The Fascist Mask and the continuity of the State of Exception: Naomi (sheep in) Wolf (‘s clothes)

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There is something happening, it seems, in the U.S. People are slowly becoming aware of the severe erosion that their “great democratic country” is suffering under.

A writer called Naomi Wolf is speaking to the well-educated, yet uninformed American. She speaks about the “pattern of fascism”, or the classic signs of an “open society” being transformed into a closed or totalitarian society of which fascism is one model that the world has seen in various permutations. The actions of Stalin, Goebbels and Bush et al. are compared to one another – with a view to get the latter impeached – and to establish that there is a “blue print” for closing down society – that is, transform what Wolf considers a “free, open democratic society” into a totalitarian regime. With the blue print in hand you can see how it happens again and again.

You can listen (by clicking below) to a very informative collage of stories that tell how the U.S.A is slipping into something similar to fascism, but before doing so there are a few things to keep in mind and which Naomi Wolf, unfortunately, misses.

Wolf’s stories are based on the illusion that democracy once “worked”, but did it ever? To understand what is at play in the dynamics of democracy we have to look at history — and a bit deeper than Wolf does. Let us begin at a time when “the state of exception” was finally embraced as an instrument of governmental power over parliamentary power all along the political spectrum – to dispel any idea of the “purity” of either liberal or socialist governments that you may have:

The opposition from the left, led by Léon Blum, strongly opposed this “fascist” practice, but it is significant that once the Left took power with the Popular Front, it asked parliament in June 1937 for full powers in order to devalue the franc, establish exchange control, and impose new taxes. As has been observed, this meant that the new practice of legislation by executive [governativo] decree, which had been inaugurated during the war, was by now a practice accepted by all political sides.

The quote is from Giorgio Agamben‘s State of Exception and points to a history in which democracy was all along an illusion and, in a sense, an impossibility: whenever the peasants and working classes make too big a claim for their liberty then the liberal-conservative order puts on a mask. This mask is sometimes called fascism and is the other side of the patriarchal rule of old – like the old-fashioned father who will take off his belt if his son has “been out of line”. Sometimes he is soft and kind, a liberal, sometimes he is hard and vicious.

Around the issues of globalisation many have been “out of line” – the bloody poor – and that is in great part why there is currently a “fascistic” reaction by the liberal-conservative order: they have put on a mask. Fascism is an integral element of democracy – it is the moment when the pendulum swings back in order to defend the threatened gap between the few rich and the many poor (who organise to destroy the gap). Facism is not some sort of alien dis-ease that spring out of the blue because Hitler and Bush are nasty, terrible individuals. Not that they were/are not nasty pieces of work, but that is besides the point, somewhat. More relevant are the continuities between them – both were/are they in alliances with the industrial elite and conservative forces; and, of course, the Bush family made their fortune (as did IBM and Maersk and many others) on the Nazis. Many had their wealth confiscated, but some special people did not. Follow the money.

In the run up to Hitler’s rule Germany suffered under the crumbling illusion of democracy; Agamben notes about Germany that:

Save for a relative pause between 1925 and 1929, the governments of the Republic, beginning with Brüning’s, made continual use of Article 48, proclaiming a state of exception and issuing emergency decrees on more than two hundred and fifty occasions; among other things, they employed it to imprison thousands of communist militants and to set up special tribunals authorized to pronounce capital sentences.

– and Article 48 was no novel instrument of democracy – it emerged in the very embryonic stage of democracy during the French Revolution:

We have already seen how the state of siege had its origin in France during the Revolution. After being established with the Constituent Assembly’s decree of July 8, 1791, it acquired its proper physiognomy as état de siège fictif or état de siège politique with the Directorial law of August 27, 1797, and, finally, with Napoleon’s decree of December 24, 1811. The idea of a suspension of the constitution (of the “rule of the constitution”) had instead been introduced, as we have also seen, by the Constitution of 22 Frimaire Year 8. Article 14 of the Charte of 1814 granted the sovereign the power to “make the regulations and ordinances necessary for the execution of the laws and the security of the State”; because of the vagueness of the formula, Chateaubriand observed “that it is possible that one fine morning the whole Charte will be forfeited for the benefit of Article 14.” The state of siege was expressly mentioned in the Acte additionel to the Constitution of April 22, 1815, which stated that it could only be declared with a law. Since then, moments of constitutional crisis in France over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have been marked by legislation on the state of siege.

and the beat goes on:

Given these precedents, it is understandable that the constitution of the Federal Republic did not mention the state of exception. Nevertheless, on June 24, 1968, the “great coalition” of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats passed a law for the amendment of the constitution (Gesetz zur Ergänzung des Grundgesetzes) that reintroduced the state of exception (defined as the “state of internal necessity,” innere Notstand). However, with an unintended irony, for the first time in the history of the institution, the proclamation of the state of exception was provided for not simply to safeguard public order and security, but to defend the “liberal-democratic constitution.” By this point, protected democracy had become the rule.”

There is, in other words, an inherent contradiction in democracy – we keep destroying the village in order to save it.
Naomi Wolf is a patriot – i.e. a nationalist – but of the good kind. She wants to restore the Land of the Free and basically return to a happy consumerist state of affairs. With “the rule of law we can return to the great country in which we have enjoyed 200 years of freedom”, she says more or less. The mess must be cleaned up. But what about the exploited – all the many who are not born to be rich, – for will they go away in a corporate world where the many work for the profit of the few? Would we all be happy in a world ruled by Hillary Clinton – Naomi’s friend? What, exactly, is it that Naomi Wolf wants to return to?

Before or after listening to the very informative (and partly misleading) talk you might also want to consider this review and discussion about it:

Alex Kane
October 15, 2007
New York, NY
22nd Street and 6th Ave

Fascism is coming to America. This is the overarching message of Naomi Wolf’s new book, The End of America: A Letter of Warning To A Young Patriot. Naomi Wolf came to the Barnes and Noble on 22nd Street and 6th Ave. to promote this book, and she has been promoting it for the last month. Wolf, an American author and activist whose claim to fame was the feminist book The Beauty Myth, argues that there are ten definitive steps that governments take in order to turn their society into a fascist one. These ten steps, argues Wolf, are occurring right here in America, under the administration of George W. Bush. “It’s almost as if someone in the Bush Administration sat down and read history books,” said Wolf, comparing the current regime’s policies to ones taken by the National Socialists in 1930’s Germany and other totalitarian societies. The claim is certainly now a new claim, given that it is usually a lefty talking point and that Chris Hedges wrote a book detailing the coming of fascism to America via Christian Fundamentalists.

Wolf’s book builds on her article published in The Guardian, a British newspaper, which was titled “Fascist America, in Ten Easy Steps”. In the book, the first step in which Wolf outlines is the invoking of a threat. She traces the word “sleeper cells” to the regime of Josef Stalin, when he used the phrase to describe the threat of “capitalist terrorists”. She more closely compares the Pinochet regime’s concoction of fake documents on the subject of armed insurgents to the trumped up Bush Administration claim that Saddam Hussein sought to buy yellowcake from Niger, which, as you know, was later found out to be a lie. The second step in Wolf’s “shopping list” of fascist governments is the development of a network of secret prisons and torturous policies. Naomi Wolf compares the current deplorable conditions in Guantanamo Bay to the gulags of Stalin’s era, a comparison that was made by Amnesty International a few years ago, and a criticism that the Bush Administration (obviously) deplored. Naomi Wolf said that “it just blows my mind that we’re sitting in Chelsea on a beautiful October night, and George W. Bush can say ‘Jamie, you’re an enemy combatant (making a reference to an audience member)’”, commenting on American’s complacency in the face of the above actions that this administration has taken.

The next aspect of totalitarianism is the usage of paramilitary forces, an especially relevant point to make given the recent (and way to late) media coverage of Blackwater USA, the mercenary company that has been operating in Iraq and that has been culpable in the killings of innocent Iraqi civilians. Naomi Wolf exclaimed that Blackwater is in “complete violation of everything that this country stands for” and that “nothing prevents Blackwater from shooting 17 civilians in Times Square”. She made the last point when, illustrating the fact that Blackwater operated in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, there were reports of the shooting upon unarmed civilians, a claim that author Jeremy Scahill made. The last step that Wolf discussed, in the interest of the time constraints she was speaking under, was the surveillance apparatus. She said that the new security climate in America is “very effective in quelling dissent,” and uses East Germany in the 1950’s as a comparison point. Naomi Wolf said that the Bush Administration is “ratcheting up intimidation” and that “many critics of the Bush Administration are on the list,” referring to a watch list of Americans. Naomi Wolf claimed that she is on that list, as she got a security mark on her boarding pass and extra searching of her belongings. She also used the comparison that in fascist Germany and Italy, they forced people to drink liquids against there will, much like TSA agents did in the aftermath of the liquid terrorist scare.

Naomi Wolf closed out her discussion with the talk of what to do about all of the above. She encourages the building of a “citizen’s democracy movement,” a move that she is trying to jumpstart with the group the American Freedom Campaign. She placed a strong emphasis on electoral politics, even glorifying the Clinton years (it is worth noting that she was an adviser to Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign and Al Gore’s 2000 Presidential run), saying that Americans “have no time” and implying that the Bush Administration might try to stay in office past it’s time. Wolf also called on the audience to get involved in a November 6th general strike being organized by her group, and to also “harass Congress to confront the abusers”. Emphasis was also placed on the impeachment and prosecution of the Bush Administration for war crimes and treason.

She then went on to take questions from the audience, ranging in topics from Prescott Bush to the question of armed struggle. She highlighted a recent BBC report that Prescott Bush and other influential financiers were admirers of fascism, and sought to overthrow Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a coup de tat. Surprisingly, she reacted favorably to the question on armed struggle, saying that she has reconsidered the 2nd Amendment. The totality of the discussion lasted for about an hour, with book signings afterwards.

See also this lighthearted (depressing?) talk with Wolf:

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2 thoughts on “The Fascist Mask and the continuity of the State of Exception: Naomi (sheep in) Wolf (‘s clothes)

    Anarchy Alive » Talk about Fascism said:
    Sunday, November 4, 2007 at 10:37 (484)

    […] two Colonos friends have some interesting remarks on Naomi Wolf’s alarm-bells over Fascism in the USA. States of Exception – not what you […]

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