Brian E. Fogarty is Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Saint Catherine University, St. Paul, MN. He is the author of Fascism: Why Not Here? (Potomac Books, 2011) and War, Peace, and the Social Order. He currently blogs at befogarty.wordpress.com.
Imagine this scenario: the country has suffered a military setback that was supposed to have yielded victory after only a few months of “shock and awe.” The national debt has grown to staggering size. Citizens complain bitterly about the national government, particularly the legislative branch, for being a bunch of do-nothings working solely for themselves or for special interest groups. In fact, the political scene has pretty much lost its center—moderates are attacked by all sides as the political discourse becomes a clamor of increasingly extreme positions.
It seems like it’s always election season, and campaigns are increasingly vicious, with candidates accusing their opponents of betrayal or treason. Fear of enemies, both external and internal, have been stoked by political opportunists—one of whom is rising in popularity despite proposing actions that are against the most fundamental laws of the land.
Sound familiar? That society was Germany of the 1920s—the ill-fated Weimar Republic. But it also describes more and more the political climate in the United States today.
Germans were worried about the future of their country. They suffered from all sorts of terror, as assassinations, coup attempts, and crime pulled their society apart. The left blamed the right; the right blamed the left; and the political center simply dried up.
To get themselves out of the mess, Germans might have demanded government that carefully mended fences with its allies and enemies; one that judiciously hammered out compromises among the various political parties and sought the middle path.
But we know that didn’t happen. In 1920s Germany, as now in the US, appeals to reason and prudence were no way to get votes in times of crisis. As often happens in such times, the Germans became a people for whom resolve was valued more highly than prudence, daring more than caution, and righteousness more than discretion. In many ways, they were a people not so different from many of today’s Americans.
What was needed, the Germans thought, was a strong leader—someone who would put an end to politics as usual; most of all, someone who could unite all the divisions in Germany and dispel the clamor. They found that leader in Adolf Hitler.
When I wrote Fascism: Why Not Here? in 2010, I viewed it as a warning to Americans that, while there were no signs of a fascist movement, we are not immune to its appeal. That was then. Today such a movement is emerging, and in very much the same way that it did in Weimar Germany. It is still little more than a disorganized throng who like to hear their most irrational fears validated. But the hot rhetoric, the call for bold, reckless action, and the contempt for democratic institutions and processes are becoming mainstream currents of thought.
The coming year will shape the American political, cultural, and moral landscape for a generation to come. But what sort of landscape will it be? Fascism: Why Not Here? explores the cultural and moral bases of fascist thought in Germany and in America, and asks: Can it happen here, after all?
-Brian F. Gogarty