Sean IllingI think this is interesting but I would say that it misses something big about Fascism: the fascists' love of strong emotion and distrust of cool reason. Fascists especially seem to love dark emotions like hate, anger, and cruelty. Much of Fascism is shot through with sado-masochistic sexuality. Fascists have also tended to love "action" and dismiss reflection; the thing is to act, preferably with speed and violence. So to me it is not just that Fascists focus on enemies of "the people", it's the deliberately cruel, sneering way that they do it; it's not just that they are creating an alternative reality, it's that the alternative reality they create is one that celebrates kicking people in the face.
Your specialty is propaganda and rhetoric, and in the book you describe fascism as a collection of tropes and narratives. So what, exactly, is the story fascists are spinning?
In the past, fascist politics would focus on the dominant cultural group. The goal is to make them feel like victims, to make them feel like they’ve lost something and that the thing they’ve lost has been taken from them by a specific enemy, usually some minority out-group or some opposing nation.
This is why fascism flourishes in moments of great anxiety, because you can connect that anxiety with fake loss. The story is typically that a once-great society has been destroyed by liberalism or feminism or cultural Marxism or whatever, and you make the dominant group feel angry and resentful about the loss of their status and power. Almost every manifestation of fascism mirrors this general narrative. . . .
There’s a great line from the philosopher Hannah Arendt, I think in her book about totalitarianism, where she says that fascists are never content to merely lie; they must transform their lie into a new reality, and they must persuade people to believe in the unreality they’ve created. And if you get people to do that, you can convince them to do anything.
I think that’s right. Part of what fascist politics does is get people to disassociate from reality. You get them to sign on to this fantasy version of reality, usually a nationalist narrative about the decline of the country and the need for a strong leader to return it to greatness, and from then on their anchor isn’t the world around them — it’s the leader.
This is partly why I think of fascism as a kind of anti-politics. I remember reading a quote from Joseph Goebbels, who was the chief propagandist for the Nazis, and he said that what he was doing was more like art than politics. By which he meant their task was to create an alternative mythical reality for Germans that was more exciting and purposeful than the humdrum reality of liberal democratic politics, and that’s why mass media was so essential the rise of Nazism.
That’s so interesting. The thing is, people willingly adopt the mythical past. Fascists are always telling a story about a glorious past that’s been lost, and they tap into this nostalgia. So when you fight back against fascism, you’ve got one hand tied behind your back, because the truth is messy and complex and the mythical story is always clear and compelling and entertaining. It’s hard to undercut that with facts.
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Jason Stanley on Fascist Rhetoric
Sean Illing of Vox interviewed Yale philosopher Jason Stanley about his new book on Fascism: