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By Jason Michael
WE ARE LIVING AT A TIME, not of post-fascism, but of pre-fascism. Don’t take my word for it, it was stated emphatically on Tuesday by Fintan O’Toole, perhaps Ireland’s foremost political commentator, in an article for The Irish Times. Everywhere from the Brexit referendum, to the election of Donald Trump, to the movement of right-wing political parties from the fringe to the mainstream across the European Union O’Toole sees a disturbing new trend developing – the wholesale “test marketing” of real fascism; suggesting we are on the threshold of its imminent implementation. He sees the storm clouds gathering, and it is hard to disagree. He reminds us that,
One of the basic tools of fascism is the rigging of elections – we’ve seen that trialled in the election of Trump, in the Brexit referendum and (less successfully) in the French presidential elections. Another is the generation of tribal identities, the division of society into mutually exclusive polarities.
Fascism doesn’t arrive in a country by means of a foreign invasion, it is a consequence of democracy going wrong. Every democratic society – as Socrates warned at the birth of Greek democracy – is, if not protected from it, susceptible to demagoguery; an appeal to the electorate that plays on its emotions and prejudices rather than its rationality. So, when we talk of our present decline into fascism no one is suggesting we will wake up one morning to the sound of jackboots marching down the street. On the contrary, what is being said is that all the conditions for the realisation of fascism will be introduced gradually within our democracy and with our consent.
This comes about through a process known as normalisation, in which the seemingly absurd is made acceptable over a protracted period of time. Wealthy and powerful corporate agendas, either by ownership or by influence, are packaged by the media and sold to an increasingly docile and depoliticised public – steadily changing public opinion. Ultimately this shift in opinion creates a rising political demand not being met by the establishment political parties, bringing about movements for change and thus increasing support for heretofore fringe political parties more than willing to give a manipulated population what it wants.
Given the fickle nature of popular democracy and the dynamics of a professional political class, mainstream – or centrist – parties will be pulled in the direction of this artificially created demand in order to stay in power. Over time the political centre of the state will shift, with it now prepared to offer the people what only a few years ago would have been thought extreme and unthinkable. It would have been impossible to imagine Ronald Reagan, after demanding that Mikhail Gorbachev “tear down this wall” in Berlin in 1987, returning to Washington and demanding the construction of a thousand-mile long wall between Mexico and the United States.
Equally so, no one in the United Kingdom in 2012 – other than the most peripheral Eurosceptics – would have imagined the voting public electing to leave the EU, an institution which has guaranteed the peace and security of Europe for seven decades. Populist leaders, promoted by the phenomenon of 24-hour wall-to-wall corporate news media and supported by the mass movements it has created, change the discourse by steadily becoming more and more outrageous, making the slightly less outrageousness now being peddled by the new centre appear more acceptable.
We may have thought it crazy to imagine France introducing a sweeping ban on the hijab, niqab, and burqa on 10 September 2001; the day before the World Trade Centre attack in New York. The outrageous has become a new normal – one we have all gotten used to. But, more worryingly, this shift hasn’t ended. We are still in a rapid lurch to the right, heading headlong into fascism. Here in Scotland, where many think the independence movement is somehow immune to this effect, it has become common to see people – people not even aligned to right-wing racist groups – question why Muslims in our country should be allowed to build mosques. Take this out of the independence movement and into broader Scottish and UK society, and this sort of thinking is even more prevalent.
People are no longer shocked to see people – dark and brown people – held in cages. We have been inured to the images of dead toddlers washed up on the beaches of southern Europe and are prepared to turn a blind eye to Italy’s right-wing ministers turning away ships laden with disparate refugees – human beings – fleeing poverty, persecution, and warfare. We have heard the right-wing slogans so often that the slightly less right-wing policies of our governments have become normal – even acceptable. So used are we to the outrageous media-driven narrative of the foreign threat from immigrants that, as a society, we are willing to vote for candidates promising what was only a few years ago completely unacceptable solutions.
This is how fascism is made possible. There is a plethora of examples of this happening in the past, and all the signs are there to see that much of the Western world is following that path of descent into authoritarian, even totalitarian, madness. Scottish society is not magically protected from this; there is nothing special about us that will protect us from slowly accepting the unacceptable.
When we make common cause with those propagating the outrageous because they support the same political goals as us; like defending Tommy Robinson because of his campaign against “Muslim grooming gangs,” we help to make his brand of racism normal. More people begin to see his politics as the politics of the people. He and others like him are lionised as working-class heroes and their rancid racist ideas become a locus of liberation around which people will rally – not because they are at first racists, but because they are desperate and searching for answers. People like this have never needed a majority in society to upend democracy with fascism. Fascist regimes have always been brought about by fascists with just about enough popular support being brought into coalition with a larger mainstream party that has been pulled toward the extreme. At first the idea is to “control” the lunatic fringe, but this too only adds to the process of normalisation. Soon thereafter the safeguards of democracy and the rule of law are torn apart from the inside and fascism begins.
How Trump makes extreme things look normal
4 thoughts on “Normalisation”
Just as a wee thought exercise, try reading the above article replacing the word ‘fascism’ with the term ‘world Jewry’. All manner of people try to exploit fear.
Indeed. I’m going to read this in the most positive may I can and assume that by this you do not mean that fighting fascism is the same as persecuting Jews, but that you are making the point that Fintan O’Toole, myself, and many others are lying and exploiting people’s fears. I suspect that is what you mean.
If I am lying then I am unaware of it. It is possible that the information I have to go on is all wrong or that there is something wrong with my cognitive reasoning. All of this is possible, true. But, like you, I have to run with what I make of the world and be true to my own intellect and conscience. It is not done in order to hurt or offend you and it is most certainly not a deliberate lie. It is truth – as I see it.
This aside, have you given any thought to my apology and offer to make up? I hope you’re well.
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I think “totalitarian” might be a better term than “fascist” (despite it’s popular use), since democracy can fall foul of any extreme ideology based on fear/hatred of ‘the other’, whether this comes from Left, Right or indeed anywhere else.
That said, the original Irish Times piece is well worth a read, along with as many of the comments you might have time for. Thanks for the link 🙂
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have been catching up on a lot of your older posts jason. although not agreeing with all your views you are an honest and decent man. adam curtis doc on hypernormalisation is well worth a view.