Last month I read Ken Follett’s Winter of the World set in the period between the end of World War One and the end of World War Two. The novel is the story of Europe falling into chaos and ruin under the leadership of men whom history has labeled fascists. Joe (the Plumber) Wurzelbacher, who was heralded by conservatives in 2008 as a symbol of America’s struggling middle class, was called a neo-Nazi and fascist after he sent a pro-gun rights open letter to the families of those gunned down in the Isla Vista rampage saying, “As harsh as this sounds - - your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.” I searched my old Greek and Latin dictionaries as I often do for enlightenment to find the original use of the word fascist to decide if I should think of Wurzelbacher and his compatriots as neoNazis or fascists or just plain nut cases. He lacks the intelligence to become an actual fascist, but maybe Nazi fits. In Latin, the word fascia is a bundle, a packet. A bundle of sticks, a fasces, was in ancient times carried as the symbol of “right to rule” into an assembly before a ruler made a speech. The guy who carried the bundle of sticks with the hatchet sticking out was called a lictor. I’m guessing lictors didn’t have to be very bright, so Joe the Plumber could probably be a lictor.
The Follett novel is based, of course, on the actual histories of Germany, Spain, Italy, and other countries that were known as fascist states. Of the heads of state in those countries, Hitler was the most notorious and most effective fascist. He fit the bill by proclaiming that he was the rightful ruler of a new Germany, a Germany without Jews or homosexuals or Gypsies or Marxists or trade unionists or… and the list goes on to include infirm people in nursing homes and people suffering from mental illness… all selected to be euthanized because without them to drag everybody else down, the new Germany would be what God intended a country to be, a new world empire that would advance mankind to new heights of righteousness and purity. Based purely on racism and classism, the new world would cleanse itself of “inferior” races, weaker classes, the sick and the homeless…
In matters of politics and government we of the human species are slow learners…and impulsive, a dangerous combinations of traits. It’s hard to know where best to begin with examples of people voting and acting against their own interest. In the poorest sections of many U.S. cities, citizens routinely elect candidates for office who oppose programs that could help them. Looking across the Atlantic, one wonders, given the miserable chaos and suffering through two disastrous world wars and the long cold war years that followed, how any people in Europe would want to embrace neo-fascism; but all over the European Union a definite growth of strength is developing in far-right parties which are increasingly anti-immigrant and homophobic. Open racism and anti-semitism in Greece’s Golden Dawn Party, for instance, can be seen only as neo-Nazism. Members of that and other ultra-conservative parties are openly expressing their belief in violence as an appropriate form of political action. Washington Post journalist and columnist Harold Meyerson points out in that paper today that “the groups identified as the Euroright are committed to their own national volk and its traditions and a disdain for, if not loathing of, any neighbors — Muslims, Jews, social democrats — who either aren’t part of that volk or don’t believe in the politics of intolerance.” The drama being played out in Eastern Ukraine is a clear example of organized use of violent action to settle political differences. On both sides of the Atlantic, Putin’s distain for what he calls the moral flabbiness that comes with elevating democracy over traditional values resonates with American Tea Party folks and with conservatives all over Europe. America polls indicate that while the most conservative citizens are generally older people, in Europe many right-leaning activists are young people.