Having examined this subject quite closely lately and seen some debates on Facebook, it occurs to me that the way fascist regimes infiltrate a society is not as well known as it should be.
Contrary to most people’s idea of fascism, it is not something which arrives suddenly in your environment unless by an invasion of a foreign power. Fascism and its proponents arrive by stealth and almost without anyone knowing it. The road to fascism is a long one, and by the time people realise what has happened it is usually too late.
When anyone thinks of Nazi Germany their thoughts are almost immediately drawn to the holocaust and the final solution. So, if anyone is to compare a modern-day fascist-like political figure to Hitler there is usually outrage because “so and so has never done anything like that, how dare you!” But the holocaust was very much the end game of Nazi Germany and not the beginning.
The historical series called The Tudors begins with a rather excellent quote:
“You think you know a story, but you only know how it ends. To get the heart of the story you have to go back to the beginning.”
And that is an excellent way to look at the subject of fascism. It is never the end game that you see when fascist-style politicians raise their heads, but only the beginning. The beginning is full of clues which are very often not picked up for the same reason above—they couldn’t possibly be like Hitler—or could they?
Fascism usually begins by introducing topics of deliberate division. Picking a group or even a race which is seen to be responsible for all the ills of society. Typically, this has been things like ‘immigrants’, ‘refugees,’ ‘foreigners’ and of course in the case of the Nazis, the Jews. The rhetoric begins with tirades against these people, propaganda showing how they are causing all of the problems people perceive, and how the fascist politician or political party will ‘save’ society from this terrible scourge and make the country ‘great’ again.
And just for the record, I am not talking about our ex-PM Jacinda Ardern or anyone else like that who some people have maliciously misidentified as somehow a would-be dictator. No, I’m talking about actual fascists, not the made-up kind.
In the case of the Nazis, the propaganda against the Jewish race was extensive. It was insidious and dehumanising. These would-be dictators often also arise when people are dissatisfied, or there are poor economic conditions, things like that. So, they come up with a scapegoat for these ills, which is, of course, those ‘bad people’ who the new leader will save you from. We see parallels in the UK with constant tirades against immigrants, backed up by a right-wing press, which is also essential to spread a fascist type of message.
The fascist leader surrounds themselves with cohorts who become an inner circle, a cabal. They say people do not learn from history, but the wannabe fascists certainly have. What they’ve realised is that unless they already have the armed forces at their back, then they have to use democratic means to subvert democracy.
These are exactly the means Hitler used to seize power and make no mistake it took a number of years to achieve it. This was no fly-by-night coup, it was insidiously well planned and executed over a long period of time. All the time he was building his power base, his support and an army which swore loyalty only to him.
Once in a democratically elected position of power, he eliminated his opposition by fair means or foul, made other parties illegal and had himself voted as the supreme authority in Germany. Then and only then was he in a position to put his nefarious plans into action.
Getting into a position of power with people who support them and will back their decisions is key to any such modern fascist. For what is the ultimate goal of a fascist leader? Supreme power to put into action any crazy ideas they might be carrying in their head. Once they have identified a common enemy then all actions are directed towards that enemy and the rule of law, which they now have, is used to enforce it.
The Nazis burned books, brought in restrictive laws to control people, denied Jews the right to run businesses, and many other things too numerous to mention, and eventually, they were denied the right to life. Through propaganda of the most insidious kind, it made inhumanity to another race or group of people acceptable. That is an essential part of bringing a fascist regime into being.
Today we see similar tirades against LBGTQ, Transgender, immigrants and other minority groups. Only this time the bible is used to punch home the message that these groups are not worthy of rights. False statements, false statistics, outright lies and anything else that one cares to mention are put out there to reinforce it. Thus, justifying legislation put into effect from a well-supported fascist power base. There is no point in sugarcoating what this is. It’s fascism in action by any other name.
Make no mistake, the fascist leader cares only about power and making their aberrated thinking a reality. People are a means to an end. You are either with them or you are the enemy. You either treat them as a God-like figure or you will find yourself a target for elimination. Such means as spectacular and sometimes awe-inspiring rallies and other events are used to elevate the fascist above normal people. They take on the appearancy of being superhuman and often, like Hitler, start to believe their own hype. The hype itself is like a drug. The rally itself is a means to an end of which Hitler said this:
“A mass rally is designed to switch off the thinking process. Only then will people be ready to accept the magical simplifications before which resistance crumbles.”
Think about that for a moment. The magical simplifications. That’s an admission of what these things are. The simplification of an idea that it’s all the fault of the Jews, gays or whoever your target is. In a rally which effectively switches off the thinking processes of the participants and thus comes acceptance of the simplest idea. Chants and slogans. Remember what I said about would be fascists learning from history? “Lock her up”,,“Stop the steal”,, “Make America great again,” are just a few examples of modern-day equivalents.
Put another way, in reality, the fascist leader promises much and delivers instead death and destruction. This is no path to enlightenment no matter how many people are fooled. They may give much in the beginning, create jobs, and more (just like Hitler did) but ultimately, they have a plan, and that is to destroy and take power by any means.
By the time people realised Hitler was a danger to the world, it took the world to stop him. Millions of people died on the funeral pyre of his ambition. Millions of Jews and others were murdered. That was the end of the story, not the beginning. How much was promised by the modern-day fascists and how much destruction was delivered? It’s not hard to divine the answer.
So now go back to the beginning and look around at recent figures in this context. Trump, and now DeSantis, and currently in Israel of all places with Netanyahu’s government, and there are others. The hallmarks of fascism are there, the playbook is there. Don’t say that these cannot be compared to Hitler merely because of Hitler’s crimes. Hitler was a fascist. He went through all the other stages to usurp and misuse power before those crimes began.
A failure to recognise this and to instead be prey to faux outrage is how the modern fascist will rise once again. If we cannot see past our own prejudice, and learn from history, we can be sure that what happened once before in history can happen again.
Stopping fascism requires constant vigilance and being willing to fight back. To flag up what is going on and above all to use democracy to keep them out of key positions of power. Democracy is a double-edged sword and those who want to use it for nefarious purposes will find a way to do so. It’s up to the rest of us to make sure they can’t.
Dr. David Evans Bailey, PhD
Dr Bailey is an artist, author and educator in New Zealand who earned his PhD studying the influences of immersive technologies in Art. His background is in Photography, Education and Information Technology and he combined these professional skills in projects using Virtual Reality and immersive types of technology. He wants to understand how ‘Digital Mergence,’ the merging of the digital and physical worlds, will influence Artists and more generally society in the future. He also a published fiction author as well as being a keen political observer and more recently commentator, inspired by his father a lifelong Liberal. Bailey engages in historical research of many periods including WW2. He has taken a keen interest in subjects such as how dictators like Hitler come to power, and what drives populations to support them. Bailey endeavours to try and present some insights into what we can learn from history's recent and long past, and the dangers of letting history repeat itself.