Mises Daily Articles
America's Unique Fascism
Five years ago, antiwar liberals calling the Bush administration fascist were labeled as kooks, marginalized by their own party leadership, accused by conservatives of treasonous thoughts worthy of federal punishment, even deportation. A few years pass, the policies hardly change, and the political dynamic turns upside down: tea-party conservatives accusing the Obama regime of fascist impulses are compared to terrorists, accused of being racists, told that their hyperbole is a real threat to the country's security.
The establishment derides both groups for their fringe outlook on America, convinced that the United States is anything but a fascist country. After all, isn't America the nation that defeated fascism in the 1940s? Sensible conservatives and liberals agree with that.
The unappreciated reality is that when the patriot Right and radical Left refer to the US system as fascistic, they have part of the truth but not the whole analysis. This is due to the blinders both sides wear concerning state power. Moreover, the criticisms sometimes fail to take account of America's very unique strain of fascism. This political program is distinct in every nation, always taking a different form but with some general themes in common. US fascism is a most insidious mixture of the key ingredients while maintaining the necessary nuance to snooker the masses, the media, and the respectable folks across the spectrum.
The FDR-Bush Program of Economic Corporatism
First, and this is key, we must look at the economic system. The left-liberals are proud to have had a role in creating its social-democratic elements. The conservatives are proud of America's towering financial and military institutions. Republicans and Democrats all pretend America has a free-enterprise system, attacking greedy profiteers while crediting themselves for the benefits of capitalism, blaming laissez-faire for all our problems while dissonantly congratulating themselves for having supplanted it with sensible regulation and safety nets once and for all.
The dirty little secret is that there has been a bipartisan project of corporatism, the economic underpinning of fascism, for almost a century. The regulatory bureaus, the banking establishment, agricultural policy, telecommunications planning, even the welfare state all enrich corporate interests, but at the ultimate direction of the state. One could say this arrangement was foreshadowed in Lincoln or even Hamilton. But it was during the World Wars and New Deal that the nation embarked upon something decisively fascistic.
Hitler, Mussolini, and the other fascists all employed a general approach of co-opting the market through huge governmental takeovers of industry while maintaining the pretense of private property. Along with this came interventions that would be considered socialistic in other contexts. Lew Rockwell very nicely summed up the economic programs of Hitler, which mirror the great prides of Progressive politics of the 20th century:
He suspended the gold standard, embarked on huge public works programs like Autobahns, protected industry from foreign competition, expanded credit, instituted jobs programs, bullied the private sector on prices and production decisions, vastly expanded the military, enforced capital controls, instituted family planning, penalized smoking, brought about national healthcare and unemployment insurance, imposed education standards, and eventually ran huge deficits. The Nazi interventionist program was essential to the regime's rejection of the market economy and its embrace of socialism in one country.
Much of this agenda was adopted in the United States during World War I, and then brought back to life in the New Deal. John T. Flynn, a leftist who initially supported Franklin Roosevelt then became disenchanted with the president's program of central planning, described the 1930s atmosphere of political ideology in his seminal work The Roosevelt Myth:
There was indeed a good deal of tolerance for the idea of planning our capitalist system even in the most conservative circles. And a man could support publicly and with vehemence this system of the Planned Economy without incurring the odium of being too much of a radical for polite and practical society."The United States boasts one of the most significant corporatist arrangements in the world in its alliance between the Federal Reserve and the big banks."
There was only one trouble with it. This was what Mussolini had adopted — the Planned Capitalist State. And he gave it a name — fascism. Then came Hitler and adopted the same idea. His party was called the Nazi party, which was derived from the initials of its true name, but it was dedicated to fascism….
Whatever it was, it was the direct opposite of liberalism. It was an attempt, somewhere between Communism and capitalism, to organize a stable society and to do it by setting up a State equipped with massive powers over the lives and fortunes of the citizens…. Yet this curiously un-American doctrine was being peddled in America as the bright flower of the liberals. Of course they did not call it fascism, because that had a bad name…. They called in the Planned economy. But it was and is fascism by whatever name it is known.
In specific, FDR's National Recovery Administration was fashioned after the industrial policy of Mussolini. Flynn explains:
[Mussolini] organized each trade or industrial group or professional group into a state-supervised trade association. He called it a corporative. These corporatives operated under state supervision and could plan production, quality, prices, distribution, labor standards, etc. The NRA provided that in America each industry should be organized into a federally supervised trade association. It was not called a corporative. It was called a Code Authority. But it was essentially the same thing. These code authorities could regulate production, quantities, qualities, prices, distribution methods, etc., under the supervision of the NRA. This was fascism.
Such an analysis of the New Deal as fascism is not only found in the Old Right or their libertarian successors. Historian Thaddeus Russell's great chapter "Behold a Dictator: Fascism and the New Deal" in his new book A Renegade History of the United States comes from a leftist perspective and arrives at much the same conclusions. Many of the greatest progressive intellectuals and business elites of Roosevelt's time were especially enamored of Mussolini's regime.
The men who made the New Deal were driven by dreams of a machinelike society, in which all members, from the leaders of government to the lowliest workers, would be parts designed, built, and employed entirely for their function within the whole apparatus. But to their dismay, these men found that most Americans rejected such dreams, except during times of crisis. The First World War was the first such crisis.… But then came the peace and prosperity of the 1920s, a long time of waiting for another national emergency that could make their fantasies of social order come true.
This mirrors Robert Higgs's ratchet-effect thesis and the insights found in his books Crisis and Leviathan and Depression, War, and Cold War, in regard both to the general expansion of state power during crises and the particular ways World War I and the New Deal solidified a state that Higgs has, with a nod to Charlotte Twight, referred to as "participatory fascism."
What makes FDR's role in American fascism so insidious is that as the greatest 20th-century liberal president who led America to war with the Nazis, he is often characterized as the prototypical US antifascist. The great Smedley Butler, a brilliant critic of America's merchants of death, was very concerned that reactionary forces along with the military came close to dethroning FDR and creating a fascist regime. But one must ask, could anyone tell the difference? What would the anti-FDR fascists do — wage total war? Nationalize the economy? Put American citizens into concentration camps based on race? Create a permanent military-corporate establishment? To discuss a possible fascist coup in the years of Franklin Roosevelt is to ignore that it in fact happened — a "revolution within the form," as Garet Garrett described it.
Also insidious is the great respect most Republicans have for FDR, whether it's acknowledged or not. Reagan was a devout New Dealer who never abandoned this orientation when he became governor or president. George W. Bush's entire economic program was also thoroughly Rooseveltian — expanding Medicare to the benefit of the pharmaceutical companies, an "ownership society" (how fascist does that sound!?) intended to shore up the real-estate and finance sectors, an attempt to corporatize Social Security (thereby saving FDR's domestic triumph, itself a copy from a Prussian program of the 19th century), the bipartisan bailouts of financial institutions, steel tariffs, further nationalization of education, and all the rest.
The Democrats, for their part, continue with the fascist economics they adopted four generations ago, and it leads to a good deal of confusion as they are the "liberal" party. Yet when Obama plans to force individuals to buy private health insurance, picks corporate giants to head up regulatory offices, schemes to create a phony market in carbon credits, and widens the revolving door between Wall Street and the Oval Office, he along with his party is only continuing down the road of their Mussolinian predecessors.
One of the most horrifying parts of fascist economics, autarky, has even been mimicked by all presidents since Nixon in their crazed calls for "energy independence." We also see it in the hysteria about jobs being oursourced. Today it often has an environmental spin, and there is not the beating on the podium and screaming of Lebensraum, but the protectionism and codependency between favored American businesses and the omnipotent state, all with a nationalist focus, are nevertheless there for anyone to see.
It could be countered that many other nations have corporate states as well. Perhaps they too have fascist tendencies. Yet there are a few corporatist features singular to the United States. As the holder of the world's reserve currency, and given that money is half of most economic transactions, the United States boasts one of the most significant corporatist arrangements in the world in its alliance between the Federal Reserve and the big banks. The US government, in absolute terms, claims the largest of all regressive welfare programs in the form of Social Security. It is likely the global leader in intellectual-property enforcement, both in domestic and international terms, with most nations trailing considerably behind in this increasingly draconian form of corporate privilege. As the grandest Leviathan preying over the world's richest nation, the US corporate state is in its own class.
Flynn's insight that the economic structure of America's planned economy is fascist whatever label we affix to it is echoed in a much more recent and popular authority. In an episode of South Park, Kyle the idiosyncratically precocious kid has this great exchange with his father:
Kyle's dad: "You see Kyle, we live in a liberal-democratic society, and democrats make sexual harassment laws; these laws tell us what we can and can't say in the work place, and what we can and can't do in the work place."
Kyle: "Isn't that fascism?"
Kyle's dad: "No, because we don't call it fascism."
Up and down the economy, at all levels of government, bureaucrats and planners dictate details in nearly all areas of economic behavior, with the principle that some sectors should simply be free of government intrusion having been totally discarded. If we have large swaths of economic liberty in America, and we do, this is by accident, or merely due to the state's institutional limits in being able to run everything. The ideological thrust of US economic policy is that we may live our commercial lives freer than in many places, but all upon the good graces of the state, its cartels, licensing boards, and regulatory apparatuses. Even our homes are private property only insofar as it serves the interest of the state, which claims the right to seize anything we own if it bolsters the tax receipts garnered through the state-business nexus. The business environment adheres to a rapidly expanding litany of commercial codes, many of them designed not even by legislature but by executive or judicial fiat. Taken together, this is the essence of economic fascism.
A major feature of the fascist powers in the 1930s and 1940s was their belligerence. Without the militarism and war making, these regimes may have never drawn the ire of the United States and its allies, we are often told, and it's probably true. It is thus bizarre to hear conservatives voice concern about America's slide toward fascism without acknowledging this central aspect. The United States is the most militarily belligerent nation since World War II, with a very competitive résumé from decades before that. The United States appears to have been at war with more nations than any other. The United States has dominated the world in bombings, with no other nation coming close, certainly not in the last six decades. Taking the estimates of civilians killed due to US wars of aggression, strategic bombings, and sanctions on food and medicine, the death toll easily surpasses ten million.
The United States spends more on national offense than the rest of the world combined. There are now five wars raging — in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya — and it is treated as normal, not an extraordinary state of affairs at all. And it isn't one. About every generation the United States has had a major war — 1812, Mexico, Lincoln's War, Spanish-American, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and the war on terrorism.
In the overwhelming majority of the world's nations we can find US bases. Virtually no state is treated neutrally; all are favored and bribed, bullied and manipulated, or invaded with the goal of conquest. Many of the most bloody regimes and insurgent forces in the world have been allied to the US government, from Stalin's Russia to Pol Pot's Cambodia, from the proto-Taliban in Afghanistan to Saddam Hussein's Iraq. The United States has trained dozens of states and armies in the arts of torture and terror. One year the United States will opportunistically side with a ruthless dictator, only to backstab him — often at the very moment he is least menacing to the rest of the world. These foreign activities are all characteristic of a fascist power.
At home, American culture is saturated by militarism, and it is not a modern anomaly. The flag, national anthem, presidency, Constitution, relationship between the federal government and the states, the major welfare programs, prohibition, police policies, weaponry and conduct, the very territory that defines US boundaries — it can all be clearly traced to war. America is not the only state infected by this militarist taint, but it is the most prominent such nation today with pretensions of peace loving to have an undisturbed history of war making, virtually none of which the current national culture looks upon with shame.
Although the United States has long had a militaristic fever, we have seen it reach absurd proportions in recent years. Robert Higgs, in his recent interview with Jeffrey Tucker, put it very well:
One hears lately, unfortunately, at sporting events, at baseball games, at football games, certain interludes of worship for the armed forces. I find it disgusting myself because I like baseball and I don't want my baseball to be spoiled by intrusions of nationalistic fervor and worship of the armed forces. To me baseball is glorious for being a peaceful activity. We don't have to kill people to find excitement in life.
It is the same way in the churches, in the media, in the business sector. The armed forces are honored and privileged, enjoying a very high official status, even as the injured who return from war are typically mistreated by the very institutions on whose behalf they risked their lives. A returning soldier is a higher form of life than a common citizen. But in the midst of the state's institutions, he is still just a used-up cog, the repair of which is often not worth it to the machine.
Militarism is not as nakedly on display as in Germany at the height of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, yet we must also consider the continuity. The United States has been steadily militaristic for most of the last century, and much of the previous one. It is unapologetically so, even when there is some subtlety to it. Although the cultural Right is much more militaristic, the Left is also dominated by love of the armed forces. Franklin Roosevelt, hero to most of the Left, was father of the modern military-industrial complex as well as nuclear weaponry. Left-liberals love claiming the legacy of America's most beloved war, and they love the myths that surround that state undertaking for having unified the culture and brought America out of the Depression. World War II supposedly demonstrates the efficacy of central planning, as well as the necessity to kill untold numbers of innocent people, on occasion, which is why both statist wings of the American political class love it so dearly.
It is almost impossible to get very high in the national culture with a radically antiwar outlook, to say nothing of an antimilitary one. There is much that is taboo to say in American life, but principled critiques of war making, based on the common-sense morality concerning questions about the taking of innocent life, are probably at the top of the list.
Economically, the so-called defense industry stands as a giant. Major defense contractors have infrastructure in nearly every state, and their hands in virtually every sector of government — from TSA and the Department of Agriculture to the IRS and Homeland Security, from NASA and the Food and Drug Administration down to the New York Police Department. Very few critics of this regime get very far in the mainstream.
The Leader Principle with a Twist
In the United States, any natural-born citizen can grow up to be the president, we are often reminded, demonstrating once more, as if any more evidence were needed, that America is the greatest nation in history, its people the chosen people to lead the world. America is proud to advertise itself as the king of democracies. There is no religious test to be president. There is no familial restriction. Every four or eight years, we see the peaceful transfer of power — unprecedented, demonic power — and Americans can thus say with pride that more than any other nation in the world, "the people here really are the government — the greatest government there ever was."
Yet when that American citizen is in office, he (or she, as I'm sure we'll see soon enough) is basically God on earth. Is there a minor or major problem with America's economy, or the world's? The president shall respond. Is school violence or sex on television becoming a problem? The president will send one of his officials to fix it. Is injustice transpiring overseas? The president shall see to it immediately. Healthcare, energy, immigration, social peace, crime, marriage, international trade — nothing is to be tackled without the consultation or active involvement of the president.
One would think the president works a 75-hour day, given his supposed capacity to heal the sick, fix the market, bring democracy to Afghanistan, stamp out drugs in Mexico, secure the auto industry, stand as a role model, unify the nation, end racism, teach all children — not a one left behind — to read, decide when to launch nuclear weapons and which other nations are worthy of having them, save Americans from natural disasters, fix the weather, and get everyone into homes with ever-increasing sale values at ever-declining costs.
This is such an important, holy office, that the president never travels anywhere without a vast legion of bodyguards, medical personnel, executive officials, and dozens if not hundreds of others. No one else in the world has ever had such a personal army. Wherever the president travels, the local population must surrender its petty business and witness entire neighborhoods overtaken by the head of state's coterie of pampering assistants and armed guardians.
Americans are enamored of the flawed, everyday persona of the president. They loved Reagan for losing his temper. They adored Clinton for his foibles. They liked it that Bush was a guy with whom you could have a beer, that Obama listens to the same music that they do. They love the idea that, unlike in other fascist regimes, the president can be anybody. And that person can then opt to torture and kill anyone on earth, or destroy any third-world nation on his (or her — it must be emphasized) say-so.
When it comes to power — the actual control the president has over resources and his capacity to destroy human life — no other fascist leader has ever approached what is at the US president's fingertips. No other political office has lasted so long with so much Caesarian prerogative. No other political position was ever believed by so many to have the power to do so much good. In America, the president is a deity — which, paradoxically, is why so many political opponents take it so personally when someone they dislike has the office. Some Americans don't want to see the greatness of their country tarnished by a perjurer like Clinton or a doofus like Bush. They might even question the officeholder's legitimacy, as with Obama. But this is because the office is so revered. The presidency itself is upheld as the commanding office of the nation, the secular savior of the world. It is the godhead of America's democratic omnipotence. It is a sacred position. The fact it is an elected office occupied by imperfect souls only bolsters its unparalleled grandeur. To say the leader principle isn't alive and well in this country is to define the concept too narrowly.
A Peculiar Blend of Multicultural and Racial Statism
But the United States doesn't round people up on the basis of ethnicity and gas them, the protest comes, and so surely it is not fascist. The United States isn't based around the concept of racial superiority. Although the Nazis were surely obsessed with racist nationalism, not all fascist systems are. Nevertheless, fascism has been associated with racism and so it is important to acknowledge how this plays into our analysis.
In the United States, PC multiculturalism can at times be as overbearing as old-fashioned bigotry. People have lost their jobs for harmless comments. Others are denied opportunities in academia because they don't have minority status. This does not rise to the level of Nazi hatred, for sure, although we can remember that the anti-Jewish crusade began as an affirmative-action program, based on the concern that Jews were overrepresented in places of influence.
More important in US fascism is the role multiculturalism plays in guarding against the accusations of violent prejudice. The US government already addressed racial strife, our textbooks say. If racism remains, it is a problem with the culture and private sector — not the egalitarian state. The war machine and federal government were the saviors of blacks. LBJ, the same man who slaughtered millions of Asians, signed the Civil Rights Act, and so the federal government has been elevated to the status of being the final solution to racism, the redemption of America's past sins. The all-out assault on property rights involved in civil-rights legislation is itself a form of antiracist fascism, yet to say so is to be met with incredulous perplexity, at best.
Under the official code of American ideology, almost nothing is worse than being a racist, which is why the tea party is smeared this way and why Al Gore is comparing global warming skeptics to the racists of a previous generations. It is why the conservatives, too, try to use racism accusations to discredit liberals who dare criticize Clarence Thomas, Condoleezza Rice, or Herman Cain.
At the same time, the American state continues to divide people by race. It imprisons blacks at an alarming rate so that there are now more black men in the correctional system than there were enslaved in 1850. The state is still the greatest oppressor of ethnic minorities, who still get the worst of the police state's violence. Because much of the state's war on blacks and other minorities is in the form of regulatory and welfare practices wrongly thought to help the poor and minorities — welfare, public housing, government schools, licensing, minimum-wage laws, coercive unionism and so on — very few Americans identify the problem of racist statism comprehensively. Leviathan is a bad deal for whites as well as blacks, elevating only the political class at the expense of all.
Although the United States is more culturally tolerant of immigrants than most nations, here too we see racial politics mixed with statism to produce violence against individual rights. Indeed, the specter of mass deportation of peaceful people, the effort to crack down on all business relationships involving an illegal, and the underlying nationalism involved in the demarcation between the rights of legal residents and aliens all speak to the fascism involved in the US system. Immigration was once a much more locally handled, market-regulated matter. With the central state in charge of racial politics and the creation of national identity, liberty for all suffers.
It is the warfare state, however, where American racism is the worst, the most sanctioned, and the most dangerous. Interestingly, the empire uses both political correctness and racism to enhance its power: for example, criticizing US ties with Israel is smeared as anti-Semitism while disregard for the rights of Arabs feeds US wars abroad. Although anticolonialism and even antiracism have long been part of war propaganda, the outright hate of foreigners has always served the interests of the militarists, from the vilification of the Spanish and the dehumanization of the Filipinos to the demonization of the Germans in World War I to the gruesome caricatures of Japanese found everywhere in the 1940s and today's disgusting treatment of Muslims.
Americans actually take seriously ideas to forbid the construction of mosques in some areas, proving that intolerance of groups based on race and religion is a very real threat. On a related note, religion plays a fascinating part of American fascism, as both devout Christians and secular liberals see the state as a divine institution. For the fascist Left the state is its secular God. For the fascist Right the US government is an arm of God's holy will. Fear of godlessness was key in the Cold War, just as fear of fundamentalist Muslims fuels the war on terror and fear of unusual Christian sects has led to their deprivation of rights at Waco and elsewhere.
The worst is seen in the United States' treatment of foreigners, blown apart in war as if they are vermin. An important point here is the other fascist regimes have been historically discredited, and the modern incarnations of these nation-states don't speak with pride about their past. Modern Germany is not at all boastful of its National Socialist era. With America it is different. This is the state and statist culture that wiped out the Indians, kept blacks enslaved, dropped atoms bombs on Japanese civilians and put their American counterparts in concentration camps — and yet these historical injustices, however much lamented today, do not bring into question the overall legitimacy of the American state that boasts an uninterrupted lineage of sovereignty that encompassed all these atrocities.
The United States smacks of pride for its centuries of governance, despite the many millions enslaved and crushed under its boot. We should not be surprised that modern American political culture continues to treat foreigners as though they are subhuman. When Pakistani children die in US drone wars, or Mexicans die by the tens of thousands purely because of US drug policy, it is all seen as a price well worth paying — if it is even acknowledged at all. The prevailing dichotomy that there are Americans, worthy of rights, and there are others, totally dispensable in achieving US goals, is a construct easily befitting of national socialism.
American fascism has managed a wondrous trick, using old-fashioned racism as well as officially defined antiracism to shore up its power. Washington's civil-rights crusade as well as inhuman disregard for "the other" in perpetuating its totalitarian violence overseas reinforce each other in a most nefarious way, blinding people to the danger of mixing racial politics with total power no matter what the aim. Its wars abroad are always for equality, democracy, humanity. Its domestic state balloons with power to combat social strife. But from Wounded Knee to Guantánamo, the truly disenfranchised have another story to tell.
A Socially Moderate Police State
Social conservatives generally find accusations of US fascism to be preposterous — offensive when Republicans reign and absurd when Democrats rule — partly because from their perspective almost all manner of cultural liberalism, decadence, political correctness, sexual permissiveness, and so forth cannot be escaped, not in the public schools, the FCC-licensed big media, the government-endorsed view of mainstream society. They see Christianity pushed out of the schools and public sphere, including in local city Christmas events, and believe if there is any tyranny in America it is of a left-wing variety.
Although bourgeois American culture has been co-opted by state institutions, particularly through militarism, it is true that the counterculture too has been absorbed by American civic ideology. It is a good thing that state harassment of people outside the mainstream of sexuality has been minimized, but it is important to note that just because the United States is more "socially tolerant" than in past times doesn't mean it's freer, even when it comes to personal rights. It is crucial to note that just because presidents admit to trying pot and the government finances condoms for students and museums devoted to rock music does not mean liberalism of a genuine sort has triumphed.
The public schools are a microcosm of the issue. Many see in them cesspools of deviancy, libertinism, a total disrespect for old culture, conventionally defined family values and hierarchy, or even the traditional conception of the role for schooling: reading, writing, arithmetic. Yet these institutions are thoroughly fascistic, hierarchical according to ageism and an arbitrary placement of authority in teachers and administrators. They have come to resemble low-security prisons, complete with metal detectors, armed guards, and summary searches. Students are spied upon and regulated even in their time away from class. Young children are suspended and punished over the smallest of offenses, even handcuffed and told they're heading to prison, never to see their parents again. It is no coincidence, probably, that America's school system and the Nazi regime both had vital origins in Bismarck's Prussia. The Right looks at our schools and sees decadence and debauchery. Yet there is also spirit-crushing authoritarianism.
To emphasize the socially liberal flavor of the American police state is not to say that the fringe is always tolerated by society, much less government. The persecution of sex workers continues and those involved in certain verboten consensual sexual activities — such as teenagers caught sending each other nude photos in class — can face years of jail and the institutional shame of being labeled "sex offenders" for their victimless behavior.
The greatest cause of prison growth and one of the worst abuses of liberty in America has been the war on drugs. Although America prides itself for being more liberal than its Muslim enemies on the question of alcohol, it incarcerates hundreds of thousands of people whose only substantive offense was against the state-imposed norms of pharmacologically induced brain chemistry. And even as the prospect of marijuana legalization seems bright, those who continue to be marginalized — psychedelic, heroin, and illegal-stimulant users — will continue to be subjected to imprisonment, which in America often effectively means frequent beatings, inter-inmate slavery, and rape. Moreover, the reach of the US drug war is global — there is nothing really like an international crusade against victimless crimes akin to America's bullying of most of the world to go along with its drug policy, as it has done in increasing levels of intensity for a century.
Drug oppression doesn't stop at recreational users and outcast addicts, either. The Food and Drug Administration has devastated millions of families with its totalitarian dictates, depriving hundreds of thousands of needed and effective medicines, cutting countless lives short. Its cozy relationship with some of the big pharmaceutical firms reminds us of the economic component of this fascist arm of the American state. But the underlying principle that in America you do not own your body sufficiently to decide whether to take a substance — whether cocaine or experimental cancer medications — is a fascist pretension if ever there was one. Meanwhile, those deemed "mentally ill" also face numerous severe restrictions on their civil liberties, although Thomas Szasz has done a wonderful thing in greatly reducing this element of American fascism.
The state doesn't break down our doors to lock up all political dissidents or liquidate racial minorities by the thousands, so it is sometimes assumed our system is nothing like fascism, although we should remember that Mussolini's state wasn't as bad as Hitler's, and even Hitler's regime didn't develop into an exterminationist project right away. Although the US government isn't as totalitarian in practice as some states have been, we must look at the potential power just waiting to be unleashed. In a mundane sense, America's police-state tentacles are indeed more ubiquitous and grandiose than anything that has ever existed on the planet.
The surveillance state is unprecedented, without even the façade of due process involved in spying that existed before 9/11. The government seeks to monitor all. Antigovernment critics are indeed tracked and at times arrested. Whistleblowers are detained and mistreated. Torture is normalized. Indefinite detention without cause is a bipartisan, unchallenged policy. America boasts the largest incarcerated population, both per capita and in absolute terms, on earth. The death penalty persists, rare among industrialized, modern nations, and a policy without which, we must remember, industrial-style genocide is essentially impossible.
The police presence increases year by year, and becomes ever more dangerous. Thousands of American citizens have been killed by police in the last decade alone. Ethnic minorities, the youth, illegal immigrants, and other classically alienated groups are especially vulnerable. But no one is safe. There are a hundred SWAT raids a day. No matter what someone's station in life, there is the threat of being jailed for an unbelievably petty offense, injured during a traffic stop, or shot by a police officer. No matter how wealthy someone is, there is a threat that a regulatory technicality or contrived offense like "obstruction of justice" can land one in a federal pen. Incidents such as the Waco massacre and the roundup of weapons at Katrina reminds us of how universal the threat to liberty is, regardless of demographics.
Just because you can watch half-nude women on afternoon television or gay men kissing on the streets of nearly any major city does not mean America is free, as complacent liberals might think, much less too free, as conservatives often suggest. Just because most dissidents are left alone doesn't mean there is no police state, for that would be convenient indeed for the police statists: the idea that people ought not complain so long as they have the right to do so.
America's Unique Fascism
American fascism is one of a kind. Its economic system is neither free enterprise nor pure egalitarian socialism, but more akin to a buffed-up, modernized, globally dominant Mussolinian corporate state. Its militarism rivals and in many senses exceeds any of history's fascist regimes, in power, uninterrupted belligerence, and sheer size. Its presidency is the most revered and powerful führership in world history, despite and actually due to its democratic nature. America's racial nationalism is unusual but very real, combined with pretensions of antiracism. Its police state enslaves and punishes, at home and abroad, in ways that would make Franco or Perón envious, even as it allows for a relatively wide range of social liberty.
When Keith Olbermann called Bush a fascist in 2008, the conservatives thought it seditious and threatening. When Glenn Beck began sounding the alarm in 2009 that America was moving toward fascism, the progressives thought it crazy and dangerous. Both of these statements were not hyperbole, however. If anything, antiwar lefties and populist rightists only know the half of it when they use the dread "F" word, since they fail to note how intimately much of their own favored agenda falls in line with what they despise.