In “Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt,” Umberto Eco lists out features of fascism and points out that “it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around us.” Traditionalism, the longing for a mythological past, looms larges as one of the defining features of fascism. This gazing backwards, immediately raises a wall to learning and expansion, it says, as Eco puts it, that “[t]ruth already has been spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message.”
Along with a longing for a non-existent bygone past, fascism explicitly rejects any semblance of diversity that disagrees with those in power and uses the “fear of difference” as a means of solidifying and maintaining power. Eco points out, “The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.”
While we have seen aspects of fascism over the years, we are seeing the hallmarks of fascism in places like Florida and elsewhere in the United States, and we must, let we become like the speaker of Martin Niemöller’s poem, speak out before “there [is] no one left to speak for [us].” The proposed Florida House Bill 999: Public Postsecondary Educational Institutions is just another salvo in the rise and proliferation of fascism in the United States. The proposed bill is a sweeping revision of Florida’s postsecondary educational system providing board of trustees the power to hire and fire faculty, revising general education requirements, and more.
Part of this overhaul includes the removal of any program, major or minor, “in Critical Race Theory, Gender Studies, or Intersectionality, or any derivative major or minor of these belief systems” which “espouse diversity, equity, and inclusion.” Along with the removal of these programs, the core general education classes must “not suppress or distort significant historical events” or present any narrative about “American history as contrary to the creation of a new nation based on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.”
Essentially, HB 999 tells educators and university administration that they must adhere to these points, and more, in order to maintain their jobs. While the bill does not mention what will happen, explicitly, if a faculty member goes against on of the above mentioned points, the set up, through tenure review process and other factors, hints that the faculty member would lose their position. This bill, and other nationally, reminds me of The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service that the Nazis passed two months after Hitler’s ascendancy to the chancellorship of Germany.
The law excluded the Nazi’s political opponents and Jews from all civil service positions. University professors were civil servants, so the law tragetted them as well. As Saul Friedlander points out in Nazi Germany and the Jews Volume 1: The Years of Persecution, 1933–1939, it was one of the frist major salvos of Nazi persecution of Jews, Communists, LGBTQ individuals, and anyone who dared to challenge their positions and views. Coming a week after the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses on April 1, 1933, the law became a spear tip aimed at those who the Nazis deemed as a threat or inferior to them and their control.
The Jewish boycott and the Law for the Restoriation of the Professional Civil Service worked in tandem, bot through the legal avenues and the street level avenues to foment anti-Semitisim and violence. We see the same ting happening today in the United States with neo-Nazis and anti-Semitic groups protesting musicals such as Parade, a play based on the lynching of Leo Frank in Georgia. We see it in book bannings, like those occurring in Florida. We see it in far-right groups harass patrons of bookshops and libraries during Drag Queen Story Hours. The confluence of street-level acts and legal acts is an old playbook that the Nazis and countless other have used.
The slow-drip we’ve ignored, over the past few decades, has arisen full throated over the past few years. It has happened underneath the surafce. As Joesph Goebbels wrote, “The best propaganda is that which. as it were, works invisibly, penetrates the whole of life without the public having any knowledge of the propagandistic initiative.” We are past the invisibly-penetrating stage. That stage occurred took place over the decades. We are now in the full-blown stage where the invisible has become visible.
We are at the stage where the Arizona House of Representatives just passed HB 2523 which revises a previous law that states students who wish to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance each day may do so. Instead, the law now reads that all pupils, unless at the request of a parent, must stand and recite the pledge. For years now, even before Colin Kapernick knelt for the National Anthem, one’s patriotism has become a litmus test for one’s devotion to the United States. These symbols of allegiance, as Robert Paxton points out in The Anatomy of Fascism, do not come wrapped in a swastika; instead, they come packaged in the “Stars and Stripes (or Stars and Bars) and Christian crosses,” they do not carry within them a “whiff of fascism in themselves . . . but an American fascism would transform them into obligatory litmus tests for detecting the internal enemy.”
The “internal enemy,” according to Florida’s HB 999 and other measures, are those who seek to question, as Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. puts it, the national lies that continue to infect us daily, causing us to buy into a belief in white supremacy. Glaude points out that “the lie is the mechanism that allows and has always allowed, America to avoid facing the truth about its unjust treatment of black people [and countless others] and how it deforms the soul of the country.” The refusal to confront the past, to present the nation as always holding to its “proposed” ideals, warps and distort our soul, and that warped and distorted soul births the fascism we see today.
Fighting this fascism requires multiple tools, but the main one is that we must be willing to look upon ourselves and to stare at the reflection that awaits us in the mirror. When we blind ourselves to that reflection, when we turn away, we let fascism grow and we become willing participants in it because anyone who sincerely engages with the image staring back at them becomes “the intruder” who seeks to destroy the nation from within. Those who engage with the past and seek an equitable society for all are not the enemy; they are those who love this nation and aspire toward its founding ideals. As James Baldwin put it, “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” We must face that criticism and be willing to change based on it, because if we don’t, we’re doomed.
I’ve written about this extensively on my blog, and you can find more, even about Florida’s rejection of the College Board’s AP African American Studies Program. What are your thoughts? As always, let me know in the comments below. Make sure to follow me on Twitter @silaslapham.