Orwell: 1984

Most people think that if fascism came to their country that it would be an unbearable nightmare drastically disrupting the everyday pattern of our lives. And since our lives seem to retain their normal pattern, it follows that fascism has not taken over.

In actuality, however, the fascist state, like all states, has no need to make nightmarish intrusions into the trivia of every citizen's life. The Orwellian image of Big Brother commanding an obscure citizen to do his morning exercises via two-way television leaves us with a grossly exaggerated caricature of the authoritarian state.

Rather than alerting us to more realistic dangers, novels like Orwell's 1984 could our vision with fanciful horrors of the future, thereby making the present look not at all bad in comparison and leaving us the more convinced that there is no cause for alarm. The dirty truth is that many people find fascism to be not particularly horrible. Since many citizens already obey the law, pay their taxes, give their sons to the army, are themselves distrustful of political heterodoxy, and applaud when unions are broken and troublesome people are disposed of, they probably could live without too much personal torment in a fascist state -- some of them certainly seem eager to do so.

Orwell's imaginings to the contrary, what is so terrifying about fascism is its 'normality,' its compatibility with the collective sentiments of substantial numbers of 'normal' persons -- though probably never a majority in any society.

We might do well to stop thinking of fascism as being a simple either/or condition. The political system of any one country encompasses a variety of uneven and seemingly incongruous institutional practices. To insist that fascism does not obtain until every abomination of the Nazi state is replicated and every vestige of constitutional government is obliterated is to overlook, at our peril, the disturbingly anti-democratic, authoritarian manifestations inherent in many states that call themselves democracies.

The Nazi invasion of Poland is fascism in action; the American invasion of Vietnam is a 'blunder' or at worst an 'immoral application' of power. The indoctrination of children in Nazi Germany into the myths and rituals of the nation-state is seen as characteristic of fascism; but our own grade-school indoctrination replete with flag salutes, national anthems, and history books espousing the myths of American superiority is 'education for citizenship.' Many social arrangements and happenings that would evoke strongly negative sentiments if defined as products of a totalitarian state become, by their proximity and cultural familiarity, no cause for alarm when practiced at home.

Not surprisingly, many of the same people who support autocratic, statist measures against democratic dissenters are the first to deny that fascism is a threat in their country.

But growing numbers of us have lost our skepticism. What we fear is not the cataclysm but the drift. In fact, it is less a drift toward fascism than a concerted push by the purveyors of state power. Not only do the higher circles attack the standard of living of the populace, they attack the democratic rights that enable us to launch any kind of counterattack to defend ourselves from being plunged into Third Worldom.

In the final analysis, the danger of fascism comes not from the handful of skinheads or militia but from the various enforcement agencies of the national security state, those who would divest us of whatever remains of our livelihoods and democratic rights under the guise of 'doing what is best for our country.'

-- from "Fascism In A Pinstriped Suit" in the book DIRTY TRUTHS by Michael Parenti