The Guardian • Issue #2064

Why the US is a Fascist State

Umberto Eco’s Fourteen Properties of Fascism

Apotheosis of Washington (detail) on the dome of the United States Capitol in Washington.

Apotheosis of Washington (detail) on the dome of the United States Capitol in Washington. Photo: Farragutful – flickr.com (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Anyone who has been to Washington DC and visited the Capitol, looking up at the Dome, the viewer is treated to an imposing sight. On the ceiling is the “Apotheosis of Washington,” the first American president, painted by Constantino Brumidi in 1865. George Washington is surrounded by motifs that pay homage to America’s origins and values. The fresco shows thirteen young women, symbolising the thirteen states, encircling Washington, Liberty, and Victory. A banner reads E Pluribus Unum (Out of Many, One), the motto of the United States.

Directly below Washington is the armed figure of “War,” Columbia, representing Freedom, symbolising the role war played in securing independence from Britain in 1776. The figure personifies the United States’ capital, District of Columbia. She wields a sword and a red, white, and blue shield, vanquishing the tyranny of kings, symbolised by the red mantle. A bald eagle carries arrows and thunderbolts to assist the triumph of Freedom. Below Columbia are a cannon and soldiers.

War’s central feature in the fresco portrays, not only the importance of war in US foreign policy, but how the US is perceived by other countries as a warring militarised state. It is this mythos of the militarised state, along with other features, that will be examined and compared with Umberto Eco’s fourteen properties of ideological fascism.

Robert Kagan argues in his Dangerous Nation (2007) that since its beginning, the US has been seen by the world as dangerous nation. After absorbing Texas in 1845, the Mexican-American War (1846 to 1848) gave it the south-west. The Civil War (1861 to 1865) was decisive in creating a set of political, cultural, racial, and social precepts that entitled America to dominate the world. The Spanish-American War of 1898 gave the United States Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and the Marshall Islands. Today the US has over 800 foreign bases.

War brought great wealth to the US, becoming so economically dependent upon the Military-Industrial Complex, that constant wars are required to maintain America’s role in the World economy. The military is central to its national mythos. From Westpoint, its monuments and symbols, days of celebration, to its movies and television shows, the military is a vital part of daily life; something that most Americans fail to be aware of.

It is its military culture, that anyone coming to the US for the first time, immediately sees. Whether it is the armed guards at customs, the heavily armed police presence in the streets, or the armed guards at town halls and the state archive buildings, the viewer witnesses a heavily militarised state.

The US condemns a one-party system as authoritarian, but sees its own two-party system as democratic. The last time it had a third party was in 1912, when former president Theodore Roosevelt ran as a “Third Party” candidate. Unlike Australia, the political system awards seats in Congress and the presidency with the winner-take-all. Presidential candidates get all of a state’s electoral votes when they win a majority of the votes in that state.

The US is a republic, but it does not have a prime minister. The president is head of government, head of state and Commander-in-Chief, giving them the power to exercise supreme operational command over the military. The president can veto a bill and return it to Congress, which then needs a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate to override the veto. Executive privilege gives the president the power to withhold information from the public, Congress, and the courts, in regards to national security and diplomatic affairs. The president can convene or adjourn Congress, and grant reprieves and pardons. Against this, Congress holds the balance of power, but as the presidency of Trump has shown, it has its shortcomings. The US is far from the democracy it portrays itself, holding many fascist properties.

Fascism is an authoritarian political ideology that embraces far-right nationalism and suppresses its opposition. It strongly opposes Marxism, liberalism, and an effective multiparty democracy. The fascist system of government sees the state being above the rights of the individual. The state supports major corporations, which it sees as the core of its economic wealth and prosperity.

The beginnings of American fascism began in the Cold War of the 1950s, when the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and McCarthyism attacked Communism. At the same time racial Segregation was entrenched by law in many states. Women played only a subordinate role in society. In the 1960s President Johnson declared a War on Crime and President Nixon followed with a War on Drugs, resulting in the militarisation of police forces across America. The attempt to annihilate the left and the militarisation of the police are facets of fascism, but there are many more.

In his 1995 essay “Ur-Fascism,” or Eternal Fascism, the cultural theorist, Umberto Eco, listed fourteen “typical” properties of being ideologically fascist. Any one of these properties allows “fascism to coagulate around it,” as in the US with its core of militarism. Although Eco used these properties to define Mussolini’s fascist Italy, we see that the United States has eleven fascist properties.

The cult of tradition: the US has a deep tradition of military history. This is interpreted and taught in schools, portraying the USA as the greatest nation on Earth, thanks to its military.

The cult of action for action’s sake: military action is committed without intellectual reflection. The invasion of foreign countries is done with a “can do” attitude, the consequences of which are known as “Blow Back.” The results are only considered once a foreign government is toppled and the country becomes a failed state, such as Iraq. It is then that the US realises it has created a tragedy.

Disagreement is treason: intellectual discourse and critical reasoning are seen as barriers to US military actions. The attack on Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, for espionage and the attempts to extradite him from Britain, is a typical response of fascism.

Fear of difference: police violence towards non-white communities and the immigrants crossing the Mexico border are commonplace.

Obsession with a plot: the government creates an enemy that does not exist. Xenophobia, with its perceived threats of sabotage and the influence on its people, is seen in the vilification of Cuba, China, and Russia.

Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy: the government attacks the anti-nuclear lobby, environmentalism, and the peace movements.

Contempt for the weak: since the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 the number of homeless has grown into millions, but they are treated as a blight upon society. The US health care system does not cater for long-term unemployed.

Everybody is educated to become a hero: the education and sporting systems preach that winning is paramount.

Selective populism: the president is the interpreter of the popular will. Americans believe that the American way is the best way for success, no matter the cultural, social, and historical differences there are in other countries.

Newspeak: vocabulary and critical analysis is limited to that used by the government. The debate and analysis of foreign policy is controlled by the state, which is then filtered through the media.

Fascist societies cast their enemies simultaneously as too strong and too weak: The US is doing this with “Communist China,” seeing China as weak socially and economically, yet it is also a military threat.

Eco’s other properties of fascism are: machismo; appeal to a frustrated middle class; and the rejection of modernism. One may argue that the US possesses these three properties as well.

America suffers from a poverty of democracy. It is a fascist state. There are no indications that the political situation will improve while the US prepares for war with Russia, China, and Iran. As has happened with other fascist states, will the next war be a war too many?

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