A major advantage to current-day fascism or a challenge to liberal democracy is that most of the population does not know how Fascism works as it may not have happened in their lifetime. Many believe that Fascism is a simple form of nationalism.
Growing up in a democratic system they believe that the ideals of liberalism and individual human rights are a constitutional right given by their native state and no evil can permeate the system and destroy it. The institutions that protect the system will continue to do their job. Is that a safe assumption to make? History says no.
Erosion of Institutions
In Germany, when Hitler’s idea of Fascism was gaining traction, a German Jewish newspaper wrote this (as quoted in the book On Tyranny by Timothy D. Snyder):
“We do not subscribe to the view that Mr Hitler and his friends, now finally in possession of the power they have so long desired, will implement the proposals circulating in Nazi newspapers….. They cannot do this because a number of crucial factors hold powers in check”
Within a year after this news was published, Hitler consolidated power and became the authoritarian supreme leader of Fascist Germany.
When the manipulated masses start cheering for these authoritarians, and when these cheerings become public outcry institutions will be forced to change the way they function just to respond to the public sentiment.
One of the recent examples is the CNN town hall where the former President of the US, Trump was given a slot in the prime time. Was it a desperate measure by CNN to boost its falling ratings? Maybe. Some people view that CNN had just given a platform for Trump to speak to the American public.
An alternate question one can ask is: When one’s views are extremely hostile and anti-intellectual, why even bring them to the mainstream media? It’s like bringing flat earth theory believers into scientific discourse.
The new Hungarian Constitution
It’s not just the press; even the entire constitution can go for a toss in a Fascist regime. In Hungary, Viktor Orban’s new constitution “The Fundamental Law of Hungary” enacted in 2011 replaced the previous constitution, which had been in effect since 1949.
The new Constitution has raised concerns worldwide as critics argue it prohibits abortion, an individual’s right over her body; protects patriarchy, a fundamental requisite for Fascism to exist and thrive; and reinforces the bond between religion and the state, which could be a setback for secular democracy.
These changes in the Constitution might not look outright outrageous but it moves the state a step closer to becoming a totalitarian state. Let’s reiterate, in the beginning, it looks like a simple form of nationalism.
The other institutions – which you think are the protectors of Democracy – like Universities, Judiciary, Legislature, and political freedom can come under attack, if not overnight, but gradually.
Universities to Election Commissions
Jawaharlal Nehru University in India has become a target for Modi’s ruling party arguing that their student activism, liberal ideologies and freedom of expression is a threat to national security.
The Indian government is also accused of shutting down a national TV channel NDTV for being critical of it. The government accused NDTV India of spreading false news and inciting communal violence. NDTV India has denied the charges and has said that the government is trying to silence its critical voice.
Meanwhile, the Indian Prime Minister and his party had all the freedom of expression to promote a hatemongering, propaganda movie “The Kerala Stories” that threatened the peaceful co-existence of a diverse society.
In the US, the Republican-led State Legislatures have some pre-filed bills that could criminalize voters and election officials. This is in the wake of some Republicans spearheaded by Trump crying foul of severe voter fraud in the 2020 Presidential elections. However, no evidence of voter fraud was found in the investigation.
Destroying the path
Fascists have the tendency to undermine all the institutions that guaranteed them a path to reach the top ruling positions in a country. They use their freedom of expression to spread false information, they make use of a free and fair electoral process to win elections etc.
But once they have consolidated power, they start attacking the very same institutions that gave them the power.
It is important to understand that the ground in which the institutions protecting liberal democracy stand could become shaky over a period of time. Because erosion happens gradually over a period of time and not abruptly.
To be continued…