Here's a piece I received recently. This was a sermon delivered 7 Nov 04 at the First UU Church of Austin, TX. What's your take on the minister's sermon vis-a-vis today's political climate?
SERMON: Living Under Fascism
You may wonder why anyone would try to use the word
"fascism" in a serious discussion of where America is today. It sounds
like cheap name-calling, or melodramatic allusion to a slew of old war
movies. But I am serious. I don't mean it as name-calling at all. I
mean to persuade you that the style of governing into which America
has slid is most accurately described as fascism, and that the
necessary implications of this fact are rightly regarded as
terrifying. That's what I am about here. And even if I don't persuade
you, I hope to raise the level of your thinking about who and where we
are now, to add some nuance and perhaps some useful insights.
The word comes from the Latin word "Fasces," denoting a
bundle of sticks tied together. The individual sticks represented
citizens, and the bundle represented the state. The message of this
metaphor was that it was the bundle that was significant, not the
individual sticks. If it sounds un-American, it's worth knowing that
the Roman Fasces appear on the wall behind the Speaker's podium in the chamber of the US House of Representatives.
Still, it's an unlikely word. When most people hear the word
"fascism" they may think of the racism and anti-Semitism of Mussolini
and Hitler. It is true that the use of force and the scapegoating of
fringe groups are part of every fascism. But there was also an
economic dimension of fascism, known in Europe during the 1920s and
'30s as "corporatism," which was an essential ingredient of
Mussolini's and Hitler's tyrannies. So-called corporatism was adopted
in Italy and Germany during the 1930s and was held up as a model by
quite a few intellectuals and policy makers in the United States and
As I mentioned a few weeks ago (in "The Corporation Will Eat
Your Soul"), Fortune magazine ran a cover story on Mussolini in 1934,
praising his fascism for its ability to break worker unions,
disempower workers and transfer huge sums of money to those who
controlled the money rather than those who earned it.
Few Americans are aware of or can recall how so many Americans and
Europeans viewed economic fascism as the wave of the future during the
1930s. Yet reviewing our past may help shed light on our present, and
point the way to a better future. So I want to begin by looking back
to the last time fascism posed a serious threat to America.
In Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel "It Can't Happen Here," a
conservative southern politician is helped to the presidency by a
nationally syndicated radio talk show host. The politician - Buzz
Windrip - runs his campaign on family values, the flag, and
patriotism. Windrip and the talk show host portray advocates of
traditional American democracy - those concerned with individual
rights and freedoms - as anti-American. That was 69 years ago.
One of the most outspoken American fascists from the 1930s
was economist Lawrence Dennis. In his 1936 book, The Coming American
Fascism - a coming which he anticipated and cheered - Dennis declared
that defenders of "18th-century Americanism" were sure to become "the
laughing stock of their own countrymen." The big stumbling block to
the development of economic fascism, Dennis bemoaned, was "liberal
norms of law or constitutional guarantees of private rights."
So it is important for us to recognize that, as an economic
system, fascism was widely accepted in the 1920s and '30s, and nearly
worshiped by some powerful American industrialists. And fascism has
always, and explicitly, been opposed to liberalism of all kinds.
Mussolini, who helped create modern fascism, viewed liberal
ideas as the enemy. "The Fascist conception of life," he wrote,
"stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only
in so far as his interests coincide with the State. It is opposed to
classical liberalism [which] denied the State in the name of the
individual; Fascism reasserts the rights of the State as expressing
the real essence of the individual." (In 1932 Mussolini wrote, with
the help of Giovanni Gentile, an entry for the Italian Encyclopedia on
the definition of fascism. You can read the whole entry at
Mussolini thought it was unnatural for a government to
protect individual rights: The essence of fascism, he believed, is
that government should be the master, not the servant, of the people.
Still, fascism is a word that is completely foreign to most
of us. We need to know what it is, and how we can know it when we see
In an essay coyly titled "Fascism Anyone?," Dr. Lawrence
Britt, a political scientist, identifies social and political agendas
common to fascist regimes. His comparisons of Hitler, Mussolini,
Franco, Suharto, and Pinochet yielded this list of 14 "identifying
characteristics of fascism." (The following article is from Free
Inquiry magazine, Volume 23, Number 2. Read it at
) See how
familiar they sound.
1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism
Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos,
slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen
everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.
2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights
Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in
fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in
certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way
or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long
incarcerations of prisoners, etc.
3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause
The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need
to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or
religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists,
4. Supremacy of the Military
Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is
given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the
domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are
5. Rampant Sexism
The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively
male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are
made more rigid. Opposition to abortion is high, as is homophobia and
anti-gay legislation and national policy.
6. Controlled Mass Media
Sometimes the media are directly controlled by the government, but in
other cases, the media are indirectly controlled by government
regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives.
Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.
7. Obsession with National Security
Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.
8. Religion and Government are Intertwined
Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in
the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric
and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major
tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's
policies or actions.
9. Corporate Power is Protected
The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are
the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a
mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.
10. Labor Power is Suppressed
Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a
fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or
are severely suppressed.
11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts
Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher
education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other
academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts
is openly attacked, and governments often refuse to fund the arts.
12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment
Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to
enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses
and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is
often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in
13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption
Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and
associates who appoint each other to government positions and use
governmental power and authority to protect their friends from
accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national
resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright
stolen by government leaders.
14. Fraudulent Elections
Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other
times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even
assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control
voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of
the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to
manipulate or control elections.
This list will be familiar to students of political
science. But it should be familiar to students of religion as well,
for much of it mirrors the social and political agenda of religious
fundamentalisms worldwide. It is both accurate and helpful for us to
understand fundamentalism as religious fascism, and fascism as
political fundamentalism. They both come from very primitive parts of
us that have always been the default setting of our species: amity
toward our in-group, enmity toward out-groups, hierarchical deference
to alpha male figures, a powerful identification with our territory,
and so forth. It is that brutal default setting that all civilizations
have tried to raise us above, but it is always a fragile thing,
civilization, and has to be achieved over and over and over again.
But, again, this is not America's first encounter with
In early 1944, the New York Times asked Vice President Henry
Wallace to, as Wallace noted, "write a piece answering the following
questions: What is a fascist? How many fascists have we? How dangerous are they?"
Vice President Wallace's answer to those questions was
published in The New York Times on April 9, 1944, at the height of the
war against the Axis powers of Germany and Japan. See how much you
think his statements apply to our society today.
"The really dangerous American fascist," Wallace wrote, ".
is the man who wants to do in the United States in an American way
what Hitler did in Germany in a Prussian way. The American fascist
would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels
of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to
present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to
deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or
In his strongest indictment of the tide of fascism he saw
rising in America, Wallace added, "They claim to be super-patriots,
but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution.
They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and
vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit
is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of
the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep
the common man in eternal subjection." By these standards, a few of
today's weapons for keeping the common people in eternal subjection
include NAFTA, the World Trade Organization, union-busting, cutting
worker benefits while increasing CEO pay, elimination of worker
benefits, security and pensions, rapacious credit card interest, and
outsourcing of jobs - not to mention the largest prison system in the
The Perfect Storm
Our current descent into fascism came about through a kind
of "Perfect Storm," a confluence of three unrelated but mutually
supportive schools of thought.
1. The first stream of thought was the imperialistic dream
of the Project for the New American Century. I don't believe anyone
can understand the past four years without reading the Project for the
New American Century, published in September 2000 and authored by many who have been prominent players in the Bush administrations, including Cheney, Rumsfleid, Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Donald Kagan to name
only a few. This report saw the fall of Communism as a call for
America to become the military rulers of the world, to establish a new
worldwide empire. They spelled out the military enhancements we would
need, then noted, sadly, that these wonderful plans would take a long
time, unless there could be a catastrophic and catalyzing event like a
new Pearl Harbor that would let the leaders turn America into a
military and militarist country. There was no clear interest in
religion in this report, and no clear concern with local economic
2. A second powerful stream must be credited to Pat
Robertson and his Christian Reconstructionists, or Dominionists. Long
dismissed by most of us as a screwball, the Dominionist style of
Christianity which he has been preaching since the early 1980s is now
the most powerful religious voice in the Bush administration.
Katherine Yurica, who transcribed over 1300 pages of
interviews from Pat Robertson's "700 Club" shows in the 1980s, has
shown how Robertson and his chosen guests consistently, openly and
passionately argued that America must become a theocracy under the
control of Christian Dominionists. Robertson is on record saying
democracy is a terrible form of government unless it is run by his
kind of Christians. He also rails constantly against taxing the rich,
against public education, social programs and welfare - and prefers
Deuteronomy 28 over the teachings of Jesus. He is clear that women
must remain homebound as obedient servants of men, and that abortions,
like homosexuals, should not be allowed. Robertson has also been clear
that other kinds of Christians, including Episcopalians and
Presbyterians, are enemies of Christ. (The Yurica Report. Search under
this name, or for "Despoiling America" by Katherine Yurica on the
3. The third major component of this Perfect Storm has been
the desire of very wealthy Americans and corporate CEOs for a
plutocracy that will favor profits by the very rich and disempowerment
of the vast majority of American workers, the destruction of workers'
unions, and the alliance of government to help achieve these greedy
goals. It is a condition some have called socialism for the rich,
capitalism for the poor, and which others recognize as a reincarnation
of Social Darwinism. This strain of thought has been present
throughout American history. Seventy years ago, they tried to finance
a military coup to replace Franlkin Delano Roosevelt and establish
General Smedley Butler as a fascist dictator in 1934. Fortunately, the
picked a general who really was a patriot; he refused, reported the
scheme, and spoke and wrote about it. As Canadian law professor Joel
Bakan wrote in the book and movie "The Corporation," they have now
achieved their coup without firing a shot.
Our plutocrats have had no particular interest in
religion. Their global interests are with an imperialist empire, and
their domestic goals are in undoing all the New Deal reforms of
Franklin Delano Roosevelt that enabled the rise of America's middle
class after WWII.
Another ill wind in this Perfect Storm is more important
than its crudity might suggest: it was President Clinton's sleazy sex
with a young but eager intern in the White House. This incident, and
Clinton's equally sleazy lying about it, focused the certainties of
conservatives on the fact that "liberals" had neither moral compass
nor moral concern, and therefore represented a dangerous threat to the
moral fiber of America. While the effects of this may be hard to
quantify, I think they were profound.
These "storm" components have no necessary connection, and
come from different groups of thinkers, many of whom wouldn't even
like one another. But together, they form a nearly complete web of
command and control, which has finally gained control of America and,
they hope, of the world.
When all fascisms exhibit the same social and political
agendas (the 14 points listed by Britt), then it is not hard to
predict where a new fascist uprising will lead. And it is not
hard. The actions of fascists and the social and political effects of
fascism and fundamentalism are clear and sobering. Here is some of
what's coming, what will be happening in our country in the next few
* The theft of all social security funds, to be transferred to those
who control money, and the increasing destitution of all those
dependent on social security and social welfare programs.
* Rising numbers of uninsured people in this country that already has
the highest percentage of citizens without health insurance in the
* Increased loss of funding for public education combined with
increased support for vouchers, urging Americans to entrust their
children's education to Christian schools.
* More restrictions on civil liberties as America is turned into the
police state necessary for fascism to work
* Withdrawal of virtually all funding for National Public Radio and
the Public Broadcasting System. At their best, these media sometimes
encourage critical questioning, so they are correctly seen as enemies
of the state's official stories.
* The reinstatement of a draft, from which the children of privileged
parents will again be mostly exempt, leaving our poorest children to
fight and die in wars of imperialism and greed that could never
benefit them anyway. (That was my one-sentence Veterans' Day sermon
for this year.)
* More imperialistic invasions: of Iran and others, and the
construction of a huge permanent embassy in Iraq.
* More restrictions on speech, under the flag of national security.
* Control of the internet to remove or cripple it as an instrument of
free communication that is exempt from government control. This will
be presented as a necessary anti-terrorist measure.
* Efforts to remove the tax-exempt status of churches like this one,
and to characterize them as anti-American.
* Tighter control of the editorial bias of almost all media, and
demonization of the few media they are unable to control the New
York Times, for instance.
* Continued outsourcing of jobs, including more white-collar jobs, to
produce greater profits for those who control the money and direct the
society, while simultaneously reducing America's workers to a more
desperate and powerless status.
* Moves in the banking industry to make it impossible for an
increasing number of Americans to own their homes. As they did in the
1930s, those who control the money know that it is to their advantage
and profit to keep others renting rather than owning.
* Criminalization of those who protest, as un-American, with arrests,
detentions and harassment increasing. We already have a higher
percentage of our citizens in prison than any other country in the
world. That percentage will increase.
* In the near future, it will be illegal or at least dangerous to say
the things I have said here this morning. In the fascist story, these
things are un-American. In the real history of a democratic America,
they were seen as profoundly patriotic, as the kind of critical
questions that kept the American spirit alive - the kind of questions,
incidentally, that our media were supposed to be pressing.
Can these schemes work? I don't think so. I think they are
murderous, rapacious and insane. But I don't know. Maybe they
can. Similar schemes have worked in countries like Chile, where a
democracy in which over 90% voted has been reduced to one in which
only about 20% vote because they say, as Americans are learning to
say, that it no longer matters who you vote for.
In the meantime, is there any hope, or do we just band
together like lemmings and dive off a cliff? Yes, there is always
hope, though at times it is more hidden, as it is now.
As some critics are now saying, and as I have been preaching
and writing for almost twenty years, America's liberals need to grow
beyond political liberalism, with its often self-absorbed focus on
individual rights to the exclusion of individual responsibilities to
the larger society. Liberals will have to construct a more complete
vision with moral and religious grounding. That does not mean
confessional Christianity. It means the legitimate heir to
Christianity. Such a legitimate heir need not be a religion, though it
must have clear moral power, and be able to attract the minds and
hearts of a voting majority of Americans.
And the new liberal vision must be larger than that of the
conservative religious vision that will be appointing judges, writing
laws and bending the cultural norms toward hatred and exclusion for
the foreseeable future. The conservatives deserve a lot of
admiration. They have spent the last thirty years studying American
politics, forming their vision and learning how to gain control in the
political system. And it worked; they have won. Even if liberals can
develop a bigger vision, they still have all that time-consuming work
to do. It won't be fast. It isn't even clear that liberals will be
willing to do it; they may instead prefer to go down with the ship
they're used to.
One man who has been tireless in his investigations and
critiques of America's slide into fascism is Michael C. Ruppert, whose
postings usually read as though he is wound way too tight. But he
offers four pieces of advice about what we can do now, and they seem
reality-based enough to pass on to you. This is America; they're all
* First, he says you should get out of debt.
* Second is to spend your money and time on things that give you
energy and provide you with useful information.
* Third is to stop spending a penny with major banks, news media and
corporations that feed you lies and leave you angry and exhausted.
* And fourth is to learn how money works and use it like a (political)
weapon - as he predicts the rest of the world will be doing against >
That's advice written this week. Another bit of advice comes
from sixty years ago, from Roosevelt's Vice President, Henry
Wallace. Wallace said, "Democracy, to crush fascism internally,
must...develop the ability to keep people fully employed and at the
same time balance the budget. It must put human beings first and
dollars second. It must appeal to reason and decency and not to
violence and deceit. We must not tolerate oppressive government or
industrial oligarchy in the form of monopolies and cartels."
Still another way to understand fascism is as a kind of
colonization. A simple definition of "colonization" is that it takes
people's stories away, and assigns them supportive roles in stories
that empower others at their expense. When you are taxed to support a
government that uses you as a means to serve the ends of others, you
are - ironically - in a state of taxation without
representation. That's where this country started, and it's where we
I don't know the next step. I'm not a political activist;
I'm only a preacher. But whatever you do, whatever we do, I hope that
we can remember some very basic things that I think of as eternally
true. One is that the vast majority of people are good decent people
who mean and do as well as they know how. Very few people are evil,
though some are. But we all live in families where some of our blood
relatives support things we hate. I believe they mean well, and the
way to rebuild broken bridges is through greater understanding,
compassion, and a reality-based story that is more inclusive and
empowering for the vast majority of us.
Those who want to live in a reality-based story rather than
as serfs in an ideology designed to transfer power, possibility and
hope to a small ruling elite have much long and hard work to do,
individually and collectively. It will not be either easy or quick.
But we will do it. We will go forward in hope and in
courage. Let us seek that better path, and find the courage to take it
- step, by step, by step.