Hey guys. Let’s talk about Hitler’s ghost.
1: Twentieth Century Schizoid Men
If we want to get into what exactly the twentieth century was, its glib summation, then I would go to the period between the two world wars. Often in historiography people talk of a “long nineteenth century” that ends in the bloodshed of 1914-1918, and in this sense we can broadly see the whole of 1900-1918 as a sort of practice run, in which the sheer number of revolutions, violent upheavals, and setting of demographic and economic trends that would define the next hundred years, shows the disintegration of a whole world order. China’s Xinhai Revolution, the Russo-Japanese War, the collapse of the Ottoman, German and Austrian empires, the beginning of the end of the British and French Empires, the rise of the United States, and most powerfully of all 1917, the collapse of Tsardom and the birth of communism – there’s Michael Bay movies with less explosions going on at once than happened in the first bit of the twentieth century. So how to make sense of this?
For me “the twentieth century” as a real thing starts in earnest with 1917. The end of Tsardom and the American intervention in World War One serve as the end of feudalism, in ideological terms at least, as the fundamental nineteenth century question of “can a feudal state be modernised in the era of nationalism and capitalism?” was answered with the most definitive “fuck no” the world had yet heard. The failure of Wilson’s Fourteen Points – the first but nowhere near the last time an American attempt to impose its own ideological standards upon foreign lands ended in large-scale disaster – and the failure of the February Revolution asked the question of the next century: if nationalism and capitalism are inevitable, then what form should they take?
We sometimes call the twentieth century “The American Century”, but the American vision, which failed in the interwar years owing to neither the world or America itself being ready for it, Wilson a sort of doomed prophet of today’s American moral totalitarianism, didn’t really become hegemonic until the century’s dying years, and for much of the time was only one of many, many visions for how the world should be rebuilt in the aftermath of the 1914-1918 apocalypse. But we can boil those visions down to three that emerged in the years after the first Gotterdammerung of the twentieth century and before the second, in broad strokes – liberalism, communism, and fascism. Thus in the 1920s we see basically the same themes spelled out as would be repeated over and over for the rest of the century, as these three competing visions dueled for universal victory.
The first, liberalism, was an Anglosphere invention, first born in the British Empire but finding a more perfect home in the tabula rasa of the young United States. Whether liberal-liberal or conservative-liberal it rested upon the rights of the (propertied) individual, and asserted this principle not only as natural but also as inevitable, and in its civilising of imperial subjects in the UK or in genocidal erasure of natives in the US, was the first of the new totalising ideologies to find form. The story of liberalism in the twentieth century was of its uneasy marriage with amoral capital, its convulsive character defined by heaves from decadence to moralism, from cynicism towards itself to naïve belief in its inherent goodness – it was the most pliable to capital of the three visions, and also the most rooted in simple ‘common sense’ morality, and therefore struggled the most with the contradictions capital continuously hit it with. And yet in the end it apparently proved to be the most successful, or at least the most resilient framework for development and co-existence with capital, and so apparently won the twentieth century.
The second, communism, was born in Europe but as with liberalism only really found its home outside of what we might call ‘old Europe’, first in the Soviet Union and then in Yugoslavia and the Eastern Bloc and finally in its most successful form in Asia, from China to Vietnam to Korea, as the ideology of national liberation and anti-imperialism, thus becoming from 1917 the ideology of what we westerners never call but inevitably subconsciously think of as “the Asiatic hordes”. Authoritarian and yet democratic, formed of towering state structures rooted in grassroots party organisations, the twentieth century communist experiment found many forms and expressed itself in many ways, but was caught continually between a central contradiction best embodied in Mao’s Cultural Revolution: in a fundamentally hostile, capitalist world, was the paranoid stagnation of the Marxist-Leninist party-state apparatus – the “social harmony” we see in today’s China, the vision of Stalin as his Soviet state was encircled on all sides by hostile forces – worth the security it provided, or was revolutionary upheaval, a chasing of the fleeting glimpse of the future seen in 1917, more important even at the cost of stability? Was communism to be built simply by being a better, stronger capitalism, or by a leap into the unknown world outside of capitalism? In the end, so it goes, communism chose Stalin over anything else, even to the end, and so rotted away into nothing – almost nothing – by the 1990s. Its long experiment in defying the gravity of capital ended, apparently, in failure, with it only existing in forms and signs – the Communist Party of China, India’s Maoists, the tiny, embittered communist parties of the west – and no longer as a viable rival to liberalism.
Both of these trends came from European thinkers, whether British or German or French or etc., and yet found their purest, most powerful expression outside of Europe. This was because Europe had been the unquestioned master of the 1800s and yet had been broken by the war. It served for most of the twentieth century only as a testbed, a place for liberalism and communism to compete, offering no real vision of the future of its own making. The past, the glory of the Romans, of Charlemagne and Napoleon, of the Hohenzollerns, the French Empire, the Habsburgs and even in a way the Ottomans, had been European, made and unmade on European terms. After 1919 Europe had nothing to offer the future. And yet out of the rubble of imperial Germany, the great success story of European feudal-capitalism, and the broken Italian monarchy, child of a failed unification and a false nationalism, the bad joke and ultimate tragic survivor of the European Century, came one last European idea.
This idea was called by the Italians fascism and by the Germans national socialism and in its weird exported form to Japan – the Asian country that had decided to count itself as European – as various things, but today often the misleadingly neutral “Showa statism”. It sometimes also called itself the third way, the balance between decadent liberalism and inhuman communism, but really was more decadent than liberalism and even less human than communism, and purported to be about saving the nation but ended up wrecking all three nations it latched onto. This was fascism – epitomised in the Italian slogan me ne frego, I don’t give a damn, less a vision of the future than a vision of the rush towards beautiful death, an aesthetic pursuit of only aesthetics, a beautiful suicide note flung from the window of a car speeding towards a clifftop. A – well, I wrote more about the precise poetic vision of fascism, its irrationality and basic nihilism, here. But whatever you eulogise it as, this was the European contribution to the twentieth century, the third piece of the puzzle. With the rise of non-European points of power, with liberalism and communism both in different ways threatening to absorb all that stood before them, fascism as a dark shadow of both, mimicking various forms of liberalism and of communism but existing only as a reactive embrace of the abyss in response to them, rose out of the depths of the continent’s stricken heart. The megalomania of Rome through the Holy Roman Empire to Napoleon, the endless horror of the Thirty Years’ War, the fanatical hatreds of the nineteenth century’s nationalisms, the vicious close-mindedness of the Lutheran princes and the war-lust of the eighteenth century’s Kabinettskrieg, the populist violence of the French Revolution and the Peasants’ Revolt, all churned up through the blender of the First World War into the Jekyll to the Hyde of the Enlightenment – this was fascism.
There were no contradictions within fascism, for fascism itself was the contradiction. It made no sense, and was basically irrational, and did not exist to protect individual freedoms or to serve the great mass of the people but only in pursuit of the Volk, the abstract people, who themselves were an ideal to be realised only in the death of the kamikaze pilot or the inhuman industrial glory of the Panzer battalion or the splendid brutality of the blackshirt. Liberalism is tormented by its uneasy relationship to capitalism and communism by its inability to keep capitalism out – fascism was tormented in its every waking second of existence, never settled, never content, Hitler nervously and hysterically advancing Germany’s borders across Central Europe with the rational pretence of ‘reclaiming’ territory but really irrationally, seeking nothing but the war that eventually came. The psychological shadow of fascism, this truth of it, has filtered down into the most distant reaches of today’s pop culture – 2001 scifi classic shoot-em-up Halo and its sequels tell the story of the war between the troubled-but-they’re-basically-good humanity (liberalism), versus the dogmatic alien religious fanatics of The Covenant (who we can still respect and who under a better system might be our friends, the communists), with both interrupted by the unholy force of The Flood, parasitic creatures from the depths of space intent on consuming both sides, the kind of threat that does not negotiate or plan or think but only serves as an endless yawning hunger. A pretty good metaphor really.
These were the three competing narratives of the twentieth century – individual freedom, the greater good, or total nihilism. All were universal, regardless of origin: liberalism today has deep roots across the globe, communism in its history has in varied forms spread to places as differing as Nepal, Yugoslavia, East Germany and modern China, and fascism, in its short flowering, proved able to make the leap from the European context of post-war devastation to Japan’s seemingly booming, mostly unbloodied 1920s democracy. Despite what Very Smart People may smugly say about China’s modern patriotic mood being in fact fuelled by European-derived Marxism, as a weird kind of gotcha, communism was not inherently European in character past the first few years of the USSR, and inversely liberalism, despite what certain Singapore-influenced Asian critics say, is not something only suited to the west and incompatible with the east. Rather the first universal ideology, liberalism, had triumphed over its scattered feudal opponents, and yet in its own inadequacy created an opposite universalism, communism, which itself had created the third, fascism. So the 1920s began the race. The stakes were higher than they had ever been in history – not dynastic pride or who owned this or that piece of land but the battle for global ideological hegemony.
From 2021 it seems obvious how this turned out. Fascism, the ultimate evil, was destroyed first in a just war against it of its own making, and liberalism and communism set to a relatively calmer competition, an ideological duel in which communism proved unable to sustain itself, passing out in a heap of its own blood in 1991, leaving liberalism as the victor. The twentieth century was then cast as the story of liberal triumph over the twin totalitarianisms. Gravity had prevailed in the end.
But perhaps it wasn’t really liberalism that won or communism that lost, but that dark bastard communism, fascism, that triumphed. How?
2: Actually Existing Fascism
‘Fascism’ was by its nature an incoherent, malleable thing. The form it assumed in the 1920s and 30s was that of a mimic of communism. In the 1920s communism was the dynamic ideological force, with Lenin an international hero and communist parties and societies flowering everywhere. The original fascists and their German and Japanese counterparts liked some of this and took what they wanted, and discarded the boring bits about international proletarian solidarity and the bright future of communism and all that shite, keeping the Party and the Leader and the righteous anger of the masses type stuff instead. The German Workers Party had the word socialist added, to make the National Socialist German Workers Party, NDSAP or Nazi Party, specifically in order to poach workers from the communists and social democrats. As Halo’s Flood zombified their hosts the fascists zombified workers’ movements and organizations, substituting the real life of revolutionary class struggle with its own violent convulsing power, the twitching of a reanimated corpse. It’s from this that certain observers derive the notion that while dangerous, fascism was actually less totalitarian and brutal than communism – communism’s totalitarian and brutal qualities derived from its authentic power as a political force, and the all-pervasive and omnipotent Party of socialist societies did not derive its strength from just being better organised than the fascist or liberal parties but from its core, its genuine dedication to creating a new form of society and a new type of human existence. The fascist New Man was a poor parody of the communist one – the fascist Party an empty shell based only on leader worship, the fuhrerprinzip, and the fascist social organisations limp and lifeless versus those seen in the USSR and the eastern bloc. In a sense fascism was less totalitarian, then, but only because its real interest lay not in the work of constructing a new social and economic means of existence, which was the objective the communist parties were built to accomplish, but in something else.
Because the fascist parties never possessed the talent or will to achieve the true extent of their communist rivals, the vision of what we might call ‘true fascism’ was mostly never achieved. Mussolini’s Fascist Party co-existed awkwardly with the monarchy and the military, as did Japan’s more extreme and openly fascist-influenced political figures, whose Imperial Rule Assistance Association was never even as powerful as the Fascist Party. Nazi Germany was nurtured by and spent most of its existence working around the Prussian aristocracy and military, which its own middle-class petty bourgeois ex-soldier roots were set firmly against. This is because contrary to communism fascism saw the achieving of its own equivalent to the communist mode of production, the welding-together of the Volksgemeinschaft, the national community, as happening not through the revolutionising of society through economic means, the superstructure shifting in turn with the modification of the base, but through the same thing that had created the fascist idea in the first place – the traumatic, hardening experience of war.
The imperial German state had been formed in war and dissolved in war, the Prussian cult of the soldier (though not its aristocratic trappings) massively influential in and unifying in disparate post-1871 Germany, and the defeat of 1918 and the collapse of the German myth manufactured by the Hohenzollerns – “I know no more parties, only Germans”, the Kaiser proclaimed in 1914 – was a scar born by the whole nation. The Japanese had been ruled by the feudal military dictatorship of the shogunate for two hundred years before the Meiji Restoration, and the modernising ex-samurai clans who formed the core of the imperial state had triumphed over that same shogunate not through popular revolution or intellectual might but through the blunt and brutal military defeat of it. Italy was maybe the only outlier, with a dismal military history and a wartime not of national struggle but a humiliating experience of defeat after defeat in pursuit of cynical political objectives, with no large-scale patriotic euphoria as was experienced in Germany. But in many ways the Italian state and its supposed national awakening remained an eternal pale shadow of the German one, pursued by Italian elites rather than the mostly indifferent peasants. It was the literati and thinkers who often commented on the need to “make Italians”, and who embarked on this quest to make men and women worthy of the kingdom that had been hastily erected ahead of time for them to inhabit. Italian fascism merely took this quixotic idea to its violent, war-worshipping conclusion.
However in the end the fascists and Japanese militarists proved unable to live up to their lofty talk of the New Fascist Man or the Japanese spirit. As fascism was never truly a mass movement in the communist sense it depended on the acquiescence of two groups, of the less-radical conservative elites who wished to use it as a club to bludgeon organised labour with, and to a lesser extent the general population. Although the broad populations of both Italy and Japan had no real ability to affect fascism’s course, they grew to sense the cliff they were being led off, and more vitally the conservative elite also sensed this impending doom and had both the form of the pre-fascist monarchy to rally around and enough organisational and institutional power to free themselves from the death-cult just in time. Fascism’s founding father, Mussolini, was ousted rather pathetically by the Grand Council of Fascists in a bureaucratic coup, dismissed by the king in a single meeting, Italian fascism ending as artificially as it had first been made, although it enjoyed a sort of half-life as the German puppet state of the Italian Social Republic before the war was up. The Japanese elite were later in coming to their senses, indulging in much insane sacrifice and fascist madness in the later years of the war, but they did eventually arrive there, after American war crimes and Soviet tanks had smashed any and all chances of their desperate hope that one more victory would being the Allies to terms. Although their hasty termination of the war was met with much resistance from certain ultranationalist circles, it did end up buying them a deal with the devil. The Americans, after inflicting massive suffering on the Japanese people who hadn’t started the war, pulled their punches with the militarist elite who had, and let most of them go on to lucrative careers in business or government in post-war “democratic” Japan.
In Germany however a perfect storm of elements prevented such a cosy solution. Some were external. The enormity and publicity of Nazi war crimes, much more grotesque in their industrial form and scale than the Japanese barbarities and much more well known, made it much harder for the western Allies to consider letting any of them off the hook, even ignoring the will of the Soviets, who had suffered far worse under Nazi bootheels than any other Allied nation. Some were domestic. The Nazi Party had already come to dominate German political life to a far greater extent than the Italian fascists and Japanese militarists ever managed to, and there was no monarchy and no skeleton of the pre-fascist political system for the conservative elite to utilise in a coup attempt. Hitler himself, whatever else you say about him, was a true believer in his cause, who not only would not allow himself to flee the Wagnerian apocalypse that Nazism was heading towards but would not allow the German people to do so either, insofar as he had the ability to. What’s more, unlike their allies, whose populations had largely never felt the shock of a full-fledged defeat in a war before and so were less tolerant of the suffering of total war, the Germans were both hardened by the privations of the home front from 1914-1918 and haunted by the “stab in the back” myth of their loss back then, which added fuel to nationalist and military groups who otherwise might already have tried to abandon Nazism. Lastly, the German military was both more professional, competent and battle-tried than its counterparts and at once completely tamed by Hitler, even before its eclipse by SS and Party institutions after the failed July 1944 assassination attempt.
So it was that following this assassination attempt that, instead of the collapse that ensued in Italy following the Sicily debacle or in Japan after the loss of Manchukuo, Nazism hardened and managed to tighten its grip on the population, and led to what we might call Actually Existing Fascism, a fascism finally loosed from its parasitic dependence on premade conservative nationalist structures and allowed to fulfil itself. From 1944 to 1945 Nazism peaked while Germany collapsed, as the Wehrmacht fought with increasing fury and the Party killed and goaded and propagandized with increasing fanaticism, unbound by law, by public mood, by its own rules, by the prospect of any future at all. The total war that Goebbels promised in 1942 arrived, and it was not glorious but grim, and not unifying but dividing, as society broke down and any and all sense of order beyond the rule of the strongest disintegrated, and it did not give the Volksgemeinschaft life but killed it more thoroughly than anyone could have dreamt possible. In the ash of 1945, after Hitler had killed himself and the trembling phantom of the Nazi government had surrendered in Flensburg, there was no German state, and barely a German people. Allied armies occupied every inch of German soil, with no legal basis for a Germany and no legal protection for those who had been Germans; solely dependent on the whims of whichever Ally occupied them, refugees from a world that had shattered, the Germans were defeated as a military but also in a deeper, more existential sense. The vast majority of German war casualties occurred in this final year, from 1944 to 1945, both civilian and military. Hitler had said he would do this, had said that the German people did not deserve to exist, and he had delivered.
When we think of fascism we don’t default to 1944-45 but to early fascism, the March on Rome or the Nazi parades at Nuremburg, or to the peak of the wartime empires, the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, the haunting images of the Holocaust death camps in Poland and the Nazi New World Order glimpsed there. We think of panzers thundering across the Russian steppe, of Zeros over Pearl Harbour, of Heil Hitler and Tennoheika Banzai!, of the Party and its Leader and his goose-stepping legions. This is a convenience manufactured after the war by those whose interest was in depicting fascism as something it was not; to create a dichotomy between the individual freedoms of liberalism and the apparent efficiency of collective totalitarianism, an image of a fascism that perfectly matched Mussolini’s boast of making the trains run on time, which allows in today’s decayed liberal world an automatic defence of liberal capitalism’s myriad problems with “well, you could fix this, but at what cost? Do you want another Holocaust?”.
This is a very dangerous convenience, because it misses what separates communism and fascism entirely (purposefully). Our image of fascism should not be Nazi parades, Japanese carrier fleets, or that big funny building in fascist Rome with Mussolini’s face and the word SI all over it – it should be the haunted faces of the elderly Volksturm militias advancing with their ancient rifles to the front, and the Hitler Youth, children with Panzerfausts hiding in ditches to blow up Soviet tanks. It should be weeping kamikaze pilots mumbling along to their patriotic songs as they prepare to board their outmoded fighters to kill themselves pointlessly against the decks of American ships. It should be Mussolini’s corpse hung up after being riddled with bullets by partisans while trying to flee, the most ignoble death possible in defiance of all of his grandiose fantasies. It should be all these things, because they capture much better the absurd contrast of the fascist dream with reality, the inverted world in which Actually Existing Fascism lived and breathed for that brief moment before hurling itself onto the flames.
It’s only when we look at fascism this way can we understand that it didn’t actually lose at all.
3: The Fuhrergeist
In the fascist world, victory is death, and survival is failure. The Volksgemeinschaft can only be stitched together in a war that is more total, more radical than we can even imagine today, an insane form of surgery that inevitably kills the patient. This is part of why there were no more fascisms after 1945, at least not in the sense that anyone anywhere rose to claim the mantle Hitler took with him to his grave, at least outside of small groups of outsiders and weirdos. In the ideological race of the twentieth century liberalism and communism were competing to sell themselves to both a developed world recovering from war and trauma and to a developing world awakening from feudalism and colonialism; hey, said the liberals, freedom is the natural human condition. Hey, said the communists, true freedom lies with freedom from exploitation, and only socialism can protect you from exploitation. In what way could fascism, once the truth of its twisted existence had come to light, sell itself to anyone? Hey, it might say, this is a big can of poison that will absolutely murder you. Who’s gonna buy that?
But also we might consider that if fascism was a can of poison, a toxic ideology that depended upon its own collapse, then the rupturing of that can leaked into the air a political style that, diffused, drifted around the world, infecting living things with its toxin instead of proclaiming itself as a coherent thing (which now, with its original form completely destroyed, it was no longer was able to do). Fascism as a political system is dead. But something else of it lives on. As Mao Zedong labelled the USSR under Brezhnev as “Khruschevism without Khrushchev”, recognising that although the specific form of Soviet government under Nikita Khrushchev was over in spirit the Soviet system was already irreparably altered from what it had been before, we might talk today of something else – fascism without fascism.
In the 2015 movie Mad Max: Fury Road, set in post-apocalyptic Australia, the earth is dying from radiation and pollution unleashed in an unspecified nuclear war; in this grim world resources, what little there are left, are hoarded by various bandits and warlords, who dominate the remains of society through these violence-enforced monopolies. One of these warlords, the crippled madman Immortan Joe, specifically controls both the water – “aqua cola” – and milk – “mother’s milk”, human milk harvested from human stock – monopolies via his vast gang of armed fanatics, the War Boys. These War Boys worship the V8 engine, automobile fetishists gone insane, and are violent, boorish and idiotic thugs who drive around in insane pimped-out desert cars, competing to martyr themselves in a show-off ritual of being “witnessed” – where one sprays one’s teeth silver with paint and screams “WITNESS ME!” before sacrificing themselves in some crazy way to defeat an enemy. Their worship of the V8 is based around the Immortan as the figure who can “ride with [them], shiny and chrome”, to “Valhalla”. Their whole life is death – “If I’m gonna die,” one of them proclaims, “I’m gonna die historic, on the fury road”. And they are awesome.
Much of the movie is focused on them and their insane vehicles, their rituals, and their cult, and there’s one particular shot early on, as their entire fleet of cars rolls out and fills the desert, and the camera pans around their fleet, around a vast truck being ridden by a troupe of drummers who intense pounding forms part of the scene’s soundtrack, to reveal strung up from the front a man wearing a harness and a mask, bouncing about in mid-air, playing the other part of the soundtrack himself on his enormous electric guitar, which then as the shot pauses on the whole of the fleet in its entirety shoots fucking flames out of the side: this shot provokes an intense reaction of “holy shit that’s so cool god damn” in me every time I see it. The movie does not try to hide that this stuff is cool, and in fact revels in it, revels in these cartoonish villains and their rad Warhammer 40k-in-Australia vibe. A thing everyone who watches Fury Road has to face is that the War Boys are cool, and fun, and also-
Well, it turns out that they’re also dying of radiation sickness, hence the death cult, and that their leader is basically just a horny old mutant who can’t get it up, and also that being a War Boy is actually pretty scary and lonely. In one memorable scene our War Boy hero Nux, source of the above quote, lies down shivering, and shows the other character present that he has two enormous tumours growing on his neck, which he has drawn smiley faces on and named in a starkly childish touch. It’s an effective juxtaposition that manages to capture the truth of fascism better than any movie I’ve seen that isn’t horrifying Soviet nightmare simulator Come And See. Without belabouring the point it shows that fascism at its core is built on vulnerability and the exploitation of it, and also on the projection of an aura of strength and masculinity that relies on deception to sustain itself. The first half of Fury Road is almost a propaganda film for the War Boys, through editing, direction and a pumping soundtrack with almost no dialogue it convinces you of their power; and in the second half, as our hero Max (who isn’t actually called ‘Mad’ Max, sadly) manages to defeat them using basically a bunch of old ladies and a cripple as backup, the illusion is completely torn down.
And yet I feel that Fury Road uses these fascist gangsters as villains for a reason. If you don’t know the franchise, then the first Mad Max depicts a world on the brink of an apocalypse, with sociopathic macho bikers as its threat to a police force stretched thin. The second, The Road Warrior, abruptly cuts to after the end, where Max, our mythical hero, wanders a world devoid of social structures and norms entirely, a real wasteland, and faces off against what might be seen as the trauma-warped successors to the first movie’s mundane bikers, the intensely homoerotic Lord Humongous and his crew of gimp suited freaks, mutants and general scum. Fury Road (I haven’t seen the third one, with Tina Turner, and I won’t) posits, with its politicking warlords and organised societies, that the apocalypse has been slightly moved on from – and that what seems to be one of the first forms of politics to emerge from the ruins is something very resembling fascism is no accident. Fury Road’s fascism does have a charismatic leader, but it doesn’t have a Party and it doesn’t much relate itself to racial supremacy, and there is no goosestepping and there are no leather uniforms. This is a movie too smart for those dystopian follies of aping wholly the forms of the other in order to reassure – instead, what appears in the post-nuclear Australia seen in Fury Road is not fascism but contains its toxin, the seductive death-worship insecurity that drove young men in Italy, Japan and Germany to give themselves over to its nihilistic cause.
This is the truth that liberalism must bury about fascism. Actually Existing Fascism grew from systems transplanted onto reactionary European national feelings that were built to superficially resemble communist systems, but in its infernal moment showed that it cared little for Party, or State, or any of those other fine things it is usually conflated with – all that it cared for was having enough power to drag itself into the furnace, and as Japan showed with its own unique form of fascist dysfunction there doesn’t necessarily have to be a Party for that to happen. But fascism remains a useful rhetorical cudgel. As long as we miss what it was really about, that black matter at its heart, we can use its amorphousness to take aim at any political target we want and accuse it of being a hair’s breadth away from Hitler. The liberal conception of fascism is rooted in this; the myth of equivalent totalitarianisms was created in the Cold War as a means of keeping to the Wilsonian vision of the political struggle of the twentieth century as freedom versus unfreedom. We see goose-stepping Chinese soldiers as modern Nazi stormtroopers, communist banners as waving swastikas, the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact as an attempt at a Greater German Reich, the Korean War or Afghanistan or Taiwan all as potential Chamberlainian appeasements, the Communist Party as the Nazi Party, Xi Jinping as Hitler as Stalin as Trump as Mao as Putin, all really Mussolini in disguise. We recast European-derived fascism as of the Asiatic Horde, both one and the same, in order to save European civilisation and further damn that which is non-European. When communism and fascism are one and the same, liberalism wins by default.
But this distortion creates problems, because it means we’re always looking for the Danger to Democracy, the fascism coming up the road in its refurbished swastika-emblazoned Volkswagen. The truth is that fascism is a microbe that infects, not a vehicle to be assembled. And it does not infect with intent to completely take over, not as the clumsy parasitic fascism of the 1920s did, but simply to propagate, its already-loose coherence gone and itself only a collection of memes, which move about the body politic, from system to system, spreading the core of their original form, which is only the desire for political death. Fascism exists everywhere, in everything; is not Brexit the ultimate fascist impulse, the feelings-first contempt for ‘experts’ that pushed Hitler to overrule his generals, the feeble dream of reassembling a mythical English national community in the post-Blair age of globalised multiculturalism? Asking ‘what was the plan after Brexit’ misses that there was no plan, that the motion itself was the point, that the Tories who championed Brexit ne frego. Isn’t the American cult of the soldier, thank you for your service, you’re keeping our boys safe, etc., the endless stirring to war of a military machine that exists only for itself, also fascist? And indeed much of the American right in its Trumpist phase has entered a mood of me ne frego, of aching for civil war, for a cleansing re-baptism of America in fire and violence. China too in certain political circles – mostly not those of the leadership itself- approaches fascist logic regarding ethnicity, international order and the idea of the Volksgemeinschaft. Ah ha, say the anti-China crowd, but then we look across the strait at Taiwan, the purest most wonderful place in history, where an invented legend of natives predisposed to kindness and goodness set upon by a hostile and backwards (Chinese) world, clearly borrowed from Japanese colonial-era education and with the Japanese poorly booted out, is something that in its basic contours seems to influence a lot of Pan-Green thinking.
We look at Hong Kong’s literal blackshirts in 2019, less Mussolini than Mussolini’s predecessor Gabrielle D’Annunzio’s wild troopers from his attempt to create the independent city-state of Fiume after World War One, aimless young people who found community and solidarity in a hopeless cause, just as eager to fight the police as the police were to fight them, who would probably have eaten themselves if the mainland government hadn’t been so eager to get there first. In the minor states of eastern Europe anti-Soviet sentiment has dovetailed with Russophobia and anti-Semitism to create patriotic legends out of Nazi sympathizers – in modern Japan the government is not a return to militarism, honest, it just would like to emphasize that no one in the militarist period did anything wrong. Leaders from all over the world, from Modi to Putin to Bolsonaro, play like children with the images and methods of fascism while really just being regular capitalist thugs, unaware of the future death-worship they flirt with.
Not one of these things are ‘fascist’ in that 1920s sense. That fascism is dead. It burned on the pyre with Hitler’s corpse in 1945, and we all know it did – but we invoke its ghost, the Fuhrergeist, to scare ourselves, basically as a game, for fun, unwilling to face that its very real spirit infects all that we talk about and all that we do. It lives on, as fascism without fascism, eager to push us into that abyssal place where inverted politics occur, and a loss is a victory and violence is beauty and love is war and the Volk exist as non-material aether to be worshipped and the truest expression of human existence is to beat a man to death in a quiet back-alley and spit on his corpse. It’s always there now; we just have to say, as the Italians did, that we don’t give a damn, and that we wish to die beautifully, to carve our names beyond life and death and into history. And the temptation to do so, thanks to the grand failure, the triumphant, splendid, glorious, horrifying failure of 1945, will live with us and our politics for a very long time. This was, in the end, the true final victory.
Epilogue – We’re All Sons Of The Patriots Now!
What made me think of this article, by the way, was a weird thing. Specifically, a conversation in a Metal Gear game. Some context: Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid series of action/stealth/ass fetishism video games deals with a conspiracy led by an ancient and mysterious group of dictators known as The Patriots, who have masterminded all of American history through what is effectively memetic censorship, propagating the ideas they wish to circulate and suppressing on the hush-hush those they do not, in the end creating for themselves as a means of extending this a worldwide war economy where war is a game for profit pursued by non-ideological PMCs, a game in which they themselves control all the players. I won’t spoil how it all turns out or anything, but by the end of the series The Patriots are vanquished. In non-Kojima spin-off Metal Gear Rising, an action game set after the series proper, we see a world of perpetual war, where despite the end of the dystopia of the rest of the series the world itself hasn’t much changed. Main villain and US senator (!) Steven Armstrong, trying to clean up this slightly-less-dystopia, makes a remark about this: “The Patriots planted the seed. We don’t need them around to filter and foster their memes any longer. We’re spreading ‘em just fine ourselves. Every American man, woman and child. We’re all sons of the Patriots now!”
Cheesy as hell, I know. But isn’t that just how fascism has worked out in the real world? Another fascist state is impossible to imagine, because in real-world political thinking there has never been a more dismal failure than the three fascist states of the twentieth century. But also there doesn’t need to be another fascist state. Liberalism has ‘won’ in the sense that it got capitalism’s heart and finished the century almost omnipresent – but heavy is the head that wears the crown, and the contradictions are sharpening and it is harder and harder to say in this day and age that liberalism really works that well at all, with only the defence of the “We’re not totalitarianism! You won’t die in a gulag or a death camp under us!” non-argument left to it to stave off any alternatives.
Communism was born from capitalism’s shadow, and as a spectre it will never die, but it is no longer in the position of supreme alternative to liberal hegemony it was in the Cold War – unlike fascism communism educates, and builds, and aims for the future, and so opens itself up to criticism. The fascists are beyond criticism because they no longer exist. We are all their children, the ‘blackpilled’ 4chan nerds who voted for Trump as a joke but not really, the American polsci types who increasingly see no way out re: China other than glorious war, the average Joe who likes Boris or Trump but thinks those real politicians – the shambling remains of them – are all the same, the gilets jaunes in France or the remains of the Hong Kong protesters scattered worldwide, the Russian NazBols who worship Lenin and the Tsar together and the Chinese ultranationalists who hate the Party’s socialism but love its muscular Han assertiveness…even me, the blogger who doesn’t know what to do with politics but knows that it all sucks ass. We’re all carriers, and none of us will be the Fuhrer or will lead a Party, and there will be no goose-stepping or book-burning or banzai charges or brutalist monuments to The Guy in his capital city of Guytown. But the fascist impulse is simple. It is easy. As Mad Max showed us, it is cool. And in a world where the twentieth century’s resolution is increasingly looking more premature, it is a power all of its own, unshackled from the semblance of reality it once was in hock to. In the ending portion of Metal Gear Rising, our hero the cyborg ninja Raiden (yeah I know) is confronted with the paradox of fighting against a philosophy of “might makes right” by, well, killing everyone he meets who espouses it – and the game ends on this unsettling note, that in defeat what he destroyed is more powerful than it might be in life. And this is what we face in the fascism without fascism of today.
This is a distortion of reality.
Fascism has always been real.
The most vital urgent and DEEP understanding everyone needs to RE-learn is that psychopaths typically are not physically violent crazies but always stealth predators (exploitative deceivers, which explains why the public has been fed a MISLEADING understanding of psychopaths). And then… the most vital urgent and DEEP understanding everyone needs to gain is that a network of manipulating psychopaths ARE governing big businesses (eg official medicine), nations and the world (the evidence is irrefutable) and that the Covid Scamdemic is a VERY DESTRUCTIVE WAR AGAINST NON-RULING PEOPLE EVERYWHERE — you and I. But that’s only ONE part of the equation that makes up the destructive human condition.
It is NOT just a matter of “draining the swamp” at the top and we’re back to our former sick “normal.”
The true, WHOLE, but “politically inconvenient” and “culturally forbidden” reality is more encompassing because “the swamp that needs draining” on a psychological and behavioral level is over 90% of people anywhere. Study “The 2 Married Pink Elephants In The Historical Room –The Holocaustal Covid-19 Coronavirus Madness: A Sociological Perspective & Historical Assessment Of The Covid “Phenomenon”” at https://www.rolf-hefti.com/covid-19-coronavirus.html
Without a proper understanding, and full acknowledgment, of the true WHOLE problem and reality, no real constructive LASTING change is possible for humanity.
Then … SPREAD THOSE DEEP TRUTHS FAR AND WIDE… and DO the RIGHT THING.
“Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked.” — Robert A. Heinlein
“Fascism exists everywhere, in everything; is not Brexit the ultimate fascist impulse, the feelings-first contempt for ‘experts’ that pushed Hitler to overrule his generals, the feeble dream of reassembling a mythical English national community in the post-Blair age of globalised multiculturalism? Asking ‘what was the plan after Brexit’ misses that there was no plan, that the motion itself was the point, that the Tories who championed Brexit ne frego.”
Well, let’s reverse this: isn’t condemning the Brexit the ultimate fascist impulse?
And isn’t “trust the experts” the battle cry of modern fascism, technocracy, against democracy and that pesky populace, who “doesn’t know what’s good for them”?
Doubly so, since the “experts” are not actually experts, in the sense that a physicist or an engineer are experts (in a verifiable domain), but merely lackeys to power: economists, public policy advisors, career politicians, and so on, peddling the state and enterprise ideology.
And isn’t the modern fascism not the dream of “reassembling a mythical English national community” (how dare they?!), but the dream of a globalised total capitalistic technocracy, with their US, EU, and other headquarters, teaching those annoying locals about the Great Globalist Future?
I mean, it’s a great racket. If they knew it back then, they’d also use it against the Native Americans, and get rid of all that guilt for their genocide (not that there was much of that, anyway). Not very tolerant, those Native Americans. They had to be mowed down to make America a real melting pot.
The people must know that E.U., which they didn’t ask to be founded (it was a bunch of career diplomats and politicians who found its precursor back in the ’50s), didn’t ask for it to be expanded, had voted many times “no” to it’s expansion (in various referendums for example) only to be ignored, is The Glorious Future, and There Is No Alternative.
How dare they think they can vote otherwise? They are fascists to want out. And they’re fascists for not wanting globalism and multiculturalism they didn’t ask for. Didn’t it turn out so well for them?
That’s even if E.U. failed it’s main stated goal (openly expressed in the 50’s and 60’s in the process that led to its formation) – to keep Germany down, and has Germany using its power, control over monetary and fiscal policy and satellite countries (making a mockery of the E.U. voting processes) lords over the P.I.I.G.S (the very term being quite reminiscent of WWII Anti-Jewish propaganda).
Besides, those idiotic masses had no alternative for the E.U. no end goal after Brexit. Because, as we all know, when you have a problem, you shouldn’t just be content to remove it, you should also know what alternative problem to put in its place.
This was an amazing essay. I’ve been diving into some of your other essays as well and the acuteness and density of your political critique, the force of your style, and how you weave pop-cultural criticism into broader ideas is something to behold. As a fan of Project Itoh’s novels I also loved your Harmony essay.
If you’re still into weeb/otaku media, I think you’ll find some of the developments in the medium of Visual Novels interesting (assuming you haven’t dived into it before). Due to the industry’s roots in R18 pornographic games, it also attracted some of the most subversive, thoughtful creators of the subculture who are all about creating stories that combine ridiculously ambitious themes with ridiculous (in another sense) and entertaining anime craziness. This essay in particular reminded me of Dies Irae: Amantes Amentes (available on Steam) — a 50hr long nonsensical narrative about a Battle Royale (in the style of the famous Fate franchise) with Nazi wizards and loads and loads of chuuni aesthetics, which somehow transforms into a rather subtle and thorough analysis of the idea of ‘chuuniness’ itself, its relationship to that death-cult mentality and war-mongering resentment towards life found in Fascism, topped with a nice dose of Nietzsche and Buddhism. Reading this almost felt like the perfect companion piece to that VN.
Another Visual Novel of interest is Full Metal Daemon Muramasa, a dense game about samurai mecha set in an alternate history fantasy world paralleling WW2 which is just as concerned with untangling ideas about cycles of political violence and Buddhist acceptance of suffering as it is with depicted really cool hyper-researched katana battles between giant robots. Other entries in the medium which you might also find intriguing are Baldr Sky (cyberpunk mecha), Subarashiki Hibi (genre-busting undefinable existential fiction), Chaos;Child (part of the same SF mystery franchise as Steins;Gate, but a surprisingly prescient examination of the ills of social media created way before shit hit the fan), and Raging Loop (surprisingly thorough examination of social construction of religion mixed into a Werewolf/Mafia-inspired mystery narrative)
thanks for the high praise! always means a lot to know people like this shit. I haven’t touched any VNs in years tbh but some of those sound sick (specially that muramasa one, robots and all). will do some research. thanks!