Classic Fascism versus "Friendly" Fascism


Dissidents have begun to use the "F-word" in regards to the Bush Administration's rush into militarism abroad and flagrant attacks on civil liberties at home. Justified comparisons are being made between the fog of official lies surrounding the 9/11 "terrorist" attacks and the Nazi's infamous 1933 burning of the Reichstag. A hidden danger in this response to the current offenses, however, is the tendency to downplay the much more subtle but insidious advances towards tyranny that the US system has been making for years.

In his provocative 1980 book Friendly Fascism, Betram Gross argued that fascism in the US could come about not through the obvious heavy-handed demagogery and violence of the classic early 20th-century fascist states, but instead through an exceedingly gradual, velvet-glove approach which preserves the outer appearances of freedom and democratic institutions. Although his analysis does not touch on all of the aspects of criminal and covert government that we must contend with, many of his predictions have turned out to be quite prophetic over the past two decades.

The Bush Administration has shown traits of both overt "classic fascism" and modern "friendly fascism." It would be a mistake to focus only on the more aggressive and blunt moves that have been made by this administration at the expense of obscuring the continuing "friendly fascism" trend in America, which was already a very strong presence in the Clinton era and before. It would also be great mistake to see the current root dangers of tyranny as emerging solely from the hot-blooded political fringes, or from fanatical grassroots extremists, when the real abiding danger is from the seemingly respectable corporate center.

The following comparative chart, from Gross' Friendly Fascism, illustrates the difficulty of tossing around the term "fascism" in our current political environment without first dealing with some of the baggage attached to it:

CLASSIC FASCISM: A tight Government-Big Business oligarchy with charismatic dictator or figurehead, and expansionist, scapegoating, and nationalistic ideologies.

FRIENDLY FASCISM: An integrated Big business-Big Government power structure with new technocratic ideologies and more advanced arts of ruling and fooling the public.

CLASSIC FASCISM: Liquidation or minimalization of multiparty conflict and open subversion, with little use of democratic machinery and human rights.

FRIENDLY FASCISM: Subtle subversion, through manipulative use and control of democratic machinery, parties, and human rights.

CLASSIC FASCISM: Negative sanctions through ruthless, widespread, and high-cost terror; direct action against selected scapegoats.

FRIENDLY FASCISM: Direct terror applie through low-level violence and professionalized, low-cost escalation, with indirect terror through ethnic conflicts, multiple scapegoats, and organized disorder.

CLASSIC FASCISM: Ceaseless propaganda, backed up by spies and informers, to consolidate elite support and mobilize masses.

FRIENDLY FASCISM: Informational offensives backed by high-technology monitoring, to manage minds of elites and immobilize masses.

CLASSIC FASCISM: Widespread benefits through more jobs, stabilized prices, domestic spoils, foreign booty, and upward mobility for the most faithful.

FRIENDLY FASCISM: Rationed rewards of power and money for elites, extended professionalism, accelerated consumerism for some, and social services, conditional on the recipients' good behavior.

CLASSIC FASCISM: Anxiety relief through participatory spectacles, mass action, and genuine bloodletting.

FRIENDLY FASCISM: More varied relief through sex, drugs, madness, and cults, as well as alcolholism, gambling, sports, and ultraviolent drama. *

CLASSIC FASCISM: Internal viability based on sustained, frantic, and eventually self-destructive expansion.

FRIENDLY FASCISM: Internal viability based on careful expansion, system-strengthening reforms, multilevel co-optation, and mass apathy.

[excerpted from Friendly Fascism, p. 170]

* comment: add psychopharmaceuticals.


from the introduction to Friendly Fascism, by Bertram Gross

In this present, many highly intelligent people look with but one eye and see only one part of the emergine Leviathan. From the right, we are warned against the danger of state capitalism or state socialism, in which Big Business is dominated by Big Government. From the left, we hear that the future danger (or present reality) is monopoly capitalism, with finance captialists dominating the state. I am prepared to offer a cheer and a half for each view; together, they make enough sense for a full three cheers. Big Business and Big Government have been learning how to live in bed together, and despite arguments between them, enjoy the cohabitation. Who may be on top at any particular moment is a minor matter-and in any case can be determined only by those with privileged access to a well-positioned keyhole ...

I am afraid of those who proclaim that it can't happen here... Anyone looking for black shirts, mass parties, or men on horseback will miss the telltale clues of creeping fascism ... In America, it would be supermodern and multi-ethnic -- as Americcan as Madison Avenue, executive luncheons, credit cards, and apple pie. It would be fascism with a smile.

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