I consider the article “America is now in fascism’s legal phase” by a Yale philosophy professor, a descendant of Holocaust survivors, to be absolutely worth reading. It explores current trends in the American right wing in comparison to the rise of fascism in other nations. The parallels and cautions are truly frightening.
I’ve never really studied fascism, so I thought I’d do a little research to find out if Dr. Stanley is overreaching in his comparisons.
I quickly concluded that he’s right.
When I consider numerous articles about fascism, and various descriptions of its primary tenets, there are striking parallels to what’s going on among the political right wing in America, particularly the Trumpian party.
Tenets of Fascism
I started with Wikipedia. I recognize it’s hardly a primary source for anything, but it’s a good overview most of the time. In the case of fascism, it’s likely one of the better articles, given the nature of online disputes over wiki editing. Anything related to the Nazis always gets a LOT of careful attention, and misinformation is usually expunged very quickly. So I consider Wikipedia an acceptable first approximation of useful information. These are the tenets identified by the Wikipedia article:
Nationalism with or without expansionism – “The fascist view of a nation is of a single organic entity that binds people together by their ancestry and is a natural unifying force of people. Fascism seeks to solve economic, political and social problems by achieving a millenarian national rebirth, exalting the nation or race above all else and promoting cults of unity, strength and purity.” All those factors are definitely there in the Trumpian party.
Totalitarianism – “The Fascist conception of the State is all-embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism is totalitarian, and the Fascist State — a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values — interprets, develops, and potentiates the whole life of a people.” This appears to be true also. The Trumpian right wing is doing everything in its power to eliminate opposition, to create social indoctrination in Christian principles, and suppress alternate education, including banning books and crafting laws suppressing the teaching of history that doesn’t support the nationalistic view. The attempt to silence and discredit even right-leaning politicians who don’t buy the Trumpian agenda is striking. Witness also the number of recent calls among Evangelical leaders to “take over the government for God” or similar phrases. Trumpists certainly do not see their calls as totalitarian, and in fact argue that their attempt is to preserve democracy, but the practical manifestations of their efforts seem to meet this definition of totalitarian.
Economy – This is perhaps the least definitive tenet of fascism, but a primary goal of previous fascist governments was “autarky,” or economic self-sufficiency. Sites other than Wikipedia identify fascism as supporting corporatism and class collaboration, but making those serve the state’s interests. Such talking points have been a primary Republican goal for years, and autarky principles were heavily promoted by the Trump administration. President Trump openly advocated for greater trade protectionism, and implemented numerous trade sanctions on foreign governments. Also, the American right has strongly opposed social welfare, like previous fascist regimes.
Action – “Fascism emphasizes direct action, including supporting the legitimacy of political violence, as a core part of its politics.” This is definitely true of the Trumpian party.
Age and gender roles – “Italian Fascism pursued what it called ‘moral hygiene’ of youth, particularly regarding sexuality.” “The German Nazi government strongly encouraged women to stay at home to bear children and keep house.” Aryan teaching opposed all abortion for Aryans (but not Jews). The Nazis fought hard against non-traditional sexuality, sending 10-15 thousand homosexuals to the gas chambers. Recently there have been literal calls by American fundamentalist preachers for executing homosexuals. Consider also the sharp rise in complementarianism and similar teachings in the SBC and other Evangelical churches. And the vehemence of the right wing fight against nontraditional sexuality and gender identity is clear.
Palingenesis and modernism – Palingenesis is the concept of regeneration or rebirth, and in this context, refers to the rebirth of society, a return to its roots. Modernism is a parallel move to bring about a utopian forward progress in society. Fascism promotes the regeneration of the nation and purging it of decadence. This is definitely one of the goals of the American right. President Trump’s primary slogan, and the call of the Trumpian party, is “Make America Great Again.”
Fascist aesthetics – “The relations of domination and enslavement take the form of a characteristic pageantry: the massing of groups of people; the turning of people into things; the multiplication or replication of things; and the grouping of people/things around an all-powerful, hypnotic leader-figure or force.” “…the fetishism of courage, the dissolution of alienation in ecstatic feelings of community; the repudiation of the intellect; the family of man…” The trends in the Republican, Trumpian party certainly follow this aesthetic.
Beyond these tenets, I also consider the statement from Jason Stanley, professor of philosophy at Yale University and author of “How Fascism Works” who says that fascism “is based on an ethnic division between ‘us’ and ‘them’, an extreme ethno-nationalism. It’s based on nostalgia for a mythic past, typically in which members of the chosen ethnic group had an empire – and it represents the present as loss of that great empire, that natural standpoint in which members of this ethnic group dominated their environment militarily, politically, and culturally.” Stanley ties fascism to racism – interesting in light of many authors and commentators complaining that some segments of the American church, and society in general, are deeply racist.
Former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright – an immigrant from Czechoslovakia in 1948, with personal experience with the Nazis – wrote a book in 2018 “Fascism: A Warning” which warns of rising fascism in America and around the world, and in particular she points to Donald Trump as “the first antidemocratic president in modern U.S. history.”
Fascism and the Church
Perhaps the most striking thing to me about the Nazi party history is its utter co-opting of the German Evangelical church. From https://www.nytimes.com/2002/01/13/weekinreview/word-for-word-case-against-nazis-hitler-s-forces-planned-destroy-german.html “Attracted by the strategic value inherent in the churches’ ‘historic mission of conservative social discipline,’ the Nazis simply lied and made deals with the churches while planning a ‘slow and cautious policy of gradual encroachment’ to eliminate Christianity.” Going into the 1930s, Germany was 96% Christian, and the German theologian Martin Luther had strong influences in German culture. From
“Historically the German Evangelical Church viewed itself as one of the pillars of German culture and society, with a theologically grounded tradition of loyalty to the state. During the 1920s, a movement emerged within the German Evangelical Church called the Deutsche Christen, or ‘German Christians.’ The ‘German Christians’ embraced many of the nationalistic and racial aspects of Nazi ideology. Once the Nazis came to power, this group sought the creation of a national ‘Reich Church’ and supported a ‘nazified’ version of Christianity.” Similarly, the German Catholic church signed agreements with Hitler promising support in exchange for state influence, such as the 1933 “Concordat.”
But it wasn’t long before the honeymoon ended, and the Nazis began suppressing freedom of religion. The Nazi Party, which had signed numerous accords with both the Protestant and Catholic church promising good cooperation, violated those accords and began forcing state control of religious affairs, creating the Deutsche Evangelische Kirche as the new state church. In particular the Nazis began to intensely persecute the Roman Catholic church, Jews, and other sects such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses. (The Nazis were in particular quite interested in Martin Luther’s later antisemitic views.) They effectively forced the German Christian movement to adopt a number of rather anti-Christian principles, such as purging the Old Testament from the approved Bible because it glorified Hebrew culture. The primary group of Christians who disagreed with these changes – the “Confessing Church” – found itself under assault and in 1935 about a quarter of its members were imprisoned. Others including church leaders were forced to proclaim loyalty to the Nazi state and Hitler to survive.
I believe that all of this is worth careful consideration as Christians. As Harvard professor and philosopher George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
America Following Germany?
Given this history, and given trends I see developing in the United States, as many secularists (and even non-Evangelical Christians) are beginning to staunchly oppose the Evangelical church, I find it likely that we might find a similar pathway developing within the United States: intense Evangelical and generally Christian pressure for a theocracy, leading to the election of a deeply flawed but very popular hero figure, who panders to the church, and promises to lead our nation back to its Christian roots, using much militaristic and aggressive rhetoric against his opponents. The church shows that it is willing to set aside many of its core principles to elect and then hold that leader in power. (That much has clearly already happened.)
But once power has been consolidated, what then?
In the case of Hitler, since he never truly followed the way of the Lord, but only used the Evangelical and Catholic communities to seize power, unsurprisingly he did not do what they expected. And then? It may have soon seemed to those living in Germany to be something like this from Daniel 7:25 (KJV): “And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time.“
And thus it could be with America.
I do not mean to be prophetic here, and nor do I mean to imply that former President Trump is the antichrist; I actually do not believe that to be true of Trump any more than Hitler. There are often multiple levels of fulfillment of any prophetic scripture, and quite often, an apparent fulfillment on earth only points the way towards a future complete fulfillment in the heavenly realm.
Wrestling With The Beast
However, I am postulating that things may not be quite as simple as they appear to many Evangelicals, who seem to be so interested in attaining and holding power, that they’re missing the danger signs that are fairly apparent to everyone else.
It’s arguable that the German Evangelical and Catholic churches were largely responsible for enabling the successful rise to power of Hitler and the Nazi party. In a sense, the German church facilitated its own destruction and led to a worldwide conflict that killed tens of millions and devastated a continent. And at the root of the enabling was the church’s pursuit of political power.
But much like The One Ring in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,” that power can never be used for good – it inevitably corrupts everyone who tries to bear it. It is impossible for the systems of the world, the Kosmos, the Great Beast of Daniel and the Revelations, to be wrestled into submission for the purposes of the Lord – because the Kosmos is the creation of the Kosmokrator, the lord of the world, prince of this age – Satan. He has fooled men for many generations into submitting themselves to his designs in the vain hope of controlling them. But that hope is fruitless. Our only hope is in the economy of the Kingdom of Heaven, which operates not by control, but by submission, by humility, by self-sacrifice. It is not human strength and willpower that will bring about the Kingdom, but instead recognizing our own insufficiency and dependence on the Lord’s strength.
We cannot win by wearing The One Ring of power. That ring must be cast off and unmade forever, but not in the fires of Mount Doom, but instead in the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit.