The Intersection of Post-Truth as Proto Fascism - A Contemporary Evaluation

July 24, 2020

‘We are rapidly becoming prototypes of a people that totalitarian monsters could only drool about in their dreams’

-       Steve Tesich

 

Introduction:

‘Post’ meant a position which is a prefix that usually meant ‘after.’ But the term has had a varietal discourse when the term was seen to mean over and above the normality of the suffix term[1]. Truth has an extensive array of meanings. Usually associated with something that is supported by evidence and backed by facts. In simple definition, the presentation of an actuality[2]. But the description of the term doesn’t remain confined to the given specifics and is often in clash with philosophers. However, the term ‘post-truth’ was announced the Oxford Dictionary word of the year, 2016[3]. The term saw a multiple-fold increase in usage and was associated primarily with the Brexit outcome and the Trump election win[4]. However, the etymology of the term can be traced back to Steve Tesich’s essay ‘The Government of Lies,’ wherein he highlighted the Watergate Syndrome and the Iran Contra scandal and called the government an existing adobe of post-truth politics[5]. Though only in 2016 the term found increased usage and fame, politicians have vividly attributed to lies and deceit throughout history, famously in line with the entering of a mass state of altered consciousness as foreseen by the Orwellian conception in his book 1984[6]. The term and its association with current times have derived the fundamental ‘Post-Truth Era’; however, political deceit and lies are not limited to Trump and Brexit but existed throughout modern history. The principle as to the association of lies with most totalitarian authorities has remained vital in the spurring rise in fascism during the 20th century[7]

To the extent of this conception, the essay will delve into the specifics in associating the term proto-fascism as a directional and relevant term to associate Donald Trump, Brexiteers, and other right-wing governments in the world. Also, in proving the relevance of post-truth throughout history and as a relative component of fascist tendencies in modern democracies. 

 

Post Truth and Historical Antecedents:

           Truth and its usage in history have always been intertangled with political convictions in intimidating the public and forcing them to achieve an absolute spectacle for the political elite. Hannah Arendt, a provocative figure in voicing out against totalitarianism in Germany, has highlighted the importance of post-truth, though not directly, but against Nazism in 20th century Germany. In her book, she says, ‘The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction and the distinction between true and false no longer exist.’[8] This mention is rightly in parlance with the Cambridge definition of the term as ‘acceptance of an argument not based on fact but beliefs.’[9] The consonance in these two definitions raise the principal presentation of the existence of acceptance based on populism and appeal rather than on facts and knowledge. Hannah Arendt dealt famously with anti-Semitist peddling based on the non-truth and totalitarian rule in mid-western politics. Historically, in The Prince, Machiavelli claims ‘princes should use force and fraud to achieve political authority and sustenance.[10] The account of a democratic setting is essential for maximum transparency and public access, but political lies and institutional fraud has existed throughout history. It includes the declassification of various secret files which has kept away from the general public information and knowledge only known to the government. Glen Newey, in his essay, Political Lying, states that every citizen has a right to be lied to by the government in power[11]. But post-truth as a term deeply inherits the property of viciousness beyond a plain lie. Lies when contradicted and proved wrong, it would often be accepted as some wrongdoing by politicians. 

The truth behind a lie, if published in newspapers and journals, the truth is accepted and often corrected by wronged politicians. But, in the era of post-truth, such truth is often vitiated as fake news or misbelief and often proven in reign with the understanding of the political leader. The dependence on facts as ponderance for the salvation of untruth has lost the essence and has thus risen us to the meaning of post-truth[12]. The primary difference in historical lying and post-truth is based on holding the truth in secondary attribute compared to its falsification in total. Post-truth has meant to deal with feelings and not facts. The term is attributed to politics even in Turkey and Russia, were post-truth meddling is forced to prove a specific positioning of the governmental order[13]. But, the assimilation between a lie and post-truth does not stand in coherence with the current status quo. Still, the relativity between Arendt’s explanation of the 1940s Nazi rule in Germany and the Trump presidency widely resonates now as the ideology of improvised propaganda and reinstatement of untoward facts to deal with the populace remained vital in both turns of history.

 

Post Truth and Propaganda: 

Post-truth, by definition, is a differential to the meaning of the term ‘lie.’ Post-truth conveys an expanded horizon to the genuine understanding of the term ‘a lie’ and does not limit itself to a mere falsification of truth or facts. The Oxford dictionary definition of the term ‘propaganda’ states ‘The systematic dissemination of information, esp. in a biased or misleading way, to promote a political cause or point of view’[14]The correlation between propaganda and post-truth in the post-truth era stem out from standard specifics of manipulation and alteration of facts to disperse a specific information set. In China, the state-controlled media and propaganda machine is using post-truth to alter facts and dissipate information as a means to achieve political forethought. The use of ‘subtlety’ to promote the power of mainstream media in developing public opinion, including the Russian bots in interfering elections and Twitter bots spread across the world including India, Pakistan and more in dissipating information to spreading propaganda[15].

Social media and online information has altered public debate and changed course for the discussion on post-truth and propaganda. Online propaganda strategies, including Left and Right-wing trolls and bots to convey specific information, have also been used as the information machinery in sending post-truth information. The Involvement of media, state, or private, in altering and supporting a particular ideology, has reversed the understanding of media and its role in propaganda[16]. Altogether, propaganda and post-truth have existed hand in hand and form the basis of altering societal patterns and emanate certain forms of change within the polity. 

Joseph Goebbels, the propaganda minister and the Antisemitic campaigner for Nazi Germany, has been the most celebrated minister during the Hitler times[17]. The minister identified the importance of propaganda in altering the façade of Nazi Politics. In Mein Kamph, Hitler argues, “effect propaganda appeals to the feelings of the public rather than to their reasoning ability.[18]” Misinformation in the web, propagation of fake news, and Russian meddling in the elections are contemporary examples of propaganda in modern democracies[19]. Mr. Stanely, in his book, How Propaganda Works, has mentioned the unprecedented presence of rhetoric in American polity unlike ever in American history, endorsing fake claims, and alternate news[20]. In highlighting the importance and prevalence of post-truth and propaganda, both have existed during totalitarian regimes in the mid-twentieth century, and the repetition of the pattern is observed in modern western democracies and other totalitarian regimes. 

 

Proto Fascism and Contemporariness:

         The term Proto-Fascism is defined as "a political movement tending toward or imitating fascism." The definition though standing in lines with Fascism, deeply is in contrast to the historical comparison of past fascist world leaders and existing global leaders. Donald Trump though having extreme tendencies of Fascism within him, opposing the government structure, extremist views, and biases, he cannot be assumed to be called a fascist by definition. His positioning as a global leader is different and is starkly in contrast to Nazi leaders and authoritarian regimes[21] Griffin, in his book, The Nature of Fascism, iterates the consistent existence of three spectrums of right-wing behaviourism: the liberal right, the illiberal right, the proto-fascist right and the fascist. The distinction between the illiberal right, which though being an ultra-nationalist ideology, cannot be construed as fascist but as a proto-fascist ideology, wherein one who is not radically fascist but considered as moving towards the specific ideology[22]. A historical precedent set to the attributing of the behavior towards proto-fascism can be better encapsulated in the inaugural meeting of Mussolini's Fasci di Combattimento of 1919. The beginning days of Mussolini can be attributed to behavioral reasoning in line with fascist tendencies[23]. Usually involving ultra-nationalism, anti-clericalism, and hatred against a specific ethnic group, the movement in the start was to be considered ‘proto-fascist’ in nature. The repetition of these individualistic tendencies had been reflected throughout Europe and in Nazi Germany, promoting Hitlerism. 

         The triad formed by Nazism, Totalitarianism, and Political Religionism is the basis for any Nazi system to exist in the contemporary world. Totalitarianism is defined as ‘of or being a political system in which those in power have complete control and do not allow people the freedom to oppose them’[24]. In relating ‘totalitarianism’ and ‘political religion,’ Roger Griffin defines the linkage as:

ideologically motivated onslaughts against the civic institutions and plural forms of social existence fostered by liberal humanism, and the capacity of politics in the age of the accelerating ‘disenchantment of the world’ to reassert the primacy of a religious tradition or to turn the secular world itself into a new source of faith and the re-enchantment of reality’[25]

 

In other words, the onslaught on institutions based on political ideologies to re-enchant the vision of reality. The linkage is encompassing all the pre-pondering steps in line with achieving a Nazi state. This totalitarian behaviour can primarily be linked to proto-fascist tendencies in front of reaching the final spectrum of Nazism. In achieving the ideology of totalitarianism, political lying, governmental untruth, and emotional appeal/ persona are relied upon by the chosen leaders. The achieving of such totalitarianism within democracies is riddled with extremism often associated with political untruth, in common parlance with post-truth. 

 

Proto-Fascism and Totalitarianism:

In present modern democracies, including the United States, United Kingdom, and India, there is a reflection of proto-fascist and totalitarian tendencies. Raymond Aron in Democracy and Totalitarianism elucidates the presence of autocratic tendencies in democracies and the mitigating of the democratic prominence due to untoward totalitarianism. In providing a concise example, he dealt with the compulsory military service by teenagers in certain democracies to be an exact but limited propagation of totalitarianism[26]. In India, the government’s desire to disrupt judicial appointments, distort communal peace, promote Hindu Rashtra and right wing ideology are vehement examples of totalitarianism[27]. Narendra Modi’s 2014 election was nonetheless attributed to political lies, associating the Congress party with corruption, jingoism, and Hindu extremism. Modi’s silence on the 2002 Gujarat Riots, his expressing displeasure over communal harmony, propping Hindutva politics before state elections, and the dark fate of the Muslim minorities have presented a heroically totalitarian picture of the right-winger[28]. Another fuming example of extremist policies of totalitarianism in contemporary politics include Marie Le Pen and her policies attributed to banning Muslim residents in France and voicing active Proto-fascist behaviour amongst her supporters. The association of Donald Trump, his ban on Muslim entry into the United States, and his appeal to racism embark a rising trend towards totalitarian and neo-fascist uprisings in the West. Neo-fascism, as Henry Giroux refers to Donald Trump’s policies, is widely associated with proto-fascism and its impacts in liberal democracies[29]. Often referred to as Totalitarian Democracy, the association of totalitarianism within mainstream democracy marks the surge in extremist tendencies within democratic institutions[30]. The political right uses the civic institutions to inculcate a specific set of trait behaviour to impact the populace and drug them to stay addicted to the ideology using propaganda. 

The association with propaganda, totalitarianism, and proto-fascism within existing democratic countries and institutions all prevail and thrive on the existence of political deceit and post-truth. The corruption through education, controlling of the judiciary and election machinery of the state give rise to an ultimate disposition of totalitarian functioning. The very foundation of totalitarianism lies with the state’s right to lie to its citizens, for welfare or not, but for achieving political stardom. 

 

Post-Truth and Proto-Fascism:

         The term ‘post-truth’ saw a 2000% increase in usage in the year 2016 in comparison to the previous year[31]. Proto-Fascism and totalitarianism are linked with modern western democracies and the belief-systems of extreme right-wing ideologists, including Donald Trump, Narendra Modi, Marie Le Pen, and Boris Johnson. The association of proto-fascism with these leaders tend to better reflect on comparison to the historical anecdote of political deceit and Fascism. The term proto-fascism seems to reflect contemporary political discourse better and amends the necessity to portray a nuanced picture of existing political discourse in light with historical antecedents. Post-truth though being an inherent problem in contemporary polity, the relativity and association of proto-fascism to describe the growing tendencies of totalitarianism in democracies without disturbing the democratic set-up alters the positioning of such belief. Post-truth as a term was a specific attribute to Donald Trump and his belief in lying to the public and further pushing his lies by obstructing media reports and fact-checks. With the 2016 US elections, many political scholars argued that we had entered a ‘post-truth era’[32]. The entering of a phase wherein politics is driven by emotions and appeals rather than truth and fact.

But, Simon Blackburn, in his book, ‘The Truth’, believes that we have not entered a post-truth era[33]. He states that “In the nineteenth century the politician Joseph Chamberlain said of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli that he never felt the truth except by accident”. He believes that truth, post-truth and political lying has existed throughout history. He claims that the distrust over post-truth politics by Donald Trump is a claim within, that truth still exists in the world and continues to be demarcated from politicians worldwide. His argument towards treating of a lie by Trump or Boris Johnson is based on the fundamentality of the populace in the forgetting of a perpetrated lie too quick than before[34]. Thus, the association of post-truth and proto-fascism in relativity derives the conclusion that proto-fascism is a term better perplexed within the current paradigm of political discourse and the conception of a new era of post-truth fails to stand value. 

 

Conclusion:

        The large assimilations of the terms fascism, truth, post-truth, totalitarianism, extremism and proto-fascism tend to reflect deeply on the contemporary world politics. The term proto-fascism is a better alternative to the term post-truth, to provide coherence to the historical antecedents that existed in the world by embarking on the problems of totalitarianism in democracies currently. The conception post-truth era has now lost particular essence and truth has always existed and remains to thrive in the world. The fading away of truth must be the point marking the beginning of the post-truth era and not when mistruth is vehemently disliked and opposed by the citizens and the argument stands concurrence with Simon Blackburn’s position on truth and present day polity. 

Andrew Gawthorpe has argued that the association of Donald Trump to Hitler and the Republican Party to a fascist party is not prima facie right. But, the rise in fascism and the future of probable entering of fascism encapsulates the contemporary structure[35]. Madeline Albright, in her book, Fascism: A warning, tries portraying better the dissociation of the term with mere disagreement. She argues ‘fascism is not an ideology; it’s a process for taking and holding power[36]. A fascist is somebody who identifies with one group — usually an aggrieved majority — in opposition to a smaller group[37]. Though differentiating fascism in democracy now, she supports the ascendance of fascism in contemporary democracy. The operation of fascism within a democratic structure results in proto-fascist tendencies and post-truth is an ingrained aspect of propaganda and totalitarianism. The application of proto-fascism to modern democratic functioning assimilates better opinions in fighting against the injustice perpetrated by such fascist tendencies. Thus, concluding the term proto-fascism and its association to Donald Trump and post-truth politics stands out in light to the historical antecedent, rather than the term ‘post-truth’ and its application currently. 



[1] Collinsdictionary.com. (2019). Post- definition and meaning. [online] Available at: https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/post_2.

[2] Pardi, P. (2019). Philosophy News | What is Truth?. [online] Philosophy News. Available at: https://www.philosophynews.com/post/2015/01/29/What-is-Truth.aspx.

[3] Oxford Dictionaries. (2019). Word of the Year 2016 is.... [online] Available at: https://languages.oup.com/word-of-the-year/word-of-the-year-2016

[4] Norman, M. (2019). We've entered a post-truth world and there's no going back. [online] The Independent. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/us-election-2016-donald-trump-hillary-clinton-who-wins-post-truth-world-no-going-back-a7404826.html

[5] Tesich, S. (2019). Government of Lies. The Nation, 24(1992).

[6] Orwell, G. (n.d.). 1984, George Orwell.

[7] Goldhill, O. (2019). A philosopher of truth says we’re not living in a “post-truth” world after all. [online] Quartz. Available at: https://qz.com/1361505/a-philosopher-of-truth-says-were-not-living-in-a-post-truth-world-after-all/ [Accessed 14 Nov. 2019].

[8] Arendt, H. (1966). Totalitarianism. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.

[9] Cambridge Dictionary. (2019). In: Post-Truth. [online] Available at: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/post-truth [Accessed 11 Nov. 2019].

[10] Machiavelli, N., Skinner, Q. and Price, R. (n.d.). The prince.

[11] Newey, G. (1997). Political Lying: A Defense. Public Affairs Quarterly, 11(2), 93-116. Retrieved from www.jstor.org/stable/40435986

[12] Davies, W. (2019). Opinion | The Age of Post-Truth Politics. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/24/opinion/campaign-stops/the-age-of-post-truth-politics.html [Accessed 14 Nov. 2019].

[13] The Economist. (2019). Art of the lie. [online] Available at: https://www.economist.com/leaders/2016/09/10/art-of-the-lie?fsrc=scn/tw/te/pe/ed/artofthelie [Accessed 6 Nov. 2019].

[14] Oxford English Dictionary. (2019). In: Propaganda. [online] Available at: https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/152605?rskey=EUdEpk&result=1&isAdvanced=false [Accessed 7 Nov. 2019].

[15] Bandurski, D. and Bandurski, D. (2019). Propaganda in the Era of "Post-Truth". [online] China Media Project. Available at: http://chinamediaproject.org/2018/11/30/propaganda-in-the-era-of-post-truth/ [Accessed 14 Nov. 2019].

[16] Gorrell, Genevieve & Bakir, Mehmet & Roberts, Ian & Others. (2019). Partisanship, Propaganda and Post-Truth Politics: Quantifying Impact in Online.

[17] Herf, J. (2005). The "Jewish War": Goebbels and the Antisemitic Campaigns of the Nazi Propaganda Ministry. Holocaust and Genocide Studies, 19(1), pp.51-80.

[18] Hitler, A. (2013). Mein kampf. Noida: Main Street.

[19] Stanley, J. (n.d.). How propaganda works.

[20] Kakutani, M. (2019). ‘How Propaganda Works’ Is a Timely Reminder for a Post-Truth Age. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/26/books/how-propaganda-works-is-a-timely-reminder-for-a-post-truth-age.html [Accessed 14 Nov. 2019].

[21] Ehrenfreund, M. (2019). Why you should stop calling Donald Trump a fascist. [online] Washington Post. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/12/04/why-you-should-stop-calling-donald-trump-a-fascist/ [Accessed 14 Nov. 2019].

[22] Griffin, R. (2013). The Nature of Fascism. Florence: Taylor and Francis. Chapter 2.

[23] Ibid. 22. Chapter 3.

[24] Totalitarian. (2019). In: Cambridge Dictionary. [online] Available at: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/totalitarian [Accessed 2 Nov. 2019].

[25] ROGER GRIFFIN (2004) Introduction: God’s counterfeiters? investigating the triad of fascism, totalitarianism and (political) religion, Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, 5:3, 291-325, DOI: 10.1080/1469076042000312168

[26]Salmagundi:  “Democracy and Totalitarianism: Discussion of a Paper by Raymond Aron.”, no. 65, 1984, pp. 40–50. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40547670.

[27] Bhattacharyya, B. (2019). Is India heading towards a totalitarian regime?. [online] The Week. Available at: https://www.theweek.in/theweek/cover/is-india-heading-towards-a-totalitarian-regime.html [Accessed 14 Nov. 2019].

[28] Editorial (2019). The Guardian view on Narendra Modi’s landslide: bad for India’s soul | Editorial. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/may/23/the-guardian-view-on-narendra-modi-landslide-bad-for-india-soul [Accessed 14 Nov. 2019].

[29] Giroux, Henry A. Donald Trump and neo-fascism in America [online]. Arena Magazine (Fitzroy, Vic), No. 140, Feb/Mar 2016: 31-32.

[30] Talmon, J. (1986). The origins of totalitarian democracy. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

[31] Ibid.3

[32] Blackburn, S. (2019). How can we teach objectivity in a post-truth era?. [online] Newstatesman.com. Available at: https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2019/02/how-can-we-teach-objectivity-post-truth-era [Accessed 14 Nov. 2019]

[33] Blackburn, S. (2006). Truth. London: Penguin.

[34] Ibid.33

[35] Gawthorpe, A. (2019). Is this fascism? No. Could it become fascism? Yes | Andrew Gawthorpe. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jul/31/is-this-fascism-no-could-it-become-fascism-yes [Accessed 7 Nov. 2019].

[36] Albright, M. and Woodward, B. (n.d.). Fascism

[37] Illing, S. (2019). Fascism: a warning from Madeleine Albright. [online] Vox. Available at: https://www.vox.com/world/2019/2/14/18221913/fascism-warning-madeleine-albright-book-trump [Accessed 12 Nov. 2019].

 

1 comment:

  1. Great analysis, Aadhi. Simple truths can be binary and can be directly stated as a fact. But in complex issues, truth is not binary but a spectrum and often a combination of multiple facts. With the growth of alternate media (like twitter, youtube, blogs), truth is getting more distorted and the very definition of truth is being tested. Often, similar people visit and consume similar news bubble, and they are easily influenced.

    Valluvan said 2000 years ago, and it's relevant now than ever.
    எப்பொருள் யார்யார்வாய்க் கேட்பினும் அப்பொருள்
    மெய்ப்பொருள் காண்ப தறிவு :)

    Some smart folks are trying to build new media platforms that are fact based, tamper proof, crowd sourced and verifiable. Check out Balaji (https://twitter.com/balajis) and few others in this space.

    ReplyDelete

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