Or, The Worth of Grandiose Nationwide Myths of Exceptionalism
There’s a query that’s been echoing in my head. One I feel that historical past will ask. Why didn’t People take fascism critically till it was too late?
Maybe that sounds harsh, perhaps even absurd to you. So let me qualify it a little bit. “Fascism”. Associates, when a head of state desires to carry navy parades — and never clapping is treason —LOL — is there one other phrase, concept, or idea that matches higher? Isn’t it then a willful denial of actuality to say that such a watershed second in a nation’s historical past is, if not outright atrocity, at the least not the glittering spark of fascist implosion?
“Till it was too late”. There are numerous methods it may be “too late”. Till nothing may be executed about it — or till, at the least, the phenomenon itself occurred. Right here, I imply the latter. People didn’t take fascism critically till, ultimately, it (fairly actually) paraded itself earlier than their very eyes — and demanded they applaud on ache of treason. Sieg Heil! And perhaps they nonetheless don’t. How humorous. How unusual.
Now that you simply perceive my query maybe it appears rather less excessive. Or perhaps it nonetheless does. Perhaps that displays the occasions we reside in. “Why didn’t People take the opportunity of fascism critically till it trumpeted down Structure Avenue, letting the entire world comprehend it had arrived?” Both manner, allow us to attempt to derive a solution.
Now. The primary manner a nation may fail to take fascism critically is trivial: there was nobody left to warn of its risks. However in America, at the least a number of of its thinkers did. They had been sidelined, blacklisted, and intentionally erased. So the query then turns into: why did it change into a taboo to even talk about the rise of fascism as a distant risk — if not a possible chance? Each single main media outlet spent all of election 12 months publishing items warning us to not use phrases like “fascism” and “authoritarianism” and “Hitler” and “Mussolini” — once they weren’t doing puff items on sympathetic Nazis. So there was an issue not of a lack of awareness in America — however of a wierd, weird, glib sort of willful ignorance. A nation made itself blind, and now the authoritarians march and demand applause.
Why was that? Effectively, staying blind, we are able to go on believing our myths, which consolation and console us — that’s precisely what elites had been doing once they mentioned issues like “you can’t name it fascism!! Such a factor won’t ever rise right here!! We’re the very best!!!”. However, paradoxically — right here is the purpose — it’s the overweening perception in nice myths that makes societies most weak to fascism.
America has lengthy had a tradition of hierarchy, obedience, and overt, unforgiving social management. Break a rule — go to jail. Go to work — obey the boss. Go to high school — recite the Pledge. And so forth. Why? These are are methods to implement a sort of conformity, aren’t they? Not simply in thought — but in addition in look, in speech, in behaviour. In that manner, they make true believers of nationwide myths.
Now, there’s not a nation in historical past whose myths don’t say one thing like “we’re fantastic and nice and noble!!” That’s the level of myths — to create a way of confidence in a tribe. Then an individual can provide themselves over to the tribe’s objectives, functions, and makes use of — you, be a soldier, you, a health care provider, you, a ditch-digger.
Nonetheless, some nations have extra grandiose myths than others, don’t they? Some say: “effectively, we’re fairly good”, and a few say, “we’re the very best on the earth!!”, and different nonetheless say “we’re the very best in historical past!! The perfect there ever was or will probably be!!”
Now, what occurs the extra grandiose a delusion will get? The much less room left there’s for dissent, for distinction, for reflection, for thought in any respect. There’s not even any room left for motive, empirical actuality, or humanity — however these are more durable issues. So on this manner, a society so depending on myths as grandiose as America’s is at all times vulnerable to plunging into little fascisms. The darkish facet of “We’re the very best!” is “These filthy subhumans!! They’re what’s stopping us from attaining our god-given future!! We should cleanse ourselves of them to be the very best!!”
So what do a nation’s myths defend it from? From actuality. From its very actual shortcomings and flaws and errors and catastrophes. They mythologize them away — they rationalize them away (“we needed to do it!!”), they economize them away (“the advantages had been better than the prices!”), they erase them away (“that basically occurred?! It couldn’t have been as dangerous as that!!”). The extra grandiose its myths are, the extra indifferent from actuality a nation can get.
What are such errors in American historical past? It might be an error to that is the one fascist second in American historical past. There have been many. Anti-Chinese language legal guidelines. Japanese internment. Italian discrimination. Anti-semitism. And naturally the numerous horrors of slavery, segregation, and native genocide, too, can’t go unsaid. These factors make a pattern, a leaning in the direction of sudden collapses into fascism, which could appear small relative to Nazi Germany, however assuredly weren’t to these dwelling by them. There’s a distinct fascist tendency in American historical past that isn’t oft current elsewhere. This second in American historical past will not be an anomaly.
Nonetheless, this second feels particular, doesn’t it? Why is that? As a result of now it’s not simply minorities vulnerable to fascism’s depredations — however the majority , too. Do you see how a society that depends upon myths can’t be taught from its errors? Do you see how the societies that rely most on grandiose myths as types of social management and cohesion, then, are essentially the most weak to fascist implosions?
The extra grandiose a nation’s myths, the extra weak it’s to fascism — and that’s the reason America’s historical past has been marked by fascist implosions. The extra grandiose a nation’s myths, the extra harsh and exploitative it have to be too, similar to any narcissist, who must defend his sense of specialness and future at any worth. And the extra grandiose a nation’s myths, the much less it will possibly ever admit its errors — and so the vicious cycle simply goes on and on. Fascist implosions by no means cease. Progress slows to a halt. Life stops bettering. Tribal takes maintain. Cruelty turns into a lifestyle. Sound acquainted but?
So all that is — and I admit it’s exhausting to grasp, come to grips with, get a really feel for — the issue that America should face, in a deeper manner. It’s reliance on grandiose nationwide myths of greatness and exceptionalism have shielded and guarded it for too lengthy, from at the least three facets of actuality. First, historical past: its tendency to implode into fascism. Second, economics: the failure to write down a working social contract that every one the above implies. Third, modernity: its incapacity to maintain up with the remainder of the superior world by way of primary high quality of life because the 1970s or so. Except these three facets are confronted, then, I feel that America will probably be as weak to fascist collapses because it has ever been.
Solely America’s fascist collapses are prone to develop worse. Why is that? We now have established that it’s now even the bulk who’s vulnerable to fascism’s harms — not solely the minority. What does that basically imply? It signifies that America by no means constructed a working social contract. It was at all times mandatory to take advantage of, enslave, or activate somebody, for the financial system to grind away.
It’s true to say that in historical past, that a lot was true for each colonial empire — nevertheless it was distinctly not true after the waves of reform that swept the remainder of the world from the late 1900s onwards, and established, for instance, NHSes and BBCs. America was too busy, as an alternative, in search of the following group to take advantage of — as soon as the final had been chewed up, natives, blacks, Asians, Latinos. Till, ultimately, there was nobody left — however poor whites themselves.
One can hardly blame them for turning to fascism, then. How a lot simpler it’s consider in myths of especial greatness and the Aristocracy and future on the exact second that you’re being exploited, than to ask your self to see the horrible fact: you’ve got been failed, simply as all these round you’ve got been failed. Nobody was particular, above anybody else, or singular. All had been victims of a damaged lifestyle.
Myths may liberate us in a method — they permit us to reside lives stuffed with pleasure and perception — however they subjugate us in others: pleasure quickly sufficient turns into hubris, and perception quickly sufficient turns into ignorance. And so the extra grandiose a delusion is, the more durable the autumn. It’s liberation from that subjugation, of hubris and ignorance, that People want most. If that sounds harsh to you, I can solely say this a lot: I imply it in a delicate manner, as a result of the work of liberating one’s self is at all times troublesome. Generally, too troublesome to bear — particularly when there are nice fairy tales of your very personal specialness and preciousness to be informed and heard and stored protected and pure.
That’s the reason People didn’t see fascism coming till it was too late. They by no means do.