Part of the long political propaganda campaign to create confusion about the authoritarian right has been to see it as indistinct from all the other forms of totalitarianism. The distinction that is most relevant is neither an ethical one nor an ideological one but one of steps and process.
Terrible and appallingly murderous regimes have existed in many forms. Some come to power after the collapse of the state and society. Others are murderous at a distance, inflicting mass systematic violence on parts of a far-flung empire – such as the horrors of the Belgian Congo. Fascism though creeps. It coopts institutions and policies that already exist. It exploits social fears and it targets those who are already marginalised first. It ramps up the prevailing authoritarian tendencies in a society.
The incarceration of refugees is a policy that has been adopted by centre, centre-left and centre-right governments with a “tough but fair” rationale or via appeals to social stability or on the basis that it will somehow pre-empt more reactionary racist politics. It doesn’t do the latter. Instead, the policy has enabled dehumanisation of immigrants and helped create an infrastructure of control that can be used against people.
“Moderate” governments in Australia have established offshore camps for refugees. By doing so the effectively demonstrated that a government could get away with locking people up without access to due-process in camps from which the press and independent inspection were excluded. Even if it was possible to follow policies like this with benevolent intent, it is still a recipe for abuse and suffering.
These policies create the apparatus for fascism by:
- by creating a class of people without the normal legal rights
- by creating a mechanism of mass incarceration of this class of people
- by creating quasi-police forces to operate such camps
- getting ordinary, non-extreme voters to go along with such policies as supposedly reasonable and humane.
It’s that last point that should frighten us all.
The horrific policy adopted by the Trump regime of kidnapping children as a deterrent against immigrants and asylum seekers is rightly outraging people. It is important to be clear that it is a definite escalation of policy imposed by the Trump regime. However, it has its roots in ‘moderate’ policies that preceded it.
Supposedly, conservatism, libertarianism and liberalism all accept the principle of natural human rights i.e. that individuals have rights that exist not because the government or government structures grant those rights but because a person has those rights regardless. However, this supposed core belief is so fragile that it is easily ignored for expedient policy. Fascism is never warded off by compromising with it. There isn’t a safe way for a liberal government to be a bit fascist in one arena in the hope of keeping extremism at bay.
The ease with which the Trump regime could shift the full power of the American state into stealing children from families and imprisoning them should be a warning to every other Western democracy. Dismantle the apparatus that enables shuch abuse before your own Trumps come to power.