The Road to Fascism

Over the past 100 years there have been numerous revolutions and movements that have overthrown authoritarian regimes. Russia (1917) and China (1949) were among those that, despite their initial promise, reverted to a form of autocracy worse than before. Hitler and Mussolini, however, came into power by democratic means, then subverted their democracies to authoritarianism. There have been other countries that have overcome authoritarian regimes recently that initially moved in the direction of democracy, but many have succumbed to autocracy and seem to be heading toward actual fascism. They are deteriorating into what Steven Livitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, in their book How Democracies Die, describe as democracies that have gone very wrong:

Democracies may die at the hands not of generals but of elected leaders – presidents or prime ministers who subvert the very process that brought them to power. Some of these leaders dismantle democracy quickly, as Hitler did in the wake of the Reichstag fire in Germany. More often, though, democracies erode slowly, in barely visible steps.

Some of the countries that made up the Soviet Union are regressing past authoritarianism to fascism before our eyes. Russia, Poland, Hungary, the Philippines, Nicaragua, India, Turkey and others now tread in that direction. Here is the definition of fascism from Merriam Webster:

A political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.

There were many in the U.S. and other democracies who visited and promoted Stalin and Hitler as they operated – at  first – under the guise of democracy, and became convinced that these leaders were on the side of “the people.” But “the people” in those cases – as in the countries cited above – are a majority of the population who buy into the view that their country is threatened by a dangerous minority.

This same conspiracy mentality, that there are internal enemies of the state who must be marginalized, was promoted by the last administration in the US, an idea still pushed by many in the Republican Party. This line also is being promoted by media outlets who glorify authoritarian attitudes and celebrate regimes where democracy is fading and minorities – or those who dare protest  – are blamed for society’s problems. This is the first step toward declaring that members of a minority are less than human, and already we can predict what the next step will be: marginalization, imprisonment, or perhaps worse, based purely on political, racial or religious identification.

A 2018 article in the New York Times (“As West Fears the Rise of Autocrats, Hungary Shows What’s Possible”), identifies the issue clearly in the case of Hungary:

Once praised by watchdog groups as a leading democracy of post-Soviet Eastern Europe, Hungary now is considered a democracy in sharp, worrisome decline. Through legislative fiat and force of will, Mr. Orban has transformed the country into a political greenhouse for an odd kind of soft autocracy, combining crony capitalism and far-right rhetoric with a single-party political culture.

As in all the countries mentioned above, Orban has threatened the press, forced businesses to take his side, and marginalized people of ethnic groups and religions considered not part of the national identity.

In addition to a former US president who pushed conspiracy theories that led his followers in the direction of fascism, a media that cares more about ratings than truth promotes leaders who have regressed into authoritarianism. Perhaps the most egregious recent example is the visit of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson to Hungary to provide coverage to the carefully crafted lies of its leader on US prime time television. This disgrace can be found at: https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/08/tucker-carlson-viktor-orban-interview-fox-news-hungary-biden-interference.html

If we refuse to learn from the past by supporting governments that have spurned democracy enroute to fascism, we only have ourselves to blame for the deterioration of democracy around the world, and perhaps our own. This is one area of history we cannot afford to repeat.

How do we promote democracy over autocracy and fascism? By instilling genuine democratic ideals in our children that include the equality of every human being, by supporting media that promotes these values, by seeking the truth by examining evidence rather than blindly following an ideology or leader, and by voting for those who demonstrate a belief in real democratic values.

 

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