Davidson Loehr: “Living Under Fascism” – a sermon

2005-01-14

Richard Moore

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A sermon on Fascism by a Unitarian minister in Austin, Texas

Living Under Fascism 

Davidson Loehr 
7 November 2004 

First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin
4700 Grover Ave., Austin, TX 78756 
512-452-6168 

PRAYER:

This is usually the Veterans Day service. I had planned to
devote the prayer to veterans because, as a Vietnam veteran,
veterans are very dear to me. Today, let us pray that all who
suffer may find some peace. May all parents, relatives and
friends of lost or dead children find light at the end of
their dark and fearful tunnels.

May those who terrify and endanger us and our children be
brought to justice. And may we once again find or create that
necessary but fragile web of interrelatedness which alone can
give us both safety lines and safety nets as we go - whether
bravely or timidly - into our future. Amen.

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 - ns his campaign on family values,
the flag, and patriotism. Windrip and the talk show host
portray advocates of traditional American democracy - 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 -
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  [??]

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  See how familiar they sound.

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 areflag 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.

6. 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 war
time, 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 liminated
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 NewYork 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, Rumsfeld,
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 PatRobertson'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 or "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 workers' 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 in1934.

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 fewyears:

* 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 Veterans' 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 -
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 - 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
learning 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.

---

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
- step, by step, by step.

* * * * *

About Our Minister, Davidson Loehr, Ph.D.

His academic credentials include a doctoral degree from the
University of Chicago in theology, philosophy of religion and
philosophy of science, a master's degree from the same
university in methods for studying religions, and a bachelor's
degree in music theory from the University of Michigan.

Dr. Loehr is a regular contributor to the Austin
American-Statesman and represents our church at activities and
events sponsored by the Austin Area Interreligious Ministries.

Before becoming a Unitarian Universalist minister, Dr. Loehr
was a combat photographer in Vietnam and a professional
musician, playing clarinet and saxophone in road bands and
combos. His office is lined with astounding photographs of
places he has visited and people he has known.

- end  -

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