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> First UU Church of Austin - Sermons

> Living Under Fascism

> Davidson Loehr

> 7 November 2004

> First UU Church of Austin

> 4700 Grover Ave., Austin, TX 78756

> 512-452-6168 o www.austinuu.org

> SERMON: Living Under Fascism

> You may wonder why anyone would try to use the word "fascism" in a

> serious discussion of where America is today. It sounds like cheap

> name-calling, or melodramatic allusion to a slew of old war movies.

> But I am serious. I don't mean it as name-calling at all. I mean to

> persuade

> you that the style of governing into which America has slid is most

> accurately described as fascism, and that the necessary

> implications of

> this fact are rightly regarded as terrifying. That's what I am

> about

> here. And even if I don't persuade you, I hope to raise the level

> of

> your thinking about who and where we are now, to add some nuance

> and

> perhaps some useful insights.

>

> The word comes from the Latin word "Fasces," denoting a bundle of

> sticks tied together. The individual sticks represented citizens, and

> the bundle represented the state. The message of this metaphor was

> that it

> was the bundle that was significant, not the individual sticks. If

> it

> sounds un-American, it's worth knowing that the Roman Fasces appear

> on

> the wall behind the Speaker's podium in the chamber of the US House

> of

> Representatives.

>

> Still, it's an unlikely word. When most people hear the word "fascism"

> they may think of the racism and anti-Semitism of Mussolini and

> Hitler.

> It is true that the use of force and the scapegoating of fringe

> groups

> are part of every fascism. But there was also an economic dimension

> of

> fascism, known in Europe during the 1920s and '30s as

> "corporatism,"

> which was an essential ingredient of Mussolini's and Hitler's

> tyrannies.

> So-called corporatism was adopted in Italy and Germany during the

> 1930s

> and was held up as a model by quite a few intellectuals and policy

> makers in the United States and Europe.

>

> As I mentioned a few weeks ago (in "The Corporation Will Eat Your

> Soul"), Fortune magazine ran a cover story on Mussolini in 1934,

> praising his fascism for its ability to break worker unions,

> disempower workers and transfer huge sums of money to those who

> controlled the money rather than those who earned it.

>

> Few Americans are aware of or can recall how so many Americans and

> Europeans viewed economic fascism as the wave of the future during the

> 1930s. Yet reviewing our past may help shed light on our present,

> and

> point the way to a better future. So I want to begin by looking

> back to

> the last time fascism posed a serious threat to America.

>

> In Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel "It Can't Happen Here," a conservative

> southern politician is helped to the presidency by a nationally

> syndicated radio talk show host. The politician - Buzz Windrip -

> runs

> his campaign on family values, the flag, and patriotism. Windrip

> and the

> talk show host portray advocates of traditional American democracy

> as

> those concerned with individual rights and freedoms as

> anti-American.

> That was 69 years ago.

>

> One of the most outspoken American fascists from the 1930s was

> economist Lawrence Dennis. In his 1936 book, The Coming American

> Fascism a coming

> which he anticipated and cheered as Dennis declared that defenders

> of

> "18th-century Americanism" were sure to become "the laughing stock

> of

> their own countrymen." The big stumbling block to the development

> of

> economic fascism, Dennis bemoaned, was "liberal norms of law or

> constitutional guarantees of private rights."

>

> So it is important for us to recognize that, as an economic system,

> fascism was widely accepted in the 1920s and '30s, and nearly

> worshiped by some powerful American industrialists. And fascism has

> always, and

> explicitly, been opposed to liberalism of all kinds.

>

> Mussolini, who helped create modern fascism, viewed liberal ideas as

> the enemy. "The Fascist conception of life," he wrote, "stresses the

> importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far

> as his

> interests coincide with the State. It is opposed to classical

> liberalism

> [which] denied the State in the name of the individual; Fascism

> reasserts the rights of the State as expressing the real essence of

> the

> individual." (In 1932 Mussolini wrote, with the help of Giovanni

> Gentile, an entry for the Italian Encyclopedia on the definition of

> fascism. You can read the whole entry at

> http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/mussolini-fascism.html)

>

> Mussolini thought it was unnatural for a government to protect

> individual rights: The essence of fascism, he believed, is that

> government should be the master, not the servant, of the people.

>

> Still, fascism is a word that is completely foreign to most of us. We

> need to know what it is, and how we can know it when we see it.

>

> In an essay coyly titled "Fascism Anyone?," Dr. Lawrence Britt, a

> political scientist, identifies social and political agendas common to

> fascist regimes. His comparisons of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco,

> Suharto,

> and Pinochet yielded this list of 14 "identifying characteristics

> of

> fascism." (The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine,

> Volume

> 23, Number 2. Read it at

> http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/britt_23_2.htm)

> See how familiar they sound.

>

>

> [The link above is to the Britt article. slj]

>

>

>

> 1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism

>

> Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos,

> slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen

> everywhere, as

> are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

>

> 2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights

>

> Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in

> fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in

> certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way

> or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations,

> long

> incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

>

> 3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause

>

> The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need

> to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or

> religious

> minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

>

> 4. Supremacy of the Military

>

> Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is

> given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the

> domestic agenda

> is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

>

> 5. Rampant Sexism

>

> The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively

> male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are

> made more rigid. Opposition to abortion is high, as is homophobia and

> anti-gay legislation and national policy.

>

> Controlled Mass Media

>

> Sometimes the media are directly controlled by the government, but in

> other cases, the media are indirectly controlled by government

> regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives.

> Censorship, especially in wartime, is very common.

>

> 7. Obsession with National Security

>

> Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

>

> 8. Religion and Government are Intertwined

>

> Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in

> the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious

> rhetoric

> and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the

> major

> tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the

> government's

> policies or actions.

>

> 9. Corporate Power is Protected

>

> The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are

> the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a

> mutually

> beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

>

> 10. Labor Power is Suppressed

>

> Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a

> fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or

> are severely suppressed.

>

> 11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts

>

> Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher

> education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and

> other

> academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the

> arts

> is openly attacked, and governments often refuse to fund the arts.

>

> 12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment

>

> Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to

> enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police

> abuses and

> even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is

> often a

> national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist

> nations

>

> 13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption

>

> Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and

> associates who appoint each other to government positions and use

> governmental power and authority to protect their friends from

> accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national

> resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright

> stolen by government leaders.

>

> 14. Fraudulent Elections

>

> Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other

> times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even

> assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to

> control

> voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation

> of the

> media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to

> manipulate or control elections.

>

> This list will be familiar to students of political science. But it

> should be familiar to students of religion as well, for much of it

> mirrors the social and political agenda of religious fundamentalisms

> worldwide. It is both accurate and helpful for us to understand

> fundamentalism as religious fascism, and fascism as political

> fundamentalism. They both come from very primitive parts of us that

> have

> always been the default setting of our species: amity toward our

> in-group, enmity toward out-groups, hierarchical deference to alpha

> male

> figures, a powerful identification with our territory, and so

> forth. It

> is that brutal default setting that all civilizations have tried to

> raise us above, but it is always a fragile thing, civilization, and

> has

> to be achieved over and over and over again.

>

> But, again, this is not America's first encounter with fascism. In

> early 1944, the New York Times asked Vice President Henry Wallace to,

> as Wallace noted, "write a piece answering the following questions:

> What is

> a fascist? How many fascists have we? How dangerous are they?"

>

> Vice President Wallace's answer to those questions was published in

> The New York Times on April 9, 1944, at the height of the war against

> the

> Axis powers of Germany and Japan. See how much you think his

> statements

> apply to our society today.

>

> "The really dangerous American fascist," Wallace wrote, "is the man

> who wants to do in the United States in an American way what Hitler

> did in

> Germany in a Prussian way. The American fascist would prefer not to

> use

> violence. His method is to poison the channels of public

> information.

> With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth

> to the

> public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into

> giving

> the fascist and his group more money or more power."

>

> In his strongest indictment of the tide of fascism he saw rising in

> America, Wallace added, "They claim to be super-patriots, but they

> would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They

> demand free

> enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest.

> Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is

> to

> capture political power so that, using the power of the state and

> the

> power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in

> eternal subjection." By these standards, a few of today's weapons

> for

> keeping the common people in eternal subjection include NAFTA, the

> World

> Trade Organization, union-busting, cutting worker benefits while

> increasing CEO pay, elimination of worker benefits, security and

> pensions, rapacious credit card interest, and outsourcing of jobs

> not to

> mention the largest prison system in the world.

>

> The Perfect Storm

>

> Our current descent into fascism came about through a kind of "Perfect

> Storm, " a confluence of three unrelated but mutually supportive

> schools

> of thought.

>

> 1. The first stream of thought was the imperialistic dream of the

> Project for the New American Century. I don't believe anyone can

> understand the past four years without reading the Project for the New

> American Century, published in September 2000 and authored by many

> who

> have been prominent players in the Bush administrations, including

> Cheney, Rumsfleid, Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Donald Kagan, to

> name

> only a few. This report saw the fall of Communism as a call for

> America

> to become the military rulers of the world, to establish a new

> worldwide

> empire. They spelled out the military enhancements we would need,

> then

> noted, sadly, that these wonderful plans would take a long time,

> unless

> there could be a catastrophic and catalyzing event like a new Pearl

> Harbor that would let the leaders turn America into a military and

> militarist country. There was no clear interest in religion in this

> report, and no clear concern with local economic policies.

>

> 2. A second powerful stream must be credited to Pat Robertson and his

> Christian Reconstructionists, or Dominionists. Long dismissed by

> most of

> us as a screwball, the Dominionist style of Christianity, which he

> has

> been preaching since the early 1980s, is now the most powerful

> religious

> voice in the Bush administration.

>

> Katherine Yurica, who transcribed over 1300 pages of interviews from

> Pat Robertson's "700 Club" shows in the 1980s, has shown how Robertson

> and

> his chosen guests consistently, openly and passionately argued that

> America must become a theocracy under the control of Christian

> Dominionists. Robertson is on record saying democracy is a terrible

> form

> of government unless it is run by his kind of Christians. He also

> rails

> constantly against taxing the rich, against public education,

> social

> programs and welfare and prefers Deuteronomy 28 over the teachings

> of

> Jesus. He is clear that women must remain homebound as obedient

> servants

> of men, and that abortions, like homosexuals, should not be

> allowed.

> Robertson has also been clear that other kinds of Christians,

> including

> Episcopalians and Presbyterians, are enemies of Christ. (The Yurica

> Report. Search under this name, or for "Despoiling America" by

> Katherine

> Yurica on the internet.)

>

> 3. The third major component of this Perfect Storm has been the desire

> of very wealthy Americans and corporate CEOs for a plutocracy that

> will

> favor profits by the very rich and disempowerment of the vast

> majority

> of American workers, the destruction of worker's unions, and the

> alliance of government to help achieve these greedy goals. It is a

> condition some have called socialism for the rich, capitalism for

> the

> poor, and which others recognize as a reincarnation of Social

> Darwinism.

> This strain of thought has been present throughout American

> history.

> Seventy years ago, they tried to finance a military coup to replace

> Franklin Delano Roosevelt and establish General Smedley Butler as a

> fascist dictator in 1934. Fortunately, they picked a general who

> really

> was a patriot; he refused, reported the scheme, and spoke and wrote

> about it. As Canadian law professor Joel Bakan wrote in the book

> and

> movie "The Corporation," they have now achieved their coup without

> firing a shot.

>

> Our plutocrats have had no particular interest in religion. Their

> global interests are with an imperialist empire, and their domestic

> goals are

> in undoing all the New Deal reforms of Franklin Delano Roosevelt

> that

> enabled the rise of America's middle class after WWII.

>

> Another ill wind in this Perfect Storm is more important than its

> crudity might suggest: it was President Clinton's sleazy sex with a

> young but eager intern in the White House. This incident, and

> Clinton's equally sleazy lying about it, focused the certainties of

> conservatives

> on the fact that "liberals" had neither moral compass nor moral

> concern,

> and therefore represented a dangerous threat to the moral fiber of

> America. While the effects of this may be hard to quantify, I think

> they

> were profound.

>

> These "storm" components have no necessary connection, and come from

> different groups of thinkers, many of whom wouldn't even like one

> another. But together, they form a nearly complete web of command

> and

> control, which has finally gained control of America and, they

> hope, of

> the world.

>

> What's coming

>

> When all fascisms exhibit the same social and political agendas (the

> 14 points listed by Britt), then it is not hard to predict where a new

> fascist uprising will lead. And it is not hard. The actions of

> fascists

> and the social and political effects of fascism and fundamentalism

> are

> clear and sobering. Here is some of what's coming, what will be

> happening in our country in the next few years:

>

> * The theft of all social security funds, to be transferred to those

> who control money, and the increasing destitution of all those

> dependent on

> social security and social welfare programs.

>

> * Rising numbers of uninsured people in this country that already has

> the highest percentage of citizens without health insurance in the

> developed world.

>

> * Increased loss of funding for public education combined with

> increased support for vouchers, urging Americans to entrust their

> children's education to Christian schools.

>

> * More restrictions on civil liberties as America is turned into the

> police state necessary for fascism to work.

>

> * Withdrawal of virtually all funding for National Public Radio and

> the Public Broadcasting System. At their best, these media sometimes

> encourage critical questioning, so they are correctly seen as

> enemies of

> the state's official stories.

>

> * The reinstatement of a draft, from which the children of privileged

> parents will again be mostly exempt, leaving our poorest children

> to

> fight and die in wars of imperialism and greed that could never

> benefit

> them anyway. (That was my one-sentence Veteran's Day sermon for

> this year.)

>

> * More imperialistic invasions: of Iran and others, and the

> construction of a huge permanent embassy in Iraq.

>

> * More restrictions on speech, under the flag of national security.

>

> * Control of the internet to remove or cripple it as an instrument of

> free communication that is exempt from government control. This

> will be

> presented as a necessary anti-terrorist measure.

>

> * Efforts to remove the tax-exempt status of churches like this one,

> and to characterize them as anti-American.

>

> * Tighter control of the editorial bias of almost all media, and

> demonization of the few media they are unable to control as the New

> York Times, for instance.

>

> * Continued outsourcing of jobs, including more white-collar jobs, to

> produce greater profits for those who control the money and direct

> the

> society, while simultaneously reducing America's workers to a more

> desperate and powerless status.

>

> * Moves in the banking industry to make it impossible for an

> increasing number of Americans to own their homes. As they did in the

> 1930s, those

> who control the money know that it is to their advantage and profit

> to

> keep others renting rather than owning.

>

> * Criminalization of those who protest, as un-American, with arrests,

> detentions and harassment increasing. We already have a higher

> percentage of our citizens in prison than any other country in the

> world. That percentage will increase . * In the near future, it

> will be

> illegal or at least dangerous to say the things I have said here

> this

> morning. In the fascist story, these things are un-American. In the

> real

> history of a democratic America, they were seen as profoundly

> patriotic,

> as the kind of critical questions that kept the American spirit

> alive

> are the kind of questions, incidentally, that our media were

> supposed to

> be pressing.

>

> Can these schemes work? I don't think so. I think they are murderous,

> rapacious and insane. But I don't know. Maybe they can. Similar

> schemes

> have worked in countries like Chile, where a democracy in which

> over 90%

> voted has been reduced to one in which only about 20% vote because

> they

> say, as Americans are learning to say, that it no longer matters

> who you

> vote for.

>

> Hope

>

> In the meantime, is there any hope, or do we just band together like

> lemmings and dive off a cliff? Yes, there is always hope, though at

> times it is more hidden, as it is now.

>

> As some critics are now saying, and as I have been preaching and

> writing for almost twenty years, America's liberals need to grow

> beyond political liberalism, with its often self-absorbed focus on

> individual

> rights to the exclusion of individual responsibilities to the

> larger

> society. Liberals will have to construct a more complete vision

> with

> moral and religious grounding. That does not mean confessional

> Christianity. It means the legitimate heir to Christianity. Such a

> legitimate heir need not be a religion, though it must have clear

> moral

> power, and be able to attract the minds and hearts of a voting

> majority

> of Americans.

>

> And the new liberal vision must be larger than that of the

> conservative religious vision that will be appointing judges, writing

> laws and bending the cultural norms toward hatred and exclusion for

> the foreseeable future. The conservatives deserve a lot of admiration.

> They

> have spent the last thirty years studying American politics,

> forming

> their vision and learn how to gain control in the political system.

> And

> it worked; they have won.

>

> Even if liberals can develop a bigger vision, they still have all that

> time-consuming work to do. It won't be fast. It isn't even clear

> that

> liberals will be willing to do it; they may instead prefer to go

> down

> with the ship they're used to.

>

> One man who has been tireless in his investigations and critiques of

> America's slide into fascism is Michael C. Ruppert, whose postings

> usually read as though he is wound way too tight. But he offers

> four

> pieces of advice about what we can do now, and they seem

> reality-based

> enough to pass on to you.

>

> This is America; they're all about money:

>

>

> * First, he says you should get out of debt.

> * Second is to spend your money and time on things that give you

> energy and provide you with useful information.

> * Third is to stop spending a penny with major banks, news media

> and

> corporations that feed you lies and leave you angry and exhausted.

> * And fourth is to learn how money works and use it like a

> (political)

> weapon as he predicts the rest of the world will be doing against

> us.

> (from

> http://www.fromthewilderness.com/free/ww3/110504_snap_out.shtml)

>

> That's advice written this week. Another bit of advice comes from

> sixty years ago, from Roosevelt's Vice President, Henry Wallace.

> Wallace said,

> "Democracy, to crush fascism internally, must...develop the ability

> to

> keep people fully employed and at the same time balance the budget.

> It

> must put human beings first and dollars second. It must appeal to

> reason

> and decency and not to violence and deceit. We must not tolerate

> oppressive government or industrial oligarchy in the form of

> monopolies

> and cartels."

>

> Still another way to understand fascism is as a kind of colonization.

> A simple definition of "colonization" is that it takes people's

> stories

> away, and assigns them supportive roles in stories that empower

> others

> at their expense. When you are taxed to support a government that

> uses

> you as a means to serve the ends of others, you are ironically in a

> state of taxation without representation. That's where this country

> started, and it's where we are now.

>

> I don't know the next step. I'm not a political activist; I'm only a

> preacher. But whatever you do, whatever we do, I hope that we can

> Remember some very basic things that I think of as eternally true.

> One

> is that the vast majority of people are good decent people who mean

> and

> do as well as they know how. Very few people are evil, though some

> are.

> But we all live in families where some of our blood relatives

> support

> things we hate. I believe they mean well, and the way to rebuild

> broken

> bridges is through greater understanding, compassion, and a

> reality-based story that is more inclusive and empowering for the

> vast

> majority of us.

>

> Those who want to live in a reality-based story rather than as serfs

> in an ideology designed to transfer power, possibility and hope to a

> small

> ruling elite have much long and hard work to do, individually and

> collectively.

>

> It will not be either easy or quick.

>

> But we will do it. We will go forward in hope and in courage. Let us

> seek that better path, and find the courage to take it a step, by

> step,

> by step.

>

>

> --

> stan johnson

> --

>

> God is an invention of Man. So the nature of God is only a shallow

> mystery. The deep mystery is the nature of Man.

> --- Abbot Nanrei Kobori, Kyoto, quoted in

> Sagan and Druyan, "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors"

>

>

 

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