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Anti-democratic policies

The threatening danger of fascism

by Dagmar Wolf

In brief

Madeleine Albright signing copies of her book in April 2018 in Washington.

Madeleine Albright signing copies of her book in April 2018 in Washington.

All over the world, anti-democratic, repressive and destructive forces are getting stronger. Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state of the USA, warns of new fascist dangers.

There is no general definition for “fascism”, writes Albright, who is a political scientist. In her recent book “Fascism: A Warning”, she defines fascism less as a political ideology than as means of gaining power and preserving it. In her view, fascism means that “a single party, speaking with one voice, controls all state institutions, claims to represent the whole people, and calls this illusory world the triumph of the people’s will”. She considers the term “populism”, which is often used in a similar sense (including in D+C/E+Z), to be too imprecise. She argues that every political movement is partly “populist” in some sense, and that this is not bad per se, provided that political competition is given.

Albright’s family originally came from Prague. As a child she had to flee from forces she calls fascist twice: first from the Nazis and later from the Communists. Finally, the family settled in the USA, where Albright became a member of the Democratic Party and rose to become secretary of state under President Bill Clinton from 1997 to 2001. Based on her own experience and her political career, she now assesses the reasons why fascist forces are rising once more.

In many countries today there is a climate that is reminiscent of the early 20th century:

  • growing nationalism,
  • economic problems,
  • fear of technological change and the associated mass unemployment plus
  • general dissatisfaction with governments.

Fascism feeds on that general mood, and fascists know how to use it, Albright states. They reduce complicated facts to catchy slogans and offer simplistic answers to complicated questions. Fascists split society, for example by claiming that one single enemy is behind many problems.

Undemocratic politics are increasing worldwide (see D+C/E+Z briefing “Populist politics”). Albright spans the globe from Latin America to the USA, Europe, Russia and Asia. She sees radical nationalist movements gaining attention through the media, conquer parliaments and poison public debate with prejudice and hatred in all world regions.

For example, fascism is threatening the European idea, the former policymaker states. Problems such as over-bureaucratisation or the response to legal and illegal migration alienate citizens from the EU. Britain’s exit negotiations are a culmination.

Of course, the book includes a chapter on Donald Trump. To Albright, he is by far the most undemocratic president in American history, seeing the world as a battlefield where each country intends to dominate the others. Albright accuses him of neglecting lessons learned from the Second World War. They included that nations thrive best when they strive for common security, shared prosperity and common freedom. She insists that helping partners to develop their economies or to create a collective defence against common threats is not charity, but serves the interests of all parties involved. To ignore the problems of other countries sooner or later increases the risks one faces oneself.

Today, fascism and fascist policies pose a more dangerous threat to freedom, prosperity and peace worldwide than ever before since the Second World War, Albright writes. What is dangerous about fascism is that it comes incrementally. Fascists are often democratically elected. Once in power, they try to eliminate democratic forces and institutions in order to consolidate their power, the author says. The temptation to close one’s eyes and hope that the worst will simply pass by is great. But a look at history shows that this can be wrong. If we do not defend our freedom, one morning, we might wake up a fascist state, Albright warns.

Madeleine Albright, 2018: Facism: A Warning. New York, HarperCollins Publishers.

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