AfricaSocial Affairs

The ‘New Model’ for emerging totalitarianism

A look at the fast spreading new form of appetite for dictatorship 

Taye Negussie (PhD)

Recently, Marcel H. Van Hergen, one of the noted contributors to the Project Syndicate, posted an article entitled, ‘Putinism’s Authoritarian Allure”. In the article, Hergen demonstrated an unprecedented current trend in Western Europe with many far-right parties retreating from their staunch anti-communist and anti-Russian ideologies, and moving to “admiration” and “even outright support” for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime.

He reasons that what attracted Western Europe’s extreme far-right parties to Putin’s “negative agenda” is its affinity with Mussolini’s Doctrine of Fascism which opposes democracy, socialism, liberalism, individualism, Bolshevism, parliamentarianism, Freemasonry, pacifism, and egalitarianism.  The similarity even goes to personal style with a clear parallel existing between Putin and Mussolini in terms of their public image building efforts to appear as much powerful, invincible and mythical leader as possible.

In his view, while ‘Putinism’ and Italian Fascism have in common the strange feature of rejecting both communism and democratic ideologies, however there is an important distinction in their approach to democracy: “while Mussolini formally declared fascism to be anti-democratic, Putin does not openly reject democracy or explicitly advocate a one party-state; rather, he claims to have established a “managed” or “sovereign” democracy – a system that prevents the alteration of power, thereby establishing a one-party state as a matter of fact, if not of principle.”  This is apparently the central core ideology which Hergen attributes to the new model of ‘Putinism’.

In short, Hergen’s main contention is that at a time when one cannot openly advocate an authoritarian regime or a one-party system, ‘Putininism’ offers a “clever and effective” model of a right-wing or Neo-fascist authoritarian regimes.

In light of what is happening in many countries under authoritarian regimes, the ‘Putinism’s model thesis’ is quite appealing. But, it must also be emphasized that despite a shift in the form of rule, the nature and essence of many current authoritarian regimes largely remain the same with that of their predecessors – a reason why they are referred as neo-fascists.

As a reminder, following is a brief highlight of the salient features of fascism in early 20th century Europe adapted from a reading on fascism in the 2009 Encarta Premium edition in light of which readers may see and judge for themselves the apparent behavior and actions of today’s authoritarian regimes popping up here and there in different parts of the world.

Fascism in early 20th century Europe rose as a political ideology with the premise to “renew” the social, economic and cultural life of a country, and was based either on ultra-nationalism or ethnocentrism – the conviction that one’s ethnic group is at the center of one’s world view or fellows from the same ethnic group are more sensible to deal with. Fascism rejects liberal ideas such as freedom and individual rights, and other elements of democracy. In the context of the then Europe, all forms of fascist movements displayed three distinguishing features: “anticonservatism” or “antievolutionism”, a “myth of ethnic or national renewal”, and a “conception of a nation in crisis”.

 Anticonservatism or antievolution

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All fascist movements opposed the idea of conservatism or evolutionary change–the notion that social and political change should proceed slowly and incrementally. In contrast to this, the fascists were obsessed with violent revolutionary change determined to “create a new type of total culture in which values, politics, art, social norms, and economic activity are all part of a single national community.”

For instance, the Nazi government of Germany attempted in the 1930s to institute a new “peoples community” premised on the idea of “racial purity”. Similarly, the Mussolini government in Italy conducted many sporting and filming events, and constructed many stadiums and huge buildings as “monuments to fascist ideas”. Because of this, many scholars regard all fascist movements as “social experiments” to create “new modern states”.

 Myth of national or ethnic renewal

Despite their revolutionary zeal, the fascist movements emphasized the “revival” of mythical past allegedly lost due to some intervening forces. In this regard, the movements went to the point of revising “conventional history” in order to create the idealized past. Because of the emphasis on creating a renewed national or ethnic community, the fascists were hostile to all scientific, economic, religious, academic, cultural, and leisure activities which didn’t fit well with their political ideologies.

 Idea of a nation in crisis

The fascist movements almost always asserted that the nation (which they alternatively employ to refer to either the whole country or a particular ethnic group) was in a state of profound crisis resolvable only through a “radical political transformation”.  They were highly convinced of their self-professed mission” to save the nation”, and evoked the need to take drastic action against a nation’s ‘inner enemies’. Their vision of the newly created man or woman was the one “uncontaminated” by the selfish desires for “individual rights” and “self-expression” and only devoted for realization of the renewed nation’s destiny.

It should be noted that despite the aforementioned similarities, each fascist movement had its own unique ideology based on its own cultural and intellectual narrative that justifies the ideal of the movement. Some fascist movements had certain racial or ethnic group as object of hatred or scapegoat such as the Nazi’s anti-Semitic ideology.

However, some latter ones did not have this sort of hostility. Instead, they emphasized the need to preserve distinct ethnic identities, and preached a “love of difference” which some scholars call it “differentialism”. And they cite the right-wing movements in France during the 1990s as an example of this form of fascism.

In general, the present rising appetite for totalitarianism, albeit with new form, seems not limited to Europe, but rather is fast spreading across the globe. As highlighted above, the sole ambition of all totalitarian regimes in whatever form they come – neo-fascism, neo-communism (may be the so-called “revolutionary democracy”?), neo-Nazism, apartheid – is to remold and re-engineer societies in the image of their own predilection via a police state that attempts to strictly control the life and soul of citizens.

More often than not, totalitarianism provides a one-size-fits-all solution to all human, social and historical ills that denies the unique nature and experience of each human being and social collectivity. Thus, it is inherently insensitive, inhumane, immoral and highly repressive of human potential.

It goes without saying that such a repressive rule will always result in heavy human suffering, inefficient use of available human and social resources, greater inequality, and many more other social malfeasances which ultimately condemn citizens to a lower state of emotional, spiritual as well as physical life.

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