Chomsky's Nightmare: Is Fascism Coming to America?

“I’m just old enough to have heard a number of Hitler’s speeches on the radio,” Chomsky said, “and I have a memory of the texture and the tone of the cheering mobs, and I have the dread sense of the dark clouds of fascism gathering” here at home. “The level of anger and fear is like nothing I can compare in my lifetime,” he said.

Many scholars discount the possibility of fascism, per se, taking hold in the United States. They tend to define fascism as a mass-based, racist, ultranationalist movement, often centered in the lower middle class, which extols the nation over the individual and relies on the use of paramilitary violence to transport the country to a mythic place. Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany are the classic cases.

“I don’t think there’s any chance of fascism coming to America,” says UCLA sociologist Michael Mann, author of a 2004 book entitled Fascists. “Nowadays, fascism is really dead. The word has become just a term of abuse to throw at anyone we don’t like.”

In an e-mail, Mann draws what he considers to be a crucial distinction between the current rightwing movement in America and traditional fascists. “The extreme right in the U.S. is anti-government, whereas fascists were very pro-government, believing that government coercion can solve all problems,” he says.

But if many of the tea party people, as I suspect, actually despise not big government but “liberal” government, especially one that is led by a black man, then there is false comfort in the claim that this resurgent rightwing movement is largely libertarian. For it’s conceivable that a segment of this constituency might readily abandon its surface libertarianism and march behind an ultra nationalist leader who promises to restore America’s mythic honor.

Here are some things to watch out for....

This is a short excerpt of this story that is in the June issue of The Progressive magazine. To read the entire piece, subscribe now for $14.97.