Your papers, please

by Kieran Healy on May 27, 2007

Not the sort of phrase you associate with Britain, “but this may change.”:



P O'Neill 05.27.07 at 1:16 pm

The qualifier “Britain” is important, as revealed early on in that link.


james 05.28.07 at 6:41 am

Britian went significantly fascist in their domestic rules during WWII. This is the standard procedures for the isles when in trouble.


Stuart 05.29.07 at 12:01 pm

You mean authoritarian, not fascist. There is a difference. The US is currently heading towards neofascism of a particularly american flavor, the UK is heading for its own brand which doesn’t really include any significant amount of extreme nationalism or exceptionalism – note how Blairs recent statement when he announced his resignation date along those lines jarred and was picked on by elements of the media as being very atypical.

Lets use Umberto Eco’s 1995 definition and general properties of fascism for example (selected as the first one with a list of attributes that I found in a quick search rather than hand selected for ‘best fit’, and clearly wasn’t written with Bush/Blair in mind for obvious reasons):

The features of fascism he lists are as follows:

1 “The Cult of Tradition”, combining cultural syncretism with a rejection of modernism (often disguised as a rejection of capitalism).

Obviously this would be a property of any conservative/Republican party of modern times (but doesn’t really fit Blair/New Labour).

2 “The Cult of Action for Action’s Sake”, which dicatates that action is of value in itself, and should be taken without intellectual reflection. This, says Eco, is connected with anti-intellectualism and irrationalism, and often manifests in attacks on modern culture and science.

Anti-intellectualism and attacks on science, ‘Political Correctness’ and the like certainly fits the american model well, but not so much in the UK (maybe with the Political Correctness, but still not so much). The action for its own sake would describe Iraq for me (might not for others, depends on your beliefs about the underlying cause for that war), and probably the formation of DHS and so on.

3 “Disagreement is Treason” – fascism devalues intellectual discourse and critical reasoning as barriers to action.

Does this even need support in this sort of forum?

4 “Fear of Difference”, which fascism seeks to exploit and exacerbate, often in the form of racism or an appeal against foreigners and immigrants.

Well the recent anti-immigration groundswell in the US fits very well here. In the UK there are the occasional mutterings about asylum seekers or whatever, but its usually not taken very far.

5 “Appeal to a Frustrated Middle Class”, fearing economic pressure from the demands and aspirations of lower social groups.

Not sure if there is a particularly clear analogue here, maybe someone can think of one?

6 “Obsession With a plot” and the hyping-up of an enemy threat. This often involves an appeal to xenophobia or the identification of an internal security threat. He cites Pat Robertson’s book The New World Order as a prominent example of a plot obsession.

Yeah, I think this one is covered pretty well as well.

7 “Pacifism is Trafficking With the Enemy” because “Life is Permanent Warfare” – there must always be an enemy to fight.

This one comes up a lot with the liberals = traitors meme.

8 “Contempt for the Weak” – although a fascist society is elitist, everybody in the society is educated to become a hero.

Tranlates well to “Contempt for the Poor” in modern US usage I would think, at least on the right hand side of things. The theme that poor people and criminals are just lazy and deserve what the get is very common in various circles.

9 “Selective Populism” – the People have a common will, which is not delegated but interpreted by a leader. This may involve doubt being cast upon a democratic institution, because “it no longer represents the Voice of the People”.

Well there certainly has been a lot of work undermining confidence in the US democracy recently, by both sides (which seems ultimately self destructive – in comparison in the UK the politicians always seem to draw the line at trying to undermine democracy itself for their own short term advantage, exceptions being with new innovations like the extension of postal voting in some areas, etc).

10 “Newspeak” – fascism employs and promotes an impoverished vocabulary in order to limit critical reasoning.

For example they might try to reduce fascism to just be a synonym of authoritarianism, so that it can be used to conflate their opponents with the (in modern thinking obviously wrong/evil) wartime fascist governments of central europe.

More seriously, I guess “enemy combatants”, “aggressive interrogation” and “extraordinary rendition” might come under this heading, as well as the “flip-flop” accusation against Kerry trying to use nuance in politics.

Note this isn’t to say an authoritan UK will necessarily be any better place than an Urfascist US would be, just that it doesn’t really describe how authoritarians would try to get power in the UK very well. Over here nationalism and exceptionalism have been unpopular and limited to fringe groups like the BNP, and certainly not the mainstream of politics as happens in the US. And those elements are essential for most definitions of the particular brand of authoritarianism that is fascism.


Pete 05.29.07 at 3:18 pm

There’s a particular form of pressure in the UK which goes like this:

– authorities are prevented from doing something reasonable like deporting hijackers to their country of origin, by “human rights” or something similar;
– public grumbles that Nothing is Being Done
– government introduces large, overreaching measures that affect entire population rather than specific people who have committed specific crimes.

Exactly who’s responsible for this or what’s actually happening is unclear, but that’s what it seems like


pietr 05.29.07 at 3:20 pm

If you are slightly mad like me(after 40 years of living with the British), you might notice this; to escape to Canada one needs about £5000.
That’s how much they would confiscate.

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