Democratic Underground  

The Rise of Yuppie Fascism, Part One
February 5, 2002
by Jack Rabbit

Bernard Weiner ran a piece on the web site Common Dreams last December called "Talkin' about the F-Word." The F-word in question is fascism; Professor Weiner's problem is his reluctance to use it in relation to the Bush administration "because so many on the Left fling that term so carelessly that it soon loses it truth-punch." However, Weiner expresses concern about a "near-fascism" that is fast closes in on us.

The phrase "near-fascism" that Weiner uses is another reason why he and others like him, including the present writer, have an aversion to it. The Bush administration has many similarities - too many - to fascism, but also some important differences. Is this a new phenomenon, too new as yet to be identified with a name? Actually, no: there are European parallels to the Bush administration and to the elements of the Republican Party to which Mr. Bush is closely allied. The phenomenon has been given the name "post-fascism" by some scholars.

However, the term is awkward for two reasons. First, it is time-oriented and invites one to wonder, if post-fascism is to become a thing of the past and is soon replace by a new variant if that newer form would be called "post-post-fascism." Second, the term "post-fascist" could mean the political phenomenon to be discussed here, or it could mean Italian society in the late forties. As it happens, an epithet applied to Jorg Haider, the Austrian leader who is an adherent to this kind of political ideology, provides a more descriptive name in that it associates the ideology with the type of social being to which it attempts to appeal: yuppie fascism.

This is not to imply that all upwardly mobile urban professionals are fascists. However, many contemporary middle- and upper-income professionals, although not most, are imbued with a sense of that they are entitled by virtue of their social position and status to certain civic rights that they would deny to others. These people provide the backbone of the phenomenon we shall call yuppie fascism.

In this two-part series, we will examine the new phenomenon of yuppie fascism. This week, we shall look at the origins and the theory of yuppie fascism.

Most scholars will point to Italy in the years immediately following World War I as the time and place where classic fascism was born. Benito Mussolini is its father, not only in the sense that he lead the movement to political victory but in that he helped to conceive it as a coherent political ideology. Writing for the Italian Encyclopedia in 1932, Mussolini, with the assistance of Giovanni Gentile, outlined the principles of fascism.

He stated that fascism: (1) renounces pacifism as cowardly and embraces war as the activity that "brings up to its highest tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility on the peoples who have the courage to meet it;" (2) is opposed to Marxism in that fascism rejects class warfare as the principle dynamic of history and substitutes for this the concepts of "holiness" and "heroism", by which Mussolini meant "actions influenced by no economic motive, direct or indirect"; (3) renounces socialism, democracy or any other ideology that believes that "a majority, by the simple fact that it is a majority, can direct human society and embraces instead "the immutable, beneficial and fruitful inequality of mankind, which can never be permanently leveled through the mere operation of a mechanical process such as universal suffrage"; (4) recognizes the State as absolute "in comparison to which all individuals or groups are relative, only to be conceive of in their relation to the state" and also conceives of the State as the institution that organizes the nation; (5) embraces the principle of the expansion of the nation as "an essential manifestation of vitality."

An important part of Mussolini's plan was what he called the "corporate state." This played into Mussolini's anti-Marxist theories in that class warfare would be resolved in state-run corporations which would be privately owned but under government control. Workers would receive some benefits they did not receive previously, such as holidays with pay and social security, but in exchange they gave up the right to strike; conversely, corporations were prohibited from locking out workers in labor disputes. In fact, the labor unions were controlled by the state. The state set production quotas for the corporations. In this way, the corporation was subordinate to the state.

Mussolini and his fascist state fell ingloriously in 1945. Fascism was in disrepute all over the world and survived in rare instances, such as Franco's Spain. However, fascism at some grass roots level, it never completely vanished. The term neo-fascist or neo-Nazi has often been used to describe Europe's disaffected jack-booted youth expressing hatred of non-European immigrants and an admiration for Hitler. However, this element has chosen to work outside the established political system.

As a parallel to the new Hitler youth, right-wing political parties rose in Europe's political establishment. Fascism was bound to resurrect as a political force in some form sooner or later. Notable right-wing political parties have been the National Front in France, led by Jean-Marie LePen, and the Freedom Party in Austria, led by Jorg Haider. These parties offered voters a platform based largely on resentment of immigration with some relatively mild anti-semitism sprinkled in. Ironically, anti-semitism may be a stumbling block for politicians such as LePen and Haider. Speaking of LePen, the Anti-Defamation League says:

"While public opinion polls do not reflect explicit agreement by large proportions of respondents with LePen's bigoted language, they do show substantial support for his broader nationalist themes. Thus, a recent poll shows 30 percent of respondents agreeing with LePen's positions on "defending traditional values"; 26 percent with his attitude on controlling crime by a tougher judicial system; and 25 percent supporting his opposition to further immigration and his demand that immigrants conform to French customs and speak French, leaving the culture of their origin in their home countries . . . The one positive component of this poll is that only 4 percent of the respondents agreed with LePen on anti-Semitism."

In October 1999, the fact that Jorg Haider and the Freedom Party won enough support in national elections to muscle their way into a governing coalition caused alarm in Europe. Haider, who was in a position to be named Deputy Chancellor as the result of the elections, had to step aside in the face of the threat of sanctions against Austria by the European Union. However, Europe's most successful party of the extreme right has been Italy's National Alliance, a direct descendant of Mussolini's Fascist Party.

After the defeat of Fascist Italy in World War II, the remnants of the Fascist Party reorganized as the Italian Socialist Movement (MSI). For the most part, the MSI was little more than a nuisance and an embarrassment for half a century. However, under the leadership of Gianfranco Fini, the MSI began a makeover in 1993 to make it more appealing to a broader spectrum of voters. Fini pronounced this new reincarnation of fascism a break from classical fascism.

It was no longer fascist, but "post-fascist." According to the French magazine Le Monde Diplomatique, this makeover was nothing less than "the legitimisation of that section of the right that has its roots in fascism." The motivation for Fini to makeover the old fascism lay in the opportunity to become the junior partner a right-wing governing coalition headed by Silvio Berlusconi, the wealthy Italian TV magnate. This can hardly be called preposterous. For a brief time in 1994 and again since May 2001, Italy has been governed by a coalition featuring Berlusconi as Prime Minister and Fini as his deputy. It is this event that brings yuppie fascism into full bloom.

A scholarly approach to the phenomenon of yuppie fascism is provided by the Hungarian intellectual and politician, Gaspar Miklos Tamas. Writing in the Summer 2000 edition of the Boston Review, Tamas lays out the similarities and differences between classic fascism and the phenomenon he prefers to call post-fascism. For Tamas, the concept of either fascism or post-fascism revolves around the changing concept of citizenship, which for Tamas means the extent to which an individual has a say in the common affairs of any given community.

Tamas argues that citizenship began as a privilege for some: "an elevated status limited by descent, class, race, creed, gender, political participation, morals, profession, patronage, and administrative fiat, not to speak of age and education." Over time, the privilege of citizenship was extended; under the Enlightenment, citizenship became universal within the nation. The government was thought to represent and protect all citizens, that is, most people within the national boundaries. If one lived within the national borders, one was presumed to be a loyal citizen; only one outside could ever be considered an enemy.

There is an inherent contradiction in this concept of universal citizenship in the nation-state, since it is at once universal and parochial. Throughout the Enlightenment, a period that for Tamas ended in with the outbreak of World War I in 1914, there was always resistance from those who favored a more exclusive franchise, such as anti-semites and reactionary royalists, to the continuous expansion of the concept of citizenship. According to Tamas, the main characteristic of fascism is "this hostility to universal citizenship." Says Tamas:

"There is logic in the Nazi declaration that communists, Jews, homosexuals, and the mentally ill are non-citizens and, therefore, non-human . . . These categories of people, as the Nazis saw them, represented types crucial to the Enlightenment project of inclusion. Communists meant the rebellious 'lower type,' the masses brought in, leaderless and rudderless, by rootless universalism, and then rising up against the natural hierarchy; Jews, a community that survived the Christian middle ages without political power of its own, led by an essentially non-coercive authority, the people of the Book, by definition not a people of war; homosexuals, by their inability or unwillingness to procreate, bequeath, and continue, a living refutation of the alleged link between nature and history; the mentally ill, listening to voices unheard by the rest of us--in other words, people whose recognition needs a moral effort and is not immediately ('naturally') given, who can fit in only by enacting an equality of the unequal."

Another post-Enlightenment phenomenon that made fascism possible is what Tamas calls the "de-politicization of the concept of the nation," by which he means "the shift to a cultural definition" of what the nation is. The consequence of this is seen in a wave of anti-immigration legislation and violence all over the developed world. Not only are immigrants targets of suspicions, but so are national minorities, political dissidents and those who exist in the lower economic strata as well.

Simply put, if one does not speak the language, is not of native descent, does not attend the state-supported church or dissents from political views that are within some officially or semi-officially defined range of acceptable opinion, one is not a citizen. Tamas points out that this has even more adverse consequences since the Enlightenment concepts of citizenship, nationality and humanity were welded together: "being expelled from citizenship meant, quite literally, exclusion from humanity." From this, Tamas arrives at an alternate definition of fascism: "[the] cutting [of] the civic and human community in two."

This is fascism, but what of post-fascism? How does the new phenomenon differ from classical fascism? Fundamentally, the difference is that yuppie fascism is designed to work within nominally democratic systems. Tamas continues his examination of post-fascism by stating that 1989 began a new phase in human history. The fall of Communism has made the traditional right/left dichotomy obsolete. Before 1989, the right was a coalition of the guardians of traditional authority and the left was revolutionary socialism. However, there is no more revolutionary socialism except in remnants like Castro's Cuba; now, there is only capitalism. The parties of authority and order can no longer contrast themselves with the old threats of chaos and disorder. This has brought about a decline of what Tamas calls "critical culture." Says Tamas: "There is nothing of any importance on the political horizon but the bourgeois center."

If there is to be an extremism, it must be an "extremism of the center" rather than a revolutionary extremism of either the far left (Communism) or the far right (classical fascism) that seeks to supplant the existing order. "Parts of his discourse are libertarian/neoliberal," Tamas says of Jorg Haider. "His ideal is the propertied little man, he strongly favors a shareholding and home-owning petty bourgeois 'democracy,' and he is quite free of romantic-reactionary nationalism as distinct from parochial selfishness and racism." This fits not only Haider, but the yuppie fascist model generally.

Another feature Tamas sees in the present world is the decay of the power of the state. This is an important feature for any ideological successor to fascism, since, as Mussolini said, in classical fascism the state is absolute. How can a decaying state be absolute? Obviously, it cannot. Therefore, the authority that organizes society must be an institution other than the state. The capitalist multinational corporation would seem to be that authority in today's world. This has adverse consequences to the wretched of today's earth. The nation-state that once was governed by kleptocrats, if it were overthrown by the third-world masses as Franz Fanon envisioned in the early sixties, would no longer lead to liberation. The nation-state is no longer the dominant governing force in their lives.

Rather, the multinational corporation has moved in and, with trade agreements such as NAFTA, is able to tell the national authorities what can and cannot be done. Buying off local authorities with bribes may even become a thing of the past; instead, if a nation were to pass environmental legislation that a multinational corporation finds inconvenient, the nation could face trade sanctions from the WTO. National governments in the third world were often seen as oppressive; however, they were held in contempt by human rights activists because such governments had the ability to grant civil rights. Today's nation-states do not.

As a result, the wretched of the earth whom Fanon would liberate with a Marxist revolution are labor commodities to the multinationals and civically non-existent. Of course, if an unskilled laborer from the developing world leaves for Europe or the United States, he may have no civic rights in his new country either. Soon he will find that even his new brethren, who are native born, have no rights either. On the other hand, the yuppie fascist strategy to deal with the problem of lower-class immigration from the developing world is outlawing it. "Post-fascism does not need to put non-citizens onto freight trains to take them to death," says Tamas. " Instead, it need only prevent the new non-citizens from boarding any trains that might take them into the happy world of overflowing rubbish bins that could feed them."

Tamas' concept of the decay of the state has some interesting corollaries concerning yuppie fascism that he does not explore. For instance, we note that in Mussolini's corporate state, the corporation was responsible to the state. Under yuppie fascism the state is responsible to the corporation. This means we are facing a decentralized model of fascism rather than the highly centralized state envisioned by Mussolini.

Also, if the state is of secondary importance, what does this mean for a concept of a strong political leader? Mussolini and Hitler, however they may have misused their talents, were strong leaders of exceptional ability. Such a political leader might now pose a threat to the dominance of the corporation over the state. Consequently, corporate leaders prefer politicians who are pliant and unimaginative, unless perhaps they rise out of the ranks of corporate leaders, as in the case of Silvio Berlusconi; Berlusconi is at once Italy's leading media magnate, the nation's wealthiest man and the Prime Minister.

Finally, while some transitional forms of yuppie fascism have allied themselves with economic protectionism, such as Pat Buchanan and his followers in the United States, the more mature and potent forms of yuppie fascism, such as the present Italian government of Silvio Berlusconi, are allied with global capitalism. In this, it is not only the worker of the developing nation whose citizenship is taken away in order to treat his labor as a commodity and deny his humanity beyond his ability in the workplace, but also the native-born unskilled or semi-skilled worker in the developed world as well. This marginalization results from the fact that under the alliance of global capitalism and yuppie fascism, capital can easily cross national boundaries but workers cannot.

As Tamas points out, under this alliance "attempts to fight for higher wages and better working conditions are met not with violence, strikebreakers or military coups, but by quiet capital flight and disapproval from international finance and its international or national bureaucracies, which will have the ability to decide who is deserving of aid or debt relief." As event have transpired since Tamas article was first published a year and a half ago, one might also see that any uprising in the developing world by the dispossed could well be met by threats from US B-52s.

Next week, we will examine yuppie fascism in practice, including the praxis of yuppie fascism in America.

Printer-friendly version
Tell a friend about this article Tell a friend about this article
Discuss this article
Democratic Underground Homepage