The Road to Unfreedom

We’ve been saying this for some time now – but here it is brilliantly articulated by Yale professor and historian of fascism Timothy Snyder – in which he explains the threat to democracy of the rise of the far-right – at times explicitly fascist movements:

In America the brutal and comic ascent of Kevin McCarthy overshadowed the actual dangerous concessions made to, amongst others, giving seats on the powerful House Rules Committee to the Freedom Caucus, the far-right coalition. The US Congress even has the queen of MAGA, Marjorie Taylor Greene,  on committees investigating “traitors and criminals.”

Vanity Fair explains that: “McCarthy has said he plans to put Greene back on committees, with some of her Trumpworld allies reportedly urging the likely Speaker to give her a plum seat on the House Oversight Committee. Imagine, from promoting QAnon conspiracies to possibly landing a key oversight post in Congress.”

This is a woman who last year called Nancy Pelosi a ‘traitor’ and called for her to be executed.

In Brazil the counter insurgency failed coup has been quelled but there is still much uncertainty with the military and the far-right seething at their loss of power. Richard Lapper, author of Beef, Bible and Bullets: Brazil in the Age of Bolsonaro has written:

“Much remains to play out. It’s possible that the radical rightwing campaign could enjoy a second wind this week, if notoriously pro-Bolsonaro lorry drivers carry out their threats to block roads and surround oil refineries, potentially cutting off fuel supplies to Brazilian cities. Following the election, lines of stationary trucks choked traffic for several weeks, although with the backing of court orders these barricades were eventually cleared. On Sunday night, there were reports that motorways were blocked in several states. Pro-Bolsonaro websites warn of a third phase too, with a military intervention required simply to restore order.”

In Britain the rise of far-right ideology into the mainstream can be seen across Tory policy from the surveillance state to the abandonment of the Windrush Review; from police violence to the Rwanda policy; from the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers to the new anti-strike legislation promised by Rishi Sunak.

If Snyder’s explanation of rhetorical propaganda rings true it is because the use of simplistic slogans and the enticement to binary politics has been the hallmark of British politics for a while but these tactics reached a crescendo under Brexit and ushered in the new Conservatives. Snyder explains: “The idea that politics is not about reasoned dispute towards constructive policy but politics is fundamentally about ‘friends and enemies’ – that’s a basic fascist idea which was articulated most famously by Carl Schmitt – that has clearly returned as a tactic.”

Across politics this idea of deep and innate division is present. This is not to discount the reality of conflict of interests that exist but to acknowledge that our public discourse has been completely contaminated by this form of extreme binary thinking. This can be seen across the trans debate and – more so in England – across the Brexit divide.

It may be that there are other forces at play than the far-right framing of politics described by Synder, certainly the ‘reflexive impotence’ felt by many and the emergence of a ‘post-truth’ political landscape contribute to levels of hysteria and paranoia that feed fascism and racism.

As if anticipating these times and these threats Jay Griffiths wrote:

“Fascism begins as something in the air. Stealthy as smoke in the darkness, easier to smell than to see. Fascism sets out an ethos, not a set of policies; appeals to emotion, not fact. It begins as a pose, often a deceptive one. It likes propaganda, dislikes truth, and invests heavily in performance. Untroubled by its own incoherence, it is anti-intellectual and yet contemptuous of the populace even as it exploits the crowd mentality. Fascism is accented differently in different countries, and uses the materials – and the media – of the times.”

“Easier to smell than to see”  … “contemptuous of the populace even as it exploits the crowd mentality.”

What can be done about this?

We can be the antithesis of fascism.

We can counter fear and hate.

We can create democratic structures in our minds and in our society.



Comments (2)

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  1. SleepingDog says:

    Timothy Snyder, if I recall, expressly joins Rule of Law with Democracy on more than one occasion there, for good reasons.
    But what law? Al Jazeera’s environmental documentary series earthrise has been following recent cases where activists have been trying to hold governments and corporations to account in law courts over ecological harms. Both Fascism and Democracy share the same humanist weakness of anthropocentrism. Law which incorporates the Rights of Nature at the highest level (Constitutional or binding International Treaty) can overcome some of this anthropocentrism, but typically in a reactive way. Is that enough? Incidentally, I think that incorporating the health of the living planet is one obvious exception to Snyder’s concern about long-termism in politics, which goes to the heart of why nuclear weapons are illegal.

  2. Stan Reeves says:

    Sad really to see so little comment on this article which I believe demonstrates a fundamental problem in the west. Binary or Dichotomous thinking. “The use of simplistic slogans and the enticement to binary politics” I was lucky to attend school when every secondary teacher had to complete a course in Philosophy. The Scots”Democratic Intellect”. Adam Fegusson in his 1767″Essay on Civil Society” asserted that “a Civilised society is one which can live with disputation”
    Dialogue is of course the method of ameliorating the excesses of Binary thinking. Accepting the simultaneous truth of two seeming opposites.
    The Freirian “Decoding” method stars with folk accepting the shared empirical truth. “What can we all see/hear”
    Binary and oppositional thinking sells papers. “Sensationalism”
    The study and practice of the dialogical method as proposed by Paulo Freire liberated thousands and thousands from naive/ binary thinking!

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