If the Savoyard philosopher, Joseph de Maistre, lent himself as the philosophical inspirator of fascists, Mussolini remains the poster-boy of an ideology that appeals to dirty men and women, who crave power to wreak violence on society.
Though Maistre is a product of a different age, time has not rescued him from the dubious company he is condemned today. Maistre’s conviction that “only political authority could repress human destructive instincts” correctly captures him as an “enemy of enlightenment”, according to the brilliant British philosopher, late Isaiah Berlin. The nation exists as the embodiment of political authority, whose sole purpose is to secure the nation from threat, Maistre erroneously proclaimed. In his world, it is the power that political authority exercises that demands respect for the nation. A strange world, really, in which the people are assimilated into the cult of personality of the fascist ruler, who in turn becomes the nation.
Perhaps, there is a sense in which “learning things gives great pleasure not only to philosophers but also in the same way to other men…”, as Aristotle expressed many centuries ago. So, when Mussolini turned the pages of Maistre’s writings into a governance contraption, giving it the fascist shape, he made himself the original poster boy of an ideology that strove to take root. Dubious as Mussolini was at devising a tragical contraption, considering the lives lost during his reign, he derived joy from his vision of violence as one of the “other men”. He wasn’t alone. Hitler followed in his footsteps. There were other neo-fascists, like Gyula Gombos of Hungary and Juan Peron of Argentina, who, having played their roles as butlers, mastered the housekeeping duties of “identifying the enemies of the nation” and ensuring that the nation merely existed as their estates, in order to sustain the fascist order. Yet, the butlering and housekeeping roles, which didn’t begin and end with personalization of power and dangling of swords over the heads of perceived enemies, always proceeded with mass control of the people through media propaganda, meaningless demagoguery, obsession with national security, and decline in the influence of leading supporters of the fascist order.
On the latter point, I have in my mind the diminutive King, Victor Emmanuel III of Italy who appointed Mussolini as Prime Minister, dithered when he had the opportunity to sack him, only to have his influence diminished, no sooner the black shirts fascist-squadrists seized the streets of Rome, leading to his abdication and the eventual destruction of the Italian kingdom. Does this speak to the present travails of the Emir of Kano? Can we draw unflattering comparisons between the King and the Emir?
Without venturing to provide answers to the questions, I think that the comparisons are intriguing.
Can a dictator, who casts himself as a strongman and deploys power in a crude way, be described as a fascist? If the images that history presents of black shirt fascists marching on Rome, obsession for violence, war mongering, assaults on liberties, demonization of opposition, and idolization of the fascist ruler, are anything to go by, it is safe to answer, yes. Though, fascists exhibit obsessive love for power, which allows them to impose fear, the intensity of obsession differs, from place to place, time and space. Some may disagree with my answer here by arguing that “ambiguity of democracy” allows for certain undesirable outcomes, considering the contestation that often takes place within the democratic space. This line of argument is simply tosh. Fascism, promoted as a post-democracy project, does not by any stretch moderate the type of contestation that takes place in a democracy, nor does it mitigate outcomes, no matter how desirable or undesirable the outcomes. Fascism serves one fundamental purpose: assimilates power into the person of the fascist ruler. So, who moderates the contestation between the governed and the fascist ruler? To suggest the possibility of moderation of contestation in a fascist order is akin to inviting the lion to moderate the conflict between sheep.
If democracy is about the logic of growing representative governance within a democratic framework, fascism invalidates this logic when it strives to destroy the democratic framework and replaces it with an illogical contraption. While democracy makes the ruler accountable to the people, fascism flips representative accountability on its head. Having understood all of this, two questions beg to be answered here: how do we spot a fascist? How do we recognise the early warning signs of fascism?
A cautionary note here. The task of spotting a fascist or recognizing early warning signs, in the light of the scathing editorial of Punch newspaper, titled, ‘Buhari’s lawlessness’, which described “this regime’s actions and assaults on the courts, disobedience of court orders and arbitrary detention of citizens” as “martial culture”, is not only to locate the spot where siege is laid on democracy; but to spot the rope tied around the neck of democracy to hang it. To spot a fascist and/or recognise the early warning signs of fascism, I propose the following as the eight features you must look out for:
- Cult Personality: Look out for some sort of idolizing movement around the leader, peopled by crazy individuals who describe him as “father of the nation”.
- Movement for defending stupidity: You only have to lose your faculty of critical thinking to belong to this movement. Stupidity is never in short supply inside the movement; you just have to believe that Sowore stage-managed his own arrest inside the court to earn membership of the movement.
- Siege mentality: Here, the siege mentality rules. Every criticism of the ruler is taken as an attempt to stage a revolution.
- Search for scape goats: Here, there is always someone who takes the blame for the failure of the ruler.
- Lack of respect for liberties: The ruler is the parliament and the courts rolled into one. Disdain for liberties of citizens is the hallmark of his rulership.
- Cronyism, nepotism and corruption: Here, too, appointments to the high offices of the state depend on friendship and relationships. When the ruler says he appoints only those he knows, be aware!
- Destruction of truth: Propaganda and rhetorics are the directive principles of rulership. Since truth lies at the heart of democracy, the objective is to destroy truth and lay democracy to waste.
- Fraudulent elections: Here, too, the Election Management Board is turned into an adjunct of the ruler, who decides who gets elected, when and how. Whenever you hear the war cry, “dem go hear am, ta-ta-ta-ta-ta”, know that the elections are over, even before the first ballot is cast.
Folks, now that you can spot a fascist and recognise the early warning signs of fascism, be afraid. Be very afraid. The poster boys of Joseph de Maistre are on the march again. Beware.
-By Abdul Mahmud