Yeah, we probably are fascists now…

Is Gary Lineker right to say that UK government rhetoric is similar to Nazi Germany of the 30s?

Well, I don’t want to go nuts deep into the collection of Nazi propaganda (again) but… in a technical sense probably not. We’re not at ‘Triumph of the Will’ just yet (cf Dan Olson).

Nazism is a specific ideology that makes value statements on a range of issues from architecture and art to racial hierarchies. They combined this together in a very specific way to spread their rhetoric and propaganda to the People. The overlap with Conservative Party rhetoric is not that strong. For the moment, at least. Though put a pin in “Aktion T4” and the “60,000 Reichmarks” poster. Focusing on how much “undesirables” cost us is very Conservative, and has Nazi precedent.

The complicating factor in judging Lineker’s statement is that because (a limited and dumbed-down version of) WWII acts as a foundational mythos for the United Kingdom, Nazi Germany of the late-30s and 40s is the only widely-known cultural touchstone we have for what fascism looks like.

We saw this when people reacted to the design of the US Space Force uniforms. Everyone just jumped to “fascist”, when really the overlap was “they’re grey”. Years of war movies encoding “good guys wear the green helmets, the bad guys wear the grey ones” has eroded most peoples’ ability to spot far deeper problems.

So, naturally, anyone making comparisons off the cuff without having done some pre-requisite reading on the subject that isn’t titled “Harry Potter and the…” will probably jump to “Nazi” and be kinda half-right/half-wrong, but at least understandably so. We should really be looking at Franco and Mussolini for comparison. Or at least late-Weimar Germany. We could get very bogged down in that last one if we talked about the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft…

Anyway, the point is that there are wider things to learn from history than just the jackboots, marching and occult symbolism of Nazism.

So, let’s just look at one Conservative statement for a moment. Just in isolation, as a piece of rhetoric because it’s very recent, and prominent, and the start of a bigger speech from Suella ‘Only Following Orders’ Braverman.

The law abiding patriotic majority have said enough is enough. This Conservative gov will act now…

Curella Braverman

So that’s some opening rhetoric that says they, the Leaders, should Do Something, and Act, and Act immediately, because the People said so.

At which point, obviously, I’m going to direct you to my boy Umberto, and one of the most famous essays on the subject.

Specifically, point 3 on the ‘cult of action’ — action for action’s sake, to be seen doing something without necessary reflection and, in fact, deriding and looking down on any intellectual analysis of the course of action — and also point 13, on the use of the public as a rhetorical device to prop up and manufacture consent for the cult of action:

“For Ur-Fascism, however, individuals as individuals have no rights, and the People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter. Having lost their power of delegation, citizens do not act; they are only called on to play the role of the People. Thus the People is only a theatrical fiction.”

Umberto Eco

[as an aside, if you’re confused by the idea “no large quantity of human beings can have a common will”, I recommend Jordan Ellenberg’s ‘How Not to be Wrong’, which demonstrates this principle mathematically]

Actually, let’s not undersell it with just two of Eco’s points.

Going back to Braverman, she specifically says “law abiding patriotic” people have said something. Which immediately makes the implication that anyone disagreeing with the action for actions sake is both unpatriotic, and non-law-abiding. Now, any dweeb who read a book on skeptical inquiry in the ’00s will spot ‘No True Scotsman’ there, but this one also falls under Eco’s 7th bullet point on Ur-Fascists feeling besieged by a plot, particularly from enemies within. Basically, this sets up the idea that dissent makes you an “enemy of the people”. Which was also an infamous and relatively recent Daily Mail headline. Also, you can easily illustrate all of Eco’s 14 points with Daily Mail headlines. Make of that what you will.

Did I mention that this was written in 1995 about living under Mussolini and not in 2016 about the Vote Leave campaign? Wild stuff.