Because Americans like me were born in freedom, we have a hard time even considering that it is possible for us to become as unfree – domestically – as many other nations. Because we no longer learn much about our rights or our system of government – the task of being aware of the constitution has been outsourced from citizens’ ownership to being the domain of professionals such as lawyers and professors – we scarcely recognise the checks and balances that the founders put in place, even as they are being systematically dismantled. Because we don’t learn much about European history, the setting up of a department of “homeland” security – remember who else was keen on the word “homeland” – didn’t raise the alarm bells it might have.
It is my argument that, beneath our very noses, George Bush and his administration are using time-tested tactics to close down an open society. It is time for us to be willing to think the unthinkable – as the author and political journalist Joe Conason, has put it, that it can happen here. And that we are further along than we realise.
Naomi Wolf, The Guardian, Tuesday April 24 2007
When I was a young man– 25 or 30 years ago– we tossed around the word ‘fascist’ like it was candy. It was our favorite epithet, as useful for a grumpy friend or an unfriendly store clerk as for Reagan and his ilk. So whenever I hear the term outside of very specific historical contexts, a red flag goes up.
So I was a little suspicious when I heard about Naomi Wolf’ new book, The End of America, and the series of talks she has been giving on what she calls the closing of open societies. How do you go from a democracy, however flawed, like Germany, to fascism?
I am not certain I am persuaded by the above interview, but some of her questions are chillingly perceptive. We think we know what fascism looks like she says, only because we think of the jack-boots and violent armies of WWII. It began quite differently, of course, in a society Wolf shows we would feel was very familiar. If you check off her list of 10 steps it’s a little too close for comfort.
Wolf’s ideas suggest that electing a democratic president, as well as a more strongly democratic Congress, has a very literal meaning this time. I haven’t had the time to read the book but there’s a great series of videos where she sets out her basic argument. This seems to me exactly the right context for the next election. Somehow, I don’t think that cranky old Republican grandfather is going to help.