Seeking indicators of totalitarianism and democracy?

In comment to his recent important article The army should not be called as strike breakers, Mr Boddington asserts that “We are not a totalitarian state but the direction of travel is to restrict freedoms”. If so, this is serious and demands that we seek indicators/bench marks of totalitarianism.

Totalitarianism concentrates power, wealth, status and so on and so does Fascism. Like all forms of totalitarianism, fascism contrasts with and opposes democracy. Consequently, the more Fascism flourishes and grows, so Democracy diminishes and becomes more vulnerable. What makes democracy yet more vulnerable are generally accepted attitudes to the effect that, “We are a democracy, so it can’t possibly happen here!”, “We defeated Fascism in World War II.”, “It’s only a temporary thing!”

The US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington lists 12 Early Warning Signs of Fascism:

  1. Powerful and continuing nationalism
  2. Disdain for human rights
  3. Identification of enemies as a unifying cause
  4. Rampant sexism
  5. Controlled mass media
  6. Obsession with national security
  7. Religion and government intertwined
  8. Corporate power protected
  9. Labor power suppressed
  10. Disdain for intellectual and the arts
  11. Obsession with crime and punishment
  12. Rampant cronyism

Using  the classic “Happy Form” rating system whereby a nothing rating gets a 0 and a severe rating gets a 10, as the writer did,  you get an informative reasonably accurate, if personal, calibration of where we, the citizens, and various ingredients of our society and its governance are in relationship to Democracy and Fascism. You also have a tolerably legitimate indication of where we and the organisations which represent and protect us, are on a spectrum or continuum between the contrasting poles of Democracy and Fascism.

If, as is tenable, you do not find the above calibrations acceptable, you are more than welcome to present alternatives. It is suggested that any tendencies towards (further) totalitarianism are so serious as to require attitudes and forms of yardstick or something which can be used as a form for comparison and judgement.

Number 11 has its own measures which are worth considering in themselves and in comparison/correlation with a third of our children being permanently hungry and NHS staff needing to use food banks and so on.

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (June 2022) stated that £4 billion of purchases did not reach NHS standards. To whom did this money go? Why has no discernable effort been made to recover the money spent on goods which were not of marketable worth?

Might answers to these and other related questions also inform us about our Democracy/Totalitarianism situation?

Having looked at some details of warning signs of Fascism which, for the writer at least, present a darker situation than he had seen before an attempt at calibration, it seems appropriate to consider generalities too.

The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power, including wealth, to a point where it becomes stronger than the state itself. (F. D. Roosevelt)

To remedy or counterbalance the current tendency or pattern of polarising wealth-power and a distancing of our parliamentary system from regular people, might we consider the visible and active pursuit of these policies:

  • Fully valued and financed mixed economy
  • Proportional voting system
  • Reform of the tax system including the reduction to closure of tax havens and the publicising of the need for a transparent equitable tax system in a complex society

Your reactions and benchmarks relating to where we are on the Democracy/Fascism continuum and ways in which we could protect and strengthen our possibly vulnerable democracy, would make interesting and, possibly, informative reading.





* Steve Trevathan is chairperson of Lyme Regis and Marshwood Vale Liberal Democrats.

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  • Chris Moore 15th Dec '22 - 7:52am

    Fascism is a very particular form of totalitarianism. Most totalitarian states have not been fascist.

    You could have all 12 of the above signs in spades and not have fascism.

    “Fascist” is also sometimes used as a hyperbolic insult in political argument to mean “I disagree with you.”

  • “Fascism is a very particular form of totalitarianism. Most totalitarian states have not been fascist.”

    Indeed. I always find it interesting that when people wish to define for example liberalism, socialism, or communism they turn to the writings of liberals, socialists and communists and critique those primary texts. With fascism however they turn to the writings of… liberals, socialists, communists and conservatives. Never to the writings of the fascists themselves who were very clear about both what their (repulsive) ideologies origins, what they stands for, and how they seek to achieve it.

    Anyone who wants to know where fascism comes from, and what it seeks to achieve, and how it seeks to achieve it – and therefore how to defeat it – should read the works of Georges Sorel and Giovanni Gentile. If people did that, then they would stop making the fundamental errors George Orwell warned us about in “Politics and the English Language”.

  • Helen Dudden 15th Dec '22 - 10:18am

    China is very controlling to it’s own people, as they rise up against it.
    We have control over hospital treatment, there is little on offer.

    In my 74 years I must that never have I seen how openly the system failure are gradually becoming the norm.

    Vets Practices are now in the situation of not being able to cope with unwell animals. I ask how the farming community are coping.

    Our country, is gradually being run down to Victorian levels. George Orwell perhaps had more insight into the failures we now have.

  • The Nazi party rose to prominence in democratic elections in the Weimar Republic: the relevant electoral system was a list system PR.

    Some historians argue that PR let a tiny fringe party get a first foothold in the Weimar parliament. My own feeling is the Nazis would have got to where they got irrespective of the system used.

    In any case, PR is not a bulwark against totalitarianism.

  • Chris Moore’s feeling that the Nazis would have succeeded irrespective of the voting system is probably sound. They were ahead of the game when it came to public relations and advertising techniques. It could be argued that the most effective bulwark against right wing authoritarianism is a civilised centre-right conservative party. Ominously, whatever else our current party of national government may be, it is not that.

  • “Chris Moore’s feeling that the Nazis would have succeeded irrespective of the voting system is probably sound.”

    Exactly. As a reading Giovanni Gentile would clearly demonstrate. All electoral systems can be subverted by fascism – the answer to fascism doesn’t lie there. Sadly, politicians of ALL parties appear to be really ignorant about how it DOES come about.

    The answer isn’t to be found in being more progressive either – Gentile is very clear on how that can be used to the advantage of fascists… and progressivism was used in that way in both Italy and Germany. Very successfully.

  • Chris Moore 16th Dec '22 - 8:28am

    Gentile’s ontological and epistemological writings are interesting nowadays merely as a curio.

    His political writings, as Adam argues, still cast light on the origins and strengths of fascism.

    There is no necessary connection between Gentile’s solipsistically subjective idealism – his philisophical position – and his fascism.

    So I’ve always found it difficult to take his philosophy seriously.

    Regarding the UK: there is no threat at all of a fascist regime. There is a risk of an authoritarian regime, but it is miniscule, in my view.

  • Paul Reynolds 16th Dec '22 - 2:00pm

    Oddly, no mention of communism and Leninism-Marxism. These and associated ideologies have killed as many, if not more than fascism, and still do. ‘Changing society’ is often anti-democratic, since it pits the societal changers against the recividiat public.

  • There seems to be some confusion here about the proposed use of the army.
    Soldiers were used by Labour in the 70s to cover striking fire brigade members. They were used again by Thatcher to cover the same and also man bin lorries and gritters.
    Cameron used them for the fuel strikes during a coalition we were part of and more recently the Tories used we them for the driver shortages to get fuel to fuel stations.

    Some of the comparisons on here have been a bit of a stretch and ignore historic context.

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