Wednesday, March 01, 2006

"Friendly Fascists"

Came across an AWESOME column by Noah Stahl in the ISU Daily today. It's as good as anything on the Liberty Papers, which is about as high of a compliment as I can pay a piece of opinion writing. Because it's so good, with apologies to Mr. Stahl, I'm not really going to do much original writing, instead just picking choice quotes out. Why ruin a masterpiece? Anyway, here's the column.

It's about how traditionally, when we think of fascists, we think of "somebody like Mussolini. Dark, heartless, maniacally dedicated to efficiency and control, ruthless when crushing dissent, with a face permanently fixed in a scowl. Essentially, someone mean." However, the fascists have "replaced the scowls with smiles...They come from both the secular left and religious right. They typically refer to themselves as "activists" and usually claim to be acting for the good of the community, the environment or Christianity, etc." The first money quote: "The hallmark of the friendly fascists is their preference for government decree over individual choice. They have what they believe to be well-meaning agendas, but rather than advance them by means of persuasion, they prefer to take their case to the local city council or statehouse."

He then relates a particularly telling anecdote about a woman whose brother refused to quit smoking, so she "had come to the statehouse to urge lawmakers to increase the price of cigarettes by a dollar. Translation: 'My brother won't take my advice so I decided to get the government's help to force him.'"

A good summary of friendly fascism follows: "Notice several aspects of friendly fascists: 1) They have a "good cause," 2) Their cause involves controlling other people's behavior in some way, and 3) They view governmental force as a perfectly legitimate means to their end."

Next money quote: "The cigarette tax example reveals the dishonest methods of the friendly fascists. If they were honest about their desired control over smokers, they would demand smoking be completely banned. Instead, they dishonestly achieve their goal by pretending they are offering a choice: "We don't want to ban smoking, only to make it more economically inconvenient." Translation: Your new "alternative" is to stop smoking, or have a dollar stolen from you every time you buy a pack. This is like a mugger pretending his victim's submission is voluntary because he asks, "Would you like to freely hand over your wallet or be punched in the face?""

After applying the friendly fascism principle to the "Smart Growth" movement here in Ames (basically an anti-Wal-Mart movement that tries to restrict development), we have the third money quote: "As "Smart Growth" shows, the friendly fascists are skilled at using their names and slogans to imply the depravity of the opposition. If you aren't in favor of "smart" growth, you must be in favor of stupid growth. If you don't agree with the anti-smoking fascists of "Just Eliminate Lies," you must be a liar. If you disagree with the "pro-life" attempt to dictate to women how they use their reproductive organs, you must be pro-death. If you aren't a "progressive," you must favor regression."

According to Stahl, the way to defeat the friendly fasicsts is to "defend the individual's right to freedom of choice, a principle which is in everyone's best interest." Yeah, crazy idea. I suspect that if one were to engage in a somewhat rigorous study of the basis of the Constitution and what the founders of this nation believed, one might find that Washington, Jefferson, Madison..hell, even Hamilton to a point believed that the foundation of this country was, in fact, the individual's right to freedom of choice. How far we have fallen.

Finally, we get to the closing statement, which left me with a huge grin on my face because I had the realization that there was a fellow believer who just happened to write for a publication that reaches thousands of ISU students. Here is it: "When they first came for the smokers, I didn't speak up because I wasn't a smoker. Then they came for the gamblers, but I didn't speak up because I wasn't a gambler. Then they came for Wal-Mart, but I didn't speak up because I didn't like Wal-Mart. Then they came for me - but by that time there was nobody willing to speak up."