more reasonable hour. For now, I will leave you with this troubling thought:
Regardless of whether we have yet crossed the line into fascism yet, it cannot be doubted that our government, particularly the central executive, has become increasingly authoritarian. We have a president who does not feel bound to enforce or obey the laws passed by Congress or the decisions handed down by the Supreme Court. And we have two candidates who are running to succed him: one who seems determined to continue the current president’s failed policies, and one who has built a grass-roots movement centered around change, hope, and the power of the American people.
There will be a period of nearly two months between election night in November and Inauguration Day in January.
A lot can happen in two months.
Are we certain that, if the voters do not choose McCain to succeed him, Bush will step down on the appointed day? That he will not find some pretext, some emergency, that requires him to stay in control in order to ensure “continuity” in government policy? In the name of protecting us from terrorists, and preserving our ever-dwindling liberties?
And if he does not step down, will we step up and say that this is not our way? Or will we keep our heads down, not make waves, and assume that someone else will put a stop to the madness?
I don’t know the answer to these questions, and, as it is now approaching 4:00 AM here in Redstatesville, I am frankly too tired to delve into the matter at the moment.
But I still think Bush and Cheney ought to be impeached now, rather than taking a chance.