I was invited to speak at a meeting of an anti-fascist group today, specifically to give my insight from a Dutch perspective, as my country was occupied by the Germans during World War Two.
I’ve never been asked to come and talk anywhere before–note to self: next time ask how much time I get to talk, because it turned out I had to rush through it, which meant I couldn’t elaborate or give examples to clearly state my case, and I fear I may have been somewhat misunderstood by some. In fact, one person concluded at the end that I had painted a caricature of Americans, and that was not my intention at all, but it probably came across that way because I had to race through bullet points that I had only meant as reminders of what I was going to discuss next. No time for nuance. Anyway, it gave me fodder for another series of posts where I can elaborate all I want.
For Dutch society, the German occupation (1940 – 1945) was a watershed moment. It changed us as a people. It changed the way we viewed authority and obedience, and fascism has since been the very real worst-case scenario that all social change and all laws are tested against. Would this law withstand a fascist take-over? What would be the next step if this law is adopted? Is it the first step on a slippery slope? We assume that anything that could conceivably happen will happen unless we arm ourselves against it. If you want to know more about the German occupation of the Netherlands during WWII, you can read the series of posts I wrote on the subject, which starts here.
I wanted to start the talk by asking what people thought of when they thought of fascism in America, but I didn’t. So, Americans, what do you think of? My guess is that you think of Charlottesville, of neo-Nazis wearing swastikas on their sleeves, of white supremacists and the KKK shouting racial and antisemitic slurs; you think of obviously racist thugs with intimidating guns; and a lot of you think of Trump and Bannon. Correct me if I’m wrong. And you’d be right, those folks are clearly fascists, no doubt about it.
As a Dutch person, however, I have seen fascism in America since the day I got here, decades ago. Most of the fascism I encounter is expressed by people who would be shocked and insulted to be compared to the extremists marching with guns and tiki torches in Charlottesville. It’s unintentional (by most people) and much more pervasive and therefore more dangerous. It has led, among other things, to the election of Trump as president of the United States.
Nationalism and fascism go hand in hand, so let me first give the definitions of the terms according to Merriam Webster:
NATIONALISM: loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially: a sense of national consciousness, exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational organizations.
FASCISM: a political philosophy, movement, or regime (such as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.
Aspects of fascism
Below are brief descriptions of the main aspects of fascism, which I have based in part on this definition in the Urban Dictionary.
- Strong, idolized leader / dictator;
- Totalitarianism: centralized control by an autocratic authority; the state is supreme–the individual must totally submit to an absolute state authority and to the interests of the whole;
- Authoritarianism: favoring blind submission to authorities, favoring a concentration of power in a leader or an elite not constitutionally responsible to the people. So no labor unions, no strikes, power lies with corporations, police, government;
- Use of violence and intimidation. Breakdown of distinction between civilians and militants in society – a military citizenship. Also, war often considered a tool for rebirth;
- Forcible suppression of opposition: questioning the government is not tolerated. If you are not for us, you are against us, and therefore the enemy;
- Education and media used as a tool for nationalist indoctrination and propaganda rather than as ways to convey factual information;
- Promotion of masculinity and femininity and traditional gender roles.
In the following posts I will address the aspects of nationalism and fascism and the way they are incorporated into American society, and what it would take, in my opinion, to prevent further harm from being done. For those of you who have been following my blog for a while, I will be repeating myself here and there, but I feel the need to address the issue in a more systematic way than I have before.
So stay tuned for tomorrow’s post about American exceptionalism.