The following sermon makes reference to the research on fascism and makes predictions about how the wind will likely blow in the next four years and beyond.
This sermon can now be read in the soon to be published book America, Fascism and God: Sermons from a Heretical Preacher
. More information on Loehr's work can be found at www.chelseagreen.com/2005/items/americafascismgodA sermon on Fascism by a Unitarian minister in Austin, Texas:
*Living Under Fascism*
7 November 2004
First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin
4700 Grover Ave., Austin, TX 78756
:: PRAYER: This is usually the Veterans Day service. I had planned to
devote the prayer to veterans because, as a Vietnam veteran, veterans
are very dear to me.
Today, let us pray that all who suffer may find some peace. May all
parents, relatives and friends of lost or dead children find light at the
end of their dark and fearful tunnels.
May those who terrify and endanger us and our children be brought
And may we once again find or create that necessary but fragile web of
interrelatedness which alone can give us both safety lines and safety
nets as we go - whether bravely or timidly - into our future. Amen.
SERMON: Living Under Fascism
You may wonder why anyone would try to use the word "fascism" in
a serious discussion of where America is today. It sounds like cheap
name-calling, or melodramatic allusion to a slew of old war movies.
But I am serious. I don't mean it as name-calling at all. I mean to
persuade you that the style of governing into which America has slid
is most accurately described as fascism, and that the necessary
implications of this fact are rightly regarded as terrifying. That's what
I am about here. And even if I don't persuade you, I hope to raise the
level of your thinking about who and where we are now, to add some
nuance and perhaps some useful insights.
The word comes from the Latin word "Fasces," denoting a bundle of
sticks tied together. The individual sticks represented citizens, and
the bundle represented the state. The message of this metaphor was
that it was the bundle that was significant, not the individual sticks. If
it sounds un-American, it's worth knowing that the Roman Fasces
appear on the wall behind the Speaker's podium in the chamber of
the US House of Representatives.
Still, it's an unlikely word. When most people hear the word
"fascism" they may think of the racism and anti-Semitism of
Mussolini and Hitler. It is true that the use of force and the
scapegoating of fringe groups are part of every fascism. But there was
also an economic dimension of fascism, known in Europe during the
1920s and '30s as "corporatism," which was an essential ingredient of
Mussolini's and Hitler's tyrannies. So-called corporatism was adopted
in Italy and Germany during the 1930s and was held up as a model by
quite a few intellectuals and policy makers in the United States and
As I mentioned a few weeks ago (in "The Corporation Will Eat Your
Soul"), "Fortune Magazine" ran a cover story on Mussolini in 1934,
praising his fascism for its ability to break worker unions,
disempower workers and transfer huge sums of money to those who
controlled the money rather than those who earned it.
Few Americans are aware of or can recall how so many Americans
and Europeans viewed economic fascism as the wave of the future
during the 1930s. Yet reviewing our past may help shed light on our
present, and point the way to a better future. So I want to begin by
looking back to the last time fascism posed a serious threat to
In Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel "It Can't Happen Here," a conservative
southern politician is helped to the presidency by a nationally
syndicated radio talk show host. The politician - Buzz Windrip - runs
his campaign on family values, the flag, and patriotism. Windrip and
the talk show host portray advocates of traditional American
democracy - those concerned with individual rights and freedoms - as
anti-American. That was 69 years ago.
One of the most outspoken American fascists from the 1930s was
economist Lawrence Dennis. In his 1936 book, The Coming American
Fascism - a coming which he anticipated and cheered - Dennis
declared that defenders of "18th-century Americanism" were sure to
become "the laughing stock of their own countrymen." The big
stumbling block to the development of economic fascism, Dennis
bemoaned, was "liberal norms of law or constitutional guarantees of
So it is important for us to recognize that, as an economic system,
fascism was widely accepted in the 1920s and '30s, and nearly
worshiped by some powerful American industrialists. And fascism
has always, and explicitly, been opposed to liberalism of all kinds.
Mussolini, who helped create modern fascism, viewed liberal ideas as
the enemy. "The Fascist Conception of life," he wrote, "stresses the
importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as
his interests coincide with the State. It is opposed to classical
liberalism [which] denied the State in the name of the individual;
Fascism reasserts the rights of the State as expressing the real essence
of the individual." (In 1932 Mussolini wrote, with the help of
Giovanni Gentile, an entry for the Italian Encyclopedia on the
definition of fascism. You can read the whole entry at
Mussolini thought it was unnatural for a government to protect
individual rights: The essence of fascism, he believed, is that
government should be the master, not the servant, of the people.
Still, fascism is a word that is completely foreign to most of us. We
need to know what it is, and how we can know it when we see it.
In an essay coyly titled "Fascism Anyone?," Dr. Lawrence Britt, a
political scientist, identifies social and political agendas common to
fascist regimes. His comparisons of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco,
Suharto, and Pinochet yielded this list of 14 "identifying
characteristics of fascism." (The following article is from Free Inquiry
magazine, Volume 23, Number 2. Read it at
) See how
familiar they sound.
1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism
Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos,
slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen
everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.
2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights
Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in
fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in
certain case s because of "need." The people tend to look the other
way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations,
long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.
3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause
The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need
to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or
religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.
4. Supremacy of the Military
Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is
given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the
domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are
5. Rampant Sexism
The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively
male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are
made more rigid. Opposition to abortion is high, as is homophobia
and anti-gay legislation and national policy.
6. Controlled Mass Media
Sometimes the media are directly controlled by the government, but
in other cases, the media are indirectly controlled by government
regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives.
Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.
7. Obsession with National Security
Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the
8. Religion and Government are Intertwined
Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common
religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion.
Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government
leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically
opposed to the government's policies or actions.
9. Corporate Power is Protected
The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the
ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a
mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power
10. Labor Power is Suppressed
Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a
fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are
11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts
Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher
education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and
other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in
the arts is openly attacked, and governments often refuse to fund the
12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment
Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to
enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses
and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is
often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist
13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption
Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and
associates who appoint each other to government positions and use
governmental power and authority to protect their friends from
accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national
resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright
stolen by government leaders.
14. Fraudulent Elections
Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other
times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even
assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control
voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of
the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to
manipulate or control elections.
This list will be familiar to students of political science. But it should
be familiar to students of religion as well, for much of it mirrors the
social and political agenda of religious fundamentalisms worldwide.
It is both accurate and helpful for us to understand fundamentalism
as religious fascism, and fascism as political fundamentalism. They
both come from very primitive parts of us that have always been the
default setting of our species: amity toward our in-group, enmity
toward out-groups, hierarchical deference to alpha male figures, a
powerful identification with our territory, and so forth. It is that
brutal default setting that all civilizations have tried to raise us above,
but it is always a fragile thing, civilization, and has to be achieved
over and over and over again.
But, again, this is not America's first encounter with fascism.
In early 1944, the New York Times asked Vice President Henry
Wallace to, as Wallace noted, "write a piece answering the following
questions: What is a fascist? How many fascists have we? How
dangerous are they?"
Vice President Wallace's answer to those questions was published in
The New York Times on April 9, 1944, at the height of the war against
the Axis powers of Germany and Japan. See how much you think his
statements apply to our society today.
"The really dangerous American fascist," Wallace wrote, "is the man
who wants to do in the United States in an American way what
Hitler did in Germany in a Prussian way. The American fascist would
prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of
public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to
present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive
the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more
In his strongest indictment of the tide of fascism he saw rising in
America, Wallace added, "They claim to be super-patriots, but they
would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They
demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and
vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is
directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the
state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the
common man in eternal subjection." By these standards, a few of
today's weapons for keeping the common people in eternal
subjection include NAFTA, the World Trade Organization, union-
busting, cutting worker benefits while increasing CEO pay,
elimination of worker benefits, security and pensions, rapacious
credit card interest, and outsourcing of jobs - not to mention the
largest prison system in the world.
The Perfect Storm
Our current descent into fascism came about through a kind of
"Perfect Storm," a confluence of three unrelated but mutually
supportive schools of thought.
1. The first stream of thought was the imperialistic dream of "The
Project for the New American Century". I don't believe anyone can
understand the past four years without reading "The Project for the
New American Century", published in September 2000 and authored
by many who have been prominent players in the Bush
administrations, including Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz,Richard
Perle and Donald Kagan to name only a few. This report saw the fall
of Communism as a call for America to become the military rulers of
the world, to establish a new worldwide empire. They spelled out the
military enhancements we would need, then noted, sadly, that these
wonderful plans would take a long time, unless there could be a
catastrophic and catalyzing event like a new Pearl Harbor that would
let the leaders turn America into a military and militarist country.
There was no clear interest in religion in this report, and no clear
concern with local economic policies.
2. A second powerful stream must be credited to Pat Robertson and
his Christian Reconstructionists, or Dominionists. Long dismissed by
most of us as a screwball, the Dominionist style of Christianity which
he has been preaching since the early 1980s is now the most powerful
religious voice in the Bush administration.
:: Katherine Yurica, who transcribed over 1300 pages of interviews
from Pat Robertson's "700 Club" shows in the 1980s, has shown how
Robertson and his chosen guests consistently, openly and
passionately argued that America must become a theocracy under the
control of Christian Dominionists. Robertson is on record saying
democracy is a terrible form of government unless it is run by his
kind of Christians. He also rails constantly against taxing the rich,
against public education, social programs and welfare - and prefers
Deuteronomy 28 over the teachings of Jesus. He is clear that women
must remain homebound as obedient servants of men, and that
abortions, like homosexuals, should not be allowed. Robertson has
also been clear that other kinds of Christians, including Episcopalians
and Presbyterians, are enemies of Christ. (The Yurica Report. Search
under this name, or or "Despoiling America" by Katherine Yurica on
3. The third major component of this Perfect Storm has been the
desire of very wealthy Americans and corporate CEOs for a plutocracy
that will favor profits by the very rich and disempowerment of the
vast majority of American workers, the destruction of workers'
unions, and the alliance of government to help achieve these greedy
goals. It is a condition some have called socialism for the rich,
capitalism for the poor, and which others recognize as a reincarnation
of Social Darwinism. This strain of thought has been present
throughout American history. Seventy years ago, they tried to finance
a military coup to replace Franklin Delano Roosevelt and establish
General Smedley Butler as a fascist dictator in 1934.
Fortunately, they picked a general who really was a patriot; he
refused, reported the scheme, and spoke and wrote about it. As
Canadian law professor Joel Bakan wrote in the book and movie
"The Corporation," they have now achieved their coup without
firing a shot.
Our plutocrats have had no particular interest in religion. Their
global interests are with an imperialist empire, and their domestic
goals are in undoing all the New Deal reforms of Franklin Delano
Roosevelt that enabled the rise of America's middle class after WWII.
Another ill wind in this Perfect Storm is more important than its
crudity might suggest: it was President Clinton's sleazy sex with a
young but eager intern in the White House. This incident, and
Clinton's equally sleazy lying about it, focused the certainties of
conservatives on the fact that "liberals" had neither moral compass
nor moral concern, and therefore represented a dangerous threat to
the moral fiber of America. While the effects of this may be hard to
quantify, I think they were profound.
These "storm" components have no necessary connection, and come
from different groups of thinkers, many of whom wouldn't even like
one another. But together, they form a nearly complete web of
command and control, which has finally gained control of America
and, they hope, of the world.
When all fascisms exhibit the same social and political agendas (the
14 points listed by Britt), then it is not hard to predict where a new
fascist uprising will lead. And it is not hard. The actions of fascists
and the social and political effects of fascism and fundamentalism are
clear and sobering. Here is some of what's coming, what will be
happening in our country in the next few years:
* The theft of all social security funds, to be transferred to those who
control money, and the increasing destitution of all those dependent
on social security and social welfare programs.
* Rising numbers of uninsured people in this country that already
has the highest percentage of citizens without health insurance in the
* Increased loss of funding for public education combined with
increased support for vouchers, urging Americans to entrust their
children's education to Christian schools.
* More restrictions on civil liberties as America is turned into the
police state necessary for fascism to work.
* Withdrawal of virtually all funding for National Public Radio and
the Public Broadcasting System. At their best, these media sometimes
encourage critical questioning, so they are correctly seen as enemies of
the state's official stories.
* The reinstatement of a draft, from which the children of privileged
parents will again be mostly exempt, leaving our poorest children to
fight and die in wars of imperialism and greed that could never
benefit them anyway. (That was my one-sentence Veterans' Day
sermon for this year.)
* More imperialistic invasions: of Iran and others, and the
construction of a huge permanent embassy in Iraq.
* More restrictions on speech, under the flag of national security.
* Control of the internet to remove or cripple it as an instrument of
free communication that is exempt from government control. This
will be presented as a necessary anti-terrorist measure.
* Efforts to remove the tax-exempt status of churches like this one,
and to characterize them as anti-American.
* Tighter control of the editorial bias of almost all media, and
demonization of the few media they are unable to control - the New
York Times, for instance.
* Continued outsourcing of jobs, including more white-collar jobs, to
produce greater profits for those who control the money and direct
the society, while simultaneously reducing America's workers to a
more desperate and powerless status.
* Moves in the banking industry to make it impossible for an
increasing number of Americans to own their homes. As they did in
the 1930s, those who control the money know that it is to their
advantage and profit to keep others renting rather than owning.
* Criminalization of those who protest, as un-American, with arrests,
detentions and harassment increasing. We already have a higher
percentage of our citizens in prison than any other country in the
world. That percentage will increase.
* In the near future, it will be illegal or at least dangerous to say the
things I have said here this morning. In the fascist story, these things
are un-American. In the real history of a democratic America, they
were seen as profoundly patriotic, as the kind of critical questions that
kept the American spirit alive - the kind of questions, incidentally,
that our media were supposed to be pressing.
Can these schemes work? I don't think so. I think they are
murderous, rapacious and insane. But I don't know. Maybe they can.
Similar schemes have worked in countries like Chile, where a
democracy in which over 90% voted has been reduced to one in
which only about 20% vote because they say, as Americans are
learning to say, that it no longer matters who you vote for.
In the meantime, is there any hope, or do we just band together like
lemmings and dive off a cliff? Yes, there is always hope, though at
times it is more hidden, as it is now.
As some critics are now saying, and as I have been preaching and
writing for almost twenty years, America's liberals need to grow
beyond political liberalism, with its often self-absorbed focus on
individual rights to the exclusion of individual responsibilities to the
larger society. Liberals will have to construct a more complete vision
with moral and religious grounding. That does not mean
confessional Christianity. It means the legitimate heir to Christianity.
Such a legitimate heir need not be a religion, though it must have
clear moral power, and be able to attract the minds and hearts of a
voting majority of Americans.
And the new liberal vision must be larger than that of the
conservative religious vision that will be appointing judges, writing
laws and bending the cultural norms toward hatred and exclusion for
the foreseeable future. The conservatives deserve a lot of admiration.
They have spent the last thirty years studying American politics,
forming their vision and learning how to gain control in the political
system. And it worked; they have won.
Even if liberals can develop a bigger vision, they still have all that
time-consuming work to do. It won't be fast. It isn't even clear that
liberals will be willing to do it; they may instead prefer to go down
with the ship they're used to.
One man who has been tireless in his investigations and critiques of
America's slide into fascism is Michael C. Ruppert, whose postings
usually read as though he is wound way too tight. But he offers four
pieces of advice about what we can do now, and they seem reality-
based enough to pass on to you. This is America; they're all about
* First, he says you should get out of debt.
* Second is to spend your money and time on things that give you
energy and provide you with useful information.
* Third is to stop spending a penny with major banks, news media
and corporations that feed you lies and leave you angry and
* And fourth is to learn how money works and use it like a (political)
weapon - as he predicts the rest of the world will be doing against us.
That's advice written this week. Another bit of advice comes from
sixty years ago, from Roosevelt's Vice President, Henry Wallace.
Wallace said, "Democracy, to crush fascism internally, must...develop
the ability to keep people fully employed and at the same time
balance the budget. It must put human beings first and dollars second.
It must appeal to reason and decency and not to violence and deceit.
We must not tolerate oppressive government or industrial oligarchy
in the form of monopolies and cartels."
Still another way to understand fascism is as a kind of colonization. A
simple definition of "colonization" is that it takes people's stories
away, and assigns them supportive roles in stories that empower
others at their expense. When you are taxed to support a government
that uses you as a means to serve the ends of others, you are -
ironically - in a state of taxation without representation. That's where
this country started, and it's where we are now.
I don't know the next step. I'm not a political activist; I'm only a
preacher. But whatever you do, whatever we do, I hope that we can
remember some very basic things that I think of as eternally true.
One is that the vast majority of people are good decent people who
mean and do as well as they know how. Very few people are evil,
though some are. But we all live in families where some of our blood
relatives support things we hate. I believe they mean well, and the
way to rebuild broken bridges is through greater understanding,
compassion, and a reality-based story that is more inclusive and
empowering for the vast majority of us.
Those who want to live in a reality-based story rather than as serfs in
an ideology designed to transfer power, possibility and hope to a
small ruling elite have much long and hard work to do, individually
and collectively. It will not be either easy or quick.
But we will do it. We will go forward in hope and in courage. Let us
seek that better path, and find the courage to take it - step, by step, by
* * * * *
About Our Minister, Davidson Loehr, Ph.D.
His academic credentials include a doctoral degree from the
University of Chicago in theology, philosophy of religion and
philosophy of science, a master's degree from the same university in
methods for studying religions, and a bachelor's degree in music
theory from the University of Michigan.
Dr. Loehr is a regular contributor to the Austin American-Statesman
and represents our church at activities and events sponsored by the
Austin Area Interreligious Ministries.
Before becoming a Unitarian Universalist minister, Dr. Loehr was a
combat photographer in Vietnam and a professional musician,
playing clarinet and saxophone in road bands and combos. His office
is lined with astounding photographs of places he has visited and
people he has known.
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