Patterns of Fascism

Patterns of fascist demagoguery and propaganda:

1) The fascist wins support by playing on unconscious mechanisms, rather than by presenting ideas and arguments. Compared to the emotionalized, psychological stimuli applied to the crowd, the ‘content’ of the propaganda, the ‘platform’, plays a minor role.

2) The fascist agitator focuses on personal lives and personalities, not on objective social structures and tendencies. They frame themselves as making a big sacrifice to save the people and as outsiders to the system. They announce a band of ‘good guys’ who are just about to save the day.

3) The fascist message is REVIVAL– of religion, nation, patriotism, race, etc. – but in terms that only glorify the activity of reviving. Means are substituted for ends. The ‘goal’ is left unstated or deliberately unclear, thus it is ready for an uncontrolled flood of repressed content, resentment, racism, protection, etc.

4) Propaganda becomes content: the audience suddenly feels privy to information about the hidden workings of society: they have the ‘scoop’, they know the dirt, etc. Knowledge about scandals (fictitious or true) proliferates, producing the pleasure of ‘participating’ in the goings-on of society.

5) Fascist leaders avoid positions they will have to stick to because a) their followers are only useful for the consolidation of power, after which it is easier to cheat and abandon them, b) repressive measures will go much further than the announcement; no definite limit is set because there is no intention to stay within any limit.

6) The masses are not seen as self-determining, but as objects of administration; the expectation is for self-effacing, obedient, non-resistant, conformist behavior.

7) The fascist attacks bogeymen, not real opponents. The chosen foe is an imaginary one that need not be grounded in reality whatsoever, or in exaggerations that reality does not bear out.

8) The fascist ‘discourse’ operates not on logical premises and inferential reasoning but on ‘similarities’ and ‘associations’. This not only makes it resistant to rational examination: it also makes it much easier for the listener to follow. Exact thinking is not required, one simply flows passively with the stream of words.

9) “The fascist agitator is usually a masterly salesman of his own psychological defects.” The structural similarity in mentality between follower and leader turns neurosis or lunacy into a commodity that can be sold to the afflicted. Propaganda’s goal is to establish this concord: a fellowship of pathological thinking.

10) The fascist agitator knows how to put on a show, how to entertain, how to produce pleasure and gratification in the listener: out of gratitude the listener accepts the ideology of the speaker.

11) The fascist leader differs from the follower only with respect to uninhibited expression: they do and say what the followers would never have the gall or courage to do or say. By risking making a fool of themselves, they break through norms of middle-class discourse, increasing the effect of the propaganda.

12) The fascist leader is beloved for their “false tones and clowning.” It is not true that the mass audience has a subtle taste for ‘authenticity’ and disparages the fake; rather fictitiousness, like a drunk’s tirade, appeals for its affectation.

13) The fascist orator redeems the masses’ inarticulateness. This redemptive act requires the RITUAL of rallies, ceremonies, public statements, and so on. These reveal to the masses the identity they want to have but cannot express, and sanction emotions they would have otherwise concealed. (At the center of the ritual is often the symbolic murder/sacrifice of the chosen foe.)

14) “This loosening of self-control, the merging of one’s impulses with a ritual scheme is closely related to the universal psychological weakening of the self-contained individual.” The fascist ritual applies the mechanism of religion emptied of religious content, sanctioning a ‘community’ or ‘cult’ around a leader or ideology that, in essence, prohibits and eliminates critical, individual, divergent, self-determining thought.

15) Fascist propaganda is characterized above all by stereotyping and cliché and the amazingly incessant repetition of stereotypes and clichés, which are ritually ‘drilled’ into the skull. Rigid repetition and mechanical application is craved and standardized. The fascist leader makes a fetish of reality, of the status quo of established power relationships.

16) The fascist spirit is essentially destructive, both selling and enjoying warnings of impending doom, for friend and foe alike. Underneath it lies the unconscious desire for self-annihilation, which is why it ultimately turns its followers into victims.

—Adapted/summarized from Adorno et al. “Anti-Semitism and Fascist Propaganda,” printed in From the Stars Down to the Earth

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