The Ethics Of… Fascism

Alright you all know where I’m going with this one, so let’s just throw the cards on the table and get it over with: is Donald Trump a Nazi?

For such a simple question it’s all kinds of hell to answer, largely thanks to Trump’s total inability to stick with a position for like, 5 minutes. But it’s at least partly also because the vast majority of people have no friggin’ idea what Nazism actually stood for. Oh sure we all know about the racism, the warmongering and the holocaust, but those aren’t an ideology so much as things an ideology leads to. And now that we have a potential world leader who has just threatened to jail his political opponents, and previously managed to get his supporters to (probably accidentally) do the ol’ Nazi salute at one of his rallies, this seems like a good time to go over exactly what Nazism is and whether we’re right to be so terrified of it.

First thing’s first: why is this article about ‘Fascism’ and not ‘Nazism’? Well just as ice cream is always ice cream regardless of flavour, the Nazis were essentially Fascists with some very specific axes to grind – specifically Jews, communists, homosexuals, disabled people and ‘the lesser races’ in general. Topics which you may note plenty of modern political movements have a problem with as well, so that’s obviously not enough to define an ideology.

Which brings us to question number two: what the hell is Fascism all about then? In a word: Unity.

Here’s an interesting question for you; say you ran a country and came up with a really good system that would make people happy, healthy and fulfilled. How would you go about getting people to follow that system? Do you rely on the people to see its benefits and adopt it freely? Or do you force it on them for their own good?

Most people would consider forcing any ideology on others to be clearly unethical, but when you consider the consequences of letting people do things in stupid, broken ways, it can certainly seem appealing. Just look at the anti-vaccination movement going on in apparently educated western nations right now – groups of people who are flying in the face of reason and evidence, exposing their children to horrific diseases, and endangering the entire community in the process. Considering the potential harm this movement could cause, should we really be willing to wait it out and hope they see the light? Or should we deem the risk too high and force vaccinations on them whether they like it or not?

Or maybe we should wait until they get more of their children killed?

Same goes for politics; if you came up with a system that you were certain would be better for everyone, then why wouldn’t you force it on the people if you could? Sure it might upset some folks in the short-term, but considering the benefit of your system and the harms of the old systems you’re replacing, wouldn’t it actually be unethical not to force the change through as soon as possible?

And that right there is Fascism in a nutshell: here is a set of ideals for the betterment of our nation. If we all follow these ideals, everything will be awesome. As such those that do embrace these ideals will be celebrated, while those that do not will be punished as the threats to civilization that they are. In practice, this boils down to an extreme form of nationalism – total commitment to the state, for the betterment of everyone within that state. The purpose of individuals is not to seek their own interests as in Capitalism, nor to support the common good of all the people as in Socialism, but rather to serve the ideals of the state which will elevate everyone within it.

At this point you might be surprised to find yourself thinking Fascism seems like a pretty good idea, and you’d hardly be the first. It’s always worth remembering that both the Nazis and the Italian Fascists came to power through democratic elections, and while it would be comforting to think so, the people that voted for them were no more evil, stupid or even ignorant than you or I. This was a new political system that offered what so many political parties fail to today: a cohesive vision for a better future. Hitler giving speeches may come across as a raving maniac today, given we know what he was planning once in power, but watch the translated version divorced from that context and it’s actually really inspiring:

Time magazine’s Man of the Year, 1938. No, seriously.

How powerful and passionate! But the more attentive of you might have noticed something about this speech; specifically that he didn’t say a damn thing about how any of this is going to work. That was probably a deliberate strategy, because if his supporters had sat down and gone through his policies in detail, it’s doubtful the Nazis would have been anywhere near as popular as they were.

To say Fascism has some practical problems is like saying the endless void of space is ‘a bit nippy’. Sure it’s motivational, but there’s a reason Fascism isn’t a serious political force today – turns out it’s a really shit way of managing a country.

Ok so let’s say you’ve got your perfect system that would be better for everyone, and just as the Fascist movements of the early 20th century did, you’ve decided that you must impose this system for the good of the people. Naturally this creates some resistance from those too simple or corrupt to see your brilliant vision, so you crack down on them – their ignorance cannot be allowed to hinder the good of the rest of the nation! But these crackdowns only seem to cause more and more unrest as people object to your strong-arm tactics. So do you back down and let the fools hinder progress? Do you compromise in the face of threats by the wicked? No! You crack down harder! And congratulations to you buddy, because you just completed my 10 second correspondence course on ‘How to establish a police state dystopia’.

As a utilitarian I’ve often argued that harmful means can sometimes be justified by virtuous ends. And while I hold this to be true, it’s not enough to say “the means are justified by the ends” because those means also determine what the end will look like. Sure you might be aiming for a grand utopia for the benefit of all, and while brutality could be justified in bringing about that wonderful end, brutal means are almost guaranteed to undermine the utopia you’re trying to create. How the hell can you build a society of peace, love and wisdom when your tools are brutality, hatred and short-sightedness? It’d be like trying to build a ship in a bottle by smacking it against a wall. It simply ain’t going to work.

But bugger it, say you managed to bludgeon your people into perfect citizens that strive towards your national ideals with every waking breath. What are you going to do about the people that don’t? No matter how absolute your stranglehold over your people, you are never going to be able to weed out all discontent, rebellion and simple inadequacy – malcontents who can’t or won’t contribute to your goals. Not only are these deviants failing to contribute, they hold back those around them. They rob your good citizens of the future they deserve. These aren’t real citizens, they’re parasites! And what do you do with parasites? Why you get rid of them, of course.

At that point of how you deal with these opponents is irrelevant – what matters is the fact that you just wrote off a sizable number of human beings because they didn’t fit in your grand scheme of things. At best this group becomes marginalized second-class citizens. At worst? I think we all know the answer to that.

Hey remember that bit in the film ‘300′ where the Spartans murdered their own children for being ‘defective’? Remind me why they were the heroes again?

And speaking of malcontents and deviants, here’s another question o great leader: who gets to decide what behaviour is right and wrong in your perfect society? Sure you have your stated ideals, but those are just words on paper until they are put into practice – who is going to be responsible for doing that? Whoever they are I hope they have perfect judgement and are totally incorruptible, because you just gave them the power of life and death over every citizen in your nation. Geeze what a weighty responsibility! I sure hope they don’t follow the same pattern as every other human in history invested with huge power and bugger all accountability – namely abusing the shit out of it to serve their own interests. Because that sort of corruption would quickly turn your utopia into a barbaric dictatorship where the only real rule was ‘might makes right’, regardless of your pretensions to nobility.

Yep, that’s never happen before.

Take a look under the hood of Fascism and what you have is a really nice idea that will fall to pieces almost immediately. Setting up a state based on high ideals might sound great, but in practice all you’re doing is concentrating power into a few select hands and blindly hoping that human nature stops being a thing. Spoiler alert – it won’t. You’re going to get corruption and that same zeal that drives you towards your ideas is going to blind you to the fact that your system has gone rotten.

But hey, maybe I’m being too harsh. These are after all just practical problems – surely with a strong enough leader and some solid accountability mechanisms built into the system, these sorts of problems can be avoided!

Colour me very, very skeptical, but ok let’s imagine that’s possible for a second: a functional Fascist system which drives the entire nation to work towards a set of values, that somehow avoids abusing its people in the process. Well there’s still one problem with that idea matey, and it’s kind of a big one. Want to take a guess what it is? Simple!

What if you values are wrong?

Here you are, sitting on a grand national movement with millions of committed citizens all working towards your planned utopia, when all of a sudden someone raises their hand and suggests ‘Is this really the right thing to do?’. After all that effort, all that sacrifice to bring your nation to this point, this one simple question threatens to destroy it all in an instant. How do you think that’s going to go down with you, let alone your supporters? Best case scenario you’re looking at an almost instant loss of hope and momentum as everyone starts to question your goals, unity breaks down and everything gets bogged down into endless debates. Worst case scenario, you’ve got a civil war on your hands as your disillusioned movement splinters and the factions descend into a power-struggle.

Bugger that! Far safer just to stick your fingers in your ears and ignore any criticism of your sacred values, right? Can’t let the uncertainty of one or two people undermine your great national project! And just like that the path you’re leading everyone down goes to shit. By rejecting critical thinking you not only admit you have have no idea if your ideals will lead to utopia or disaster, but you’ve got absolutely no way of finding out. And given how ridiculously backwards the ideals of just 40 years ago seem to us today, it’s a pretty good bet that this ‘perfect’ system of yours is going to look equally idiotic unless you correct it as new knowledge comes to light. But Fascism relies on unity and certainty, and since critical thinking is pure poison for both, failure is almost a certainty – either blindly lead your people down a path you hope leads to utopia (but almost certainly doesn’t), or the entire movement falls apart when everyone realizes you’re not the great bastion of certainty they thought you were.

So Fascism turns out to be a highly motivational ideology, that will inevitably lead to disaster, regression, in-fighting, bigotry and corruption. But the real question still remains: Is Donald Trump a Nazi? No he’s not. But considering his campaign, with its great big promises and complete lack of details, appeals to ‘Make America Great Again’ with no explanation of how he’ll do it, and his casual blaming of powerless scapegoats for all the ills of the world – he certainly seems to have all the hallmarks of a Fascist. And frankly that should be equally terrifying.

3 thoughts on “The Ethics Of… Fascism

  1. Pingback: The Ethics Of… Fake News | The Ethics Of

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