December 20, 2005

"Show Me Your Papers"

"It brings us frighteningly close to a show me your papers society," said Carrie Davis of the ACLU, in regard to the Ohio Patriot Act that has made it to the Ohio Governor's desk for signature.

According to News 5, of Cleveland, the Ohio Patriot Act would let police arrest people in public places who will not give their names, address and birth dates, even if they are not doing anything wrong. One Ohio state representative said it resembles Gestapo-style tactics.

Combine this bit of news with the New York Times revelation last week that the Bush Administration has used the NSA to spy on US citizens and it is difficult to keep the word "fascism" from creeping into the back of one's mind.

Those who have an interest in understanding fascism are encouraged to read "Anatomy of Fascism" by Robert O. Paxton. Although I like the susinct quote by FDR, below, Paxton's take on fascism is a bit more chilling, in part because it fits the current situation so well.

Paxton argues that fascism isn't really an "ism." "isms" are defined by a core set of principles, which in turn tend to drive policies. Fascism, on the other hand, is hard to pin down; analyses of past fascist movements reveal what appears to be contradictory alliances and principles. Fascism tends to be defined by the way it grows in a society and its illusive principles. Paxton reveals that fascism has only one over-riding principle, securing and maintaining power. If it is necessary in the early stages of a fascist movement to have alliances with leftists, and then later switch alliances, so be it. If it is necessary to vocalize one set of principles early on, and change them later, so be it. If it is necessary to give one justification for a major government action, like starting a war, and then change the justification later, then so be it as long as it leads to the consolidation of power.

In short, fascism seems to be all about gaining and maintaining power. It stands to reason that, in a democratic society, the initial stage of a fascist consolidation would need to have popular support. Rush Limbaugh's ditto heads and the blind-faith evangelicals are well suited to serve in this capacity. In time, as power is consolidated, the laws can be changed, and civil liberties slowly eroded in order to further consolidate power. Imagine a situation in which the Congress, the Judicial System and the Executive Branch of the US were all in the hands of a fascist movement. Not hard to do these days. The fascists might not even realize that they are being fascist by Paxton's definition.

A more simple definition of fascism follows:

"The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism - ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or any controlling private power."
- Franklin D. Roosevelt

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