Friday, July 21, 2006

 

Britt on Fascism in Free Inquiry

Britt on Fascism: An Open Letter to the Editors of Free Inquiry
By Douglas E. Hill © 2003
This was originally published on the Students for Science & Skepticism website.

In “Fascism Anyone?” (FI, Spring 2003), Lawrence W. Britt implies, but lacks the courage to state directly, that the United States has become fascist because it shows twelve characteristics of fascism that he lists. Yet he cites no examples, and an honest look will show that the U.S. simply lacks many of these characteristics.

Britt writes that fascists control the mass media (item 6). America has clearly not seen any such control regarding the war with Iraq. Criticism of the Bush administration’s policy was freely published, in major media such as the New York Times, not to mention smaller publications such as Free Inquiry. Large, freely held, anti-war demonstrations were covered in all the major media. Even the hawkish opinion sources reported and criticized the arguments and activity of those opposed to the war.

Britt claims that fascist governments show “rampant sexism” (item 5). (Britt fails to explain how much more sexist the fascist regimes were than those that preceded and succeeded them.) American women today have legal protections and opportunities unequaled in history; for example, the President’s National Security Advisor and four of his cabinet secretaries are women. One might wish for more, but this can hardly be called “rampantly sexist.” Compare this to the sexism of the Taliban regime that we destroyed.

He says that fascists “suppress or eliminate” the “power of labor” (item 10) as well as academic freedom (item 11). Yet here at the University of California, Irvine, my union (the Student Workers Union of UAW) and others continue to operate freely, and professors and students freely express their views. Many professors also enjoy the additional protection of tenure.

Britt also worries about “expressions of nationalism” (item 1); so let me ask him, what level of patriotism is appropriate in a democracy, especially after it has been attacked? Am I a fascist if I fly the flag on July 4?

Britt‘s last characteristic of fascism is “fraudulent elections” (item 14). Fascist regimes sometimes have indeed had non-competitive plebiscites but have also suspended democracy altogether under the guise of national emergency (which he ignores). But competitive American elections continue on schedule, even since 9/11. Britt complains of “turning [an election] to a judiciary beholden to the power elite,” perhaps referring to the Bush vs. Gore decision. Unfortunately he fails to criticize this directly or explain why this is similar to incidents in fascist countries.

Britt either has no appreciation of the freedom we enjoy in this country and no idea how bad fascism really is, or he is resorting to innuendo (it is not even clear enough to be called “name-calling”) in place of argument. Let him give examples of fascism, if he has any. If he is unhappy with Administration policy, let him criticize it directly, as your editors do in the same issue.

Yours in Reason,
Douglas E. Hill

When this letter was originally written and posted (2003), Mr. Hill was a graduate student in Logic and Philosophy of Science and Vice President of Students for Science and Skepticism at the University of California, Irvine. He is speaking for himself here. This letter was sent to Free Inquiry in May, 2003.

Comments:
I suspect that you will get responses now that Stephanie Miller (AirAmerica) droned on about the 14 Points of Fascism on that Hannity & Colmes Show.
 
So what did she say? Did she actually accept Britt's list uncritically?
 
(5) Comparing the United States to the Taliban is disingenuous. The Taliban is recognised as being well beyond fascist, and hardly amounts to a standard against which to compare anything. What's most crucial here, as well as in all of the points you hit, is the direction in which the the country is moving. Just because we have achieved a high level of women's rights doesn't mean that a steady eroding isn't cause for concern. Aside from reproductive rights, one might argue that women simply have suffered the erosion of civil rights along with everybody else. However, the hard social push to more "traditional" values has meant favouring more "traditional" roles for women, and women continue to suffer a significant disparity as wage earners. Rather than Afghanistan, compare American women with their counterparts in, say, Sweden, or New Zealand.

(6) You select one example of open debate and feel your case has been made. I would counter with the rapid disappearance of the Wiregate scandal from the mainstream media as sufficient evidence that a level of control definitely is being exercised. In an Orwellian world, a certain amount of debate and dissent is allowed as part of the control. Mind you, I'm not suggesting that what you describe conforms to that extreme a situation, but merely pointing out that the presence of limited debate is not, in and of itself, counterindicative of control. The extent to which important news items never surface, whether due to government pressure or self-censoring on the part of the media, may or may not be "substantial" based on a given individual's standards, but it is on the rise. True dissent does still exist, but it is being squelched, pressured, bought up and assimilated whenever feasible. To revisit my example above, the fact that a presidential candidate had cheated in a debate would have been the end of his candidacy at any prior time in my lifetime, at least, and the disappearance of this story was vital in allowing Bush to win reelection, or, at the very least, in allowing his reelection to seem credible. Also, let's not overlook the direct assault on the independent voice of PBS.

(10) You belong to a union at UCI? You should consider yourself fortunate. Union membership, in terms of both sheer numbers and percentages, has been on the decline for years, and the government has been helping American corporations undermine remaining union strength and export formerly union jobs.

(1) You are disingenuous again by tying accusations of excess patriotism with flying a flag on the 4th. The frightening "us against them" rhetoric, flowing seamlessly into "us rather than them," has been hard to miss these past few years. What level is appropriate: a level which accepts dissent; a level which eschews jingoistic actions or rhetoric; a level which doesn't stoop to renaming French fries in the congressional dining hall; in short, a level which validates the rights and value of other people around the world on a par with our own, or at least comes close.

(14) Beyond the interference of the Supreme Court in 2000, when the decision properly belonged in the hands of the State of Florida and its electorate, there is the subsequent election of 2004. The American "regime" refused to allow UN election observers, the press ignored the exact same type of evidence which our government uses to claim fraud in elections around the world, and the president of Diebold's unfortunate comments regarding his obligation to deliver an election while his corporation held a contract to supply voting hardware is cause for suspicion, at least.

The false dilemma you present in your closing paragraph is laughable. It is possible that Britt both recognises the freedoms we have here, as well as how bad a truly fascist state can be, and is sounding the early alarm to help keep us from continuing the transition from the former to the latter. I'm with him.
 
Dear Freddy:

Thank you for your response. Because you cite a few examples, your response is already a lot better than the Lawrence W. Britt article I criticized. But like Britt, you fail to offer a definition of fascism. Instead, it is just a laundry list of things that you do not like in modern America. And like Britt, you fail to offer any examples from actual fascist states to compare them with.

This failure to define “fascism” is a common problem. "Fascism" once meant something (some people would readily admit to being fascist), but it seems to have turned into merely a term of political approbation, and that seems to be the sense that you and Britt are using the term. (There is now a nice discussion of the misusage of "fascism" on Wikipedia, with a great quote from George Orwell.) Doing this cheapens the word. If America today is fascist, then fascism must not be so bad. Something similar often happens in different political circles with the word “communist,” especially when shortened into “commie.” If either word is thrown at anyone with whom you disagree politically, it ceases to mean anything.

Now let’s go through your points:

5) If Britt can compare the America of today (or of 2003) to Nazi Germany, surely I should be free to compare it to the Taliban. Please note that I am not saying things are perfect for women in America today. I am just saying that Britt’s comparison is, to use your word, disingenuous.

But you miss the bigger problem. Britt is saying that “rampant sexism” is part and parcel of fascism. But by offering neither an account of fascism, showing how sexism is a part of its ideology, nor examples of how sexist fascist states are, he has not shown any relationship between sexism and fascism. It is quite possible that fascist states had no more sexism than was already present in their societies before a fascist regime. We cannot tell.

Equal pay for equal work is and should be the law. (I suspect that we agree on this.) Do you have any evidence that it is not being enforced? If so, then post it. But we must remember, if women are given free choices (as I think we agree they should be), then some of them will choose traditional roles (and some will not), and some women will (as will some men) choose careers that pay less than average but are otherwise more fulfilling for them. This means that some kind of wage disparity is to be expected in a society where women and men are free to make their own career choices. Some kind of state control would be required to make their average wages perfectly equal. I would be tempted to describe such control as “fascist”, but then I would be misusing the term.

6) Please give me an example of a debate that is being suppressed. What is “wiregate”? When I googled “wiregate”, the first page contains no hints of a scandal. There are probably simpler reasons that it is not being covered. Most likely, there is a lack of interest, or perhaps it is not even real. Since you mention a “-gate”, let us remember that Watergate was widely covered. The Nixon administration was unable to suppress it, as I suspect current administrations would be if they tried to suppress something similar.

10) I now belong to a different union, and you quite correct that I am fortunate to do so. But what is your evidence that the government, rather than impersonal market forces, is exporting union jobs. We know that market forces are involved. Why do we need to add the government?

1) Renaming the French fries was silly. But please tell me, what dissent is not being accepted? I hear a lot of it, made freely and without fear. And could you please answer the question I asked Britt: “what level of patriotism is appropriate in a democracy?”

14) In 2000, the Supreme Court broke a tie. I do not think it was a good decision, but it did resolve a crisis. It was hardly the case of taking an election from a clear winner. In 2004, we had lots of election observers (as we do this year): they are called the press. Both domestic and foreign reporters take a great interest in our election. Was there anything stopping people from the U.N. from observing it also? There are lots of U.N. officials in New York. Was there some kind of roadblock to keep them from driving (or flying, or taking a train, or a bus, or hitchhiking) to Ohio? And more importantly to the fundamental problem with Britt’s article, how is this similar to anything that has occurred under fascism?

Regarding your charge of false dilemma: It is indeed possible that Britt realizes how good we have it, and how bad fascism was. But please look at the second part of my disjunction: Britt did indeed use innuendo in place of argument. If Britt (or anyone else) wishes to compare the United States of today with fascist states of the past or present, let him offer some real scholarship, with clear definitions and real examples. He failed to do so in the article I criticized.
 
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