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Freedom & the politics of fear

Mary Swathmore

A concise description of the different evolutionary states of human existence can be found amongst Gnostic texts1 where one can recognise three basic levles of human existence:
  • An uninitiated relatively uninformed physical and emotional state marked by supersition, fanatasy, fear and sometimes violence arising from real or imagined threats
  • An intellectual state where people turn their attention to analysing how nature works and accumulating knowledge on what is beneficial and prejudicial to mankind's state
  • A spiritual state is where mankind applies knowledge to improving that state of existence for mankind
It is worth noting that the greatest distance is to be found between the physical and aggressive state of existence when fear could be used as a coercive force and the peaceful and productive state where reason prevails and knowledge is the driving force of man's actions. The state of freedom of people, in terms of thought and actions, is greatest where there is less fear and aggression and where the resolution and settlement of disputes are secured through peaceful means.

However, in the business of gaining political power, one of the techniques of controlling populations is a counter-evolutionary move where a crude and undisguised use of fear is used to justify disruption in people's lives resulting from the assertion that people need to be "protected" through a management of affairs so that they are free from all that might disturb or undermine a peaceful and prosperous existence. Disinformation has an important role in ensuring that people remain ill-informed so that they are more likely to succumb and voluntarily give up fundemantal freedoms in exchange for a sought-for security. The conditions providing the motivation for such mass decisions are usually stimulated by politicians eagerly supported by the media who in turn who are finance by corporations and who themselves exercise a strong lobby to influence political decisions.

© The Economist, 2025.

A recent article in the Economist Newspaper referred to the deployment of fear in the rhetoric of Donald Trump in the USA, Marine Le Pen in France and Viktor Orban in Hungary (see illustration left). These are pretty obvious examples of those who would make use of fear in order to precipitate a reaction on the part of electorates to gain support for their own political positions that appear to hold up solutions, usually of an extreme sort.

But Trump, Le Pen and Orban are only more recent entrées to the European and international scene.
Corportate statism the current form of Fascism

Facism was a development from capitalism and it took hold rapidly. In the modern context it is referred to a corporate statitism where political parties are largely funded by large corporations and in turn the political parties provide supporters with favours - crony capitalism. The ongoing policy script written in collaboration with large commercial corporations and there is a tendency towards a significant growth in extra-constitutional "regulation" of companies which distances the rule of law from exposing and punishing corporate abuse because legislation provides protection or silence on corporate abuse of the constituency. There is a significant use of propaganda or spin (erosion of freedom) and there is a polarization of society through a radical opposition to communism and/or socialism in particular (currently being extended to include other systems of governance and specific groups of people). Because of their insignificant tax status there tends to be a targeting of the poor and "people of no consequence" such as economic migrants, mnrotie and others - people with no value (erosion of freedom) combined with the destruction or effective erosion of right of labour to organize (erosion of freedom). Failures in the corporate sector - blame a race, the poor, unions or the communists and there is a lack of comfort with press freedom countered by an increasing control over popular media content through corporate advertising (erosion of freedom) or even the formation of mega financial trusts (super-pacs in the USA) that support specific political interests. There is a proactive marginalisation of investigative journalists or writers of dissenting content (erosion of freedom) and in public protests there is an increasing use of violence and terror by civil security including police in psychology of "defense of the system' (erosion of freedom). Any dissension, even by whistle-blowere exposing wrong, is classed as treacherous, of the enemy, irrational, mad (erosion of freedom) and there is a decreasing dialogue, eventually decisions and government by decree (erosion of freedom) and law by decree - reduction in incidence of the use of juries on various pretexts (erosion in freedom.

Hillary Ben, the Labour shadow foreign minister, made a somewhat ridiculous speech during the British Parliamentary debate on whether or not the UK should join in the military havoc in Syria by using the term "Fascist" as his description of ISIL. His intent was to conjour up emotion and indignation by stating that ISIL held the members of the British Parliament in contempt. On 24th April 2006, Charles Clark MP made a speech in his capacity as Labour Home Secretary, concerning the media and civil liberties. He complained that some journalists were detecting Fascism as being on the rise. To counter this claim he referred to some points made by Henry Porter, Editor of Vanity Fair. His singling out of a specific journalist was very unusual and it says something, very negative and troubling, about the Government's mindset. By going down this route Clark lost the opportunity to address the emerging picture which is certainly not exactly as he portrayed. Increasing numbers are suggesting that the US government is acting in a Fascist way, that Europe is moving towards a corporate statism and that the government of the United Kingdom is part of this trend.

The recent "management" of Greece and other countries' "debt problems" have deployed a good degree of bullying based on the deployment of the fear card. Even in the recent Scottish Referendum on independence the "main" political parties in Britain made use of disinformation to instill fear into the Scottish electorate by generating feelings of uncerainty concerning a range of issues. The during the last British General Election the minority faction making up the Conservatives won the election through a campaign of disinformation linking the spectre of the Scottish National Party controlling a Labour government.

Fascism had and has a specific meaning. It was founded by Mussolini, in Milan, on 23 March, 1919. Contrary to popular belief, Fascism, from early on in its existence, was popular with the wealthy and the middle classes, it grew out of capitalism and without any messy social "revolution". The most significant characteristic was the speed with which it took hold; just two years.

Security in exchange for civil liberties

At the time of its growth, one of the major political movements in opposition was the Communist party. But most Communists thought that Fascism was so irrational that it was bound to collapse. They thought it irrational because they recognised that the influential and middle classes were willingly sacrificing their own basic freedoms by binding themselves into this political nationalist system. Such people thought they were gaining security against current and future uncertainty and instability. On the other hand, workers, worker unions and minorities were suppressed in various ways, sometimes violently, because they were perceived to be causes of past instability, social and economic uncertainty causing loss of income to commercial corporations. Such people were labeled as being people of "no consequence".

There are today strange parallels in that the wealthy and middle classes are inclined to support political parties who are offering increasing security against current and increasing future uncertainty and instability. The condition being established by the political parties, as policy and legislation, is that voters must trade in their individual freedom in part exchange. But now those potentially associated with or blamed for future insecurity continues to be workers and their representatives, the poor, ethnic groups, minorities desiring political independence and of course, in the light of the open season on terrorists, militant Islamic fundamentalists.

The characteristics of Fascism

The single most important impact of Fascism was its erosion and then removal of individual freedom of the people of a country through the substitution of participatory democracy by a governance which paid more attention to corporate and business interests. The public became simply producers and consumers with little political say or influence in decision making. Invariably the very first act by Fascist regimes was to remove trial by jury and thereby remove the essential role of the community conscience in defending individual freedom against arbitrary decisions. This was to enable government by decree or essentially to enable the regime to take arbitrary decisions.

Adolf Hitler was impressed at Joseph Stalin's "people’s courts" where there were no juries other than party sycophants and judges carrying out the will of the party as a basis for punishing as well as murdering opponents or people considered to be undesirable by "legal means". Anyone arrested under this regime could not expect a fair trial, could be tortured and basically lived or died at the whim of a party aperatik. Hitler introduced such "people's courts" under the Third Reich to handle those who opposed him in any way he saw fit. In the current context many consider the American process of rendition which has been supported by the British government and other European member states as an example of brutal and unfair treatment of captives. Guantanamo Bay in Cuba is another example of this approach to captives which many feel parallels the Fascist "legal" activities under people's courts in an open contempt of international law.

Under Fascism, elitism and paternalism dominated the relationship between the electorate and the government and any meritocracy was replaced by an individual's status within the political party or the degree to which someone had provided financial contributions to the party or given representation or taken action to support the party in a tight spot. Under Fascism the party was all, apart from the leader, and these had to be defended at all costs including the murder of innocent and dissenting individuals.

Leon Trotsky's analysis

It is worth reviewing the thoughts of those who had to confront the Fascists as political opponents before the second world war. Some of the clearest early analysis on Fascism was by Leon Trotsky (1931/2). He pointed out the failure, of the newly formed Communist parties in Italy, Germany, and indeed Russia, to understand what Fascism was. They did not understand the importance of attacking it vigorously to stop it in its tracks. Naturally Trotsky was not popular with Hitler, Franco of Spain or Mussolini. In particular Stalin did not like this analysis for it showed up the corrupt ideology gaining hold in Russia. Leon became an enemy of Stalin; he avoided the Gulag only to be murdered by a Communist party agent in Mexico in 1940.

Fascism was always associated with a strong component of corporate statism which thrived on warfare. That is the combination of commercial interests of armament manufactures who lobby and influence government to follow military campaigns which benefit such corporations. This was perfected in Italy under the Fascists. In a more extreme modus operandi, the German Third Reich even organized the mass extermination of Jews and Roma was a profit making business for party members, the civil service processed the paper work and corporations profited from the sale of things like poisonous gas or the supply of vehicles which pumped exhaust fumes into the back section carrying those to be murdered. Democratic institutions were late in recognizing and powerless to resist these tendencies. It is therefore of note that this was the very point made by the retiring American president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his farewell address on 17th January 1961, in which he warned the people of America about the rise of influence of the military-industrial complex. He said:

"But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."

Dwight was no communist but it can be seen that he came to the same sort of conclusions concerning the US military industrial complex and its impact on freedom as Trotsky had expressed concerning Fascism.

Temporal dimensions of the rise of Fascism

Indeed, an important observation made by Trotsky in 1940 was on the potential for Fascism in the United States. He noted that the American worker organizations there were a very active and objective, better organized and less of a walk over than those in Italy or Germany had been; their temperament was such as to make things extremely difficult for Fascists. He therefore predicted that, in the case of the USA, an increasing support for Fascism would only find its impulse from " .. a feeling of desperation of large masses of people .. ". He recognised that farmers, small business men, the unemployed and even soldiers would be capable of willingly supporting a Fascist movement. It is important to note that the United States was always recognised as being a very significant player for bad or for evil simply because of its potential military power.

Trotsky proved to be right when in 1941 Japan attacked Pearl Harbour the reaction of the USA was indeed to consolidate a corporate statist industrial military complex. There can be little doubt that the impact of 9/11 re-created the conditions foreseen by Trotsky transforming policy into a "good and profitable war".

The lesson is that under the right conditions of impetus, tied to an external threat, governance supported the consolidation and free operation of the industrial military complex.

Britain's time dimension

The British have faced similar crises but the strong foundations of Common Law, independent judiciary and individual freedom resulted in the various forms of Fascism which have appeared in the past to receive very little support. The only way Britain could drift towards a situation of lower levels of protection of individual freedom would be through the body politic deceiving the electorate by furtive means. During the last century, while British political parties have sustained a propaganda that our parliamentary democracy protects individual freedom and we are an example to the world, they have been chipping away of many basic tenets of the defence of freedom. These include the non-separation of powers in government, the allegiance of MPs to party over constituents, the party whip system and cabinet secrecy. This has been accompanied by a reduction in the role of juries, introducing selective detention without evidence undermining habeas corpus, increasing ministerial interference in the judiciary and the agreeing with unsafe legislation such as the so-called European arrest warrant which can be raised by European judges many of whom are no more than political party aperatiks. They have silently permitted now some 70% of British legislation to be initiated by an unelected European Commission. This enters our statutes with little public exposure or discussion. And yet, statutes include punishments where any appeals come before a civil servant, a magistrate or a single judge. No juries are involved and indeed, juries are increasingly marginalised by this process. So without any disastrous events, British political parties have gradually and furtively reduced the ability of the British population to appeal against government dictat. The community conscience has almost no current role. Most importantly the defence of individual freedom relies upon proactive government action rather than upon the ability of each to defend the freedom of the other through a jury. Political parties have worked themselves into a position to use the law to rule as they think fit by keeping the community conscience at a distance, as opposed to guaranteeing the rule of law to which all, including politicians and prime ministers, remain subject. The result of these efforts are what many would consider to be a foundation for the corporate state where individuals have little say.

Unions are bad and government is good

Fascists, as mentioned previously, tended to act strongly against workers unions. In the United Kingdom, the recent trends in governance have been to confront and destroy or weaken workers unions in a process which came to a head under the government of Edward Heath and then was proactively pursued when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister. This seemed to gain popular support because union bosses were mouthing the old socialist slogans, their arguments were not set out clearly, they were perceived to be disruptive and in the end lost popular support. The Labour party, who were apparently allies of the unions, failed to help catalyse any change for the better. As things turned out so-called New Labour contributed to the further isolation of trade unions. The outcome of this process was that in 1991 the number of trade union members was 9.5 million, by 1997 this had fallen to 7.8 million and by 2005 to 6.7 million (some 14.8% of the electorate). This means that the number of people whose pay levels rely on the whim of private corporations had increased by almost 3 million.

Over the period that the significance of unions declined there has emerged a new middle class, a massive civil service at local and national levels and growing class of professional managers. Indeed the appeals of all political parties have shifted from the old binary or polar "class based" targets to addressing the expanding "middle ground" in the electorate, that is the new middle class, functionaries of the state, professional managers and administrators.

The number of employees in the Civil Service in Great Britain is now around 400,000. Public sector employment fell between 1991 to 1998 by some 820,000 but then from 1998 to 2005 it was increased again by 720,000. In Decmeber 2005 there were some 5,900,000 public sector employees (some 13% of the electorate), this has now fallen to around 5,650,000. With the unions weakened, public service pay relies to an increasing extent on the whim of the government in power.

The significance of these British trends relate to an intriguing observation made by Trotsky concerning Germany in 1932. He considered a large potential base for support of Fascism to be the new middle class, functionaries of the state, private managers and administrators and those with much to lose in terms of 'status' and 'income'; he proved to be completely correct.

Political parties in the dock

In the current battles within the government the target of preservation is not representation of the people, participatory democracy or upholding of individual freedom. These considerations seem to be only secondary considerations to modern MPs. MPs only focus on and talk about their party and its image. And yet it is a political party which has been wholly responsible for having permitted its leader to, almost single-handedly, ally this country with a perverse and corrupt sequence of events growing out of the oil for food scandal which involved the murder of around 500,000 Iraqi children. A disastrous coalition campaign has seen in excess of 100,000 innocent civilians murdered. Fascists would have considered such people to be people of no consequence while the current parlance is collateral damage. It needs to be remembered that under the Third Reich the "cleansing of society" to establish a better political system and a pure race involved murdering Jews and Roma. The Holocaust was the Nazi's collateral damage.

Individual freedom is not a primary concern of British political parties. But this is a fundamentally important universal value which transcends international borders. It is something to be defended within the country and in all parts of the world. However, where it is perceived that individual freedoms are supressed, the solution is not for the government to become an ally in mission which destroys the life of innocents to set people free; the end does not justify the means. If we believe in individual freedom, then, first and foremost, we must value the life of each and every individual, for without this there is no freedom. For this reason no government can on the one hand state that it values freedom when their armed civil service, openly admit that they do not keep any records of the number of innocent men, women and children they murder.

Unfortunately, when a political party is more interested in its holding on to power than responding directly to the wishes of populations, policy becomes binary, that is a sequence of action and reaction. Each terrorist act is followed by a restriction in our freedom. We are told this improves intelligence to prevent or reduce the likelihood of future attacks. But no thought is given to the fact that attacks arise as a result of ill-thought-out policies, especially foreign policies, either through deed or association. Our government has willingly joined a process which runs roughshod over international law. The people of Britain have become locked in a tyrannical cycle. A failure to address the issues which give rise to terrorism only curtails the freedom of the people of Britain and makes us less safe. This policy failure drives us along the route well trodden in the past by Fascists. This is a logical but unacceptable state of affairs. It is a self-imposed impending chaos created by a government which places party above people. The fundamental cause of this continued insanity is made up of three components. One is that we do not have a leadership or foreign policy which acts independently enough of America. Secondly, the leadership, in line with the Fascist mode, is messianic and arrogant, it can do no wrong and is always right. Thirdly, the Labour party, Labour MPs and all of the opposition MPs allowed this to happen and remain absurdly ineffective because they, first and foremost, also defend and represent their party interests over those of the people of Britain.

This is why UK MPs, and the government in particular and Obama in the USA only perceived and described a ridiculously simplistic trade off between freedom and security. They both failed to address adequately the greater responsibility of government to introduce policies which should tackle the causes of the militant and terrorist actions and thereby reduce the threat. The current administration of the United States has not demonstrated any real interest in the security or survival of the United Kingdom or even Europe with the current migration crisis being a direct outcome of failed foreign policies and yet at the hands of the current UK government the security of the people of Britain has become precarious and individual freedoms remain subject to a continual erosion.

The journalist's dilemma

Many years have past since such contemporary observations such as those by Trotsky were made. A large number of people only have a vague understanding of what Fascism was. On the other hand, it is difficult to point to a single issue which embodies Fascism because it is made up of many functional characteristics which taken together constitute a recognizable system. This is part of the reason those who claim we are drifting towards Fascism have some difficulty explaining what they mean. This indeed, is part of the dilemma facing journalists wishing to raise this issue. More dangerously, however, the number of characteristics is so high that it is difficult for many to absorb them all and to understand their overall significance.

Fascism check list - make up your own mind

In order to provide a rough guide to Fascism there is a list set out below of the salient characteristics. These are arranged roughly in terms of the typical sequence of events which take place as Fascism takes hold. Having stated above that the erosion, or removal, of individual freedom is a Fascist norm some of the characteristics have been tagged by the phrase "erosion of freedom" to make the point.

Readers are invited to assess how many of these characteristics already apply to governance in England or the United States by ticking off any correlations. Clearly several characteristics will not apply, especially those related to the old Fascist/Communist antagonisms.

If the score comes to let us say, more than 15, then this should be a matter for grave concern.

  • development from capitalism
  • political parties largely funded by large corporations
  • political parties, in government, favour corporate supporters - crony capitalism
  • widespread use of extra-constitutional regulation of sectors (banks, media, industries)
  • close association of military activity with increasing corporate fortunes
  • funding is an essential weight in lobbies
  • ongoing policy script written in collaboration with large commercial corporations
  • blind party allegiance
  • often lead by increasingly messianic cult like figurehead who considers themselves to always be in the right, harbouring no doubts, "charismatic"
  • religious Reich (fanatical absolutes of good and evil) ideas "appear" as policy
  • consistent and rigid beliefs embodied in party "philosophy"
  • significant use of propaganda or spin (erosion of freedom)
  • radically opposed to communism (currently being extended to include other systems of governance and specific groups of people)
  • not to be explained mysticism/irrational beliefs e.g. concepts of superiority
  • convergence of movement on concepts of a superior "civilization" (now a newly-defined "democracy")
  • increasingly to absolutely intolerant of dissension at home and abroad (erosion of freedom)
  • increasingly to absolutely intolerant of those uncovering inconvenient facts (such as government and government agencies breaking the law and contravening constitutional provisions) such as whistleblowers
  • racism or targeting of "inferior" cultures a common component and people of no consequence - people with no value (erosion of freedom)
  • targeting of the poor and people of no consequence - people with no value (erosion of freedom)
  • destruction or effective erosion of right of labour to organize (erosion of freedom)
  • strong to rabid nationalism (code word patriotism) to rally masses
  • consistent calls for national unity and defense (today in the context of terrorism)
  • tackling presumed internal and external threats by limitation of freedoms (erosion of freedom)
  • constant reference to external threats to massage up to a malleable mass hysteria so masses "thankful for strong leadership" (today in the context of terrorism)
  • tendency to authoritarian rule (erosion of freedom)
  • any failures in corporate sector - blame a race, the poor, unions or the communists
  • not comfortable with press freedom
  • increasing control over popular media content (erosion of freedom)
  • marginalisation of investigative journalists or writers of dissenting content (erosion of freedom)
  • constant use of rallies to intimidate any opposition and encourage "like thinking" (erosion of freedom)
  • increasing use of violence and terror by civil security including police in psychology of "defense of the system' (erosion of freedom)
  • any dissension classed as treacherous, of the enemy, irrational, mad (erosion of freedom)
  • less, and finally, no protests to violent treatment of presumed "enemies" at home and/or abroad (societal cowardice sets in for self-preservation) (erosion of freedom)
  • decreasing dialogue, eventually decisions and government by decree (erosion of freedom)
  • a subordinated and obedient mass "lead" by an elite "who know best" (erosion of freedom)
  • law by decree - reduction in incidence of the use of juries on various pretexts (erosion in freedom)
  • removal of juries (no freedom left)
  • final destruction of democracy (tyranny)

Reference: 1  Kurt Rodolph., "Gnosis", Clarendon press, 1972.

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