I have been struck by news of late demonstrating what I have called “medical fascism.” The core of fascism, as I am coming to see it, is a collective conviction combined with intolerance of divergent views. Benito Mussolini was the stated author of The Doctrine of Fascism, co-written with Giovanni Gentile, a fascist philosopher. From the copy published by the World Future Fund, allegedly copied directly from an official Fascist government publication of 1935, Fascism Doctrine and Institutions, by Benito Mussolini [my emphasis]
A party governing a nation “totalitarianly” is a new departure in history. There are no points of reference nor of comparison. From beneath the ruins of liberal, socialist, and democratic doctrines, Fascism extracts those elements which are still vital. It preserves what may be described as “the acquired facts” of history; it rejects all else. That is to say, it rejects the idea of a doctrine suited to all times and to all people. Granted that the XIXth century was the century of socialism, liberalism, democracy, this does not mean that the XXth century must also be the century of socialism, liberalism, democracy. Political doctrines pass; nations remain. We are free to believe that this is the century of authority, a century tending to the ” right “, a Fascist century. If the XIXth century was the century of the individual (liberalism implies individualism) we are free to believe that this is the “collective” century, and therefore the century of the State.
However, this source has from Fascism Doctrine and Institutions:
. . . this will be a century of authority. [no mention of the “right.”]
And an “official translation” published in the Political Quarterly, apparently 1933, has:
. . . this will be a century of authority, a century of the left, a century of Fascism.
Which is it, the “left” or the “right”?
My answer at this point is that fascism is opportunistically left or right, it is both and neither, it may be populist, thus it may even be “democratic” by some definitions (particularly majoritarian or strongest-faction forms of democracy), but key is that it is always authoritarian, intolerant of dissent, willing to use coercive power to enforce its vision of “truth” and “morality,” and Mussolini openly endorsed this.
Fascism may then be racist in some contexts, and anti-racist in others.
And it may be apparently skeptical in one context and pseudoskeptical, proclaiming the truth of “science” vs. “pseudoscience,” in another.
(The scientific method does not generate certainty, only, at best, probability, and there are many situations where “scientific consensus,” i.e., the apparent consensus of experts, was not formed through diligent application of scientific methods, but rather politically and socially; this “collective view” being enforced, with deviation sanctioned.
That is scientific fascism, pretending to “collective knowledge,” with all else being termed, not skepticism, but “denialism.”
The common thread in fascism is certainty, where the truth of some proposition is not to be denied, where it is not allowed under penalty of the strongest opprobrium or worse.
As well, movements and positions create their opposites that are just as convinced and certain and willing to censure and condemn opposing opinions.
I have recently seen many stories in the media about what might be called “anti-vaxx hysteria.” Those who suggest that there may be some risks or negative consequences from vaccination are being called “murderers.”
And then some anti-vaxxers are calling doctors who support vaccination the same.
Both movements are medical fascism, the “pro-vaccine” position commonly refusing to allow any possible critique of vaccination, and the anti-vaxx position claiming that all support for vaccination is coming from Big Pharma shills, with government in their pocket, uncaring about continued study of complications and individual rights.
So from the Guardian, New York county bans unvaccinated children from public spaces amid measles outbreak.
It is the latest region of the US to take drastic steps to counter the virus, with the spike in measles cases leading to concerns that anti-vaccine parents may be putting their children at risk. . . .
The state of emergency in Rockland county, which comes into effect at midnight on Tuesday, bars anyone under 18 who is not vaccinated against measles from public places for 30 days. . . .
. . . the county had traced the outbreak to seven “unvaccinated travelers” who had visited Rockland in 2018. The county has had 48 cases of measles in 2019 alone, according to a spokesman.
From 1 January to 21 March of this year 314 cases of measles were confirmed in 15 different states, according to the CDC. There were 372 cases in 2018, more than triple the number the previous year. The rise has been linked to “anti-vaxxers”, activists who claim, incorrectly but loudly, that vaccines can have negative effects.
Can vaccines have negative effects? The Guardian states as if it were fact that this is “incorrect,” yet that extreme position is preposterous.
The issue is not the existence of negative effects, but the rate. I had a friend die from polio when his daughter was given Sabin oral vaccine in about 1978 or so. By effectively claiming that anti-vaxxers are merely “loud,” and essentially liars and murderers — and I have seen that — authorities are taking a fascist approach to collective welfare, even if they are “right,” i.e., that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the harms.
That denial of any value to the “other side” is typical of fascist propaganda. I had all my children vaccinated and was vaccinated as appropriate for travel when I went to China and Ethiopia to adopt. But I chose to do that. If someone had told me that it was required or else I’d be charged with a criminal offense, I might reconsider! If it is necessary to enforce good sense with criminal penalties, maybe it is not good sense!
And in the other direction, but also from the Guardian:
Anti-vaxx ‘mobs’: doctors face harassment campaigns on Facebook
When the naturopath Elias Kass testified before a Washington state senate committee on 20 February with a baby on his chest and a pacifier in his hand, he knew that his arguments would be unpopular with the anti-vaccine activists in the room. Amid a measles outbreak that has infected 66 people so far, legislators were considering a bill to eliminate personal and philosophical exemptions for childhood vaccinations, and Kass was one of several practitioners to speak in support of the measure.
It astonishes me that good people support fascism, but it happens. I’m sure that Kass is sincere, but he is encouraging removing the right of choice over health care decisions from parents, instead assigning it to the state. Yet in a mature society, he would have the right to express his opinion without the kind of harassment he encountered.
Kass faced some anger in the hallway after the hearing, he said, with one person calling him “a disgusting liar”. But it wasn’t until several hours later that “the shit hit the fan”. That’s when Kass realized that his Facebook page was being flooded with one-star reviews calling him everything from a “disgrace” and a “pedophile” to a “Nazi pharma shill” and “scumbag shilling for infanticide”.
Now, the comparison here may be unfair. A social movement like anti-vaxx has no direct control over what “supporters” do. And I have seen impersonation trolling, where someone pretends the opposite of their own position, with extreme expression, intending to discredit those of that view as fanatics. (I.e., there is no proof that those harassers were actually anti-vaxxers. But there may be anti-vaxx organizers that may have responsibility, I have not investigated this.)
Impersonation can work because people often don’t read carefully and don’t realize that anonymous comments on the web are just that: anonymous, and not to be trusted ever.
(Edits on RationalWiki and Wikipedia, appearing to be from me, aren’t — or in the case of RatWiki, the vast majority are not. I don’t vandalize, I don’t spam, and I don’t harass and make legal threats with wiki edits. I might by certified mail.)
Yet structures have been created where anonymous positions can dominate. Wikipedia is a clear example, in fact. When it works, it’s great, but it can fail spectacularly.
The enemies of humanity here are two old allies: contempt and hatred.
Both poison human freedom, and “antifascism” can be just as full of contempt and hatred as “fascism.”
The vaccine skeptics, I’ll call them, point to an alleged lack of adequate testing of vaccines, claiming that drug companies were given exemptions in the public interest, and that kind of story has been all too common in the history of science and public health.
When dietary guidelines blaming dietary fat for heart disease were adopted and promoted, it was known that the science was not adequate to establish that as medical fact, but it seemed likely and we couldn’t wait, millions could die!
We did not actually know that making those recommendations would save lives, overall, and from what I’ve seen, so far, it seems quite possible that, instead, there were millions of premature deaths. Bad Science can do a lot of harm!
(Murderers? No, not unless they knew, or clearly should have known. But where and when do we become responsible for ignorance?)
How can we both protect public health and act to avoid harm? Any time millions of people are subjected to a medical procedure, there is risk of harm, the claim of “harmless” was crazy — yet there it was, in a major newspaper, as if fact.
It’s obvious to me that we need more research, and we need ongoing monitoring of all major health programs. Who is going to pay for this? We have a system that expects drug companies to do the research, and a public that then often blames them for being greedy. But we set that up — or relied on it and allow it to continue! It is clear that we need to fund research, but we don’t necessarily have trustworthy institutions to manage this. The nonprofits have themselves been corrupted — or appear to have been corrupted — by corporate support. We need to directly support and supervise collective institutions, or at least set up and fund watchdogs.
Instead, our habit is to blame others, rather than taking responsibility, by recognizing what is missing, and supplying it.
To declare an antifascist manifesto here, the future belongs to collective freedom, that creates cooperation and non-coercive, voluntary coordination.
8 thoughts on “The core of fascism”
Abd – I’ve noticed that Antifa permits no dissent from their views, and use violence to quell it. Somewhat ironic. Changing the name to its opposite doesn’t change the reality, but can fool people into supporting something. As regards left or right-wing, that’s changeable, too, and fuzzy language seems to abound in politics. Nazis were socialist, so left-wing by current definitions, but are regarded as right-wing today.
Vaccination reduces the overall risk, but it’s possible that too many vaccinations over too-short a time may not be a good idea. I had mumps and measles as a kid, and had no ill effects after I’d recovered. Some people have life-changing effects from them, though. Far fewer people seem to have bad effects from the vaccine than you’d see in an un-vaccinated population, and of course it is possible that the people who suffer bad effects from the vaccine would have had even worse effects from the disease – this is something that can’t be tested or verified, but seems to make sense. Given that everyone has different DNA, at the moment we can’t tell beforehand how each person will react to either the vaccine or the disease itself. That may change in future, and if we can tell how a person will react to the vaccine and leave just the people who would have a bad reaction unvaccinated, then they will be protected to a large extent by herd immunity. At the moment, it’s maybe more like a lottery where you only have statistics to guide you as to the best course overall.
I’ve somewhat envied the way some people are absolutely certain that they are always right, either about religion, science, politics, or whatever. A group of such people who agree with each other is a formidable force. That doesn’t allow any new ideas to evolve, though, so it’s the people who aren’t certain who will provide the advances, and will of course be regarded as heretics or deniers until the new idea has been proved beyond reasonable doubt. There will however remain some unreasonable doubters who hold to the old “truth”.
Only a small percentage of people will do things they consider to be wrong or unjustified. Something that’s worth remembering during an argument about whether the action or attitude is wrong or not.
Thanks, Simon. All of my children are now adults, and some of my grandchildren as well. Perhaps I will look at the anti-vax arguments, but at this point, I am not convinced that, overall, vaccination increases risk, but you are correct that one issue raised is multiple vaccinations, where combinations may have been inadequately tested. That is an anti-vax claim that has some legs, that testing has been inadequate for a program where risk to a very large population is involved. It seems that in a context where the risk of becoming infected is low, and the risk of major harm if infected is also low, possible side-effects at very low levels could still outweigh benefit. Many, many behaviors could be far more risky than the risk of vaccinating or not vaccinating. The major pro-vax argument is about herd immunity. These are difficult social issues and probably not well resolved with sledgehammers. I have extensive experience dealing with child protective services. “One size fits all” protects some children and harms others, even fatally. I will address some of this in responding to Jed.
I am 100% in favor of “removing the right of choice over health care decisions from parents, instead assigning it to the state.” Some healthcare decisions, that is. To take extreme examples, parents must not be allowed to treat serious illness or broken limbs with voodoo or faith healing. They must not be allowed to feed children only bread and water, 3 days a week. To take a far less extreme example, parents in Georgia are not allowed to drive children in cars without seat belts. I think that is a reasonable law. On rare occasions, seat belts have caused casualties, but we insist that parents must use them because they save many more children than they kill. I think it is equally reasonable for the law to say no parent should be allowed keep a child from being vaccinated for common, dangerous diseases such as tetanus or polio. The benefits of these vaccinations far outweigh the dangers. Only a doctor should be authorized to exempt a child, and only for a valid medical reason.
The medical establishment has never denied that vaccinations sometimes cause harm, or death. See, for example:
Incidentally, this paper discusses the rare deaths from polio vaccines that you mentioned. The vaccines that caused them are no longer licensed for use in the U.S.
The assertion in the Guardian about: “anti-vaxxers”, activists who claim, incorrectly but loudly, that vaccines can have negative effects” is ignorant. Anyone who checks authoritative sources such as the NHI will see that vaccines have negative effects, but such effects are extremely rare. I would not call this fascism, just ignorance.
Fascist arguments are often “reasonable.” It’s a slippery slope.
Not vaccinating is not a “serious risk” to a child, compared to many, many other risks of childhood. Terminating parental authority can be a truly serious risk, children abstracted from parents and placed in the fosterage system do not do well, and child welfare professionals are constantly balancing those risks.
There are, by the way, similar arguments made about compulsory education, which is a very old fascist program. At the same time, the best of education is a true benefit. The difference is coercion. I learned that it was useless to keep a child in school who did not choose to be there. What they “learn” in such an environment can damage them for the rest of their lives. Good educators inspire the children to take advantage of educational opportunities, bad ones blame them for not doing well, and punish them. Punishment, again, is a mark of fascism.
It is already a reality that the State will protect children at serious risk of harm from parents, but enforcement generally involves discretion. It seems that you trust mainstream medical professionals, just as you trust the government to protect us from harmful drugs and probably to give us good advice on nutrition and health. Somehow it is only nuclear physics where the mainstream goes astray. I know, from extensive research and personal experience, that this is not so.
Your idea of what the “medical establishment” does and does not deny is naive. You can find plenty of places where possible harm is admitted, which does not show the contrary, i.e., that it is “never” denied. It certainly is, but you then excuse it as “ignorance.” You think that Guardian reporter made it up? I am seeing stories constantly on this.
Yesterday, I went over a bit of Wikipedia nonsense I came across. An Australian media personality, on a TV talk show, made some comments that seemed to support antivax arguments. In fact, she is not antivax, and was simply reporting what antivax parents might think. Antivax has become a forbidden topic, to be mentioned only with severe opproprium, or else one will be considered antivax oneself. That comment in the Guardian article about “incorrect” was an editorial insertion, preceding what they then reported, to avoid the impression of supporting what others might more simply call “lies.” When populist fascism becomes intense, even failing to adeqquately support the party line will be seen as a betrayal of all that is good and decent. Dissenters are to be denied the right of discussion and debate. All in the name of “protecting children.”
In a genuine democracy, dissent is not suppressed, it is addressed. (However, it is not required that everyone address it, or even that any individual address it. Essential to genuine democracy is freedom of choice. That freedom may still be restricted, but a genuine democracy will limit such restrictions to what is clearly necessary, not merely believed to be useful. So, returning to the vaccination issue, it is easy to argue that a program seeking to vaccinate everyone could be useful, particularly if it is true that monitoring for side effects is adequate (a point which anti-vaxxers contest). However, it does not follow that universal vaccination is necessary, sufficiently necessary to override individual freedom, because there are alternatives. Smallpox was eradicated without universal vaccination. Australia and New Zealand, for example, never instituted programs. As long as the unvaccinated population is small enough, there can be an inadequate reservoir to maintain the disease.
When we do not value freedom, we lose it. Freedom must include the freedom to be wrong.
You can be as wrong as you like, as long as you do not endanger other people. Other people include your own children. Their rights outweigh yours. Society must protect them from people who would not put seat belts on them, or vaccinate them, or send them to school. I do not think parents should be allowed to educate children at home. It was not allowed until the 1960s, and it was a bad idea to let it happen.
The medical professional always informs people of the dangers of a vaccination these days. Before they inject you (or your child) they make you sign a paper with a long list of the dangers. No one is ignorant of the dangers unless he signs without reading the paper.
We are now living in the golden age of personal and parental autonomy. Parents have never had so much freedom to raise their children as they see fit. If you think people had more freedom in the past, you have not read social history. For example, in New England from the 17th into the 19th century, if parents did not teach their children how to read, or did not take them to church, or teach them “an honest calling,” the state could take the children away and put them in a foster home. See the Massachusetts Bay School Law (1642):
That really was fascist, as were many laws into the 20th century. The Bill of Rights was a dead letter in many ways. However, I think the trend has gone too far the other direction.
I do not know if smallpox vaccinations were given worldwide, but in the 1950s in the U.S. and Japan, everyone got smallpox vaccinations. See:
In any case, such decisions must be made by medical authorities based on the best scientific information available. If they say everyone should get a vaccination, citizens should do as they are told. When the oral polio vaccine was developed, every single U.S. citizen lined and took it — as they damn should have. We cannot have individual parents making decisions that might endanger themselves, their children and other people. It would be like letting people install wiring without an electrician’s license, drive at any speed they like, ignore traffic signals, or give away tainted food on the streets. The whole point of having a government is prevent things like that.
I responded to the above comment here: democratic-fascism/rothwell/ (the page above has an introduction.)
[unnecessary gross incivility redacted]. You are saying that children should not be allowed to be educated a home? Well it’s a good thing you are not in politics controlling what does and doesn’t happen. You my friend can go right back to the 17th century if you want to live in that messed belief where parents don’t have the freedom to parent their children differently. These comments are atrocious and I hope one day you’ll see the light. It’s not about vaccine of anti vaccine. It’s about the government controlling us through mild fascism that will only grow in intensity over the years . I’m not okay with being controlled or told to do something about MY child. There of course is a fine line to “control”. You mention seatbelt laws, well some antipaternalistic people would say that is just another form of control but to me putting on a seatbelt isn’t the same as putting toxins into your body. I should have the freedom to choose if I want to be poisoned. Thank you.
I was tempted to not approve this comment. However, taking out the unnecessary and gross incivility at the beginning (and the rest is not particularly civil), there is something being said here, a point of view. So I have approved it, at least for now.