Fascism

Revenge of the Sith is mostly Revenge of the Sh… well… you get what we’re saying. However, there is something for which we should give them more credit. George Lucas’ prequels -made between 1999 and 2005- actually give us some surprising insights into our own times, here in the United States. No, we are not talking about the racists overtones of Jar Jar Binks, the rise of the American Order of Jedi, or the fact that Chris Christie is a Hutt. We are talking about the fact that prequels give us a surprisingly realistic insight into the rise of fascism… yeah, its going to be a long one.

…With Thunderous Applause
As Americans we have sort of a general lexiconal idea of Fascism. We banter it around enough that we think we understand what it is, but the truth is that we don’t… and that can be dangerous. The United States, much like the Galactic Republic at the beginning of the Clone Wars is already in the first stages of fascism. Many people will reject that statement, because they think they know what fascism is, and again… they are wrong. People think of Germany in 1940 and say that is fascism: the marching, the swastikas, the vilifying of the free press, the persecution of minorities, the shouting crazy man who holds rallies… hmm… Well, that is fascism too, but remember Germany did not turn into that over night. It was a process that transformed the Weimar Republic into the Third Reich. It was a process that transformed the Old Republic into the Galactic Empire, and if we aren’t careful it could transform us as well.

The word “fascism” comes from “fasces” or “fascio littorio.” That is a bunch of rods tied around an axe. In ancient Rome it was used to symbolize the authority of the magistrate, and was used for corporal and capital punishment. Mussolini and his compatriots in the early 20th century picked the symbol as a show of unity and strength, but the truth of fascism is that it is a movement that is typified not in unity, but in opposition. In Germany and Italy before World War II, it rose in opposition to Communism and Liberalism. That is important to remember, because even though it was called the “National Socialist German Workers’ Party” the Nazi’s were not socialists. It’s a purposely misleading name, like the “People’s Republic of China” or “Award Winning Director JJ Abrams.” Nazis despised the idea of socialism. Fascism is the opposite of socialism. It is about rationing resources for the select and worthy few, the “right” people.

At the start of A New Hope Palpatine disbands the Imperial Senate, ridding the Empire of the last vestige of liberal democracy. That is important, because fascism is a reaction against liberal democracy. The Emperor gives direct control over the systems to the governors and moffs, the strongmen of Imperial society. They were the wealthy, the connected, and the loyal. In essence they were the “right” sort of people. Fascism thrives in societies of strongman machismo and totalitarian one-party rule, but that doesn’t happen overnight. Military coups and juntas are quick and bloody, but electoral authoritarians come to power gradually. They chip away at democratic institutions until they are toothless or non-existent. Fascism isn’t an overnight event. Despite Padme’s on-the-nose proclamation at the announcement of the formation of the Galactic Empire, she did not suddenly wake up that morning and find herself in a totally new government. She had been living under fascism for a long time, but she never realized it.

The Prequels We Don’t Talk About
Robert Paxton, is one of the most acclaimed authorities on the study of fascism and authoritarianism. We giving you a very brief argument here, but if you are interested in learning more you should check out his writings. Paxton, claims that there are five stages of fascism, and they are worth talking about:

  1. Intellectual Exploration, where disillusionment with popular democracy manifests itself in discussions of lost national vigor;
  2. Rooting, where a fascist movement, aided by political deadlock and polarization, becomes a player on the national stage;
  3. Arrival to Power, where conservatives seeking to control rising leftist opposition invite the movement to share power;
  4. Exercise of Power, where the movement and its charismatic leader control the state in balance with state institutions such as the police and traditional elites; and
  5. Radicalization or Entropy, where the state either becomes increasingly radical, or slips into traditional authoritarian rule.

In Star Wars we see all of these five stages. Intellectual exploration happens in Episode I when Chancellor Valorum is ousted with a vote of no-confidence, after it is shown that the Galactic Republic has no way to enforce laws in regards to the Trade Federation’s blockade of Naboo, a core world. This also shows stage two, Rooting, where deadlock and polarization in the senate give rise to Palpatine, a strongman leader who becomes a player on the galactic political stage. Arrival to Power happens when the Clone Wars begin. Palpatine uses the existential threat for the Separatists to rally the senate and the people. The other politicians -Jar Jar Binks- invite Palpatine to have emergency powers in order to control the rising threat and benefit themselves. The fourth stage, Exercise of Power happens throughout the three-year conflict of the Clone Wars. Palpatine rules in balance with the existing laws, while slowly chipping away at them in the name of security. He uses the fear of the people to reduce their rights and make the Galactic Republic into a more militaristic society. We even see the Jedi transform from peace loving monks into battle-hardened generals.

The final stage, Radicalization or Entropy is what Padme remarks on that day in the Senate. Palpatine has successfully won the Clone Wars. He has convinced the people of the evils of the Jedi and the justification for their eradication. He has scapegoated them, and in that zeal of victory he makes the people fear the all-powerful menace of the Jedi. So, with a promise of a greater future, greater protections, and the rebirth of the galaxy, he proclaims the formation of the Galactic Empire. Yet, that Empire had been growing all along. Radicalization comes when the populace fully accept the myth of the fascist state. The Galactic Empire radicalized many of its citizens, but it also forced many more into complacent acceptance of the new status quo. Palpatine accomplished this through a slow series of changes that resulted in a larger radical shift in galactic politics. It was done through cunning, patience, but also fear.

Fear will Keep the System Inline
This brings us to the second part of fascism. It is about excluding people, and scapegoating others for your troubles. In Germany those troubles were heavy economic woes brought about by the Great Depression and the harsh penalties inflicted on the German people after WWI. Jews were the easy target for blame and resentment. They were culturally apart, but they also tended to be fairly affluent. In a way they were like the Jedi, different and enviable. Palpatine blamed the Jedi at the formation of the Galactic Empire and used them as another threat to help unify the people’s hatred. He also “dehumanized” non-humans -such as wookiees- who became slave laborers and second-class citizens. The human population of the Empire was given a place of high regard. They were special, the “right” type of people. This is a page from the fascist playbook.

The Nazis also blamed the international community. Hitler and his ilk isolated Germany from the world, and transformed it into a militaristic society.  At its core, a fascism state is a cult of personality, often centered around a populist nationalism that embraces a rebirth myth. Fascism feeds on people’s fears, but also on their anger. Fascists often walk an odd line between playing the victim and being the bully. It is a philosophy meant to convince the people that they have been unfairly treated by their enemies, and only the strongman, the great leader, is the one who is capable of saving them. As such that means the people can trust no one else, but him. This is often an appealing lie that removes blame and shifts responsibility.

People were drawn to the Nazi cause, because it offered the German people an alternate explanation to their woes. It wasn’t their fault they were poor. It was an international Jewish conspiracy that kept down the German people. In reality, the German people were the master race, the “right” people. Hitler gave them an attractive myth to latch on to. The Third Reich wasn’t conquering the world, they were retaking it and placing the Aryan race back on top where it belonged. Hitler was making Germany Great Again.

That is the appeal of fascism. It is seen as a return to some imagined past, or some fictional right of heritage. We like to think that we -in the United States- are somehow immune to this phenomena. We look around us and say, “We’re not in danger of becoming a fascist country, because no one is out there hanging swastikas and iron crosses. No one is talking about rounding up the Jewish people. No one is goose-stepping or doing the Hitler salute in the streets…” but that’s not fascism, that’s Nazism. Italian fascism had its own trappings, which were different than those of their German counterparts. The most effective symbols of fascism in any country are the familiar ones, the ones that can be twisted to mean something new. These new symbols will resonate with the people of the country. In this country our fascist symbols could take the form of an ultra-obsession with the flag, or a near-fanatical devotion to the National Anthem. They could be symbols as simple as a red hat, or polo shirts, or monuments to slavery… and that’s the point. If you think it cannot happen here, than you would be wrong, because it very nearly did once before.

Not So Long Ago in a Place Not So Far Far Away
The United States was never immune to the dark side of fascism. In July of 1942, a Gallup poll showed that 1 in 6 Americans thought Hitler was “doing the right thing” to the Jews, and a 1940 poll found that nearly 20% of Americans saw Jews as a national “menace,” which was more than any other group in the US, including Germans. One third of Americans believed that there would be “a widespread campaign against the Jews,” and 12% of Americans were willing to support it. The German-American Bund held a rally at Madison Square Garden in New York in 1939, to a crowd of 20,000. It was complete with swastikas, American flags, and goose-stepping. Their leader, attacked President Roosevelt, calling him “Frank D Rosenfeld” and referred to the New Deal the “Jew Deal.” Then there was also William Dudley Pelley, a radical journalist from Massachusetts.

He founded the Silver Legion of America, or the Silver Shirts. They were a truly American fascist movement that ticked off almost every single box of American fascism. He opposed Roosevelt, believed in isolationism, ran for president, and was ultimately arrested for treason and sedition. He also believed in UFO’s and the sort of spiritualism that let you travel to other plains of existence. In essence, he was a laughable figure that no one could take seriously… except that people did, and except that people said the same thing about Hitler right before he took power. Fascist movements hardly start as mainstream. They are fringe groups:,laughingstocks, failed painters, or even reality TV stars who are thrust into power and bolstered by conservatives as a quick way to gain power and/or oppose a rising liberalism.

In the 1940’s American fascism began to grow for a few main reasons, fear of communism, the economic depression, a distrust/fear of the Jews, and as a reaction to Roosevelt and his New Deal, which many perceived as dangerous socialism. So in 2018, is it so hard to believe that fascism can grow again? People don’t fear communism anymore, but they do fear the affects of globalism. Maybe there is no Great Depression, but you do have a lot of downtrodden people who feel forgotten by the government and the mega-wealthy of our time. Also, a modern day fascism is not going to target the Jewish people as their scapegoat. It will target more vulnerable people, like immigrants and Muslims. It is worth noting that Hitler was praised by Christians, like American pastor and Presidential advisor Frank Buchman who said in 1936, “I thank heaven for a man like Adolf Hitler… who built a front line of defense against the anti-Christ of communism.” Ultimately, modern day American fascism will be a reaction to progressive policies and politicians, such as Obama and policies like Obamacare. Yet, most importantly they will not call it fascism or Nazism. They will call it something new… like Trumpism.

Yes, American fascism is already here. We are not Germany in 1941, but what if we are Germany in 1928, or Germany in 1932? What if we are the Galactic Republic right before the Clone Wars? We have a misguided belief that our institutions, our checks and balances will save us, but according to Robert Paxton they have already failed us. The Third Reich didn’t spring up over night. Hitler came to power -without being popularly elected- because the Weimer Republic was plagued with corruption and ineffectiveness. Its institutions failed long before Hitler became chancellor. The Old Republic Senate was ineffective and no longer represented the will of the people, even as one of their own core worlds was being starved and occupied by an army. It failed, long before Palpatine came to power.

That’s No Moon… It’s a Dictator
If fascism is taking hold in America -and it is- than our systems have already failed us. We have an electorate where the overwhelming majority of people support issues like gun control, healthcare, and yet our politicians do not act or make laws in accordance with the majority of that electorate. Instead they act with lobbyists, and we all just take it for granted. We laugh it off and say “well you know politicians.” That’s the same complacency that has allowed fascist states to flourish both on this planet and others. Donald Trump was not popularly elected. He was a joke at first, but its not funny anymore. He has the full support of the American Nazi Party and the KKK. According to a recent study by George Washington University, over the last five years white nationalist and neo-fascist movements in the US have grown by 600% on Twitter, outperforming ISIS in number of followers and in number of tweets.

This is where we would usually end this article with some cutesy and corny Star Wars metaphor or bad joke, but we don’t want to. You may laugh off this article or the things we are warning. You may say we are being paranoid or hysterical, but remember this: The majority of German citizens in the 1930’s were not part of the Nazi party. They were just ordinary people who got swept up. They were as smart and as real as you are right now. The truth that if you -the person reading this- had lived during that time, there is a good chance you would have got swept up too, assuming you were the “white”… err “right” type of people. There is a good chance that you would have been sent off to die for the glory of Fatherland and the Aryan race, and truly believed it was justified. That is Stage 5 Fascism. That is Radicalization.  America is not there yet, but that also does not mean that we are not at one of those lower stages.

The real question is which one?

Confederate

To many there is a certain romance surrounding the Confederacy. Maybe it has to do with our affinity for the underdog, or the American rebel spirit? Maybe it is rooted in some notion that the antebellum South somehow represents a simpler and more gentrified time? And maybe to those people, the statues of Southern generals and statesmen are historic relics from a hundred years ago that stand as a reminder to that Myth of the Lost Cause. However, not everyone has that feeling when they gaze upon Confederate statues, nor are they as old as you may think. To many these statues represent a shameful time in our nation’s history. They seek to whitewash the motives of the South, and memorialize a rebel country that literally went to war with the United States. However, these statues also represent something much more to many people around this country, as ever growing symbols of fear, racism, and hatred.

That Belongs in a Museum
According to Southern Poverty Law Center, there are roughly 700 Confederate statues in the United States, spread over 31 states, which -if you’re counting- is 21 more than the 11 states that actually seceded from the Union during the Civil War. There are even Confederate statues in Washington DC, which would probably leave Abraham Lincoln scratching his head… or at least it would have if a bullet hadn’t passed through that very same head fired from the gun of a Confederate sympathizer. In total, there are estimated to be over 1,500 Confederate symbols across America, including highways, schools, and parks. Now regardless of your opinion on the subject, you have to -at least- acknowledge that so many Confederate statues and symbols erected around the USA, is a little odd, especially in states that weren’t even part of the Confederacy. There has to be something more going on than just simple historic remembrance? Right?

Let’s first examine another symbol of the Confederacy that often comes under fire, the Confederate Flag -which wasn’t even the actual flag of the Confederacy, but that’s for another article- In 1956 Georgia redesigned their state flag to include the Confederate battle flag, and in 1962 South Carolina began flying the Confederate battle flag over its state capitol. The thing that really strike us, is that those years seem a lot more recent than we expected. 1956 was the year of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. 1962 was the year of John Glenn and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Those things are history, but they are not ancient history. They are not 1865 Civil War history. So maybe -just maybe- it is also no coincidence that in 1954 the Civil Rights Movement began, and by 1962 that movement was in full swing. In fact, Lyndon Johnson was only two years away from signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and there was a lot of backlash against the idea. Maybe even enough backlash to change a state flag or two. There is no way around it. Confederate statues and symbols -erected mostly in the 20th century– were created as direct responses to the periods of intense racial strife.

We place statues in open spaces and public areas so they can be revered and looked upon. So, what else are people suppose to think when they gaze upon statues of Robert E. Lee, or Stonewall Jackson, or even Jefferson Davis standing tall and heroic in public squares? And yet, these are men who actively and violently rebelled against the United States, and all so they could keep the enslavement of other humans as a legal institution. In any other context, does that sound like men who are deserving of reverence?

Some people like to say that these monuments are about remembering our history, but there are appropriate places to do that. They are called museums, and they work pretty damn well, because they help place events and people within the historic contexts of their times. Heroically posed statues don’t do that. In fact, they tend to do the opposite. There is a reason why Germany doesn’t have powerfully posed monuments of SS officers, or highways named for Himmler or Goebbels. So we have to ask ourselves, “what were the real reasons behind creating these monuments?” Statues do not help you remember history. They help you glorify it, and in this case, that history is the cause and leaders of the Confederacy. People like to say that it’s “heritage not hatred,” but when you look at Confederate statues and symbols, the simple truth is that they are part of a “heritage of hatred.”

KKK, Why’d It Have to Be KKK
After the end of the Civil War, the people of the South did erect some memorials to the Confederacy, but these were small markers of personal remembrance, meant to honor soldiers who had died fighting. It’s the sort of thing a widow would understandably create to remember her lost husband. There were no heroic monuments or statues created to honor the lost cause. Even the famous salve owner, Robert E. Lee, wrote in 1869, “I think it wiser not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.” The former commander of the Confederate forces knew that such symbols would only serve to divide a nation that was still trying to heal from the Civil War. Ultimately, he would view our monuments today as a way of keeping open an old wound, and causing further civil unrest. So how did these contentious statues come to be?

North Carolina only erected 30 Confederate memorials between 1865 and 1890. Then between 1890 and 1940, they erected 130 more. In fact Confederate statue construction surged during the early part of the 20th century, with the majority being erected between 1900 and 1920. It is also worth pointing out that this surge coincided with the implementation of Jim Crow Laws, and the biggest revival of the Klu Klux Klan in American history, which boasted almost 4 million members by 1925. Not coincidentally, this trend began almost immediately after the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case, where a black man dared to sit on a whites-only train car. The decisions upheld in this case began the practice of “separate but equal,” and following the decision, Confederate statues began to be mass produced, on the cheap. -Sometimes even looking suspiciously like mass produced Union memorials- Any town or country who couldn’t afford a statue could ask for help from the Daughters of the Confederacy.

The UDC was an organization for Southern women who fought to “preserve” the memory of the South’s Lost Cause Myth. Founded in 1894, they were instrumental in raising funds to erect many of the early 20th century statues found around Southern states. By World War I their membership had reached over 100,000 and their influence was greater still. The UDC often promoted textbooks in public schools, like Susan Pendleton Lee’s 1895 textbook, A School History of the United States, which sought to pastoralize the antebellum South, casting it as an idyllic place of manners and gentry. In their revised histories, the Civil War was fought for state’s rights, and not to preserve the institution of slavery. Their textbooks also often proclaimed that “the evils connected with [slavery] were less than those of any other system of labor.” They took a very typical stance of the time that the institution of slavery had Christianized and civilized the “African savage.” They also argued that the Klu Klux Klan was necessary “for protection against… outrages committed by misguided negroes.” This sort of racist whitewashing of history and defamation of African Americans is the same impulse that moved them and others to erect so many Confederate statues around our country.

Eventually, the mad rush to create Confederate monuments tapered off during the Second World War, but that was not the end of it. A new craze of erecting Confederate statues began again in the late 1950’s and peaked in the 1960’s. As you might guess this coincided very closely with the Civil Rights Movement. Once again these symbols were used to remind “uppity” black Americans of what their true place was in the racial hierarchy. These statues were powerful symbols for white people, in both the South and the North to remind those marching in places like Selma where they came from and who was still in charge.

This… This is History?
History does not happen in a vacuum. Both of these two spikes in Confederate remembrances coincided with times of great racial strife in this country. Yet, it didn’t stop in those turbulent times. Racism was not magically solved at some nebulous point in the past, and even today monuments are still being erected to the Lost Cause Myth of the South. Iowa dedicated 3 Confederate monuments, all after 2000. Across the country, 32 Confederate memorials were erected in the past 17 years. So, why are still building memorials to a war that happened over 130 years ago? Why is the North building these monuments at all? Unfortunately, we know the answer to that question, and it has nothing to do with the war, or even the past.

If we really want to “honor” our history, then we need to start by admitting what it truly is, both the history of the war and the monuments we have erected since. Confederate statues are nothing more than propagandist symbols erected to remind the descendants of free slaves who is still in charge. They are objects of power and terror created during times of racial strife. They try to create a romantic and noble image of a war that was fought over the bondage of human beings. That’s not a heroic symbol of the past. In fact, that’s not even a very subtle form of terrorism. If we want to remember history, we should do it in museums or in classrooms. We should strive to learn from the past, not to create symbols that will only serve to repeat it.

Whatever, the Civil War once was; whatever you believe it stood for; you need to know these statues represent something else. They are not about remembering old battles or even honoring old generals. They are reminders of racial superiority. These statues only aim is to rewrite a shameful time in our nation’s past, and let any who gaze upon the stony visages of Lee, Jackson, or Davis, know who is still in charge… even after they lost the war.