Thursday, June 26, 2008

Reflections: The Fascist Impulse

From The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell’s thoughts on how a badly presented socialism can lead to fascism:

Fascism as it appears in the intellectual is a sort of mirror-image -- not actually of Socialism but of a plausible travesty of Socialism. It boils down to a determinism to do the opposite of whatever the mythical Socialist does. If you present Socialism in a bad and misleading light – if you let people imagine that it does not mean much more than pouring European civilization down the sink at the command of Marxist prigs – you risk driving the intellectual into Fascism. You frighten him into a sort of angry defensive attitude in which he simply refuses to listen to the Socialist case.

… In order to combat Fascism it is necessary to understand it… To anyone with a feeling for tradition and for discipline it comes with its appeal ready-made. Probably it is very easy, when you have had a bellyful of the more tactless kind of Socialist propaganda, to see Fascism as the last line defense of all that is good in European civilization. Even the Fascist bully at his symbolic worst, with rubber truncheon in one hand and castor oil bottle in the other, does not necessarily feel himself a bully; more probably he feels like Roland in the pass at Roncevaux, defending Christendom against the barbarian. …Fascism has been able to pose as the upholder of the European tradition, and to appeal to Christian belief, to patriotism and to the military virtues.

Orwell concludes that “Socialism is the only real enemy that Fascism has to face.” I, of course, agree with this assessment. Even under the best of conditions, capitalism creates an underclass of angry losers for whom criminal activity seems a better way out than any other readily available means. When things get bad enough, as they did in the 1960s, this anger is fairly easily organized into smoldering, widespread rebellion against the Establishment. What Orwell was predicting for Europe, prior to WWII, can be seen as a cyclical, recurring phenomenon. As the world economy worsens, we may be on the brink of the violent phase of another such cycle. But rather than in Europe this time, here.