One of the questions which needs to be asked at this juncture in history goes like this: is American becoming a Nazi country? I don’t mean that in a naive way — everyone suddenly turning into a neo-Nazi skinhead. I mean it, on this Holocaust Remembrance Day, in a real one, an historic one. Is something very much like a Nazi movement and politics now beginning to surface — and consume — America? For very much the same reasons it did Weimar Germany? And if that’s the case…then what happens next?
To answer this question, and do it well, we need to understand what fascism is — and then come to Nazism in particular. What is fascism? The way that you and I were taught about it in school and then university goes like this. It was born in the 1930s. That view, I’ve come to believe is wrong — badly wrong.
If we think about human history, what is one of its defining characteristics? Societies began to organise themselves along lines of caste. Human society, for the vast, vast majority of people, was made of “nobles” and “peasants.” The line between them was genetic — “nobles” were said to have “pure” or “superior” “blood,” which gave them superior strength, intelligence, goodness, and peasants had “impure” or “inferior “blood,” which meant they were deficient in virtue, weak.
This stratified social organization — based on the purity of blood — was justified by theology, and codified into law. Who gives nobles “pure blood”? God himself did, or the Gods did, depending. Because they were superior in every way, they were the owners of everything in society — its land, its property, its assets, its surplus. Because the rest were weak, the job of the strong was to subdue and exploit them, into servitude and slavery and serfdom. This was the greater good, what was moral, justified, and righteous.
This form of social organization — feudalism, patriarchy, because “pure blood” was passed down along familial lines, and hence so was ownership and privilege — was widespread. The norm.
It was present in Europe, Japan, China, Asia, Africa — everywhere. The relative equality of pre-agrarian village society had disappeared, and as societies grew in scale, feudalism as a form of social organisation emerged as a global form. Serf and peasant, exploited by King and Lord. It was hardly just European — think of India, with its castes of nobles, warriors, and untouchables.
It’s hard not to think of all this as fascism. What is fascism? Intellectually, it’s the project of dividing people into human and subhuman, superior and inferior, by virtue of blood.
From there proceeds fascist morality, which says the right place of the strong is to exploit and subdue the weak, and thereby prove their strength. The weak are liabilities and burdens upon the strong, and therefore, the greatest good is had by exploiting them, abusing them, using them for whatever they’re good for, and disposing of them when they aren’t good for that any longer.
Fascism, it seems to me, is the norm in human history. That is an uncomfortable truth to arrive it.
But I think it gives us a much, much clearer picture of where we are, and even who we are. The centuries of slavery and empire, of noble and peasant — how can they seriously be described as anything but fascism? And all this culminated in a terrible, terrible catastrophe, an atrocity to never forget. The Holocaust. The slaughter of the Jews, at the hands of Nazis. Where else was this road of fascism ever going to lead, but to a spectacular climax of history-shattering violence, aiming to completely exterminate the most hated of all?
This is a very different way to think about history. From this perspective, there are two kinds of societies: those which have genuine democratic revolutions, and those which haven’t. Let’s take the example of France. What really happened during the French Revolution? It wasn’t like the American Revolution — something much deeper happened. The old social organisation of noble and peasant was literally abolished. By way, it has to be said, of the guillotine. In America, by contrast, the “revolution” meant enslaving subhumans, constitutionally, at the moment of founding. Perhaps you see how different these revolutions really were.
All that is to say that humanity has not yet liberated itself from fascism precisely because fascism runs much more deeply in us and through us than we imagine.
We don’t describe our pre-modern, feudal forms of social organization as fascist. But shouldn’t we? What else is the inherited privilege, thanks to your divinely ordained blood, to force the weak into servitude and servility — through extreme violence, whether it was the katana, or rapier, or pistol?
When you think about fascism this way — as an historical norm, not some kind of 20th century anomaly — suddenly, perhaps, things look much clearer. Why is fascism resurging around the globe? Take a look at India, where hyper-nationalism has fundamentalists vowing to kill heretics. Or China, which has put millions, apparently, in concentration camps. Look at Britain, self-destructing by way of nationalism — not quite fascism, but not quite not, either, even European immigrants forced out, humiliated. Fascism is resurgent around the globe because our understanding of it is weak: it was history’s norm, and we never really liberated ourselves from it very much, and so here it is, coming right back again. The 20th century’s brief golden age of democracy is proving, so far, to be just that. The anomaly is democracy, which flourished for maybe half a century — but what’s that, compared to millennia of fascism. I’m noble by blood, and you’re my peasant, and I can kill you for nothing.
Let me say it again. Fascism is the historical norm — and democracy appears to be very much the brief anomaly, flourishing for less than half a century, really, so far.
Now that we understand fascism — and what it really is — let’s think about democracy, and what it really is. Because these are two poles of a spectrum of social order. At one end, there’s fascism, you’re superior, I’m inferior, all this is “natural,” aka God-given, in the blood, and from there, you have the moral duty to exploit and subdue me for the greater good, because I’m a liability and a “parasite.” And at the other end of this spectrum of social order lies democracy. What is it?
Well, if you understand fascism is predicated on inequality, then a democracy, to meet even the most minimal criteria, must offer all its people equality.
That isn’t some kind of extreme position, it’s a necessary condition for a democracy. What are the other conditions? There are a few more necessary ones. We must be equal, meaning our rights must be precisely equivalent. We must not be able to harm one another. We must be able to resolve our differences peacefully. And the sufficient condition is mutual consent: I must consent to how you wish society to be organized, and you must consent to me.
Now let’s come back to America. What is it? Americans are told that it’s the “world’s oldest democracy” — but that’s an obviously, trivially false myth.
Now that we understand what democracy and fascism really are, we can understand America a lot better, too.
For how long has America really been a democracy? You see, part of the problem now is that social scientists rank America as a “backsliding democracy”, and that’s true — but what they don’t ask is: how long has it been one at all? I’ll explain shortly why that question is important, but first let’s answer it.
It’s obvious to understand that an America in which some people — Black people — were considered just “3/5ths” human, and others, like Native Americans, weren’t human at all, was not a democracy. It was a form of limited power-sharing for rich, white, male land-owners, but that is not a democracy. To say that 1/10th or even 1/5th of a nation or society shares power and makes decisions in some kind of collective form is not a democracy. It is just what it appears to be, which is sharing power amongst a tiny fraction, to keep the rest powerless. It is not very different from feudalism at all — and feudalism, as we’ve already discussed, is almost indistinguishable from fascism.
So when did America become a democracy — even a “flawed” one, meaning an incomplete one? The answer to that question is chilling.
It wasn’t until 1965. Black people were given the right to vote in 1870, but they didn’t really have much of it, bound by Jim Crow laws. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that Black women were given the vote, and Black people even begun to really have the power to vote. Only at this moment can America be said to have evolved into anything even vaguely resembling a democracy.
That leaves with a brutally clear view of what America really is, in sociopolitical terms. It has only been even a flawed democracy for something like fifty years. Before that, it wasn’t a democracy at all. It was simply an apartheid state, and before that a slave state — and apartheid and slave states, by definition, cannot be democracies. The reason that America is “backsliding,” as political scientists now begin to understand and point out, so swiftly and severely, then, is for a reason: because it was never a democracy very much, or for very long, at all.
Now let me come to the central question: is America becoming a Nazi country?
Let’s take three examples.
Maybe you didn’t know this first one. Virginia’s new governor is a man named Glenn Youngkin. He fooled the pundits — LOL, that’s not exactly hard to do — into thinking he wasn’t a Trumpist by wearing fleece vests and grinning like an aw-shucks country bumpkins when in fact he was a “private equity executive” signalling bigotry and supremacy at Virginia’s soccer moms and dads. He drove them into a frenzy of fear, rage, and hate, with Bigger Lies — “they’re coming for your kids! Your wives! Your land!!” Virginians lost their minds — to the point that soccer moms now threaten to shoot up the schools where their neighbours send their kids.
Sound fascist to you? It should. But what Youngkin did a few days ago crosses the next line. He set up a “tip line”…for people…to inform on….teachers.
Let’s think about this for a second. Now Virginians are going to be able to inform on their teachers to the government. For what? For the thoughtcrime, presumably, of teaching banned books and theories.
What happens then? The teachers get fired. Where does this end? Is it a tip line for informing on your neighbours next? And how about a special police force, to manage this job of people informing on others?
All this is the birth of a Gestapo. I’m not kidding about that. Go ahead and ask an elderly Jewish person — I’d bet the farm they’d agree with me, because they might have lived it. This is exactly how Gestapos are born. You inform on your neighbour — it becomes an act encouraged and incentivised by the state, for thoughtcrimes, like reading banned books, learning banned ideas.
That then demands a secret police, to keep files on people, to police them for things which aren’t crimes in a democratic society.
Things like what? Like reading. Learning. Meeting people. Teaching. Expressing yourself. Association. Privacy.
These things, let me repeat, are not crimes in a democratic society. They are just fundamental acts and facets of being human.
But these basic humanities — learning, reading, knowing, teaching, meeting — are becoming criminalised in America. In Tennessee, teaching a book about the Holocaust is now banned. It was banned in a unanimous vote.
What happens if I give a kid that book as a present? Can a neighbour “inform” on me for it? Is it just banned from schools — or is it banned, period? Who polices all this? You see how the lines are crossed, and how slippery the slope really is.
This is now a national effort — the focus of a new poltiics. It centers on criminalising things that are never crimes in a democracy.
Reading books. Teaching ideas. Learning theories. Voting itself, which can now be a felony if you “do it wrong,” as if that’s ever really the case.
The question then is: how far will this politics go? The answer to that question is: it doesn’t have to go much further at all to be chillingly and seriously Nazi. Is Youngkin’s tip line for informing on teachers fascist? Sure. When it’s for informing on neighbours, it’ll be Nazi. When books are banned at school, that’s fascist. When they’re banned period, that’s well, Nazi. When teaching theories is banned, that’s fascist. When expressing them is, that’s Nazi. When people’s privacy and freedom of association and freedom to learn and understand and know is monitored and controlled, that’s super Nazi — but that’s already what’s happening to Virginia’s kids. When soccer moms threaten to shoot up their neighbours kids at school, because their kids are strong, and so don’t have to wear masks, and the rest are weak, that’s ultra Nazi. The lines are blurry, and the slope is slippery.
I could go on and on. With examples of how extreme this new politics is. How it encourages and incites violence.
How it seems to want to burn books. How it criminalises thought and speech and privacy and association in escalating ways. The point, though, should be very, very clear. This is how Nazism happens. This is what it is. A mass movement devoted to cleansing and purification. Impurities have to excised from the social body. Those impurities begin with ideas and books. They become speech and expression. Then association and interaction — no shopping at that store, no going to that street, this ghetto is where those people live now. And then the impurities to be cleansed away become people themselves.
Then there is a Holocaust.
That is the road, it appears to me, that America is on.
You are most welcome to disagree. But I think on this Holocaust Remembrance Day, we should not fool ourselves with comfortable lies and easy half-truths. If this isn’t Nazism, this ugliness, hate, violence, this burning desire to cleanse society of the subhuman, the impure, the unclean, to burn books and inform on neighbours and take a gun to your neighbours kids head — if this movement that’s rising in America isn’t Nazism, then what is?