I thought I’d take the opportunity presented by the pause between preparing/eating dinner and now to put a few words together and fulfil “a meaning to do”.
Reading Tiso’s now not-so-recent post on the return of Italian Fascism I was returned to my own study of politics, and reminded that although there is a tendency to see something like the development of a political movement as a discrete event, it is better expressed as a coalescing of already extant attitudes and norms within a society. I’ll try to unpack that slowly within the limited time I have.
A “becoming” is likely the best description of the rise of any movement, whether it be fascism, communism, or economic liberalism, because a political movement cannot exist without the support provided by followers, adherents, and leaders. There’s nothing new in saying that politics do not exist in a vacuum, right? Further, there is nothing new in saying that government and governance is a way of restraining people’s natures, and of preventing the more extremes of inhumane behaviour people routinely exhibit. What’s interesting to me is that within both these ideas is the kernel of what people and their societies can become.
It is a usual stereotype of conservatives that they fear other people. They worry about the protection of their property and act in accordance with the need to protect it, even at the expense of personal freedoms. Liberals on the other hand are frequently stereotyped as worrying about their rights and freedoms, and act to prevent society from limiting them. While these are both caricatures of modern left and right, and could do with substantial elaboration, they both serve the purpose of exhibiting in XKCD-style simplicity the potential for a society to pick two poles between which it will acceptably change to become something other.
The thing is, while these two poles have been the predominant political forces at contest in the West since the collapse of Soviet Communist, they are far from Fukuyama’s claim of being the only game in town. Varieties of political meme range across the spectrum, and although Communism and Fascism don’t feature very high on the popularity stakes, they are still present and active within our society, and many other societies. What Tiso’s post and ongoing commentary shows us is that something like Fascism is actually not too far from the top of the menu feeding popular appetites, and that if other alternatives are not satisfying the people, then… Hello, Mr Roman Salute.
My metaphors are starting to head west here, but the body politic is not a coherent object. Any body politic is necessarily a pastiche of distinct parts, each with its own utility. This means that some are Frankensteins, others are clay golems, and some are cosmetically super-enhanced whores; with all offering the opportunity to become, to transform, into something other that what they were designed to be, or serve. The word itself reveals why this is the case. Be-Come. Be-ing, the static but continuous present, and come-ing, the continuous future. Any body politics is both what we desire it not to be, while also not being that thing.
Hold on… just ducking off to put the potatoes on.
Right. Back. So… where were we? Ah, yes. Fascism. Like any political movement, Fascism exits because it is component part of the construction of the body politic. You don’t (yet) find or hear of many genuine Fascist movements in the African nations or in the Pacific Islands because the ideology, and its necessary memes, don’t find a home in the way those societies organise themselves (I stand to be corrected there). But were these places to adopt the right types of precursor, for instance industrialisation and consequent strong socio-cultural separation of worker and owner of means of production, then the possibility for Fascism to become present could exist.
It is not a commonly known fact that there was in the 1920s and 30s every chance that either the UK or the USA could also have assumed Fascist regimes. Both could have become Fascist had historical events not prevented the emergence of this body politic out of the turmoil of the Great Depression. That they did not is a quirk of history for the buffs, and an object lesson on what to look for when your nation is becoming something other than what you would wish it to be.
I think where all this is leading me is the statement that I am unsurprised by the continuing rise of fascism in Italy, just as it appears to be doing in modern Germany. Further, there remains the possibility that, while contemporary OECD countries continue to own the precursors of Fascism within their body-politics, the movement could rear its head anywhere in what are currently liberal democracies. Because, as George Mosse has shown, it was a liberal democracy that gave us “the worst” Fascist regime the world has seen, so far.