It seems clear that around the world we are seeing a rise in authoritarianism. However, within this rise of authoritarianism that we see globally, what I find most alarming is the resurgence of ethnofascism. It was with the recent events we are seeing around the world and the rise of ideology that I wanted to take a moment to attempt my own critique of ideology and offer what I could to those struggling for their own right to self-determination.
“On the contrary, fascism had no quintessence. Fascism was a fuzzy totalitarianism, a collage of different philosophical and political ideas, a beehive of contradictions.” — Umberto Eco
Fascism has always been a difficult concept to clearly define and political scientists, intellectuals, and writers have struggled to clearly articulate a consistent definition of fascism. However, speaking on fascism and fascist ideology broadly, fascism rejects individualism and the sovereignty of the individual and posits the primacy of the State in its place. Fascism rejects democracy. In truth, not only does fascism reject classical liberalism and conceptions of natural rights, individual freedoms, and social contract, but fascist ideologically opposes these ideals.
Fascism posits the totality of the State and the interests of the State and subordinates the individual to the State. The function of the State in the fascist regime is to direct not just the socio-economic development of society, but also direct the cultural, moral, and spiritual development of society. The only freedom that matters is the freedom of the state to advance this goal and any individual energies of the person in such a regime must be directed towards achieving the goals of the fascist State and ensuring the future of the fascist state.
Importantly, this means that individuals cease to become the primary agents and determinants of cultural, moral, and spiritual character. Instead, the State becomes the determinant of cultural, moral, and spiritual character and subordinates and consumes all individuals within the state to further the State itself. The unique endeavors or goals of the individual person are squelched in fascist regime even if they do not stand in direct opposition to the regime, but simply fail to expressly advance the fascist state. Moreover, whereas in classical liberalism, government authority and power is derived from the consent of the governed through social contract, within fascist ideology it is the State that confers recognition to the individual. In classical liberalism, the state served the interests of the people. In fascism, the people serve the interests of the state.
Because fascist ideology posits the primacy of the state over the individual, the fascist regime subsumes, supplants, and subverts all the privileged rights and domains of the Enlightenment era individual. There is no inherent dignity or value of the individual nor is legitimate authority derived from the individual.
Within the fascist regime, there are no individuals, only persons whose sole purpose is to promote the purposes of the state or be consumed for those purposes. And to this end, the fascist regime subordinates individuals as well as socio-politico-economic institutions. And as institutions subordinate to the state, their only permitted functions are those functions which promote and advance the future and interests of the fascist state. Individual liberty, freedom of association, religious liberty, freedom of expression — all necessary freedoms in protecting the primacy of individual self-determination — are expressly rejected in fascist ideology because the individual is a resource for the state. Fascist ideology stands in opposition to the tradition of Western democracy. A tradition that has been defined by an idea of government by consent of the people, which is contingent on the proper stewardship and guardianship of these rights and freedoms.
The area of interest I want to highlight is ethnofascism, which is fascist ideology that is defined by and is inseparable from racial and ethnic ideology. In the ethnofascist regime, race and ethnicity are the sole determinants of whether one is a legitimate member of the state.
In my view, what makes ethnofascism so alarming is 2 fold. First, rather than the person being the agent that determines whether the state is legitimate, in ethnofascism, it is the fascist state that determines whether the person is legitimate. And the reason I find this so alarming is because it flies in the face of the philosophical and moral principles that underpin Western democracy; principles that have been adapted and adopted worldwide. Namely, the inalienable rights endowed upon the human individual and the social contract between the individual and the state (where power and authority is derived from the individual). These principles serve to promote and protect primacy of the individual’s right to self-determination.
Second, ethnofascism flies in the face of the individual’s right to self-determination because legitimacy is granted precisely based on racial characteristics that cannot be self-determined or on ethnic backgrounds that one cannot take personal responsibility for. In the ethnofascist regime, no other qualities or characteristics are relevant in defining whether a person is a legitimate member of the State or not. To some extent, an individual has some degree of control on most, if not all, other aspects of their life (albeit perhaps only a small one). Philosophical/theological/religious tradition, cultural upbringing, community support, intellectual contribution, professional standing, family or personal history — although heavily influenced by our environment — are within some measure of personal responsibility and determination (although the degree to which an individual can impact those features has woefully eroded in recent memory).
However, all of these features and characteristics that are often considered central to the individual person and the individual’s identity are inconsequential and irrelevant in the ethnofascist ideology. The very foundation on which a person attains legitimacy in an ethnofascist ideology is also one of the features about which a person has no measure of control over — their race and/or ethnicity. As such, ethnofascism denies personal freedom, it denies personal responsibility, and it denies all individuals the right to self-determination.
Racism and Anti-Semitism Inherent in Ethnofascism
Racism and anti-Semitism are not incidental to ethnofascism. Racism and anti-Semitism are core features to ethnofascism. Ethnofascist ideology use racism and anti-Semitism to make moral claims to legitimacy that are devoid of obligations of moral or personal responsibility, precisely because those prejudices are based in things beyond one’s control. Therefore, ethnofascist ideology allows its followers to absolve themselves of responsibility and instead shifts guilt and culpability on characteristics that are beyond one’s control. In this setting, the burden of responsibility and culpability will always fall one-sidedly.
The Jew only serves him a pretext; elsewhere his counterpart will make use of the Negro or the man of yellow skin. The existence of the Jew merely permits the anti-Semite to stifle his anxieties at their inception by persuading himself that his place in the world has been marked out in advance, that it awaits him, and that tradition gives him the right to occupy it. Anti-Semitism, in short, is fear of the human condition. The anti-Semite is a man who wishes to be … anything except a man. — Jean Paul Sartre
Jean Paul Sartre has already eloquently described the racial and anti-semitic impulse of ethnofascists. I only wish to expand on the themes he has elaborated on to say that the virulent strain of thought that poisons ethnofascist ideology can be broadly thought of as the concept as hatred of the “other.” This hatred of the “other” can and often invariably is applied to any racial or ethnic or minority of national origin — Jewish, Black, Asian, Indian, Arab, recent immigrants/children of immigrants and refugees.
Let’s not forget the shared fates of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner as it is always the shared fate of the “other” whenever the demand for legitimacy is made.
The Role of Individual Prejudices in Perpetuating Ideology
Again, other authors have elaborated extensively on the perniciousness and danger of passivity in allowing prejudice to persist. Both of the below passages hone into the passive contribution of the unconscious — or unconscience — individual permitting prejudice, and therefore ethnofacist ideology, to persist.
Pale reflections, reeds shaken by the wind, they certainlty would not have invented anti-Semitism, if the conscious anti-Semite did not already exist. But it is they who with complete indifference assure the survival of anti-Semitism and carry it forward through the generations. — Jean Paul Sartre
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. — Martin Luther King Jr.
To briefly synthesize what has been already discussed up to this point and to summarize, the persistence of racism and anti-Semitism will always allow for the emergence of an ideology that absolves moral and personal responsibility based on those prejudices.
Misogyny as a Distinct and Deliberate Feature of Ethnofascism
2 key features of misogyny are the restriction of women’s reproductive rights and sexual freedoms — both of which are necessitated by fascist regimes.
Restriction of Women’s Reproductive Rights
According to fascist ideology, their are no individual freedoms or rights and the only appropriate role for the individual is to further and perpetuate the state. With this in mind, the role of child-birth and child-rearing in the fascist regime isn’t family formation or the development/education of free independent individuals. The role of child-birth and child-rearing is to provide new persons to be sacrificed to the endeavor the state.
I must emphasize here that ethnofascist ideology necessitates an invasion and subversion of choice so pervasive and egregious that to only consider the political issue of pro-choice vs pro-life demonstrates a myopia that is ignorantly dangerous. The subversion of choice extends into which women, how many, and how often a woman should have children and which children will demonstrate viable utility in furthering the fascist regime. The invasion of choice extends into education, tutelage, and transmitted values. Even the choice of with whom a family is formed is subverted, which will be discussed later. These decisions are made by the regime, informed by the needs of the regime solely in perpetuating the regime itself (rather than in promoting the individual within a society), and these determinations originate from the regime itself (rather than from the individual who must live with these choices and decisions). (The Handmaid’s Tale provides for a detailed fictional demonstration of how a fascist regime necessitates the restriction of women’s reproductive rights and the control of women). Self-determination, individual agency, or conceptions of family or conceptions of inherent and inalienable dignity/human value fall apart in this context.
Restriction of Women’s Sexual Freedom (Even in the Absence of Race)
Because of the importance of ethnicity and race in ethnofascism, women’s sexual freedom and sexual choice must also be limited. It’s not just that new persons need to be born to be sacrificed to the state, it’s that the right type of new persons need to be born. The state must perpetuate itself by consuming persons, but for the fascist regime to remain legitimate, it can only consume those it considers worthy of consuming. This ties into the role of the state in directing cultural and social development and the fascist’s regimes disregard of the individual— by determining not “who” but “what” should be perpetuated and with “what kind.”
But again, we see in ethnofascism that the category of racial and ethnic groups eventually becomes irrelevant when it concerns the rights of women. This is because even in the absence of ethnicity and race — even in the perverted fantasy where racial purity is achieved regardless of the type of purity — women’s sexual freedom and sexual choice must still be limited in terms of sexual selection because only a particular kind has viable utility to the fascist regime. In this setting within the ethnofascist society, the terminology often used in this context is degenerate — more accessible terms that could be applied include disability or hooligan or street person or deviant or vagabond or outsider/outcast, etc (For an interesting example of this, consider the 1993 movie Swing Kids concerning the story of young Germans who were persecuted by Nazis for dancing to American jazz music). Even in the abhorrent hypothetical setting of racial purity, the persons within the ethnofascist regime will not be free. All interests and endeavors of the persons within the state must still be directed toward advancing similarly ridiculous and imaginary cultural, social, and political goals of the ethnofascist state.
Again, individual choice, individual agency, and individual judgment is irrelevant and self-determination ceases to function because it is expressly prohibited.
To summarize, although fascists regimes demand that the individual (regardless of particular socio-politico-economic-ethnic-religious demographics) surrender their right to self-determination to the state, the subjugation of women is of a distinct character and quality in the fascist state. It is particularly perverse because it privileges child-bearing to a function of the state and seizes (and even seeks to define appropriate)human procreation under the totality of its domain.
It is here that I must remark how grotesque and cruel this ideology can truly be: that the ethnofascist regime will prohibit, prevent, and deny family formation for the “other”, but then demand and enforce child-bearing for the “legitimate” as a means to provide productive bodies to enforce the aforementioned prohibition. Like a perpetual motion machine of human suffering, there is no humanity in the ethnofascist regime because it forces life to be brought into this world for the sole purpose of taking other life out of this world.
A Personal Frustration: Art and Fascism
A particular point of personal frustration (beyond the ethical, moral, and principal objections that I have briefly outlined) that I hold against fascist ideologies is the appropriate role of art. In the fascist regime, the only art deemed appropriate is art that glorifies the fascist state and/or advances/advocates the particular goals of the fascist state.
This is frustrating and problematic on 2 levels.
Art — visual, auditory, tactile, or otherwise — is meant to be engaged with at the individual level. Whether it is the viewer experiencing the artistic work or the artist creating the work itself, art is a uniquely personal experience. Whatever emotions, thoughts, opinions, ideas, or experiences it evokes occurs and resides in the individual that is experiencing the artistic creation. We can share perspectives, we can offer differing opinions, differing preferences, tastes, or come to different interpretations, but all of those come secondary to how the individual has internalized the artistic work.
And because art is this personal experience — whether it is the observer or the artist — it is a uniquely powerful and profound medium for expressing, articulating, encouraging, and promoting individuality across time and throughout cultures. In the creation and the witnessing of art, the individual comes into contact with their inner self. It is for this very reason that time and time again, we find that art has often been used as medium of last resort to actualize a sense of individuality and agency — an individuality and agency that is rejected in fascism. Examples of this authentic assertion of the artistic individual can be seen in the form of LGBTQ punk bands in Eastern Europe, heavy metal bands in the Middle East, and hip hop artists criticizing authoritarianism world-wide. In a time where we are seeing the emergence globally of increased demand for self-determination by all individuals and where we are seeing increased artistic expression of individuality, fascism denies and rejects a near universal medium for solidarity and communication — fascism rejects the freedom of individual expression. Whatever deeply held dreams that lay in a person’s heart, in the ethnofascist regime, the regime demands that those dreams are wholly replaced by the interests and future of the fascist state and its purposes.
Fascist Art as Propaganda
Because art is only appropriate if it advances the state within a fascist regime, the fascist state supplants the artist as creator of art. There are no more individuals as artists or authors or unique talents, only the regime as such.
(Above is a critical breakdown of the Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will. Note: Within the film, the actual German Army, the Wermacht, is only present in one scene in Triumph of the Will — a scene that is often removed in editing. All other scenes depicting ultra-nationalistic themes with military overtones features paramilitary extensions of the Nazi Party, SA and SS. This small detail in this example of fascist propaganda is emblematic of the fascist ideology’s tendency to subsume and supplant everything within society and posit the primacy of the fascist state in its totality).
The Inevitable Failure of Ethnofascism
“…by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak. Fascist governments are condemned to lose wars because they are constitutionally incapable of objectively evaluating the force of the enemy.” — Umberto Eco
Given the history of the 20th century and the uncertainty people feel about the 21st century and the direction in which the world is moving, it is easy to feel anxious. It is easy to lose hope. It is understandable to feel scared, threatened, and worried about the future and what it may hold for ourselves and those we hold dear.
However, these regimes and movements are bound to fail quite simply because of these regimes’ and movements’ inability to accurately assess reality, whether internal or external. Though these regimes are bound to fail, this fact provides little comfort to those that must suffer in the present and does little for those that have lost loved ones both in the past as well as in the here and now as well as risk losing even more in the future.
If the distant past is any indication, then the measurement of human suffering is truly incalculable. If the recent past can serve as a guide, then the weight and impact of the loss will be devastating, for the whole and for the individual. And if standing in the present we look outwards toward the horizon, then one must truly wonder if anyone has any memory of the painful past we seem to be stumbling towards as we move into the future.
For my part, I have tied my fate to all of you. I would rather live a life that is mediocre. I would rather live a life that is filled with struggle, adversity, and pain. I would rather live a life that is short. I would rather live a life in solitude. I would rather live any of these lives as long as it was a life that I chose freely and that I was able to live that life freely with those that believe as I do and affirm the basic dignities that I affirm. I would rather live through any of those than relive the suffering that was lived in the previous century. -GP
Jew and Antisemite by Jean Paul Sartre
The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt
Letter from a Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr.
Ur-Fascism by Umberto Eco