In case warnings of impending fascism have merit, heres a bucket list of rights to tick off
Fascism is a political philosophy. It exalts the supposed supremacy of a particular national identity or racial group above individual freedoms, social equality and the collective social good.
And these ideas seem frightfully trendy right now.
Im not saying that todays Poland, America, Russia, Turkey or Hungary are fascist countries. Im saying fascism seeks to establish an authoritarian government headed by an autocratic leader through the bestowal of enriching favour on regime-friendly private enterprises, restricting the press, politicising justice and policing, the suppression of opposition and relentless persecution of minorities. The ultimate goal of the fascist project is to concentrate power in the hands of an unaccountable few.
Any similarities are just a coincidence. And Poland has just begun purging its judiciary.
If only there was some kind of vast, historical precedent we could consult to work out where these Im sure, perfectly coincidental fascisty trajectories may lead everyone. If only there was someone we could ask.
Im not saying we should be fraught with terrified concern, but it is a confusing time. One minute you have the president of the United States making excuses for torch-bearing racists who march on cities, the next hes put real children from an extra-national ethnic minority in real cages. Wow, that really came out of nowhere.
I could be wrong, of course its entirely possible that large chunks of the global north are going to hell in a handbasket and we all should be breathless with dread. Last month Fintan OToole in the Irish Times urged us to recognise that trial runs for fascism are in full flow. And Jonathan Freedland in this publication suggested that Inspired by Trump, the world could be heading back to the 1930s. The Guardians Suzanne Moore relayed that when people talk about the rise of fascism, it is in the present tense. First Dog on the Moon did a fun cartoon! Oh, and the former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright has done an even less fun book called Fascism: A Warning.
Rarely discussed by the internets fact-impoverished self-selecting historians is that the Nazi ascendancy to absolute power in Germany arose from within a democracy. And fascism doesnt arise suddenly … as OToole warned, It is not easy to get people to give up their ideas of freedom and civility. You have to … get people used to something they initially recoil from.
Is that whats happening? Do these times urge a historical refresher on just how the social catastrophe of Europes last-century descent into fascism took place? No one likes breaking Godwins law and making any Nazi comparison to present events, although Freedland reports Mike Godwin himself has been doing it of late. Donald Trump may have claimed the ranks of Charlottesvilles tiki-torch stormtroopers contained very fine people but Godwin urged by all means, compare these shitheads to Nazis.
So, in the spirit of a listicle for every occasion, heres a bucket list of human rights you may want to squeeze for their perhaps, fleeting pleasures right now. Just in case, you know, that demon long-thought-slayed is returning maybe shirtless, maybe riding in a golf cart and the anxieties of some of the worlds sharpest liberal statespeople and intellectuals really will be borne out.
1. An independent justice system
The United States Holocaust Museum explains that after the Nazi rise to power in 1933, most areas of public life underwent a coordination process, to align institutions like the courts and the various policing agencies to Nazi goals. One of Hitlers first acts as chancellor was to purge Jewish and socialist judges, lawyers, and other court officers from their professions. Ongoing purges took place to improve the political reliability of the judicial system to shield the regime from scrutiny, as well as to punish its critics and opponents. Try managing that with an independent court!
2. A free press
A free press committed to the reportage of facts is a powerful antidote to the propaganda on which fascism relies to encourage people not only into new opinions, but previously unthinkable behaviour. The Nazis realised early how important it was they discredit the sources of objective scrutiny. They demonised journalists as Lgenpresse lying press in biased service to Jews, socialists, foreigners. When the Nazis came to power, there were 4,700 newspapers in Germany. Within a couple of months, they were gone, replaced by controlled and directed state propaganda. The Nazis also burnt books. The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while, said Hitlers propaganda minister, Josef Goebbels, in 1933. No, wait sorry this was said by the Trump adviser Steve Bannon in January last year. My mistake.
3. Equal rights
As the fascist objective is to concentrate power amid an unaccountable few, its crucial to destroy social principles of equality and egalitarianism. You do so by creating an enemy so low and loathesome that their destruction somehow justifies the shredding of social contracts around justice, fairness, accessible hierarchies and equal protection. Stereotypes are applied to demonise an entire group as something less than human vermin, animals, sluts, whores, weirdoes, perverts and therefore deserving of lesser rights, fewer opportunities, and, ultimately, punishment.
4. … especially for chicks
It doesnt really matter who the group targeted is. The Nazis proceeded through the the destruction of Jews, socialists, Romany people, LGBTQIA+ communities, people with disabilities, Jehovahs Witnesses and many others. Franco, the dictator of Spain, had it in for the Masons. The point is not to whom the different standards apply, but that they do at all. And humiliation and punishment of women has ever been an authoritarian-onset motif, as was Moores point in her piece Fundamentalism is coming for us and women, as ever, will be first. Look around, she wrote, and there is already a kind of desensitisation to what is happening, a moral relativism that never sees womens rights as the first rights that are under attack.
5. Trade unions
I mean, if youre trying to hobble ideas of solidarity and inclusion as well as the actual material resources of any democratic resistance movement, its very sensible to defund, restrict and demobilise trade unions. In the wake of the mysterious Reichstag fire that was used as a pretext by the Nazis to suspend German democracy, the Nazis moved quickly against the organised working class; trade union offices were occupied and union leaders hauled off to concentration camps in the first days. Their realisation was that an organised trade union movement has the labour power to shut down not only factories, but shops, banks, supplies, transport systems, emergency services and, with them, governments. Inconvenient.
OToole reckons the screaming babies in US cages were a successful trial run for fascism; their howls were mocked on Fox News, and Trumps popularity has gone up. In Australia, we may also be caging refugee children but its not quite polite to laugh at them. Yet.
Amid the wildness of the times, what we choose now to remember of history will determine the shape of our own. Those who pushed personal lives aside to politically mobilise saved America, Britain and Australia from the fascist contagion even as mainland Europe fell. Those generations watched and learned didnt they? didnt we? that after shredding of norms comes the shredding of institutions, and, with that, of the societies they exist to protect.
Van Badham is a Guardian Australia columnist