14 Characteristics of Fascism and Why India Should Be Worried
For the moment I know this: there are sick people and they need curing.
(Albert Camus, The Plague)
The early symptoms of a disease have surfaced in India, and we should take urgent collective measures before it turns into a plague, and threaten to destroy the very idea of India as enshrined in our constitution. Many scholars and philosophers have attempted to understand the essential traits of fascism; in his 1995 essay “Eternal Fascism”, Umberto Eco lists 14 general properties of fascist ideology that includes ‘Disagreement is Treason’ and ‘Non-truths & Lying/Spread of Propaganda’ where critical thinking and ideas are attempted to be suppressed through cunning plots and brutality. In lieu of the recent events stemming from JNU, we can see the ominous symptoms unfolding before the nation.
The language of hate, hysterical nationalism, witch-hunting by mobs and the threat of violence are being unleashed – even celebrity Right Wing supporters are using words like ‘ pest control of roaches are going on in the country right now’ – almost mirroring the exact words which were trumpeted just before the Rwanda Genocide. More than anyone else, a political scientist has come closer to identifying the essential characteristics of fascism. Dr. Lawrence Britt wrote an article titled ‘Fascism Anyone?’ which appeared in Free Inquiry Magazine – a journal of humanist thought – in 2003.
Dr. Lawrence Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each.
I quote the following from the above mentioned source:
1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism – Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.
- Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights – Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.
- Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause – The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.
- Supremacy of the Military – Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.
- Rampant Sexism – The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.
- Controlled Mass Media – Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.
- Obsession with National Security – Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.
- Religion and Government are Inter-twined – Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions.
- Corporate Power is Protected – The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.
- Labour Power is Suppressed – Because the organizing power of labour is the only real threat to a fascist government, labour unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.
- Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts – Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.
- Obsession with Crime and Punishment – Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.
- Rampant Cronyism and Corruption – Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.
Fraudulent Elections – Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.”
Even though it is in our nature to overlook unpleasant truths, we have to think: how many of the fascist characteristics have begun to appear in India? One can easily assess that something like ‘Rampant Cronyism and Corruption’ has forever stifled our nation; some of the other characteristics have appeared in our history – especially during the times of the Emergency; but most of the ominous characteristics have started to appear now, and are already threatening to become the ‘new usual’.
Urgent measures are required to prevent the fascist characteristics from developing. The four pillars of Democracy: The Executive (The Government), Legislature (Parliament & State Assemblies), Judiciary and the Media need to find their sense and conscience, and fulfil their non-partisan societal responsibilities. The holy book of our nation – the Indian Constitution – needs to be enshrined in our minds as more sacred than the love of political ideologies. Rampant polarisations need to be contained by the humanist idea of the citizen. And more importantly, the fifth pillar of Modern Democracy – the social media – needs to be hyper vigilant.
The meaning of development is not only the material development, but also of the immaterial – the development of consciousness. History has taught us that blind nationalism has been the foremost symptom of fascism; from Einstein to Tagore, nationalism has been criticized and condemned. Fascism stems from the nature of the human self. The ego driven impulse of ‘will to profit’, ‘will to power’ and ‘will to dominate’ without the temperance from the soul driven impulse of conscience, ethics and fairness bring nothing but eventual disasters.
Our philosophers have also been warning about this for thousands of years. From the Dhammapada to the Bhagawad Gita we find that the negative characteristics of the human self – the devilish, the unrighteous and the fools – have been enumerated. Those characteristics – arrogant pride, violent deeds, malignant speech, malicious intent, obsession with gains, cruelty, deceit, selfishness, hypocrisy, force, hate, delusions – unsurprisingly are also the negative impulses which give rise to the characteristics of fascism as brought to light by Dr. Britt.
It is a time of reckoning for all of us; we as a Nation must resist the fascist symptoms through non-violent protests, earnest appeals to the conscience and collective self-expression. Even those who have no interest in politics and go about their lives silently, they too cannot afford to stand as apathetic onlookers who think this will not affect them; it surely will, in ways, you cannot imagine. We will have to stand against the fascist symptoms and speak up now; otherwise, it might just be too late, and the untreated viral symptoms will turn into a plague.