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The Tactics of Authoritarianism: Fear

19 April, 2010

They (who) seek to establish systems of government based on the regimentation of all human beings by a handful of individual rulers call this a new order.  It is not new and it is not order.
                   Franklin Delano Roosevelt

FDR knew his history.   He understood that authoritarianism pulls society backwards in time.  Today we are faced with  authoritarianism — both economic and religious.  Both seek to force America into the past — a past of rule by a few.  And the new authoritarians use fear, naked unabashed fear, to trick the majority into vesting more and more and more power in the hands of the already rich and powerful.

Xenophobia seems to be the most powerful weapon in the authoritarian’s arsenal.   Primitive fear of the other is potent — fear of gays, fear of colour, fear of other gods.

Fear of Islam has been used to justify warrantless wiretaps of American citizens and American residents.  Habeus corpus, show me the body, is now a dead issue in any situation involving national security (What is national security?  Whatever the President decides.) thanks to successful mass murder.  And any enemy of the authoritarians is labeled as an ally of the terrorists, an ally of Islam, an ally of  evil.

Fear of those with dark skin is exploited to demonize immigrants — documented or not — leading to assault and murder.  The authoritarians use this fear to encourage personal greed — don’t pay taxes, the evil government will just give it the undeserving poor (who are, disproportionately, minorities).  And any foe of the authoritarians is labeled as a liberal, a progressive, a communist, a socialist, an ally of evil.

Fear of science, headlined by evolution denialism, is used to put more money into the pockets of the wealthy.  That human beings are, through the release of billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere, having an effect on the climate is an established fact (researchers continue argue over the details, not that it is happening) is muddied by energy companies who pour millions into anti-science think tanks.  Science is denigrated at every opportunity.  And any foe of the authoritarians is excoriated as anti-Christian, anti-free economy, and, of course, an ally of evil.

Fear of members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community is utilized as both a fundraising tool and a wedge to divide Americans.  Authoritarians use this primitive fear, this fear of difference, to justify packing courts with troglodytes willing to allow Christianism to take over governments, to excuse violence, bigotry and murder, and to convince voters to cast ballots which will economically disadvantage the one casting the vote.  Any foe of the authoritarians is cast as a pawn of the gay agenda, an anti-Christian (and thus anti-American) activist, an ally of evil.

Who are these authoritarians?  Are they the religious right, the neoconservatives, the reactionaries?  To a point, yes.  But they are not the ultimate source.  Who does?  Who benefits?

The funding, the creation, of this latest iteration of reactionary backlash is the same group that has been behind it damn near every single time — the malefactors of great wealth.  By blocking rights for GLBT citizens and residents, billions of dollars can be raised to support the authoritarian candidates.  By casting doubts on the reality behind anthropogenic global warming, the rich, especially the energy companies and their investors, can get richer.  By denigrating science, any research-based conservationism and regulation can be minimized.  By demonizing immigrants, the wealthy elite can shift the blame for low wages and no benefits from the owners to the new immigrants (whom, of course, the wealthy elite use as cheap labour).  Fear of Islam, fear of terrorism (but only brown terrorists), fear of violence has allowed the authoritarians to restrict the right of free speech, the right to protest, the rights enumerated in the Constitution.  And the GOP, the Grand Old Party, is trying to ride fear back into power.

The authoritarians seek to return to a simpler time.  A time of strong churches (but only the right churches), a time of brutal and swift ‘justice’, a time of all the rights a person can buy.  They seek to establish systems of government based on the subordination of all human beings by a handful of individual rulers call this a new order.  It is not new and it is not order.    And it is not that for which America stands.

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24 comments

  1. Seconded.


  2. Despite what FDR said, I don’t think he’s the best example of anti-authoritarianism. It was his administration that turned away the MS Saint Louis, filled with Jewish refugees from the Nazis. (Why? Because of xenophobic immigration laws.) And, of course, there were America’s Japanese Concentration camps, also established under Roosevelt’s urging. (Again, xenophobia.)

    Also, Roosevelt was not satisfied merely being in charge of the Executive Branch and — through his cohorts in the House and Senate — the Legislative Branch. He had previously attempted to “pack” the Supreme Court by expanding it (by up to six additional justices), so he could control the Judicial Branch, as well. That’s about as authoritarian as any one man can get.

    I’m afraid that all government leaders tend toward the authoritarian. That’s why atheists and other freedom-lovers should not make overly simplistic generalizations about political parties — one good, the other bad. All politicians are potentially dangerous, and we ought to be most on our guard when dealing with our so-called friends.

    Of course, all believers in any of the Abrahamic religions are authoritarian, because they assert that their god’s in charge. Of everything.


  3. Larry: I don’t think I held FDR up as a perfect example of anti-authoritarianism. I merely used his quote as a launching pad, using his phrase — directed at fascism and miltarism — and extending it to today’s religious and political neofascism. If I gave the impression that I was holding him up as a paragon of human rights and decentralized power, I apologize; that was not my intent.

    I also do not think that I, within this short essay, explicitly or implicitly said that the Democratic Party was good. I said that the GOP — both their goals and tactics — are remarkably similar to those at whom FDR directed the quote at the beginning of the essay. Again, if I gave that impression, I apologize. Chalk it up to shitty writing if you want.


  4. It always boils down to the rich doing whatever it takes to stay rich and ideally, grow richer. If it means getting in bed with the religious, so be it. If it means stirring up fear of the government, so be it. Death panels? Sure, say that the threat to your insurance business is government death panels. If the Democrats were championing their interests, then they’d be Republicans. If Islam or Scientology got them what they want, they’d say they were firm believers and ape the required behavior in public. It’s as simple as that, and ignorant, fearful people are exploited by them and perhaps what really gets me is their patriotism gets exploited. It’s un-American to have a public option, to not have prayer in school, to have gays marrying, blah blah blah bullshit.

    The Red State, “real” Americans are marks in a big con and they have no fucking idea. Remember the fuss during the election about offshore drilling? What did they chant? WE need to drill. We? Exxon is us? Are the oil companies socialized? I must have missed that. No, these fuckers saw an opening to gain access to areas they couldn’t and went for it, despite the fact that they had areas already that they could be drilling but they weren’t because then that drives the cost down, and they also want to make sure they have oil to last as long as possible so they vilify the government, make them the reason why everyone’s suffering at the pump, the idiots repeat what they’re told and suddenly WE have to drill. Fucking pathetic, and it doesn’t stop. They get played everyday. This tea bag thing is one of the biggest cons yet.


  5. I meant then they’d Democrats. Where’s the fucking edit button?!


  6. (((Billy))):
    Points duly noted.

    I will say, though, that if you start an essay by extolling a quote by someone, it tends to leave the impression that you think your source was an exemplar of what he or she said/wrote.

    Philly:
    I agree with your cynical view, although I’d add that Blue State “real” liberals are being conned, as well. Your “drill, baby, drill” example was extremely apt. Last month the Obama Administration announced that offshore drilling would be cool. Somehow, environmentalists managed to hypnotize themselves into thinking that the Democrats wouldn’t do that.


  7. Philly and Larry (or Larry and Philly (whichever you (or ya’ll) are)):

    Authoritarianism exists left, right and center. Any government has the potential to become authoritarian. In a democracy, there is at least some chance to move back, to move away from authoritarianism, and it happens occasionally. Rarely. The authoritarianism of wealth, the authoritarianism of big business, can, with a exceptions, only be fought by government (rarely by individuals through the courts).

    Larry: I should have been more clear that the quote was a jumping off point. Again, shitty writing. Sorry.


  8. (((Billy))):
    I agree with your point completely here. Governments, even the best of them, always have the potential to become authoritarian.

    I highly recommend that you read Lincoln, Gore Vidal’s historical novel about White House politics during the Civil War. It offers many insights on how even the best of people can join with the worst in succumbing to — and justifying — authoritarian acts.

    It’s hard to argue that Lincoln’s ultimate goals weren’t noble, but the Administration was filled with skilled Machiavellians, experts at claiming that the ends justify the means. There was a suspension of habeas corpus, total disregard for freedom of speech and of the press, and flagrant violations of Amendments IV through VI. The Executive created war powers that skirted the Constitution’s obvious intent. Had I been alive at that time, I suspect that I would not have been a Lincoln supporter (although I might have been a secret admirer).


  9. I disagree with Larry. Do true words require an immaculate source? Larry beat me to it, but I was going to mention the Lincoln Administration. Instead, I will quote Marx. I may be the only person who thinks the Communist Manifesto reads like it was dictated by a 19-year-old, while spitting and shrieking and released in the first draft. Nevertheless, the overt ignorance of the Manifesto says nothing about the validity of Marx’s claim that “Die Religion … ist das Opium des Volkes.” The statement was true, as is this:

    “Congress is throwing away astonishing amounts, “spending money like a drunken sailor,” and President Bush shares the blame because he is not using his veto power, Republican Sen. John McCain said Sunday.

    from November 2003. Much of what he said in the 2008 campaign was pure BS, but he was certainly right in that statement.


  10. Des:
    No, true words don’t require an immaculate source. However, let’s imagine that I’m writing an anti-war essay and begin with the following quote:

    Whoever lights the torch of war in Europe can wish for nothing but chaos.

    Then I open my commentary by saying:

    Hitler knew his history. He understood that wars are started by leaders who don’t understand that no one gains from them.

    Would you be OK with that? Or does something seem wildly wrong?


    • You forgot to include a pic of the Hitler memorial in DC to go with the quote… oh, wait…


  11. All politicians reach for greater power and they are, if anything, more ambitious in wartime.

    I don’t recall Obama having rushed to relinquish the powers usurped by Bush, Jr.

    The Hitler quote reminds me of another thing that pisses me off. The so-called “Godwin’s Law” is crap. The implication is that no entity exists for which a comparison to Adolf Hitler or the Nazi Party is valid. That is patently absurd.


    • I think you’re confused about what Godwin’s law actually states. From wiki:

      “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”

      Godwin’s law is often cited in online discussions as a deterrent against the use of arguments in the widespread reductio ad Hitlerum form. The rule does not make any statement about whether any particular reference or comparison to Adolf Hitler or the Nazis might be appropriate, but only asserts that the likelihood of such a reference or comparison arising increases as the discussion progresses. It is precisely because such a comparison or reference may sometimes be appropriate, Godwin has argued, that overuse of Nazi and Hitler comparisons should be avoided, because it robs the valid comparisons of their impact.


      • It goes one step further, though, and claims that whoever invokes Hitler loses the argument. That is what I think is false.


      • Researching it a little more, it seems that the idea that “whoever invokes Hitler first loses the argument” predates “Godwin’s Law” on Usenet. Regardless, the idea is ridiculous. Sure, invoking Hitler in discussions of trivial bullshit is silly. But considering that Hitler’s Germany did much to shape the modern geopolitical landscape, it is ludicrous to disallow any reference.

        Don’t forget that Hitler was still in control of much of Europe when Larry was my age.


  12. When we think of bad guys, we imagine that they’re fully aware of being evil, that they’re motivated by evil, and set out with the intention of doing evil. I think more times than not such people think they’re right and that their actions are for good, or the infamous “greater good”, which is a phrase which greases the wheels of ‘ends justify the means’ arguments.

    Knowing history and understanding it are two different things. Being aware of authoritarianism and being able to see that you, as a leader, are attempting to become an authoritarian, as in Larry’s example of FDR, I think are two different things. FDR had a lot of plans which he felt were good and that the country needed them and he had to prevent the cock-blocking Republicans from stopping them (sound familiar?). In his position, he saw what he was doing as good but looking objectively, maybe not.

    We have to also remember that our enemies generally don’t think they’re evil, either. You think all the fuckers behind the National Day of Prayer, In God We Trust, Abstinence only sex ed and the like think they’re evil? I doubt it. They think they’re doing good, just like those who supported the Patriot Act.


  13. Des:
    Don’t forget that Hitler was still in control of much of Europe when Larry was my age.

    No, not Hitler. When I was a kid, the big kahuna was Augustus Caesar.


  14. Great post, (((Billy))).


  15. Just as in my counry ;(


  16. I disagree with Larry. Do true words require an immaculate source? Larry beat me to it, but I was going to mention the Lincoln Administration. Instead, I will quote Marx. I may be the only person who thinks the Communist Manifesto reads like it was dictated by a 19-year-old, while spitting and shrieking and released in the first draft. Nevertheless, the overt ignorance of the Manifesto says nothing about the validity of Marx’s claim that “Die Religion … ist das Opium des Volkes.” The statement was true, as is this:

    “Congress is throwing away astonishing amounts, “spending money like a drunken sailor,” and President Bush shares the blame because he is not using his veto power, Republican Sen. John McCain said Sunday.


  17. good information, I’ll read though it again


  18. FDR imprisoned small American children of Japanese ancestry. He was a tyrant, plain and simple.


  19. Would you be taken with exchanging links? bkdcgcbbedddddge



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