I JUST got a copy of Madeleine Albright’s latest book, Fascism: A Warning, which has become a No. 1 New York Times bestseller, and which the author, whom I met at a recent Democracy Awards dinner in Washington, D.C., has kindly autographed for me and my wife. It is an excellent read and promises to be a highly referenced text in the discussion of one of the most explosive phenomena of our century and age. The author believes the book may be overtaken in some of its details by what happens next, but its larger themes will remain relevant because they are intimately related to human nature and how people will want to live their lives.
What is fascism? Albright says in 2016, the word was searched on the Merriam-Webster Dictionary more often than any other word except “surreal,” which experienced a sudden spike after the US presidential elections. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a political philosophy, movement or regime that exalts the nation and often the race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.”
A short history
Fascism came to prominence in the early 20th century under the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini (1883-1945), who founded the National Fascist Party and became the youngest Italian prime minister in history until February 2014, when the Italian parliament elected the 39-year-old Matteo Renzi. He was celebrated as Il Duce (from the Latin dux, a cognate of duke), and known for his grandiose rhetoric, which evoked, in Albright’s words, “the image of a dominant Italy, reborn with more spazio vitale (living space), holding sway throughout the Mediterranean.
“The road to this paradise,” writes Albright, “was war, which Mussolini urged Italians to embrace, renouncing all comforts. ‘Live dangerously,’ he beseeched them. To back his words, he embarked on an aggressive policy that reduced Albania to a protectorate, then invaded a nearly defenseless Ethiopia, the last independent kingdom in Africa. To raise money for this brutal adventure, Italy’s women, led by Queen Elena, donated their wedding rings to be melted down into gold or exchanged for cash; Italian women abroad were encouraged to do the same, and thousands did. Mussolini described the Ethiopia expedition as “the greatest colonial war in all history…”
“During the peak years of his reign,” Albright recalls, “the great man’s image was displayed on products ranging from hair tonic and baby food to lingerie and pasta. When a would-be assassin shot him in the nose, he slapped on a bandage and went ahead, later the same day, with a speech to a conference of surgeons, telling them that he would now put himself in their hands. He commissioned street banners bearing the declaration IF I ADVANCE, FOLLOW ME; IF I RETREAT, KILL ME; IF I DIE, AVENGE ME! He put foundries to work building a bronze statue, never completed, of a 260-foot-tall figure looking down on the cupola of Saint Peter’s, its body that of a half-naked Hercules and its face a dead ringer for Il Duce.”
To cut a long story short, after his invasion of Ethiopia, which was condemned by the Western powers but supported by Hitler, he invaded Greece, sent troops to invade the Soviet Union, declared war on the United States, and ended under the protection of Germany. When things turned for the worst, he and his mistress Clara Petacci, tried to flee to Switzerland but were captured by Italian communists who executed them by firing squad near Lake Como on April 28, 1945. His body was taken to Milan where it was hung upside down at a gas station.
Fascism coming back
Fascism was supposed to sign off upon the demise of Mussolini and Hitler at the end of World War 2. It apparently did not, and the 64th US Secretary of State and first woman to occupy that position sees it staging a fearsome comeback with US President Donald Trump at the forefront. With him are Russia’s Vladimir Putin, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, Hungary’s Victor Orban, and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines.
As Albright sees it, they comprise the herd led by “the first anti-democratic president in modern US history.” It is such a powerful herd whose members learn from and imitate each other; they see what their peers are doing, what they can get away with, and how they can strengthen and perpetuate their power. Regardless of any differences they may have, they are linked together by a common desire to rule without any accountability, above law and their own people. Together, they have become the most formidable menace to the global democratic order.
I am particularly interested in how DU30 strikes world critics, more than in anything else. Apart from the Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Randy David, who is a credentialed sociologist, and former congressman Walden Bello, who is also a sociologist, not many other local analysts have dared to label DU30 by his proper name, fascist. A growing number call him a tyrant, but as Albright herself points out, not every tyrant is a fascist, even though all fascists may be tyrants.
What is a fascist? Having earlier defined fascism, we already know what its practitioner is. But the author, who teaches graduate school at Georgetown, offers us her own definition: “A fascist is someone who claims to speak for a whole nation or group, is utterly unconcerned with the rights of others, and is willing to use violence and whatever other means are necessary.”
The more accessible Prof. David says a fascist is “a strongman who boldly mocks the existing liberal order and its institutions, while extolling the myth of force and the efficacy of violence as a solution to society’s persistent problems.” Thus, where a liberal democrat will insist that people are created equal and therefore entitled to the basic goods of society and to the dignity of the human person, a fascist will argue that some groups are less equal than others. Nature creates its own “hierarchies of worth,” he will say, and some individuals and groups are either superior or inferior to others.
Albright on DU30
DU30 is in this mold. Thus Albright:
“Since June 2016, Rodrigo Duterte has been head of government in the Philippines. In that time, he has gained global notoriety for his reliance on police and civilian vigilantes to kill suspected drug dealers. He insists that his shoot-first policy is tough on crime, but the knife-edge of that toughness falls on what is already the most disadvantaged portion of his country’s population. Per news reports, the number of Filipinos slain by police during Duterte’s presidency exceeds ten thousand. We don’t know, and neither does he, how many of the dead carried weapons, how many were guilty of peddling drugs, and how many were gunned down by mistake or for no reason at all. We do know that Duterte has concentrated his fire on the streets and that people who profit most from the drug trade live in penthouses or in walled estates. We know as well that the police solicit bribes to remove names from their kill lists, that many families of the victims are so poor they must rely on charity to buy coffins, and that Duterte plays the whole sad issue for laughs, urging the public to invest in funeral parlors and bragging, ‘I’ll supply the dead bodies.’ Duterte has told police officers who are on trial for abusing their authority to go ahead and plead guilty so he can pardon and promote them. Early in his presidency, Donald Trump phoned Duterte to congatulate him for doing an ‘unbelievable job’.”
The broader view
It is a limited view, focused solely on the drug killings. But DU30’s fascism does not begin nor end there. His scornful regard of the Constitution and the rule of law, his contemptible treatment of Congress, the judiciary and independent public opinion, his lack of respect for basic diplomatic manners, convention and protocol, and the opinion of others even when it is clearly the only incontestably right opinion, his appalling tendency to impose his ignorant views on religion, purposely to vulgarize the piety of the Church and the delicate sensibility of the faithful — all these speak volumes about his fascism.
But we have not seen everything. If our usual Cabinet sources are to be believed, DU30 and his minions intend to railroad their so-called federal constitution of the Republic of the Philippines — regardless of what the nation thinks and believes — by February or March, otherwise DU30 would be forced to declare a revolutionary government, as recently proposed by one desperate Mindanao warlord.
12 winners or else
DU30 is also reported to have asked the paramount leader of a politically active religious sect, whose members vote as one for a common slate, to support a straight win for Malacañang’s 12 unelectable senatorial candidates, otherwise he would be forced to scuttle the senatorial elections, and declare a revolutionary government.
In the last few days, people have approached me even in church, to ask me why I as a Catholic militant or the Church hierarchs have not said anything about the President’s ceaseless rant against the Church. A dear friend who writes a column for one of the major dailies has messaged me to say he had begun to lose sleep over DU30’s nasty drivel against the Catholic faith. Running through his head, he said, are words disrespecting the very basis of his faith: DU30 mocking the Holy Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the omnipotence of God, the place of the church in the Christian’s daily life.
How should we respond to such a president? If he is a lapsed Catholic, a heretic or an apostate, why has he not been excommunicated? If he is an unreconstructed heathen or atheist, why hasn’t he been censured constitutionally for crossing the inviolable line between Church and State? Perhaps Albright’s book could help us out of our predicament, if we simply decide that DU30’s religious or lack of religious belief is not in issue here — he has nothing in common with Filipino Catholics; he is first and foremost a Fascist.