It is always gratifying when one’s intuition is confirmed. I had the impression, picking up Madeleine Albright’s book Fascism: A Warning, that I would be treated to an exercise of “Fascism is bad. And everything I don’t like is Fascism!” The former secretary of State, a Jewish liberal originally hailing from Czechoslovakia, did not disappoint.
The book is essentially a set of portraits of various movements and leaders Albright considers to be “Fascist” (contra convention, she capitalizes even when not referring to Mussolini’s National Fascist Party) and/or vaguely fascistic.
Albright warns early on that people use “fascism” as a catch-all derogatory term for just about any exercise of authority people don’t like. She proposes a somewhat reasonable definition of fascism and then goes on to do exactly what she warned against, covering not only Mussolini and Hitler, but also Vladimir Putin, Viktor Orbán, and communist Czechoslovakia in her Fascist(ish) portraits.
To be fair, these vignettes are often quite informative. The chapters on Hugo Chávez, Recep Erdoğan, and the Kims of North Korea in particular showcase a diplomat’s sensitivity and nuance, making an effort to understand the motivations and appeal of these men (and the movements and/or systems they represent), as well as their considerable failings.
However, to lump all of these under the broad heading “quasi-fascist” only makes sense in terms of branding. Since World War II, people have been taught to consider authoritarianism, fascism, “Nazism,” nationalism, racism, and eugenics as the supreme evils. In fact, these things are quite different (there were democratic countries systematically practicing eugenics and racism, while Fascist Italy if anything was quite slow to adopt such policies). These things are not really distinguished in people’s minds however but form a kind of hideous potpourri of sadistic bullyingAlbright even quotes Orwell claiming that fascism is nothing more than “bullying.” and senseless suffering, basically a Hieronymus Bosch painting come to life, embodying their deepest fears as human beings. Emotionally it is very powerful and it is understandable that Albright would want to misleadingly brand all her opponents as (quasi-)Fascists.
Opponents of American imperialism will observe that Albright’s list of quasi-Fascist states corresponds quite closely with those who have opposed U.S. foreign policies in recent decades. There is barely a word about America’s authoritarian allies Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.
Nor is there much mention of China and Singapore, two countries which as capitalist one-partyI know Singapore allows some minor parties to exist notionally, but power is dominated by the People’s Action Party. states actually are much closer to historic fascism than any of her candidates. Perhaps she ignores them so that people do not get the idea that fascistic government can actually be quite competent and public-spirited, and not necessarily lead to constant warfare.
Strikingly, the word “Netanyahu” does not appear in the book’s Index at all. The existence of a democratic ethno-nationalist state goes against her whole narrative. For what it’s worth, I suspect most people in European nationalist parties and in the Alt-Right would be happy to preserve democracy if they could have their own Netanyahus, with the establishment of Western ethnostates dedicated to their own people, with the explicit goal of preserving or restoring ethnic European demographic supermajorities.
This selectivity will encourage the impression that the State Department’s talk of “human rights” has less to do with upholding universal moral principles than with demonizing the United States’ geopolitical opponents du jour. The American Establishment does not bully China as much as Russia, despite being obviously more authoritarian. I suspect this is because China is already too big to bully, while Russia can still be pushed around and serve as a useful bogeyman (always useful to the Military-Industrial Complex, the National Security State, and for all the Establishmentarians who need a scapegoat for the rise of populism). On that note, I suspect most diplomatic conflicts today have less to do with “realist” international power dynamics than with the utility of foreign enemies for governments domestically.
Personally I prefer a republican government under the rule of law. But it would be dishonest to deny that authoritarian governments present certain advantages. In times of crisis, all governments tend to revert to authoritarianism to get the job done (e.g.: Lincoln, De Gaulle . . .). In the future, I’ll write something on the merits and demerits of liberty and authority, and on the liberal claims of being “non-authoritarian.”
In the meantime, I’ll just ask: “What have the Romans ever done for us?”
Where would you rather be born:
- In semi-democratic Venezuela or authoritarian Cuba?
- In democratic India or authoritarian China?
- In Atatürk’s secular dictatorship or Erdoğan’s Islamist democracy?
- In authoritarian Yugoslavia or democratic Bosnia?
- In democratic Jamaica or authoritarian Singapore?
Try to be honest (with yourself).
I will not quibble about the book’s one-sided point of view, sometimes questionable assertions, and various hypocrisies typical of U.S. foreign policy (on which see the book review already up by Morris V. de Camp on Counter-Currents). I’d rather take the subject head-on: the merits and demerits of fascism, which I think are an interesting subject.
The biggest and really inexcusable intellectual weakness of Albright’s book is in lazily equating or associating the various illiberal democratic regimes (meaning nothing more than democratic regimes liberals don’t agree with) with fascist ones. It fails to recognize that democracy causes populism. If you have democracy – with real freedom of speech and not a dictatorship of the money-men and of the mainstream media which the postwar American generations were used to – you will get Trumps and Bolsonaros and Corbyns and Erdoğans. This kind of mess is a feature, not a bug, of real democracy.
The governments of illiberal democracies, it seems to me, also behave more badly because they have to worry about getting reelected. Unlike dictatorships, these governments are insecure, if they lose one election, they risk losing everything. As a result, they seem to me to be more erratic and have more of a taste for (often damaging) spectacle and demagogic measures than does the average dictatorship. (Again: compare the peace and orderliness of Cuba with the violence and chaos of Venezuela.)
Fascism entails a one-party state under the authority of a charismatic dictator, typically with a commitment to national independence and power. The fascist claims that the right people, in practice the men willing to go out there and risk their lives to beat up communists, ought to be in charge. The biggest risk, as in all personal dictatorships, is that the country’s development is put at the mercy of the wisdom and the stability of the leader. There have been plenty of competent dictators: Franco, Chiang Kai-shek, Lee Kuan Yew, etc. Hitler’s personal contempt for the Slavs, more than anything else, caused his downfall – if he’d toned that back, and just that might have been enough – I’d probably be typing in German today.
The Belgian fascist Léon Degrelle signed up to the Waffen-SS because he wanted Europe to be a mighty empire rather than a glorified supermarket.
In a dictatorship, the elimination of political and ideological pluralism means that the country can enjoy political stability. This, by the way, is crucial in multiethnic countries such as Yugoslavia or Iraq, for which the fall of the dictatorship and democratization led to atrocious ethno-religious civil war. As Lee Kuan Yew, my favorite antidote to the political childishness that prevails in the West today, said concerning his multiracial state of Singapore: “We had to lock up people, without trial, whether they are communists, whether they are language chauvinists, or religious extremists. If you don’t do that the country would be in ruins today!” Few things have been as murderous as the promotion of “democracy” in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, a policy which, not coincidentally, has destroyed several geopolitical opponents of Israel.
The government can furthermore take decisive actions where necessary. Fascism rose in Italy because veterans and others could see that the parliamentary democracy was unable to stop communist-inspired chaos and was generally ineffectual. The Germans voted for Hitler so as to free Germany from the chaos of Western financial capitalism and to overturn the injustices of the Treaty of Versailles. Does anyone think the divided, social-democratic Weimar Republic could have overturned Versailles as quickly as the Third Reich did?
The lack of elections means political leaders have no need to pander to the 51% every couple of years. The rulers can adopt far-sighted and sustainable policies without worrying about electoral change or unpopularity (the European Union follows this line anti-democratic line of argument concerning macroeconomics, a field in which it is attempting to eliminate the influence of elected politicians altogether, so as to ensure only “responsible” budgetary and monetary decisions are taken). The government can furthermore promote a uniform set of values, in the case of fascism, this tends to be things like national power, independence, and individual self-sacrifice for the community – but in principle these can be anything, such as equality, eugenics, or ecology.
Fascism does not necessarily mean racism, eugenics, anti-Semitism, or perpetual warfare. Italian Fascism really should set the bar in this area. As Albright admits, if Mussolini had chosen to join the winning side in World War II, fascism would not be a swear word today. Mussolini only sided with Hitler because of the Anglo-French’s opposition to his invasion of Ethiopia, which he thought quite hypocritical, given that Britain and France already had vast colonial empires of their own.
Fascism is often quite inclusive: involving the masses, educating them, giving them access to culture, economic welfare, tourism, and healthcare. In general, these systems try to be meritocratic (like any honest bureaucracy really), letting all apply and, if found competent and appropriate, hired and promoted through the ranks. In short, a degree of socialism, but without slaughtering your upper-classes, starving your Kulaks, or waging war against your own population.
Saddam Hussein’s long-time foreign minister and deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, was a non-Arab Christian. It is also also notorious that the Baathist regimes in Iraq and Syria were/are more tolerant of ethnic and religious minorities than have been the various Islamist rebel groups – specializing in enslaving Yazidis and destroying priceless Greco-Roman architecture.
Fascism, in short, is a nation making an effort, according to whatever goals have been set (e.g. having more babies, training a powerful army, reducing dependence on foreign imports . . .). Democracy is the pursuit of comfiness. An eco-fascism probably could have prevented climate change.
It goes without saying that fascist and authoritarian countries in general pose a greater threat to U.S. hegemony than do democratic ones who value above all money-making, individual choice, and the pretense of equality, rather than the well-being and power of the community as a whole.
Personally, I think ancient republican theory is distinctly superior to the modern (I can barely read Locke and Rousseau). I am an Aristotelian: I favor whatever promotes the collective flourishing of the community and of the species. e.g.: I support an individual right if and only if it promotes the common good. Wrap your head around that.
I can’t say how a Fascist Italy would have evolved had it won besides the other Allies or remained neutral in World War II. Let us suppose a middling route: Italy would have maintained its colonial empire for far longer, it would have probably maintained a much higher birth rate, it would have worked much harder to maintain economic independence (and had some means, via the empire, to do so, especially in terms of oil), and would generally be a far more independent and powerful country than has been the supine and corrupt Italian Republic, good for nothing except getting milked for usurious interests rates by international financiers, a glorified museum and holiday resort. By way of comparison, look at how peaceful, healthy, and independent Cuba is compared to the average Latin American country – even managing to send 25,000 soldiers to Angola in the 1970s to fight Apartheid. Now imagine that, but a Fascist postwar Italy of 75 million.
Fascism certainly does not solve all problems. Even 20 years of fascism failed to turn Italy into a warrior nation, whereas 7 years was enough for Germany. Furthermore, there is no doubt that America’s particular brand of individualist republicanism has been a great source of national power.
More generally, you still have your basic human capital (a nation of inbred idiots will remain a nation of inbred idiots unless you have an effective eugenics program). After colonial independence, most of the Third World was actually governed by kind-of-fascist nationalist and socialist dictatorships, who had the merit of trying to ensure some level of stability and wealth-sharing. Of course they tended to also be corrupt and incompetent, but regime type doesn’t seem to matter much in that respect.
Ever since the French Revolution, liberals and democrats have sought to impose their ideological preferences on the entire world. Unless you adopt their ever-changing and quite arbitrary list of rights, you are “evil” as far as they are concerned. As Edmund Burke already saw back then, the imposition of such norms on other, vastly different societies is a recipe for chaos. Many millions of people have died in the demoliberals’ quest to impose their ideology on the whole world and I have no doubt that many more millions will die in the future.
White liberals lack empathy for “fascists” and “racists” of their own race, although they are quite capable of considering the merits and demerits of such positions when these concern other nations or science fiction settings.
Given fascism’s importance in the history of the twentieth century, people owe it to themselves to look at what the fascists themselves had to say about their values: Mussolini’s Doctrine of Fascism (co-authored with philosopher Giovanni Gentile) is a concise and serious declaration of political principles.
Taking the long view, the democratization of Europe coincided almost perfectly with the Continent’s collapse into irrelevance. In 1914, Europeans and people of European descent – the people who had for all intents and purposes created modern civilization – dominated virtually the entire globe and made up a third of the world’s population. Less than 150 years after the triumph of democracy, these same people will have not only lost their global empires but are set to even lose control of their own nations, by becoming minorities in North America, Australasia, and even their historic, millennia-old homelands in Western Europe. They will have dwindled to less than 5% of the world population and may well become under siege, like the Christians of Lebanon or the Serbs of Kosovo. Surely we deserve a Cosmic Darwin Award for this.
To nationalists, postwar “democracy” was the regime which persecutes nationalists and systematically ignores the will of the people on the critical issue of immigration. It appears no more than a sham to them.
Albright acknowledges that Americans before agreed more because a narrower media class carefully curated what Americans were allowed to see and read and think. To address this, she wants to “put a saddle on the bucking bronco we call the Internet.” So much for democracy and free speech.
Liberal-democracy means majority rule . . . except when liberals strongly disagree with the majority (then, they believe, the action should be unconstitutional and/or the media-political class have a solemn duty to shut down the issue). In reality, all regimes, including “democratic” ones, have official or unofficial Platonic Guardians enforcing certain values and ideas. The question is not whether something is “democratic” but whether the values and ideas promoted by the Guardians are true.
Early on in her book, Albright says:
My students remarked that the Fascist chiefs we remember best were charismatic. Through one method or another, each established an emotional link to the crowd and, like the central figure of a cult, brought deep and often ugly feelings to the surface. This is how the tentacles of Fascism spread inside a democracy.
I believe that is the fundamental issue: Albright fears an organized mass of people with a strong emotional connection with a charismatic leader, one who could actually shake up the system. This reminds me of that Jewish journalist who was offended because French President François Mitterrand seemed to care more about the millions of Frenchmen who died in World War I than the millions of his fellow Jews who died in the Shoah: “[Mitterrand] became again, in these movements, that Gaulish chieftain that I did not like very much.”
No sir, they don’t like European chieftains leading impassioned followers. That could lead to a pogrom . . . or worse. Certainly, the current absurdly skewed and unjust situation in the Ivy Leagues (see the graphs in particular), the Democratic Party, and much of the elite and audiovisual media would probably be shut down. We can ask whether Albright’s fears reflect universal morality – as she claims – or simply a natural desire to defend one’s ethnic interests and privileges.
Albright’s alarmism about every tepid manifestation of Western civic nationalism and her casual ignoring of Jewish ethnonationalism – funded at American taxpayers’ expense and driving much of the murderous insanity of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, including under her tenure as secretary of State – is a hypocrisy sadly typical of many American liberal Jews. Influential Jewish groups like the ADL in America and the CRIF in France have promoted immigration and multiculturalism in the West all the while demanding support for Israel as a Jewish ethnostate. Growing awareness of this hypocrisy is contributing to the rise of anti-Jewish sentiment across the West today. Many liberals and/or Jews simply cannot comprehend that this is happening. But it is.
The sooner we can discuss all issues and acknowledge untruths and injustices on all sides, the sooner we will be able to find equitable and peaceful solutions to these problems. At least, that is my hope.
 Albright even quotes Orwell claiming that fascism is nothing more than “bullying.”
 I know Singapore allows some minor parties to exist notionally, but power is dominated by the People’s Action Party.