Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany),
Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several
Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common
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 are flag 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,
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. Divorce, abortion and
homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as
the ultimate guardian of the family institution.
6. Controlled Mass Media - Sometimes to media is directly controlled
by the government, but in other cases, the media is 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 eliminated 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 and letters
is openly attacked.
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.
They Thought They Were Free
By Milton Mayer
"They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945",
University of Chicago Press. Reissued in paperback, April,
As Harpers Magazine noted when the book was published
in 1955 (U. of Chicago), Milton Mayerâsextraordinarily far-sighted
book on the Germans is more timely today than ever·ä
This crucial book tells how and why 'decent men' became
Nazis through short biographies of 10 law-abiding citizens. An American
journalist of German/Jewish descent, Mr. Mayer provides a fascinating window
into the lives, thoughts and emotions of a people caught up in the rush
of the Nazi movement. It is a book that should make people pause and think
-- not only about the Germans, but also about themselves.
But Then It Was Too Late
"What no one seemed to notice," said a colleague
of mine, a philologist, "was the ever widening gap, after1933, between
the government and the people. Just think how very wide this gap was to
begin with, here in Germany. And it became always wider. You know it doesn't
make people close to their government to be told that this is a people's
government, a true democracy, or to be enrolled in civilian defense, or
even to vote. All this has little, really nothing to do with knowing one
What happened here was the gradual habituation of the
people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions
deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated
that the government had to act on information which the people could not
understand, or so dangerous that, even if he people could understand it,
it could not be released because of national security. And their sense
of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen
this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.
"This separation of government from people, this
widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step
disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure
or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes.
And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people
that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process
of government growing remoter and remoter.
"You will understand me when I say that my Middle
High German was my life. It was all I cared about. I was a scholar, a specialist.
Then, suddenly, I was plunged into all the new activity, as the universe
was drawn into the new situation; meetings, conferences, interviews, ceremonies,
and, above all, papers to be filled out, reports, bibliographies, lists,
questionnaires. And on top of that were the demands in the community,
the things in which one had to, was "expected to" participate
that had not been there or had not been important before. It was all rigmarole,
of course, but it consumed all one's energies, coming on top of the work
one really wanted to do. You can see how easy it was, then, not to think
about fundamental things. One had no time."
"Those," I said, "are the words of my
friend the baker. "One had no time to think. There was so much going
on." "Your friend the baker was right," said my colleague.
"The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being,
was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people
who did not want to think anyway. I do not speak of your "little
men", your baker and so on; I speak of my colleagues and myself, learned
men, mind you. Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things
and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental
things to think about - we were decent people - and kept us so busy with
continuous changes and "crises" and so fascinated, yes, fascinated,
by the machinations of the "national enemies", without and within,
that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing,
little by little, all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were grateful.
Who wants to think?
"To live in this process is absolutely not to be
able to notice it - please try to believe me - unless one has a much greater
degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion
to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained
or, on occasion, "regretted," that, unless one were detached
from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the
whole thing was in principle, what all these "little measures"
that no "patriotic German" could resent must some day lead to,
one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field
sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.
"How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men,
even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see,
even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair
of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice - "Resist the
beginnings" and "consider the end." But one must foresee
the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee
the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men
or even by extraordinary men? Things might have changed here before they
went as far as they did; they didn't, but they might have. And everyone
counts on that might.
"Your "little men," your Nazi friends,
were not against National Socialism in principle. Men like me, who were,
are the greater offenders, not because we knew better (that would be too
much to say) but because we sensed better. Pastor Niemoller spoke for
the thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly
of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was
a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did
nothing: and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier,
but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools,
the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he
did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman,
and he did something - but then it was too late."
"Yes," I said.
"You see," my colleague went on, "one
doesn't see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each
act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You
wait for the next and the next. You wait for the one great shocking occasion,
thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting
somehow. You don't want to act, or even to talk, alone; you don't want
to "go out of your way to make trouble." Why not? - Well, you
are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing
alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.
"Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead
of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the
general community, "everyone is happy. One hears no protest, and
certainly sees none. You know, in France or Italy there will be slogans
against the government painted on walls and fences; in Germany, outside
the great cities, perhaps, there is not even this. In the university community,
in your own community, you speak privately to you colleagues, some of whom
certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, "It's not
so bad" or "You're seeing things" or "You're an alarmist."
"And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this
must lead to this, and you can't prove it. These are the beginnings, yes;
but how do you know for sure when you don't know the end, and how do you
know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law,
the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh
you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends,
who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have.
"But your friends are fewer now. Some have drifted
off somewhere or submerged themselves in their work. You no longer see
as many as you did at meetings or gatherings. Informal groups become smaller;
attendance drops off in little organizations, and the organizations themselves
wither. Now, in small gatherings of your oldest friends, you feel that
you are talking to yourselves, that you are isolated from the reality of
things. This weakens your confidence still further and serves as a further
deterrent to ö to what? It is clearer all the time that, if you are
going to do anything, you must make an occasion to do it, and then you
are obviously a troublemaker. So you wait, and you wait.
"But the one great shocking occasion, when tens
or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That's the difficulty.
If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after
the first and the smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently
shocked ö if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in "43"
had come immediately after the "German Firm" stickers on the
windows of non-Jewish shops in "33". But of course this isn't
the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps,
some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked
by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did
not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step
"And one day, too late, your principles, if you
were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self deception
has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy,
hardly more than a baby, saying "Jew swine," collapses it all
at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed
completely under your nose. The world you live in ö your nation, your
people ö is not the world you were in at all. The forms are all there,
all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes,
the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which
you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying
it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear,
and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone
is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which
rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not
have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it
was compelled to go all the way.
"You have gone almost all the way yourself. Life
is a continuing process, a flow, not a succession of acts and events at
all. It has flowed to a new level, carrying you with it, without any effort
on your part. On this new level you live, you have been living more comfortably
every day, with new morals, new principles. You have accepted things you
would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things that your father,
even in Germany, could not have imagined.
"Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You
see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven't
done ( for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing).
You remember those early meetings of your department in the university
when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood.
A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this
one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks.
Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.
"What then? You must then shoot yourself. A few
did. Or "adjust" your principles. Many tried, and some, I suppose,
succeeded; not I, however. Or learn to live the rest of your life with
your shame. This last is the nearest there is, under the circumstances,
to heroism: shame. Many Germans became this poor kind of hero, many more,
I think, than the world knows or cares to know."
I said nothing. I thought of nothing to say.
"I can tell you," my colleague went on, "of
a man in Leipzig, a judge. He was not a Nazi, except nominally, but he
certainly wasn't an anti Nazi. He was just ö a judge. In "42"
or "43", early "43", I think it was, a Jew was tried
before him in a case involving, but only incidentally, relations with an
"Aryan" woman. This was "race injury", something the
Party was especially anxious to punish. In the case a bar, however, the
judge had the power to convict the man of a "nonracial" offense
and send him to an ordinary prison for a very long term, thus saving him
from Party "processing" which would have meant concentration
camp or, more probably, deportation and death. But the man was innocent
of the "nonracial" charge, in the judge's opinion, and so, as
an honorable judge, he acquitted him. Of course, the Party seized the
Jew as soon as he left the courtroom.
"And the judge?"
"Yes, the judge. He could not get the case off
his conscience ö a case, mind you, in which he had acquitted an innocent
man. He thought that he should have convicted him and saved him from the
Party, but how could he have convicted an innocent man? The thing preyed
on him more and more, and he had to talk about it, first to his family,
then to his friends, and then to acquaintances. (That's how I heard about
it.) After the "44" Putsch they arrested him. After that, I
I said nothing.
"Once the war began," my colleague continued,
"resistance, protest, criticism, complaint, all carried with them
a multiplied likelihood of the greatest punishment. Mere lack of enthusiasm,
or failure to show it in public, was "defeatism." You assumed
that there were lists of those who would be "dealt with" later,
after the victory. Goebbels was very clever here, too. He continually
promised a "victory orgy" to "take care of" those who
thought that their "treasonable attitude" had escaped notice.
And he meant it; that was not just propaganda. And that was enough to
put an end to all uncertainty.
"Once the war began, the government could do anything
"necessary" to win it; so it was with the "final solution"
of the Jewish problem, which the Nazis always talked about but never dared
undertake, not even the Nazis, until war and its "necessities"
gave them the knowledge that they could get away with it. The people abroad
who thought that war against Hitler would help the Jews were wrong. And
the people in Germany who, once the war had begun, still thought of complaining,
protesting, resisting, were betting on Germany's losing the war. It was
a long bet. Not many made it."
-- Milton Mayer